Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959)

Discussions of specific films and franchises.
Post Reply
Message
Author
User avatar
Steven H
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 3:30 pm
Location: NC

#1 Post by Steven H » Tue Jan 25, 2005 7:28 pm

I watched this film again today... one of the most satisfying moments in film has to be when Sandra Dee tells Lana Turner she's a martyr/actor. Good stuff. Sirk was a genius, purely and simply... there are lines in the film that are too subtle to remember, yet I'm left with a gut wrenched feeling after they're spoken. The ugliness of much of this film is written in so deeply, that when it surfaces it's like a poison cloud that's been hibernating beneath a lake in Russia for centuries, only to kill everyone in a thirty mile radius once released. When John Gavin smiles at the end it reminds me that the voice of reason and love has died instead of giving me hope that these characters will regain their former joy (even though they smile and hug, they're at a funeral after all).

It's quite a moment, during the Harry's Club scene, when Juanita Moore stares between "bars" at her daughter playing the minstrel to white men, free but without dignity (though mabe "dignity" is what will be the force keeping her behind those bars). I've seen this and the Criterion releases (though this is the first I've *loved* from him, instead of just really liked or respected), plan on watching the Kino DVDs sometime soon (though I have lower expectations for them)... anyone have any suggestions about what to see next? If not, I'll just start watching whatever I can get my hands on first.

User avatar
Gregory
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 4:07 pm

#2 Post by Gregory » Tue Jan 25, 2005 7:49 pm

harri wrote:Anyone have any suggestions about what to see next?
I'd recommend The Tarnished Angels, if you can locate it. I've been hoping Universal will either release it or license it to Criterion. It's a very bitter film that breathed lots of new life into the overdone "love triangle" premise.

I've been meaning to see Thieves' Holiday (A Scandal in Paris) and Lured, but I don't expect them to be as accomplished and stylistically distinguised as Sirk's mid-late-'50s films. Thieves' Holiday, in particular interests me as a chronicle of the life of Vidocq, the famous master criminal turned detective. I have the book of his memoirs that was published a year or so ago but have not gotten around to reading them yet. His life and writings are said to have inspired no less than than Hugo, Balzac and Poe.

There's one detail I'm confused about: are those Kino releases from the public domain or did they license them from Kino. I believe MGM owns the United Artists catalog, but I didn't think MGM licenses anything out.
Last edited by Gregory on Tue Jan 25, 2005 11:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
jorencain
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 1:45 am

#3 Post by jorencain » Tue Jan 25, 2005 8:59 pm

harri wrote:The ugliness of much of this film is written in so deeply, that when it surfaces it's like a poison cloud that's been hibernating beneath a lake in Russia for centuries, only to kill everyone in a thirty mile radius once released.
Damn, that's ugly.

User avatar
Brian Oblivious
Joined: Sat Nov 06, 2004 4:38 pm
Location: 'Frisco
Contact:

#4 Post by Brian Oblivious » Tue Jan 25, 2005 10:25 pm

No Sirk I've seen can top Imitation of Life, IMHO, but besides the Criterion releases, the one that comes closest for me is Magnificent Obsession. It gets a lot of snickering comments but I think its fantastic filmmaking, and a fascinating comparison piece to All That Heaven Allows.

I was mildly disappointed with the Tarneshed Angels myself. Perhaps knowing it was far and away Jonathan Rosenbaum's favorite Sirk set me up for a certain disappointment. I should see it again and would jump at a chance to watch any more 1950's Sirk. Though my holy grails are No Room For the Groom and There's Always Tomorrow, the latter of which I missed at the last touring retrospective. The former wasn't, as far as I know, included.

User avatar
david hare
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 8:01 pm
Location: WellyYeller

#5 Post by david hare » Tue Jan 25, 2005 10:27 pm

THe Kino Lured is quite a good print and the movie is wonderful. As is Scandal in Paris. (I don't own the Kino version which a friend says is OK, but a French disc which is pretty ragged quality.) It too is a highly accomplished movie. Both titles are quite different in feeling from the Ross Hunter period (and certainly Tarnished Angels which is his masterpiece.) But they clearly show him as a stylist with extremely broad range and great skill with actors. The late German movies are also wonderful - I love Zu Neuen Ufern and La Habanera - but the Kino print of the latter is not at all good - (again I have a far superior transfer from TV.) These two movies are melodramas (literally with substantial musical episodes featuring Zara Leander) and it is astonishing to see Sirk's complete mastery of this narrative form at the very beginning of his career. They seem to pulse with the same drive and energy of the final American works.

