The Cinema Museum, London

The Vito Project LGBTQ+ Film Club presents Imitation of Life (1959) on 35mm film

Sun 11 Dec 2022 @ 18:00 · Events

Forget your troubles, come on, get happy and join us as The Vito Project LGBTQ+ Club returns with its brand new season – Imitations of Life: Deconstructing Camp in Classic Hollywood. We will explore how camp has been used not only to bring joy and laughter to audience, but also as a tool to get subversive queer, feminist and socially-charged content to the screen – all the while eluding critics in the process! Each movie is preceded by an introduction and followed by a panel discussion discussing the movie through a queer lens, and a conversation with the audience.

Underneath the gloss and glitter of this Technicolor world simmers a powerful tale on the challenges of motherhood, and one of the most heartbreakingly honest portraits of racism in 1950s America. One of the all-time great tear-jerkers, directed by melodrama maestro Douglas Sirk.

About the film: Lora Meredith (Lana Turner), a white single mother who dreams of being on Broadway, has a chance encounter with Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore), a black widow. Annie becomes the caretaker of Lora’s daughter, Suzie (Sandra Dee), while Lora pursues her stage career. Both women deal with the difficulties of motherhood: Lora’s thirst for fame threatens her relationship with Suzie, while Annie’s light-skinned daughter, Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner), struggles with her African American identity.

Why you can’t miss it: Let’s start by this film’s hefty pedigree: it is directed by Douglas Sirk, whose lush melodramas (such as Magnificent Obsession (1954) and Written on the Wind (1956)) have been a huge influence on queer directors such as Todd Haynes and Pedro Almodóvar. It is also produced by gay Hollywood producer extraordinaire Ross Hunter, who sold audiences on artifice, not reality.

This is the second film adaptation of Fannie Hurst’s 1933 novel of the same name; the first, directed by John M. Stahl, was released in 1934 and starred Claudette Colbert. For his version, Sirk brought the theme of racial discrimination to the forefront of the narrative, speaking not only to the Civil Rights Movement but also providing the movie with pungent modern-day relevance. With her heart-breaking performance as the mother of the young woman who tries to conceal her African American heritage, Juanita Moore became only the fifth Black actor to be nominated for an Academy Award.

Writer Rick Gould summarises the film best: “the 1959 remake is a soap opera as grand opera: every emotion is emblazoned, every scene is elegant pageantry. Lana Turner’s glamorous face and figure mightily sold Imitation of Life, but ultimately, Juanita Moore was the movie’s heart.” With this grandest of all melodramas, we explore how camp could be used not only to create a glossy and sensuous world, but also to expose socially conscious topics while still eliciting a strong emotional response from audiences.

Presented from a rare 35mm print from the BFI National Film Archive.

The film length is 125 mins, and will be preceded by an introduction and followed by a discussion.

Doors open at 17.00, for a 18.00 start.

Refreshments will be available in our licensed cafe/bar.


Tickets £8 in advance or on the door.

Advance tickets may be purchased from Ticketlab, or direct from the Museum by calling 020 7840 2200 in office hours.