MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (1937)

It is a pleasure to present a classic film to a group of friends who take the responsibility of all arrangements for the viewing and documentation.. Of the 15 old people present none knew Make Way for Tomorrow but two had seen Tokyo Story . 

Note of comments on film ‘Make Way for Tomorrow’ (director Leo Carey) written by Androulla 

Lots of positive comments.

Not a sentimental film.

One said she wanted the couple to take up the ‘caretaker’ roles together (the job the shopkeeper told Bark about) i.e. a happy ending. This accorded with the request for a happy ending when the film was made; and which the director refused. This audience member thought that the last scene, where the couple’s middle-aged children (‘the siblings’) admit they had behaved terribly, indicated there could have been a change for the better.

Another member said there were some agonising moments which he found difficult to watch, e.g. when characters were embarrassed. I think one of these was the card (bridge) school scene where Lucy was portrayed as a nuisance. He referred to the ending as “bitter-sweet”.

Yet another said the siblings made things worse for everyone by being selfish e.g. the rich daughter, the only one who could have housed both parents, asks for three months to talk her husband into the idea. She didn’t even try and this meant the end of her parents’ life together.

Another said a similar issue had arisen in her family; others agreed it applied to their families too. One gave an example of a parent who had signed away the family home to one of their offspring, only to be taken for granted, while a wiser mother had kept it in her name and was “treated like a queen.”

Someone referred to the opening scene as “schmaltzy” even though this contrasted with the way the subject of inter-family relationships was dealt with in the film.

Another referred to how the car salesman and the hotel manager, i.e. strangers, treated the couple with respect, which contrasted with how the siblings treated their own parents. This member remarked on the complete faith Lucy and Bark had in each other and how the poem at the end showed they had no regrets, despite being separated in their later years.

There were various expressions of how the issues in the film are just as true today, how we identified with the parental couple and how families care for elderly parents in other countries. Also it’s relation to ‘Tokyo Story’ directed by Yasujiro Ozu.

 

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The Hundred Foot Journey (2014)

The Hundred Foot Journey (2014)
Michelin Star and Indian spices get together.
or
Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes possibles. Voltaire

I always look at the DVDs on the supermarket shelves to see what is selling. Last month I picked up a cheap one featuring Helen Mirren. I did not know anything about it. What role is she playing at the age of 69?
Absolutely Charming, A perfect feast claims the DVD cover. I put it away to view when mentally tired.

What an amusing 2 hours I spent last night. I will avoid the food language used by some reviewers but I must say that I thought the film was baby food. Every scene of this film was predictable. The characters were stereotypical, the sets idyllic, the cliches abounded. The getting together of the French restaurant owner Helen Mirren and the Indian Om Puri and the two chefs Charlotte Le Bon (French) and Manish Dayal (Indian) provide the love element in this film.
There is more drama in one episode of the TV Master Chef series where diversity of food and people is present throughout than in this feeble fable that lasts two hours. That is if one enjoys food porn.

The claim by some critics and the film makers that it is an anti racism film about tolerance is risible indeed in its naivety and to me offensive.  I imagine that the reason I did not switch the television off was the tolerable acting of the main characters.

 

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MOTHER AND SON Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

I was very surprised when I read Bradshaw’s article a few months ago.

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/feb/15/best-picture-oscar-winners-gentlemans-agreement-1947

This  film about anti-semitism is not considered as one of Kazan’s best work and Bradshaw’s choice has been criticised. This is not about  antisemitism or Kazan as a director. It is Bradshaw’s sentence below that interests me here and led me to view the film again.

Finally, after much discussion with his elderly concerned mother (a typecast Anne Revere), Phil has a eureka moment.

Bradshaw’s ageist language offended me. What is an ‘elderly concerned mother’ and in what way is Anne Revere typecast? She is not the caricature of the overbearing, emasculating, long suffering Hollywood Jewish mother (see this blog on Mamadrama (2001). Neither is she Bette Davis’ controlling and repressive mother of Now Voyager (1942) or more recently Michell/Kureshi’s The Mother (2003) dependent, egoistic, masochistic who discovers sexual satisfaction and seeks it at any price. Of course he cannot possibly refers to the many  Mother in Hollywood horror films.

