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Entries in Imitation of Life (4)


National Film Registry: A Sirk, Some Ghostbusters, and Zorro

Nooooo. I almost forgot to share the National Film Registries new titles. Each year they add 25 pictures  that are deemed historically, culturally or aesthetically important. Each year I suggest that we should watch all the titles together. Well, the ones we can find at least. Perhaps we'll actually do that for 2016 -- you never know! Getting a spot on the National Film Registry is more symbolic than active. It does not guarantee preservation or restorations but it does suggest that these films should all be preserved and/or restored.

The 2015 additions are:


  • Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (1894) - watch it now. it's six seconds long... the earliest surviving copyrighted film
  • Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906) -watch it now. (7 minutes) from a short Winsor McCay comic strip
  • A Fool There Was (1915) -watch it now. (66 minutes) Theda Bara tempts a married man! It's always the woman's fault, don't you know 
  • Humoresque (1920) - not the Joan Crawford film inspired by this story!
  • The Mark of Zorro (1920) -watch it now (88 minutes) the Douglas Fairbanks version
  • Black and Tan (1929) -watch it now -(15 minutes) short jazz film with Duke Ellington
  • Dracula (1931) - the Spanish language version
  • Our Daily Bread (1934) - King Vidor's socialist drama
  • The Old Mill (1937) - animated short Oscar winner
  • Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) - Preston Sturges comedy
  • The Story of Menstruation (1946) - documentary short
  • John Henry and the Inky-Poo (1946) - animated short Oscar nominee
  • Winchester '73 (1950) -western with Jimmy Stewart and Shelley Winters
  • Imitation of Life (1959) - Douglas Sirk's awesome melodrama
  • Seconds (1966) -thriller starring Rock Hudson
  • Portrait of Jason (1967) - LGBT documentary
  • Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968) - a documentary about filmmaking
  • The Inner World of Aphasia (1968) -documentary about aphasics
  • Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (1975) - a biographical doc
  • Being There (1979) - the Hal Ashby dramedy with Peter Sellers
  • Ghostbusters (1984) - the comic blockbuster currently undergoing a gender flip
  • Top Gun (1986) -you feel the need. the need for speed
  • Sink or Swim (1990) - documentary about formative childhood
  • The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - that insanely beloved prison drama
  • LA Confidential (1997) - the awesome neo noir


Big thanks to Matthew Rettenmund of Boy Culture for pointing out this insanely cool bit of trivia about the list:

Of special note: Mother and daughter Lupita Tovar (the world's oldest living actress at age 105) and Susan Kohner were in the Spanish-language Dracula (1931) and Imitation of Life (1959), respectively.

You may recall that Mexican actress Lupita Tovar recently took up the throne or oldest living screen star after the death of Luise Rainer. The super cool thing to know about Lupita Tovar is that she is the grandmother of Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz, both filmmakers (Paul wrote and directed Grandma this year) so her cinematic legacy lives on.

Though the titles are selected by the National Film Preservation Board and Library staff, the public can nominate titles here if you wanna get a jump start on their 2016 list. The movies have to be at least 10 years old so no "OMG THE FORCE AWAKENS WAS AMAZING!" because they will shut that right down. 


12 Days Til Oscar: Best Picture Nominations by the Dozen

Tim here, with your daily dose of Oscar numerology. We’re now in the third year of the Academy’s undoubtedly well-intentioned "some random number that always turns out to be nine" approach to selecting Best Picture nominees, and for some of us, this is irritatingly arbitrary. But it could be so much worse. Think of how awful it must have been to been a rabid Oscar fanatic in the first decade of the award’s existence: depending on the year, there were anywhere from three to twelve Best Picture nominees, until it was finally nailed down at a nice, round ten at the 9th Academy Awards, for the year 1936.

The magic number of the day being 12, I'd like you to join me, for a closer look at 1934, the first of two years with 12 nominated films (for space reasons, I am alas compelled to leave 1935 to fend for itself) - the first year, as well, that the awards corresponded to a single calendar year. What can we learn about the Academy’s tastes and habits down the decades from each of these?

