THE STRAIGHT STORY at ‘EON’ AND EDIE

A full house again at the Ealing Oldies Network (EON). The Straight Story (1999) elicited an interesting exchange of views. It took some time to discover Lynch’s oblique way of exposing deep issues by visual means, discover Alvin’s back story, his determination, the spirituality of the film but also the specific references to ageing.

Once again I observed how talking about a film just after viewing enriches the experience. One comment triggers another and there is a deeper appreciation of different aspects of the film. Of course this applies specifically to the great films, and the classics.

I am sad to have to say that Edie (2017) released this past week is not a great film. I shared with a woman at the EON’s screening (above) the fact that the two films have important similarities: beautiful filmed settings used as metaphor, a past that is troubling, the unflinching determination to make good this past. The reviews are divided. A reviewer actually declared that it is not a difficult mountain to climb, it can be made in a day. How dense can reviewers be ???

I found the score in Edie poor and irritating and the narrative lacked tension.
But for me at the same age as Sheila Hancock I identified with her throughout. Signs of age were not disguised, her face, the way she walked, the communication with others, her doubts, her fights at every step of the way, her determination. The fact that the actor   actually achieved the climb for the film reconciles me to the film’s weaknesses.

Films about old women’s relationships with young adults . Harold and Maude is quoted enough. But minor films should also be mentioned:
Sheila Hancock Hold Back the Night  (1999)
Joan Plowright Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (2005)
Julie Walters Driving Lessons (2006)

 

 

 

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AFTER LIFE (1998) Life review

When I started blogging about films and older women in 1999 I was determined to be as thorough in my research and detailed about my analyses in order to be considered more than an amateur reviewer.
At the age of 83 I find that over the years my determination has waned. Last month the “Brent U3A Old People in Film Group” showed Kore-eda’s After Life (1998). I had a DVD copy of the film. In 1999 searching for films about old women I had dismissed it on the grounds that it was not specifically about ageing women. Viewing this very complex film again I found that it deals with many themes. Reviewers tend to concentrate on one aspect or else make very general comments. All point out that it is difficult not to engage with the film.
It is the theme of memory that I want to explore. In the complex mesh of information I will forget for now the mise-en-scene, the editing, the narrative, the love story, the characterisation, the relationships and more importantly the links between memories and film making.

22 people are gathered between life and death in a anonymous, stark, official building. They have three days to choose only one memory to take with them into eternity. The memory will be recreated on film, viewed on screen before they pass on.
3 young men and a trainee woman aged 18 interview the people and facilitate the recall. An older man supervises the process.

By using men and women who died at different ages Kore-eda explores different aspects of our memories. By using facilitators and private interviews he deepens this exploration. Evening meetings of the helpers and their boss permit a sharing of observations and thoughts.

The following is an attempt at gathering some aspects of memory that the director includes in his exploration. Italics indicate quotations from the characters themselves.

Old age and memory : a very old woman seems to have chosen her memory while still alive. She lives in the present enjoying nature and taking with her the memory of cherry blossom.

Warnings about documents and memory: 71 tapes of recorded life are presented to a man who insists that he cannot possibly make a choice in an active but featureless life and needs evidence: they won’t match your memories exactly. Please use them for reference . Watch them as a way of bringing up the past.
The head comments at the staff meeting: that is interesting. Not many people have these documents.

How far back do we remember:
At a meeting the head informs the staff that typically memories go back to around 4 years old. A minority of people report remembering events as far back as under a year. I was 5/6 months lying naked on the futon after a bath. The supervisor also adds that some people remember the sense of security when they were in the womb. If you close your eyes immerse yourself in water, the memory of the sense of security of being inside your mother can help with anxiety and other conditions

What we remember and what we forget: Young woman: Amazing how you forget. You swear you’ll never do that again when labour starts…if that pain stayed with you forever there would be very few brothers and sisters in the world.
The bridge where I met my fiancé after the war. Unaware of people on the bridge. I did not see any of that . It was just the two of us.

What we wish to forget but cannot :
A young man choses a memory of himself at 5 years old in his dark secret hideaway filled with junk. I’ll be able to forget every thing else? is that true , you can forget? well then that really is heaven.

Confused memories : a dominant pink dress, and red shoes dominate a very confused disjointed narrative in different time frames: love of a brother, cafes, youth halls, dance halls, dance and songs, ice cream and chicken.

