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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TOKYO STORY – film group responses

The film group ‘gut’ responses to Tokyo Story. The general discussion brought out many more subjects and comments. The overall impression was that the film was very relevant to our times.

  • Sadness on the part of the father- just realising what he has lost. Anger with shige
  • and her husband for their ‘carlessness’ of their parents and their offishness.   Noriko is kind to her in-laws and probably did not have a happy marriage. The harshness of the New Tokyo. The opposites of the timescales of the lives of parents and children.
  • Utterly beautiful . So true and universal. Moving and tough -provoking. Unforgettable.
  • The often disconnections of family. Excellent black and white photography.
  • Perfect depitcion of the intricacies of family relationships. Touch of King Lear about it in that the daughter -in-law was the nicest of the children.
  • tradition and modern dress. Figures placed deliberately hierarcally.
  • Lyrical film with great expression of deep emotions both positive and negative, mainly conveyed by facial and body language. The film depitcts real intimacy between Noriko (the daughter-in-law wife of the dead son) and the mother, very tender poignant scenes. The hand of the auteur can’t be missed in the long shots , the sudden insertionf of industrial scnes. The music is western but totally appropriate.
  • Very moving and philosophical on old age, children’s lives and work taking them far away to Tokyo, leaving little time or space (work/own children) for caring for their children. Loneliness all bearable when the older couple had each other.
  • Shows selfishness opposed to duty. Sadly the need for the parents to thank their children for taking care of them.
  • Sad reflection on post industrial societies. The attenuation of family ties. The need to move to the cities for work and the perception that there  no time for the older generation is a sorry thought.

 

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ON FILM STILLS, CLIPS AND REVIEWS

I recently obtained access to an academic library. Having a little time on my hands I decided to explore the subject of the representation of older women in films. The first article I came across is from Feminisms: Diversity, Difference and Multiplicity in Contemporary Film Cultures (2015). Lucy Bolton’s chapter The Intertextual Stardom of Iris: Winslet, Dench, Murdoch, and Alzheimer’s Disease, delighted me. At long last a paper that asks the right questions about a whole film and not an isolated part of it. After a detailed analysis of all the aspects of the film she asks:

At the forefront of this is the matter of whose perspective is being shown and whose voice is being heard. Then there is the question of which elements of the woman’s life are foregrounded – biographical, psychological, or intellectual – and whether the camera’s gaze is a pathologizing one. Iris grimly illustrates how a star persona can be hijacked by a social concern or cultural preoccupation.

Things have changed while I was not looking. When I started being interested in the representation of old women in films the research literature was sparse. Some images and scenes were used to illustrate an argument or confirm a film theory, and there were generalised statistics about old women stereotypes.
Although Bolton addresses a specific film about a writer and philosopher and celebrity actors, the questions she asks can be applied to all films featuring an old woman. Had we had these questions in mind, I think that our discussions in the film group would have been much richer.
Notes on a Scandal
I remember clearly coming out of seeing the very popular and well reviewed Notes on a Scandal feeling disturbed by its sexism and ageism. A member of the film group was also there. She said “I loved it”. I retorted “don’t you think it was ageist?” Her reply is one that I often hear : “but there are people like that”. I did not write about Notes on a Scandal but referred to Daphna Baram in the Guardian who expressed my feelings better than I could.

When the members of the film group worked on the paper British Films 1997-2006 we all found The Mother and Notes on a Scandal profoundly misogynistic and ageist. But we differed on Iris. Some women thought that the very good exposition of Alzheimers disease was all the more tragic affecting a writer and thinker. Other women thought that the film contrasted the young Iris Murdoch with the old Iris without stressing her life as a writer and philosopher.

I think that Bolton’s questions applied to the highly popular films featuring an old woman: The Mother, Iris, Cloud Nine, MidAugust Lunch, Le Week End, would give us more understanding of ageing and ageism issues than the adulating reviews about the old woman ‘still doing it’ of The Mother and Cloud Nine.

A film image, clip, sequence isolated from its context can support a variety of contradicting arguments. Reviews, often sexist, prime us to look for the features described and we dismiss important elements of the film. To be critical of the representation of old women in film it is most important for old women viewers to ask:

– whose perspective is being shown and whose voice is being heard?
– which elements of old women lives are foregrounded
– what do the mise-en-scene, the camera gaze, the dialogue, the music express?
– what do the critics and reviewers say.

