Imitation of Life

Imitation of Life - which could be subtitled “The Death of Sisyphus” - is Sirk's most titanic film: massive and faulted, its faults overcome by the very largeness of its successes. It is also one of the most moving American films ever made, and the term “two-hankie picture” fails to do it justice - it deserves at least four hankies, or a bedsheet. Sirk subtlely induces the audience to turn against the bland respectability of Lana Turner and Sandra Dee, the two nominal leads, and draws us into an underworld of back-stairs, neonized gutters, and assembly-line chorus-lines with an exploited black maid (Juanita Moore) and a vitally erotic Susan Kohner as her daughter who tries to pass for white. (Both Miss Moore and Miss Kohner received Oscar nominations.) The film's true emotional dynamics burst forth at the end, and the extravagant concluding funeral procession is Sirk's apocalpyse - a black mass for all the lost chances and futile desperations that form the core of his films.

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