Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Imitation of Life (1959, Douglas Sirk)

I may be underrating this, actually. This really is moving as all hell. I've read complaints that the Lana Turner stuff pales in comparison to the Juanita Moore/Susan Kohner subplot. But of COURSE it does, and I'm sure Sirk knew it, and this contrast- between the troubles of a working class black woman and her light-skinned daughter, and the relatively small worries of a well-to-do white mother and daughter- is what makes this movie work. Lora's dreams come true and her daughter Susie whines that she was never around; meanwhile Annie (ambition is a luxury she can't afford) and Sarah Jane aren't even speaking in the end. Yet Sirk never patronizes or belittles any of the characters' problems. And of course the direction is wicked awesome. Rating: ***1/2.

The Producers (1968, Mel Brooks)

Everyone knows this is hilarious, not least in the way gradually unveils funny supporting characters one at a time as the film builds to opening night. But wait! Is it just me, or is THE PRODUCERS also kind of a touching man-man love story? Think about it- Bialystock the seedy has-been who whores himself out to old ladies, and Bloom the uptight bookworm. Where is the love in their lives? Once they've met and formulated the plan, they're rarely apart. Think of their first day together- they go walking in the park, riding on the carousel, to the movies, and finally for a frolic in the Lincoln Center fountain. Sure, once the money starts piling up, Max brings Ulla into the picture, but she's just for decoration, just another trapping of success- Max's way of "flaunting" what he's got. And is Max and Leo's nervousness when they visit Roger DeBris simple gay panic, or something more complicated- the fear that they'll be found out, or that they too might end up a pair of mincing theatre queens? I'm serious here, folks. By the end of the film, the two have formed a real relationship, with Max no longer living in the past and Leo opening himself up to life's possibilities. And can it really be an accident that the film ends with a song called "Prisoners of Love"? Rating: ****.