– Does the film challenge or collude with the general sexism/ageism of the industry? 

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Grief and Guilt -The Straight Story and Manchester by the Sea

Again a brief post that does not deal with the representation of old women in feature films but since I wrote about The Straight Story (1999) 5 years ago  I will consider Manchester by the Sea (2016).

I find I have no time at the moment to analyse these two remarkable films and compare and contrast them. I remarked on my blog about Chronic how the back story of the main protagonist is redundant, irrelevant and manipulative. The two films above demonstrate how good directors, Lynch and Lonergan use the same back story to produce great films.

In both we have a man who lives with the grief and guilt of having been responsible for the death of own grandchild /children.  In SS the man is old and terminally ill, disabled by age and lives with his daughter whose children are in care. In MBS the man is young estranged from his wife. In both films the natural environment beautifully filmed is part of the story. In both films the reason for the tragedy is the abuse of alcohol  by the grandfather (and or his brother  – here there is ambiguity in the Lynch film)  and in  MBS alcohol and drugs. In both films children die in a burning house and this is of extreme visual emotional power.

What interest me is the differences between the two films:

1-  The way the memory of the burning house is expressed in the two films:  Lynch deals with the loss of control and powerlessness that the grandfather felt, while flashbacks take us to the father looking at the actual event in MBS.  They deserve detailed analysis.

2- The differences between the young man and the old man of lived grief and guilt about a past tragic event.

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HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971) 46 years later

 

I first showed the film (on VHS?) to a group of my friends around 1999 on the recommendation of one of the women. She mentioned that she saw it with her sons and they found it hilarious. My reaction at the time was rather negative and although I liked the black humour scenes I did not relish the sequences involving car/police chases and I found Ruth Gordon’s mannered acting irritating. Around 2010 with a new membership of the film group and the release of a dvd I saw it again. This time I took more notice of its social satire and inventive cinematography (more of this in the next post)
This year there were 10 of us.
– I felt from the beginning that it would not have a happy ending so could not laugh.
– Black comedy which shocked, anarchy without responsibility but its message of find your own way to expressing yourself has much to be said in its favour in a society (U.S.) which in the 70s demanded conformity. I really laughed hard at many of the incidents, found the attachment to each other tender, poignant and in the end doomed to disappointment so she took the brave way out. I noted she was concentration camp survivor so had determined to live different kind of life. At times a fantasy, At the end I did not expect him to kill himself so I was not surprised he survived – that honoured what she taught him -LIVE. I really enjoyed it all even when I was shocked by the first “hanging”.
– Very funny and iconoclastic . Redolent of the youth culture of the period. Great film.
– While I ‘got’ what the film was about I did not find it particularly funny.
– Wonderful performance by Bud and Ruth with her anarchic spirit overcoming his nihilistic tendencies. Great antidote to militarism and nationalism – a positive ending, choosing when to go.
– I found the film uplifting and life affirming (although not funny, in the way others in the group did!). I first saw it when I was aged about 16, the age Harold is meant to be, and that was 45 years ago, so I’m now closer to Maude’s age. So my thoughts about how old Maude is, feel different now. But a message of ‘seize the day’ or ‘if you want to sing out sing out’ is relevant at any age.
– A fairy tale – and the reason why I did not mind her unstoppable ‘life-fulness’. I didn’t realise in my first viewing that she was a holocaust survivor. Very funny – laugh out loud film. The mother was amazing. Liked it more this time.
– Dark humour – hilarious. We fell in love with her too. So an impossible love is entirely possible. Of its time . Life affirming
– The film brought up a lot of feelings for me especially Maude’s background.

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Caramel (2007)