Youth:
If I had to choose I would say my childhood
I was nine in the earthquake when we had to escape to the bamboo forest.
First day going to kindergarten on a bus
Kindergarten also
Father carrying me on his back and the smell of my father’s sweat and hair
Memory of Disney Land (dismissed later)
Head on mother’s lap cleaning my ears

Physical sensations:
Riding on the tram going to school. The feel of that breeze flowing past my whole body.
She had this little bell on her bag and whenever she walked the bell would ring ding ding. I was in the hall tying my shoes and I could hear the bell that she wore.
Even our sweat did not taste salty
In Disney world: the autumn was not too hot. I could taste the pancake.
The snow at my grandmother’s house, playing in the snow. Surrounded by silence, cold. I remember the sound.
At kindergarten the lunch and hot mojo tea . My tongue remembers it. The memory of a certain taste
Eat when it is still hot. I remember the woman who gave me hot rice pudding when I was ill.
The white washing drying in the breeze, I remember how my mother smelled then and the way my cheeks felt against her lap. She was so soft and warm.
I remember my father back when he was carrying me. It was so broad and firm and the smell of his sweat and how his hair tonic stank.

Sex : Two men did not stop talking sex for three days but then one choose a holiday with wife and the other the wedding day of daughter.

Fictionalising the memory: the prostitute talks about a client who unlike the others was conscious of her needs. He was kind to her and made her feel more than a woman selling sex. When it is shown that she has been lying, she replies: the truth is that he never turned up.

Personal and important public events
Some memories are linked with major public events, war and major earthquake.

Some of the contributions are more than just reminiscences and link memories with film making.

1- the emotionless man who needs a record of his whole life before deciding which memory he would choose.
2- The man who was so definite about his memory of all details of a very special Cesna flight that in the recreation of the event in the studio he behaves as a director.
3- the man on top of a cliff ready to jump but a train passing, a special blue light and a vision of his girlfriend’s and mother’s faces makes him change his mind.
4- the recollection of the man who went into great details about his war adventures. Precise details and a strong narrative, are akin to a scenario .

Finally the questioning young man who refuses to choose and will remain behind. Maybe film maker’s voice ?
One way of not choosing might be one way of taking responsibility.
Do dreams count as memory?
The whole set up is wrong because one makes the past for one’s own needs.
Say I construct the future I am making a film about it. As I imagine all kinds of situations, I think that what I create would feel more real than some memory.

In 1999 I was moved by the old woman gathering dead leaves, seeds, and little stones and displaying them on the table instead of talking about her memories. I did not understand the filming of the shower of cherry blossom. Now that I am often reviewing my past, and talking about my memories to my children, grandchildren, and great grandchild the whole film makes sense to me.
The film’s complex mise-en-scene, narrative, script, editing deserve to be analysed in order to appreciate its deep content:  life and love, feelings, relationships,
and above all coming to terms with the past .

The moon is fascinating, its shape never changes yet it looks different depending on the angle of the light.

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EALING OLDIES NETWORK FILM SESSION

Our March film session at the Ealing Oldies Network was poorly attended due to the snow and treacherous slippery streets. My need to go back home early was imperative. There were only 8 women present and I decided to talk about my research and the history of Old Women in Feature Films groups rather than show the long classic I had planned.

This was followed by a general discussion that was not recorded.

My impression was that some women were very aware of the sexist/ageist bias of the representations of old women as compared with old men.
It seemed to me that there was more awareness of recent films featuring well known actors: (Dench, Mirren, Smith), than pre 2000 films.

A discussion about some specific films was not possible as not everybody had seen the films mentioned by some.

As a general observation I note that there is an enormous gap between academic research about age, gender and representation and the old viewing public ‘s awareness of the issues.

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OSCARS 2018, SEXISM, AGEISM

I have never been enthralled by the Oscar ceremonies and awards and have rarely followed the news about the overinflated and nauseating event.

Yesterday however two links were brought to my attention.

https://www.nextavenue.org/academy-awards-2018-oscars-ageist/

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/photos/2018/03/2018-vanity-fair-oscars-seliger-portrait-studio?

I will not declare that AGEISM and SEXISM is still rife in the film industry so as not to be accused of not acknowledging the events of the last year.

However I do despair.

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VOLVER (2006) Ealing Oldies Network

 

Full house again at the EON : 14 women, 4 men for Volver

A very dense and complex discussion difficult to convey due to the variety of themes summarised here.

