Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
April 17
Imitation Of Life April 17, 1959
Sirk's Imitation of Life has NY premiere

There is probably no director of the 1940s and '50s whose critical esteem has grown as much as the years have passed as Douglas Sirk. Danish-born Sirk grew up in Germany where he was an early director in UFA, the government-run film studio. Sirk left Germany in 1937, moved to Hollywood, and by the '40s was something of a journeyman director. In the '50s, though, Sirk made a string of melodramas, dismissed at the time as "women's pictures," that merged an ornate visual style with ironic commentary on social, class and race issues in post-war America. Written on the Wind, Tarnished Angels, Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life are his best considered films of this period. The latter title, which opened April 17, 1959, is considered by some to be Sirk's best film. Starring Lana Turner, Susan Kohner, Sandra Dee and Juanita Moore, the film is ostensibly the tale of a widowed actress and single mother's (Turner) rise to becoming a Broadway star, but much of the drama in its second half focuses on the relationship between the nanny (Moore), an African-American mother, and her light-skinned daughter (Kohner), who passes herself as white. In moving from a conventional "star is born" storyline to a painful look at racial identity and internalized hate, Sirk both responded to the social mores of the day and challenged them. As Steven Handzo wrote in Bright Lights Film Journal: "The irony is that Turner's "real problems" are the concerns of the comfortable, recycled from the imitation-of-life movie melodramas of the 1940s. The problems of soap opera are individual, personal, and capable of resolution by individual moral choice.... The problems of Moore and Kohner are those of survival and identity; they are collective, racial, social, and open-ended — incapable of resolution within the conventions of the woman's picture. Sirk employs the convention to emphasize the limitations of those conventions and to show the need for a larger, more ideological world-view. No wonder Sirk said of Imitation of Life: 'I would have made it for the title alone.'"


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April 17, 1959
Sirk's Imitation of Life released

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