Day 247: Imitation of Life 1959

Imitation of Life  1959

This is a film which has me foxed. It appears regularly amongst the thirty Hollywood films that populate the 100-Best Films lists. I had to watch it in isolation to get some kind of indication of what it is, what it purports to be, and what it is about it that inspires some people to include it in their Top Ten Films of All Time.

In my first viewing, it comes across as a film without great craft in any particular department. The acting is fine, the production is fine, the script is fine and the direction – mise-en-scene – is fine. Everything is fine. What strikes me as out of the ordinary is the subject matter and the themes which it takes on in a very bold manner in the style of classic Hollywood melodramas. On every level it is the exact incarnation of many good, bad, excellent and indifferent, 1930s 40s 50s, Hollywood melodramas. It takes on subject matter not so different to Valley of the Dolls (1967).

But it is interesting and special because of the sheer weight of all the controversial themes it tackles. Imitation of Life is a fearless film which boldly explores topics which are tackled one at a time by most other films.

Imitation of Life tackles them all – head on – without taking prisoners. It shoots everything in sight and is an extraordinary film for doing so and for negotiating the soap opera elements that allow the studio system to see it as high melodrama and not be too concerned about its topic and theme.

It is not one of the cleverly disguised dramas like In A Lonely Place and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre of even Casablanca. It is bald-faced Valley of the Dolls mixed with All About Eve, but without the acerbic, clever dialogue lacking in the former and bubbling over in the latter.

I don’t know if Imitation of Life is a great film but it is an amazing film because of all the things it embraces while appearing in every aspect to be a standard Lana Turner, Douglas Sirk, Universal melodrama.