Two women had seen the film before.

Two immediate comments were:
– It is only seeing the film for the second time that I appreciated its humour.
– A male viewer saw it as a ‘Greek Tragedy’ and wondered if retribution would follow. Others disagreed.

A question and answer from the floor:
Why is he female character so sexualised the film?
Almodovar initially shows the way women are traditionally perceived (and portrayed): cleaning, cooking, sexual objects, serving and meeting men’s needs. But he also shows the other side, women’s resourcefulness, their solidarity and strength, juxtaposing the two.

Very Colourful : lots of red . Focus on the knife as weapon, first seen during washing-up scene.

Main themes: Mothers protecting children, mother/daughter relationship, family secrets, skeletons in cupboard, incest/sexual abuse, death, superstition/reality. Some thought both murders were ‘crimes of passion’, wind that make people mad, extreme ridiculousness’.
Male characters secondary. History repeating itself – abuse, killing, down the generations.

Secondary themes: plight of immigrants, Russian  emigrees, women’s poverty, private/public spheres, what kept in family ‘washing linen in private’ v disclosing personal stuff to all and sundry on reality television. Demented Aunt Paula’s home – orderly, baking produced, etc.  clue that she not alone in the house!

Film generally very well-received and much enjoyed!

 

 

 

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Note of comments ‘Pather Panchali’ – Ealing Oldies Network (EON) 22 Jan 2018

About twenty attended. One, who had seen it before, found the film engaged her in the same way as when she’d first seen it. Comments, as main themes, were:

Much more than a story: the forest, nature, land, water/the well, the animals; the monsoon, how it was portrayed by water lilies; all entwined; life as a whole. The ineptness of humanity; the role of religion; the train that could be seen but could not be boarded. The pylon, a sign of modern life, symbol of the future. Apart from that, all materials are biodegradable, no plastic.

Importance of family: the affect of poverty on people’s lives, how the family could not leave the village, how ancestry and family history affected current relationshipswithin the familyand within the village.

Aunt Indir’s relationship with her niece Durga is touching-Durga enjoys giving Indirfruit “stolen” from the garden that would have been theirs but wasn’t because Durga’s father Harri believed a villager’s claim that Harri’s brother died leaving debts. Indir’s sister-in-law Sarbojaya struggles to feed the family because Harri, a holy man, is an impractical dreamer who believes everything will work out somehow. She hardly tolerates Indir, Harri’s sister. We see Indir’s full role within the family when her nephew Apu was born andyears laterwhen she tells the children a story about an ogre. Her silhouette on the wall looks scary but we see her independent spirit at work, feeding herself and moving out when Sarbojaya makes her feel unwelcome. Despite her bony appearance and no teeth, Indir’s personality shines through.

Long after Durga dies, Apu discovers the beads Durga was accused of stealing from her childhood play-mates. He throws them into the pond straight away, such is his loyalty to his sister’s memory.

These are relationships that we can relate to, regardless of great differences in circumstances, country, culture and time. The film was set in circa 1947.

One commented that it reminded her of Hansel and Gretel who also lived an impoverished life, making brooms in the woods, who spill precious milk the family can’t afford to lose, while playing. The setting in both stories appears romantic but in both stories there is a “no good” husband and a depressed wife. Someone else said it was like ‘Angela’s Ashes’ (I didn’t catch how, possibly the father’s alcoholism.)

The music: particular melodies used to portray various moods. Fear when the storm tore at the flimsy fabric of the house, raw grief when Harri returns after 5 months absence with presents, including a sari for Durga, whose fragile health failed the fight for life, contrary to the doctor’s prognosis.

Many noticed symbolic details: the dead frog, belly-up; Indir’s water-bowl which rolls away when she dies in the woods; Apu setting off with umbrella and shawl, the “man of the house;” the cow passively chewing and the snake that slithers into the family’s derelict house, at the end of the film, as nature reclaims the land.

Androulla Kyriacou

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Pather Panchali in Ealing

18 enthusiastic people attended the fifth film session of the Ealing Oldies Network (EON): Pather Panchali (1955).

The post viewing session was very lively and everybody participated and shared feelings and thoughts. (Notes not available).
What was remarkable for me is the way Ray’s symbolic language was widely appreciated by all.
A few members were determined to try and see the sequels.

For me Sarbojaya’s expression of grief through the heart rending music was again as powerful as when I first saw the film.

 

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