What type is Anne Revere portraying in Gentleman’s Agreement? Far from being or acting ‘elderly’ or ‘concerned’ Revere – 44 years old – offers us a dignified, intelligent, socially aware, strong, assertive, warm, young mother/ grandmother with a sense of humour.
I read that she was nominated three times for an Oscar for her strong, matriarchal figure roles in The Song of Bernadette (1943) National Velvet (1944) and Gentleman’s Agreement (1947).
I do not know these films and cannot comment but her role as Mrs. Green in GA is unusual and interesting in its representation of a healthy relationship between mother and adult son.
We see her in the opening sequences. She is tall, elegantly impressive in a flowery dress, a hat and gloves. Her dark hair is swept back and her allure confident. She has been waiting at the entrance of a department store to meet her son Phil and grandson Tommy.

In the previous scenes we have learnt through Tommy’s disclosures to his father that she knows her son very well.“Grandma says you’re getting tougher and tougher to have around the house… she says you’re too picky and choosy …grand ma says you are carrying the world on your shoulders… she wishes you’d leave it alone…..
Her first assertive words to Phil: I just love waiting for people. There’s nothing more fun than waiting for people who are always late. Critical? sure but this is a lighthearted remonstration.
The next appearance of Mrs.Green is at breakfast. Phil is reading the paper and so is Tommy mimicking his father. Mother is preparing and serving the food but not for long. She grabs the papers away from the ‘men’ and sits down to eat and talk with Phil. When Phil is explaining ‘antisemitism’ to his son she remains attentive but does not interfere with father/son relationship until it is time for the child to go to school.
The dialogue between mother and son about the assignment that Phil was given is mutual understanding; Phil is not happy about writing about antisemitism but his mother encourages him and stresses the importance of the issue.

The scene closes with Phil: Wish me luck Mum, I am going to the magazine now. Mother: Good luck I hope its something you want and not far away.
At the door: Phil kisses his mother : You are quite a girl mum.

When discussing the project together Phil uses his mother to express his difficulty of finding an angle to the series. She is encouraging and a good sounding board. At no time does she seem ‘concerned’ .

When she has her angina episode in the middle of the night she needs his comfort and asks him to hold her hand. ( Here we have a very subtle detail: Ma’s hair shows now a big patch of white).  Phil expresses his care for her and reassures Tommy that they will look after her and that she will be fine until you are married and have kids

The next mother and son scene is a pivotal one. Phil expresses his fear of his mother dying and his desire to refuse his assignment:
I was scared Ma – Like I used to be when i’d get to wondering what I’d do if anything ever happened to you. It all came back. I was a kid again and my Ma was sick …I wanted to ask  was it awful, are you afraid. But there are some questions nobody can ask, and they cannot be answered. I‘ll know the answers to those two when I feel it myself,
I‘ll know the answer to those two when I am lying there and that the way it is with the series. Ma: but you got the answers before. Every article you wrote, the right answers got in somehow,
In a very long speech Phil exposes his approach as an investigating journalist. He became a participant in the settings he was researching. It is then that the idea of   being  ‘Jewish for six weeks’ occurs to him.
Ma: its a cinch. this is the best medicine I could have had.
This long scene has the psychological depth of two friends who know each other well discussing a problem and coming to a solution.
Finally I would point out that the end result: Phil’s published hard hitting article about antisemitism, injustice, inequality is read aloud by Mrs.Green. She also makes this militant declaration her own as she says: I suddenly want to live to be very old. I want to be around to see what happens. The world is stirring in very strange ways. Maybe this is the century for it, and that’s why it’s so troubled.…. Wouldn’t be wonderful if it was everybody’s century when people all over the world- free people – found a way to live together. I’d like to be around to see some of that, even the beginning. I may stick around for quite a while. 

 

Some random thoughts

It is ironical to hear these pronouncements in 2017 when we know that in 1952, at the time of the Hollywood blacklist Kazan gave names to the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities.

It is ironical that 7 decades after the release of the film  we still  live  in trouble times,

It is a coincidence that as I am writing this I see in the 16-22 September  guide issue of the  Guardian an article by Anne Bilson on Hollywoo’s Most Horrific Mothers.