User avatar
ben d banana
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 8:53 pm
Location: Oh Where, Oh Where?

#6 Post by ben d banana » Wed Jan 26, 2005 12:03 am

i'm with brian on magnificent obsession. sirk cannot get over the top enough for me. i would dearly love for it and tarnished angels (and everything else for that matter, and how about a nice dvd version of imitation of life) to be available on dvd. the former is only on vhs or asian boots on ebay, the latter i was able to see on regular old basic cable a few years back. indeed, the extreme ugliness under all that polished veneer is absolutely perfect in his work.

i did enjoy lured, though can't recall much right now. the kino disc did the trick, certainly not horrible but nothing to brag about either.

User avatar
jorencain
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 1:45 am

#7 Post by jorencain » Sat Aug 06, 2005 7:37 pm

I know that this is the "Imitation of Life" thread, but I just saw "Tarnished Angels" today at the AFI theater in DC (as part of their Sirk retrospective), and I completely loved it. That's only the 3rd Sirk film I've seen, but I feel like I need to catch as many as I can (their only showing 6 or 7 at the AFI). That NEEDS to come out on DVD; the print looks pretty good and just needs to be cleaned up a little bit. I hope to catch "Imitation of Life" later this month as well.

User avatar
jorencain
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 1:45 am

#8 Post by jorencain » Tue Aug 09, 2005 1:01 pm

OK, I just saw "Magnificent Obsession" last night. Of the 4 Sirk films that I've seen, this is the only one that is actually too over-the-top for me. The voice-overs, the chorus "aaaaahhhh"s, the surgery, the results of the surgery, etc. I enjoyed it, but I felt like Sirk pushed it just a little too far beyond what I would have liked. Oh well.

Best line (I'm paraphrasing because I can't remember it exactly): "This way of thinking is dangerous stuff. Remember, one of the first people who thought this way was hung on a cross at the age of 33." Damn, I couldn't help but laugh at that one. Can't wait wait to see "Imitation of Life."

Jaime_Weinman
Joined: Sat Apr 02, 2005 4:28 pm

#9 Post by Jaime_Weinman » Wed Aug 17, 2005 11:38 pm

I think my favorite Sirk movies are Tarnished Angels and Written On the Wind, because those are the only movies where he got to work for a producer whose wild imagination matched his own, by which I mean the madman and exploitation king Albert Zugsmith (making two of his rare forays into "A" pictures). It's cool to see Sirk working more or less in synch with the producer's taste rather than, as with Ross Hunter, working to subvert it. He had some interesting albeit self-aggrandizing comments on working with Sirk (as did the writer, George Zuckerman, in the same article).

Off-topic, but one of the many reasons I didn't like the re-cut of Touch of Evil is that in trying to make it a "pure" Welles movie, they removed some typical Zugsmith touches -- forgetting that in a classic Hollywood studio movie, the producer is an auteur too and that it's a Welles film, but also a Zugsmith film.

User avatar
david hare
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 8:01 pm
Location: WellyYeller

#10 Post by david hare » Thu Aug 18, 2005 6:00 am

Jaime - would you like to expand?

(This of course an invitation, not a threat..)

User avatar
solaris72
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 3:03 pm
Location: Baltimore, MD

#11 Post by solaris72 » Tue Oct 11, 2005 8:48 pm


User avatar
jorencain
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 1:45 am

#12 Post by jorencain » Sat Dec 17, 2005 6:02 pm

Has anyone seen this DVD? Is the quality decent? This is now my favorite Sirk film, and I would love to own it on DVD. Any input is appreciated.

User avatar
Michael
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 12:09 pm

#13 Post by Michael » Sat Dec 17, 2005 6:57 pm

jorencain, the quality is pretty good but not on the same par as the Criterion Sirks. The colors seem to be less vibrant, less rich but if its your favorite Sirk film, then it's absolutely worth getting.

I'm interested in why Imitation is your favorite Sirk film. All That Heaven Allows is easily my favorite. Imitation is Sirks most ambitious film and its scope surely is more epic. However, my heart always falls for All That Heaven Allows. Gotta have Rock Hudson, you know. Heaven seems to be the most beautifully descriptive of all Sirk films. Not so overwrought like Written on the Wind and Imitation of Life, both still magnificent anyway... so maybe that's why I love Heaven the most.

