Thursday, January 20, 2011

"The God and The Universe Conversations" Movie Series

Empathinc. and the Educational Center are partnering to conduct a five movie film series. The winter/spring theme is "Living Authentically. We will be exploring the spiritual costs and promises of living what Parker Palmer calls the "undivided life".
The series starts January 21st. We will begin at 6:30. Discussion after viewing. Snacks provided. Suggested donation of ten dollars per person. Reservations suggested. Call Mellisa Thomas Meyer @ 704-375-1171
Our first film is:

“Imitation of Life”

Directed by Douglas Sirk, 1959

“All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
Strength to Love 1963

It may be considered the height of audacity to remark that Dr. King’s brilliant observation on the linearity of problem solving might be the ultimate template for a Soap Opera. But in watching Douglas Sirk’s 1959 movie, “Imitation of Life”, it seems incredibly appropriate. At its release, Sirk’s movie was critically panned as another weepy “woman’s movie”, even though it was wildly popular and garnished two Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress for Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner. And yet, in a daring and timely turn, Sirk was able to reckon with powerful social maladies while still maintaining the interest of the mainstream audience. In part, what makes this movie so fascinating are the strategies and choices that Sirk employed to achieve this seamless connection of scathing critique and popular culture.
Essentially, this is a narrative concerning the ambiguous nature of being authentic in a world that is delineated in terms of black and white. Based in an American culture that is racially segregated, this tale dares to explore the very meanings of what it is to be Black and what it is to be White. While this conflict is depicted in grand sweepings of caricature, simplified dialogue and explosive color, Sirk still manages to capture a depth of anguish and turmoil as our characters struggle with issues of Being. Being clear and strong with their convictions. Being clear and strong within themselves and in their inter-personal relationships. And being clear and strong with their specific desires and life goals. It rarely goes well, these struggles.
Virtually everything we will later come to understand in depth is depicted in the first scene of the movie. Coney Island, 1947. A cacophony of sound and sight. Strategic reds create a composition of swirling passion – swimming trunks, umbrellas, signs. The frivolity of a holiday that sets the mood for the dichotomy of celebration as an Imitation of Reality – for reality is confined to the shadows. Our heroine, Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) has lost her child in the crowd. Within three minutes, Sirk sets up the theme of loss and narcissism that will weave throughout the plot. Bumping into strange men as she seeks assistance, Lora’s pattern of looking for and ignoring masculine guidance will reverberate time and again. A roving photographer (Steve Archer, played by John Gavin with cardboard good will and earnestness) records Lora’s panic in a series of still shots. Steve and the police escort Lora beneath the boardwalk where the errant daughter, Susie (played later as a teen by the doe-eyed Sandra Dee) is found enfolded in the nurturing care of Annie Johnson (Oscar nominee Juanita Moore). Susie has found a new friend in Annie’s daughter Sarah Jane (with Susan Kohner vamping through this part as a young adult). Sarah Jane is light skinned (like her Daddy – “He was practically White”). Her mother Annie is Black. Immediately assumptions are made about Annie’s relationship as Lora asks, “How long have you been taking care of her?” Annie blithely replies, “Why, all her life.”
Both women are single parents. Annie is homeless. Soon the two women enter into an arrangement, and Annie becomes the angelic helpmate that assists behind the scenes as the determined Lora doggedly pursues her goal of being a famous actress. Together they migrate over time and success from a cold-water flat to a series of ever more elegant homes.
But as Dr. King predicts, their progress is precarious. The patterns of Being so succinctly set up in the opening scene, collapse one problem into another, like errant Tinker Toys on a three-legged card table. We the viewer watch helplessly as any one problem solved yields no real solutions. And with no sustainable solutions, the string of linked problems then becomes maintained and even nurtured by habitual and rehearsed responses.
Sirk makes sure we “get it” with broad strokes. The orchestration cajoles and waltzes us into the proper emotions. Mirrors and glass reflect gestures so that we are sure to understand the duplicity and complexities of each character’s struggle with their identities. And the costumes! High couture defines sophistication. Capri pants and a perm signify maturity. Sequins and garters the uniform of the troubled harlot. And Mink becomes a bookend manifestation of temptation and successful frugality.
At movie’s end, it is the stalwart character of Annie that is rewarded with release from her exhausting burden. Beneath the cloak of her culturally imposed invisibility is not the visage of an angel, but rather, the authentically human compilation that is friend, benefactor and participating member of the larger community. Her model – but more significantly – her release, may be the one thing that may offer redemption to the damaged family that she had gathered around her.
Director Douglas Sirk was able provide this Holy, uncommon ground for his characters to potentially resolve the crippling divisions that tormented them. Perhaps, his vision as an artist may give us cause to consider our particular lineage of problem reaction. To ponder our stance on our own Holy, uncommon ground. And to remove our collective shoes, as is required.

First Scene of Movie: fascinating choreography!

The series continues on the 3rd Friday of the month with: Far From Heaven (February). TransAmerica (March), Batman Begins (April) and The Secret Life of Bees (May). Please join us! Out of town? Don't worry - we are creating a prototype to be shared on the World Wide Web! (WWW!). Talk to us, comment, eavesdrop, stop by, wave, honk, drop off intriguing packages!
Tom Schulz and Sheila Ennis


All art and writing by Tom Schulz unless otherwise noted, or unless it is so cool
he will try to get away with claiming it as his own.

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