Personally the sentence that resonated with me is:  I wanted to ask  was it awful, are you afraid. But there are some questions nobody can ask, and they cannot be answered. And yet after each civilian casualties and deaths, on our TV screens,  insensitive reporters go around with microphone at the ready and assault the berieved and frightened with these questions.

There is in Phil’s speech   a reference to John Ford’s  Grapes of Wrath  

 

 

 

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SINCE OTAR LEFT (2003)

 

I decided at the end of the U3A year to retire from facilitating the Old Women in Films Group. I found that my energy diminished in sympathy with the attendance.

In the meantime Ealing Oldies Network (EON see June’s blog ) asked me to run occasional film sessions. 15 women and 3 men attended the second film show.
Once again the technology was perfect, and the projector and screen were ready on time.
I had a great feeling of freedom. No longer did I have to worry about the membership or the attendance . I was asked to show a film and chair a discussion. There was implied trust that I would show films worth seeing and nobody objected to my usual decision of not declaring the title in advance.
I chose Bertuccelli’s “ Since Otar Left “(2003).
It needed some background introduction about Georgia and France and about the director. But as is my practice I avoided to make any comment on the content of the film but asked the audience to take note of all aspects the film.
I am always delighted to note how eager people are when invited to share their thoughts and feelings about a film. So different from the usual Questions and Answers of some events. Nearly all the aspects of the film were commented on.

The humour.
The way the music was used.
The way the red colour was used in moments of strong emotions.
The imaginary presence of the main male character in a women’s household.
The range of men’s roles but the focus not on them: the young man with no future, the son gone away, the long suffering partner.
The way the lies of Stalinism go all through the film.

The way the relationships between the three generations of women were conveyed in the first minutes of the film in the cake scene.
How the tensions between the three women were true to life.
The shocking scene of the young daughter confronting her mother in the dasha scene.

I usually expand, explain or reveal some features. A couple of women commented that the grandmother did not react emotionally to the news of the death of her son.
“Surely she had processed the death of Otar beforehand as she did not seem surprised, she must have had doubts at some level”. I pointed out how the cinematography in this case expressed more about her distress than the overacting of usual melodramas.
An interesting example of interpretation differences occurred over the “resilience of grandma when her granddaughter decided to stay in Paris”. Some interpreted it as suggesting that the grandmother was pleased that her son would be replaced. My interpretation would differ. I would have said that she saw in her grand-daughter the continuity of her own love for Paris.
Obviously in a case of this sort, both interpretations are valid as they do not contradict the story or the characters.

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MARVIN’S ROOM (1996): Love and Care

It is the end of the U3A summer term for the U3A Old Women in Film Group.
I had put aside, to consider later, Marvin’s Room (1996) Screenplay by Scott McPherson (1959-1992), based on his own play.

With :
Diane Keaton (Bessie), Meryl Streep (Lee, Bessie’s younger sister), Leonardo Di Caprio (Lee’s son Hank), Hume Cronyn (Marvin, sisters’ father), Gwen Verdon (Marvin’s sister), Robert de Niro (Dr. Wally), Hal Scardino (Charlie)

About :
Multiple family relationships and conflicts, sisters, disturbed youth, terminal illness, bone marrow donors , mental and physical disability, caring and love and more.. There are also farcical, and hilarious interludes.

My first viewing left me puzzled.
I had always resisted the temptation of answering what is it about and who stars in it when asked about a film. I firmly believe that there is no way of summarising a film in a few words and actors can give  good or bad performances. But I needed some help to make sense of the pieces of the puzzle that I could not put together. One sentence kept tugging at my consciousness: At the beginning of the film during a farcical scene at a surgery, Bessie talks to the absent-minded Dr. Wally (de Niro) about her father Marvin
Dad is dying, he’s been dying for about 20 years – He’s doing it really slow so I do not miss anything.
I thought: This is the black humour that only a person who has experienced the complex feelings of watching somebody die would write.
Neither the title sequence with one long travelling shot in closeups of a multitude of medicine containers nor the lyrics of the credits sequences focusing on two sisters’ reconciliation helped me.

