Narayama, Dendera, The Lady Vanishes.

I met two women of our  ‘Older Women in Film Group’ who had seen  Ballad of Narayama and Dendera. Both had been horrified by the first film and disappointed by the second. It is in these circumstances that I wish I had more energy to research and study. In the light of Gullette’s (Agewise) chapters on ‘the Eskimo on the ice floe’ and ‘Katrina’ the two films are rich in topics of discussion and exploration. For the first film there is a tendency to believe that the practice of taking old people when they reach 70 to freeze to death on the mountain is based on fact whereas it is based on a novel. To me the film expressed the inevitability of death and the two contrasting attitudes of the old man who fought insanely against it and the woman who prepared  serenely and patiently for it. Dendera was dismissed by the people I know. I think that the relentlessness of the black bear’s unending and repeated gory fights with the old women was not perceived as old people having to deal with repeated assaults on their health and well-being. It is the violence of the scenes, the blood, the fur, the gouged out eyes that I feel are misguided and distract from the real issues of the tenacity of old women. Do we have to accept that death is always violent? Is the film the product of an industry that thrives on violence?

If I had the time I would analyse these two films and the two news reports following the Tsunami in Japan. One described how old people in a nursing home were abandoned to their own devices. The other how old people offered their services to go to the unsafe nuclear zone. I would also look at the isolation of  some old  people in the West and the effects of the heat waves in France and Italy .                                                                        But I must go back to my routine and leave this project to the side with the others that deserve study: the blog about everyday ageing and ageism, the database, and the comparison between the different versions of ‘Make Way for Tomorrow’.

The  Lexi film this month was Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes” (1938). To my surprise the U3A audience was augmented by a family or two and a group of  children. A good proportion of the audience had seen the film before and everybody enjoyed this very witty film.  There were no comments on the old woman as spy .  I had seen it ages ago. One of my grandmothers was a very sedentary, anxious old woman who shuffled around the house ineffectively and irritated me. So the images of this film that remained in my mind for all these years were the ones where Miss Froy runs away across the fields  and where she is found out to be a spy at the Foreign Office.  The idea of a spy  being an old woman enchanted me.

Hitchcock and/or the scriptwriters build on our stereotypical view of the old English governess to deceive us.   Miss Froy, played by Dame May Whitty (aged 73), is stout. She is white-haired. She presents herself as a good-hearted innocent kind of old woman used to talking to children . She bores Charters and Caldicott with her incessant chatter. At her window we are made to think that she is naively romantic as she listens to the man singing below, when in fact she is memorising the song with the secret message. At the station where she has lost her bag, she is seen as absent-minded and flustered. In the restaurant car she insists on having her tea made with really boiling water with the tea that her parents always use. She again mentions that she is a governess. But before leaving the train when she teaches Gilbert the coded tune she admits she is a professional spy “such a grim word” and “in this sort of job you must take risks”.

There is little else to say about the character. But I must admit that I rather like the image of the old woman kidnapped, bound in bandages, immobilised and silenced….

About rinaross

Born in 1935. MA in Film and Television Studies at the University of Westminster 1998. Studying the representation of older women in film since then.
This entry was posted in Ageing, Ageism, Film Analysis and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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