User avatar
jorencain
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 1:45 am

#14 Post by jorencain » Sat Dec 17, 2005 8:05 pm

Michael wrote:jorencain, the quality is pretty good but not on the same par as the Criterion Sirks. The colors seem to be less vibrant, less rich but if its your favorite Sirk film, then it's absolutely worth getting.

I'm interested in why Imitation is your favorite Sirk film. All That Heaven Allows is easily my favorite. Imitation is Sirks most ambitious film and its scope surely is more epic. However, my heart always falls for All That Heaven Allows. Gotta have Rock Hudson, you know. Heaven seems to be the most beautifully descriptive of all Sirk films. Not so overwrought like Written on the Wind and Imitation of Life, both still magnificent anyway... so maybe that's why I love Heaven the most.
Thanks for the DVD recommendation, Michael. Out of the Sirk's that I've seen, "Magnificent Obsession" is my least favorite. For me, it crosses the line into the realm of ridiculous, which none of the others do. I love "All That Heaven Allows", "Written On The Wind," and "Tarnished Angels" for all the reasons that anyone loves Sirk. "Imitation of Life" rises above those for me, and I don't know if I can pinpoint exactly why I think it's "better". It just hit more of a nerve for me, and it's all in the relationship between Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner) and her mother. Susan Kohner's refusal to accept herself, the shutting out of her mother, and her attempts to fit in with the "white" world are really touching. Throughout the entire film we're waiting for her to come around, and when she finally does, it's (of course) too late. Even though you can see the ending coming a mile away, it's so powerful that there really wasn't a dry eye in the house when I saw it. And Mahalia Jackson's singing is so beautiful; that's when I started to lose it. "All That Heaven Allows" is wonderful, but I think it's that emotional buildup in "Imitation" that puts it over the top for me. I don't think I could ever watch it without crying, and I don't know if I can say the same thing about the others.

User avatar
Michael
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 12:09 pm

#15 Post by Michael » Sun Dec 18, 2005 10:10 am

jorencain, thanks so very much. You're making me want to re-visit Imitation of Life which I will plan to do over the holiday week.

User avatar
otis
Joined: Mon Aug 08, 2005 11:43 am

#16 Post by otis » Tue Feb 28, 2006 7:19 am

Michael wrote:the quality is pretty good but not on the same par as the Criterion Sirks. The colors seem to be less vibrant, less rich but if its your favorite Sirk film, then it's absolutely worth getting.
Michael, which DVD are you describing here, this one:
Image
or this one:
Image
which has the John Stahl version too? Can anyone offer a comparison? What's the print of the Stahl version like?

User avatar
Michael
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 12:09 pm

#17 Post by Michael » Tue Feb 28, 2006 8:30 am

otis, the first DVD is the one I was describing. I don't own the two-version edition so I have no idea whether if that edition has the same transfer as the first one or not. The transfer and quality of Criterion Sirks have such lushness tthat I'm not even sure if that's the way they are supposed to be. My friend once said that the Imitation of Life transfer has more film-like quality.

David Ehrenstein
Joined: Tue Oct 11, 2005 8:30 pm
Contact:

#18 Post by David Ehrenstein » Tue Feb 28, 2006 2:31 pm

http://ehrensteinland.com/htmls/bride/m ... oore.shtml

The finale totally tears me to pieces every time I see it.

User avatar
david hare
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 8:01 pm
Location: WellyYeller

#19 Post by david hare » Tue Feb 28, 2006 4:08 pm

The Stahl is a great picture too, although very different in its use of melodrama. The print is extremely good, and while it's perhaps understandably overlooked by younger Sirkians, it is a fine FINE movie and Stahl himself desperately in need of rediscovery. Only Leave Her to Heaven is also on DVD. We need Universal DVDs immediately of Only Yesterday (with Franklin Pangborn and his openly gay boyfriend), Back Street, Imitation of Life with Colbert (Unlce CLaude indeed - yes THAT Imitation of Life) and more.

User avatar
Gregory
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 4:07 pm

#20 Post by Gregory » Tue Feb 28, 2006 4:24 pm

Stahl's The Immortal Sergeant is coming from Fox on May 23 and his A Letter of Introduction can be found on a cheap Alpha release. I haven't seen either film. So far the former hasn't struck me as something I need to see and the latter stars Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy whose antics I've been avoiding since seeing You Can't Cheat an Honest Man.

