by Carla Barger
Video still from Stuart Keeler,
Artwork by Teena McClelland,
Artwork by Jelena Berenc
With over 50 films and 30 international awards under his belt, Mike Hoolboom is one of Canada’s most respected and prolific experimental filmmakers. Imitations of Life is an intricate dance of images that are at once beautiful and devastating in the truth they lay bare.
The film is a montage of Hollywood images, documentary footage, and home movies of Hoolboom’s three-year-old nephew which create a rumination on lost innocence, memory, mankind’s obsession with documenting our past and creating our future on film, and our inability to change our path toward doom despite our attempts to rework our histories through this documentation. It is a sort of meta-science fiction film made all too real by the way Hoolboom manipulates the images. From Citizen Kane, to Terminator, footage of a sock-hop to medical footage of the inside of a womb, Hoolboom’s seemingly disparate images flow like water into a quiet sadness.
Imitations of Life is structured in ten acts, each slightly distinct in its focus. Hoolboom uses voice-overs to create a personal space within the film for the viewer. Sometimes we hear Hoolboom himself ponder the future of his nephew Jack as we see grainy images of a child running through a field. Other times it is a little girl’s voice we hear over images from Schindler’s List.
It is as if we are overhearing someone reading their diary aloud, and the effect is highly moving. Intertitles also add a darkly poetic tone: Movies mark the passage of time. They are time machines. Machines built for mourning. And in some moments they are all that stand between us and our desire to destroy everything. To wipe the slate clean. To begin again. There are two kinds of terror here, the terror of annihilation and the terror of remembering.