Monday, June 29, 2009

Repetition And Perfomance

Imitation Of Life(1959)
Directed by Douglas Sirk

One of the few classic, "subversive" films that still retains some of its power and relevance. I could give you stories, of Sarah Jane & Annie-esque episodes in my own family and personal life, but this ain't Oprah, so no dice.
I can say the funeral scene stung. And that beyond racism, the prime theme of this that I think gets ignored is envy. Sussie envies Annie's love for her daughter which she doesn't have, and Steves love for her mother, which is rebuffed for her career, just as hers is.
Sarah Jane is envious of Sussie who gets all manner of gifts a movie stars daughter would get, with the added bonus that she will go on to have all of things that she will never get. Though to stand next to each other the two could be sisters.
Sarah is a very light skinned black girl, can "pass", and is desperate to be white. Her mother is the nanny/maid/servant to the at first struggling then later glamorous movie star, who never tells her daughter to love herself, but to not "lie" about what she isn't.

In one crucial scene something like 10 years into their living together, actress Laura says "I didn't know you had any friends", to which Annie replies, "You never asked Miss. Laura".
Even on her death bed she still calls her "Miss" Laura, Sarah Jane's self hatred is miss guided, but her disgust with her mother and Laura,who expects her to make the best of her lot in life, is not without reason.
Her white and first boyfriend, is more than a little upset, when he finds out about her family tree, and to those who may think, that scenes plays out in a predictable fashion, its one of those things that's sad, but true.
Certainly then and not shockingly now.
That's not to say that Laura's tears at Annie's funeral aren't genuine.

Both women do whatever they can, to give their daughters the best lives possible, and the girls in turn envy each other, each for what the other doesn't have.
One emotional security, the other freedom, financial security, and dignity.
No one gets a real life, or real expression, til its too late, because they are busy imitating what they think is best. Where the title comes from, I reckon.
I expected a really dull, melodramatic, message movie, and it was to a degree, but its still relevant today, and more empathetic, and complex than modern films about "tolerance" like "Crash"(not the Cronenberg one with the freaky sex, the other one).

This isn't about tolerance or acceptance, its about envy and bitterness, I don't know if anything is really resolved, at the end, but everything is at least laid out on the table.
I can see why people dig Sirk.

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