I needed to think clearly about the roles of the dying father Marvin and the dotty old Aunt Ruth and consulted the reviewers. A quick search reveals many writings about the very successful play. The New Yorker even reviews a revival of the play in its July 10th – 2017 issue.
There are few critics of the film and they mainly consider the stars’ performances and family relationships.

It is an article by David Richards (Washington Post 05-01-1997) that enlightened me. I think that unless one knows about McPherson’s life, the AIDS epidemic when he wrote the play and later adapted it for the screenplay, it is difficult to interpret the many pieces of the jigsaw that make Marvin’s Room a very interesting film. McPherson died at the age of 33 of the complications of AIDS after years of caring for or being cared for by his companion and lover.
Richards comments: The play’s unique tone, that commingling of deep feeling and black humor, was, he said, merely a consequence of his inability to keep the laughs going. He wrote funny until his energy flagged. Then, he wrote serious.
The screenplay was one of the last pieces he completed, before illness became his full-time occupation and he started referring to himself, jokingly, as a “playwrit.

I will only consider the two old characters. I tend to disagree with Richards when he writes: I don’t know if there’s much to be gained by showing Marvin (a gummy Hume Cronyn), who was an evocative offstage presence — a childish gurgle, really — in the play.

I cannot comment on the play, but I found in Bessie’s care of her father an aspect of caring that is unusual. (She herself has leukaemia and in need of a bone marrow donor. She hopes that her sister Lee or sons Hank or Charlie may be compatible.) Apart from a slight hint of soiled sheets there is not representation of personal intimate care as seen in other films about care like Amour or Chronic . Although Marvin cannot communicate and is helpless lying motionless in bed he shows a capacity for pleasure – mainly sensory pleasures that make him smile in wonder. Bessie understands his needs and provides him with the stimulation of light reflections of a mirror on the room walls and furniture, describes in details the meal she is going to cook for him. She understands that if he puts odd objects in his mouth it is because he likes the way they feel. When she introduces him to his grandson there is an ever subtle hint of a smile on his face and one can imagine that at the end of the film his noiseless mouthing directed at Bessie says ‘I love you, I love you’. Briefly although old Marvin is severely disabled, he is seen as a feeling being.

Auntie Ruth is described by reviewers as silly, spaced out, dotty, eccentric, nearly senile, bemused, funny/sad ailing, has a wacky obsession about watching soap operas. What they do not say is that Verdon gives a wonderfully, touching performance of a likeable, sweet, vulnerable, ineffective beautiful old woman. She shows enormous empathy with people – including TV soaps characters, but cannot cope with the practicalities of life. She may never have been capable of looking after herself. She feels completely lost when she cannot rely on the presence of Bessie. Her inadequacies are very funny and give rise to hilarious, surreal episodes. Her innocence provides the humour in the film but we never laugh at her. Her severe back pain that kept her in bed is cured by electric stimulation of her brain. But the side-effect of this is that the garage door opens when it is activated. Side effect indeed.
In two long sequences of mins 35 and 2mins 22 the interactions of Bessie and Ruth go from the funny to the heartbreaking. In the first Bessie comes back from seeing the doctor having left Ruth to look after Marvin. Ruth has been watching TV and has not given Marvin the pills he has to take at regular times. She gives the excuse that it is because of her brain stimulator but Bessie replies the excuse used to be her back pain. Ruth: Stupid me – I am so useless. She breaks down at the realisation of her own failings but proceeds to tearfully express her fears and anxieties: what if he dies? Bessie reassures her. The mood lightens up when Ruth notices the plaster on Bessie’s arm (blood sampling) and proceeds to offer her useless funny medical advice for her ‘deficiency’. She also volunteers to make soup. Both gestures are gallantly refused by Bessie who knows that they would be more trouble than help.

In the second sequence showing a descent from laughs to tears the scene is a hospital bed where Bessie is recovering from radiotherapy treatment for leukaemia. Ruth tries to suggest to Bessie ways of dealing with being confined to bed. With wonderful facial concentration she comes up with ‘sleep… or… lay awake’. The comic mood continues when she describes how she conceals from Marvin the presence of a nurse in place of his daughter as carer. The skill of the screenwriting and the wonderful acting makes the viewer visualise a surreal hilarious scene. This turns to tragedy when Ruth is told off by Bessie for concealing the truth.Then a crying distressed desperate Ruth asks how else could she explain to Marvin that his little daughter is dying.