User avatar
david hare
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 8:01 pm
Location: WellyYeller

#21 Post by david hare » Tue Feb 28, 2006 4:40 pm

Both these titles are minor- he said efensively. Stahl's great forte was the melodrama and both it as a form and he flourished during the thirties.

Heaven is his last great liftoff - and it's a radical devleopment of the genre into Noir-esque sublimity. The great difference between Stahl and Sirk is that Stahl completely immerses himself in the form, and both honors and extends it. Whereas Sirk embodies it emblematically and infuses it with irony and commentary. But for Sirk's birlliant German work in particular Zu Neuen Ufern and (my fave) la Habanera, one might have speculated he needed Stahl for his American career, but his movies throughout the forties and fifties prove otherwise.

User avatar
Kudzu
Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 2:55 pm
Contact:

#22 Post by Kudzu » Wed Mar 01, 2006 1:54 am

David Ehrenstein wrote:The finale totally tears me to pieces every time I see it.
You and I both, David. Every time that I hear Mahalia Jackson's voice come in, I get choked up and so indescribably angry all in the same swoop.

User avatar
porquenegar
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 7:33 pm

#23 Post by porquenegar » Mon Dec 18, 2006 1:10 am

Saw this today at the lovingly restored North Park Theater in San Diego. The theater was originally built in 1928 and was restored about a year and a half ago. They have just begun a film series after concentrating mostly on theatrical and other live peformances for the last two seasons. I couldn't be happier as it is located 5 minutes from my apartment and the curator is committed to screen film prints rather than DVDs whenever possible.

Imitation of Life pulled a crowd of over 100 people for a 2pm show which gives me some hope for humanity, or at least San Diego.

Lana Turner is the "star" but gives the weakest performance of the bunch. Susan Kohner and particularly Juanita Moore steal the show. The scene where Annie goes to say her last goodbyes to Sarah-Jane in Hollywood and pretends to have been her Mammy just crushed me. Especially when Sarah-Jane mouths the word "Momma" as Annie leaves.

Sarah-Jane spends the entire movie fighting against her blackness because she feels that it lowers her and yet at the end, Annie has the most lavish and dignified funeral ever seen to a packed house with a Mahalia Jackson singing, a beautiful carriage and 4 white horses. Even in death, she teaches something to her daughter. She valued herself and didn't feel low and she was dark-skinned. The Mahalia Jackson performance was just heart-wrenching inducing sniffling and sobbing throughout the audience.

The use of mirrors/windows to view Sarah-Jane's reflection throughout the movie was also very interesting to me. It really drives home the point regarding her conflicted and split identities. Her behavior is abhorrent but somehow seeing the two images, real and reflected, gave me a little sympathy for her. She is outside of herself, almost two different people and your eye is drawn to the reflection so it's as if the bad part of her is the fake.

I hadn't seen this picture before and Sirk is a relatively new discovery for me but this was one of the best times I've ever had in a movie theater.

User avatar
jorencain
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 1:45 am

#24 Post by jorencain » Mon Dec 18, 2006 9:53 am

porquenegar wrote:The scene where Annie goes to say her last goodbyes to Sarah-Jane in Hollywood and pretends to have been her Mammy just crushed me. Especially when Sarah-Jane mouths the word "Momma" as Annie leaves.
Oh my god. That is such a great scene, and is equally powerful as the end. This is really a wonderful movie, and it sounds like your audience reacted the same way mine did when I saw it in DC last year. I hadn't noticed the mirror motif before, but it makes perfect sense, particulalry in light of his influence on Fassbinder (and Fassbinder's subsequent use of mirrors).

User avatar
Michael
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 12:09 pm

#25 Post by Michael » Mon May 14, 2007 12:56 pm

Is there a movie more perfect to watch on Mother's Day than Imitation of Life? (Well ok, Mommie Dearest to some.) I settled down with the Sirk epic last night. I've seen the film more than I can count my fingers and toes but I remain surprised and thrilled by how strong, ambitious, and moving it still is today. Geez, no Kleenex to be found around, I used up an entire roll of toilet paper by the time the screen filled up with technicolor diamonds. Like Nashville, its an expansive movie that skewers everything Americans hold dear.

Post Reply