BEST PICTURE It Happened One Night (released by Columbia)
What It Is: One of the greatest of all screwball comedies, in which the sexily odd-looking pair of Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable cross country and banter.
The Slot It Fills:
The long-abandoned "comedies are a valid form of artistic expression like anything else" spot. But, of course, the period in which the film came out was unusually good at producing top-notch comedies starring the best movie stars of the day.

Only 11 more slots to fill after the jump

Click to read more ...


Goodbye Juanita & Martha

It feels like Oscar's upcoming "In Memorium" segment this year is going to be extra exhaustingly sad. One of the tiny reasons among many larger ones that I wish they hadn't moved the Honorary Oscar to another event is that the eldest artists of the cinema shouldn't only be viewed through the prism of final goodbyes, you know? This past week we lost two more actresses, both of whom might feel right at home when they hear heavenly choirs.

Juanita Moore and Lana Turner and their screen daughters in "Imitation of Life"

When I think of Juanita Moore (1922-2014) and her classic Oscar-nominated performance in the Douglas Sirk melodrama Imitation of Life (1959), I nearly always think of a scene she isn't even in! My mind always rushes to her character's own funeral. 

Is there a sung funereal performance more moving than Mahalia Jackson's "Trouble of the World"?

Trouble of the World_Mahalia Jackson by mael100

It's enough to make you weep as hard as Lora (Lana Turner) when she loses her dear friend Annie (Juanita Moore). I was such a wet-faced mess the first time I saw this movie. See, here's the thing. I think of the funeral first because Juanita's performance and plight as a mother continually rejected by her lighter-skinned daughter (who wants to pass as white) is so moving that it earns this unforgettable Mahalia Jackson send-off.

The Hungarian born operetta superstar Martha Eggerth (1912-2013) passed away just after Christmas at 101 years of age... she kept performing even into her late nineties! Though she was a much bigger star in European cinemas of the 30s, two Judy Garland pictures in the 40s made a big (brief) deal of her: For Me and My Gal (1942) is fun and quite famous, largely for being Gene Kelly's debut, but I'd argue that the more obscure Presenting Lily Mars (1943) is even better. I thought about just posting a still here but no photo will do her justice, despite her loveliness, since it was all about the voice. Here's a clip of her singing Voices of Spring. You can read a lot more about her here.



Centennial: Mahalia Jackson

Mahalia's voice heals the blind in "St Louis Blues"Mahalia Jackson was born 100 years ago on this very day in 1911 New Orleans as Mahala Jackson (she added the "i" sometime in the early 1930s). After a troubled childhood she moved to Chicago where her music career began in earnest. Despite never recording any secular music -- she refused to -- international fame hit in the late 1940s and she's been virtually canonized sense. Though she's never had a biopic (why not?) her history is closely tied with the story of Black America. She was part of The Great Migration in the 1930s. She was the first gospel singer to perform at Carnegie Hall and became famous all over the world. She sang at the March on Washington in 1963 and later at Martin Luther King Jr's funeral. (When she died in 1972, Aretha Franklin returned the favor and sang at hers.)  

As is true with most music icons, there are film connections. Spike Lee's Jungle Fever uses her music prominently and she also appears in archival footage in his documentary Four Little Girls.  Though she wasn't an actress per se, she did appear in films as a singer. You can watch her performance in the musical St Louis Blues (1958) on Netflix Instant Watch currently. (It's a treasure trove of famous African American celebrities: Nat "King Cole, Eartha Kitt, Ella Fitzgerald, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, etcetera). Two-thirds of the way through the film, her voice actually heals a blind man! You have to have a voice like Mahalia's to get away with that even within a spiritually-minded melodrama.

Mahalia's most indelible contribution to cinema came a year later. The Douglas Sirk classic Imitation of Life (1959) halts in its gorgeous colorful tracks to listen to Mahalia's soulful wail to the heavens. "Trouble of the World", indeed.

Her voice is so emotionally acute that even Ice Queen Supreme Lana Turner couldn't help but be visibly shaken by it.