In a one minute scene with Ruth, it is the warm relationship between her and Charlie (Lee’s younger son) that is shown. They are sitting face to face and they talk about the TV soap while Charlie is busy putting the last touches of make up on Ruth’s face. She already looks beautiful with a tiara on her white curly short hair, earrings and necklaces.. She looks at her face in the mirror and is delighted what a good job. Lee enters and the beautician in her admires and sees her aunt in a new light: You look beautiful
Ruth: I am not. I am just a silly old woman getting dressed up for a TV show.
Later, a short clip shows young boy and great-aunt enjoying together the drama of a TV soap.

I have only considered the old characters in this piece but the film deserves more attention. I feel it is suffused with McPherson’s sensitivity and compassion:
We all take care of each other, the less sick caring for the more sick… At times, an unbelievably harsh fate is transcended by a simple act of love, of caring for one another. By most we are thought of as dying. But as dying becomes a way of life, the meaning of the word blurs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Make Mine Mink (1960) at the Ealing Oldies Network meeting.

I was asked by the Ealing Oldies Network to show them a film and lead the following discussion. EON is a friendship group of old people who meet locally every Monday. It is self organised, people share their knowledge and plan their activities.
I was pleased to be asked but wondered what film I would choose not knowing the members of the group or how many would attend. I felt that I would leave the great classics for later if enough members showed interest in this activity. I was delighted that 12 people turned up for the session, and pleased to see that the technical facility was all sorted out.
I chose Make Mine Mink (1960) taking the risk of some people not appreciating farce.

The following notes were taken by two members:

Most enjoyed it and laughed out loud
A few objected to the sexist stereotypes and some pointed out that men were also stereotyped.
Enjoyed the nostalgia
One person did not, it reminded her of watching similar comedies with her mum and dad and found it very sexist, especially at the beginning, she preferred the later part of the film when the action started
One person noted that the screenwriter Michael Pertwee was the brother of John Pertwee actor in Dr. Who
The old people in the film were bored and came to life when they started their actions, one identified with that feeling and would like to set up a “Spontaneous Action” group (laughs all round)
It was fun, usually there is a lot of negativity about old people, here it was refreshing
The mother next door was made to be a fool

We went on to have further debate about  how , in recent years older woman are having more significant and stronger roles in film. We talked about Judi Dench in the Bond film, Maggie Smith in “The Van”. We also had a discussion on “Iris”, the film about Iris Murdoch and agreed that it did not depict her whole life, her life as a writer and an intellectual was not portrayed, just her early life and her life after dementia. We wondered was this because her husband John Bailey wrote the
book on which the film was made.

It was obvious that the members of EON enjoyed sharing their feelings and thoughts about the film as they expressed that they would like more sessions. I look forward to introducing them to the often neglected ‘classics’ about old people.

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WOMEN AND WAR FILMS.

Delighted by Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest (2016), and intrigued by Sue Harper’s 1996 description of Great Day (1940) as a masterpiece, I attended the BFI for the screening of GD and two ‘shorts ‘ in the British Women and WWII Cinema series.

GD is an interesting feel good film about the Women Institutes during the war. The driving force was the preparation for a visit of Mrs. Roosevelt. My immediate thoughts were to note the unusual representation of the few men, and the absence of war in this war film. I automatically thought of the later (1942) Went The Day Well , its violent images, the active role of women and the brutalising effect of war. GD is certainly worth studying as an all-women film, the spread of actors’s ages, the class element, and Flora Robson presence.
It is worth putting it on the list of older women in films.
I found the two shorts Choose Cheese (1940) and They Also Serve (1940) fascinating. Both were directed by Ruby Grierson. They show such potential in a woman director who is not as well known as her brother and who died tragically at the age of 36 on a torpedoed liner. They Also Serve, shows the daily routine of an older woman going about caring for her household, friends and neighbours. My first thought was “ what a shame that the significant  contribution to society of  the older woman needs a war to be recognised” .
(http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/561579/ )

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