The film group film this month was Caramel. I had presented it in 2011 at the Lexi cinema to a general audience at the U3A matinée. They loved the film. On release in 2007 the critics and reviewers were in the majority very positive and it was distributed internationally. I was surprised by the variety of responses of the film group this month.
– It represents well the of diversity of Lebanese society.
– Lebanese Steel Magnolia
– Have there been any changes in women’s oppression in the last 10 years?
– Slow
– Waiting but nothing happens
– Boring.
In the subsequent discussion however the details of the lives of the women, society pressures and their solidarity and friendship were commented on.
I find it difficult to be objective about the film as I lived in Beirut in my formative years and understand Arabic. I appreciate its realism and enjoy its very special humour.
It has been described as a chick flick, a romantic comedy, but under the light-hearted surface lies an acute observation of the difficulties of women’s lives, their solidarity and resilience, the way they confront pressures with wry humour.
The title sequences set the mood by showing the preparation of the mixture of sugar and lemon that makes the caramel. The sweet and sour concoction can be eaten but is painful when used as a depilatory paste.  The action takes place mainly in a beauty  salon called ‘si Belle’ in a modest part of Beirut. The B letter is seen hanging lopsided on the facade. The clientele and the beauticians are ordinary people.
The film deals with two groups of women and their problems. The beauticians are young. Love and relationships are the driving emotional force. For the other group it is ageing that is the main issue.
Layale (writer/director Labaki) is Christian. She is the owner of the modest salon. She lives in a small flat with no privacy. An affair with a married man dictates her behaviour. She leaves her clients at the sound of a car horn or a phone call to make love in his car parked in a waste ground. To celebrate his birthday she has to search for a hotel but her booking is only accepted in a dingy one that prostitutes use. She spends the day cleaning and decorating the room but the lover does not appear. Her friends come to the rescue and they enjoy the birthday cake together.
Nisrine is Moslem. She is engaged and soon to be married with a conventional Moslem man. She is welcomed by his big traditional family. Before her visit she has to transform her appearance from a modern dressed young woman to an all concealed body. On the eve of her wedding, in a touching mother/daughter talk she is given advice on sex in veiled terms: “don’t be shy…. you will get used it”. But Nisrine is not a virgin.
The third worker in the Salon is Rima. She takes care of technical problems and duties that involve physical strength. In erotic hair washing scenes it is obvious that she fancies her repressed client with beautiful long black hair who comes back a few times and finally has a liberating haircut. Both Nisrine and Layale recognise that Rima is lesbian without actually expressing it.
The friendship of this group is expressed through their acting and especially the way they look at each other in an understanding way without words.They also have supporting roles in each other’s lives. Layale is tricked into visiting the wife and home of her lover. This will lead to her giving up on him. Here we see the class difference between the working women of the Salon and the more affluent client. Nisrine in a hilarious scene where she pretends being French is accompanied to the clinic where she is to have her hymen restored. Rima is forced to accept a beautification session to attend Nisrine’s wedding celebrations.

The three other main characters raise the issues of the effect of ageing on women. Jamale, a divorced mother of two is menopausal. Her ex-husband neglects his children in favour of his new partner. An over-the-top performance recalls some of Mike Leigh’s middle-aged women characters. Her work as an actor depends on her looks. She makes a big fuss about her hairstyle at the Salon. At an audition for a commercial she fakes a blood stain on her dress to indicate that she still has periods. Also in the presence of young women in the toilet queue at Nisrine’s wedding she indicates that she is menstruating. (I think it is the only film scene where menstrual blood is mentioned.)
Rose the older seamstress lives and works next door to the Salon. She is called Auntie by the beauticians as is the custom in Lebanon. She is quite close to the three women. She refuses the offer of free hairdressing until a French man who came for some alterations to a suit asks her out. But the responsibility of looking after her dementing older sister makes her abandon all hope of escape.
Lilly lives in a past love relationship and is part of the street life. She collects bits of paper, and car parking tickets  as billets doux. In a scene she over makes up her face in mockery of her sister getting ready to meet her date. In her dementia she is very manipulative, she devises effective ways to prevent her sister from meeting the French client. Both Rose and Lilly are devout Christians.

The men are next to insignificant. The married lover is not seen at all. The local traffic policeman in love with Layala, initially teased by the young beauticians, gets together with her at Nisrine’s wedding. The older Frenchman admirer of Rose, the damaged shop sign of the salon and the use of French in the most hilarious scenes satirise the French  speaking of some of the middle classes of Beirut.

Nisrine’s wedding is the occasion of a joyous Lebanese celebration in the open background of the mountains. Rima’s poem, singing, dancing, and Layala with her policeman gives us the feel good effect. But the slight narrative of this slice of life film leaves us with many questions on the fate of these working women who live in Beirut and show resilience in coping with the many restrictions they have to face in their lives.

The film ends with a long shot of Rose and Lilly walking away down the street. A touching end where we see Rose picks up precious bits of paper from the floor and gives them for Lilly to cherish.  .

 

 

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