The theme of the Penzance Literature Festival was Vision. I was delighted to be invited to give an alternative vision of old women in film. I chose The Company of Strangers. ( I prefer to use the Canadian original title rather than the American, Strangers in Good Company). I was nervous in case the audience was a large anonymous one but as it turned out the attendance of 10 people – 8 women and 2 men – fitted my preferred format of a workshop.
Only one person had seen the film before and everybody loved it. I know that expectations and anticipation play a big part in the act of viewing films so I made sure to introduce it as an unusual film where neither narrative nor character development maintain the tension. A film with a contemplative mood that permits space for the viewers to reflect on ageing issues. We started late and there was little time for a full consideration of all aspects of the film but a few observations were made : the diversity of the old women and the way they expressed themselves, the lack of conflict, the stressless cooperation, the development of friendships, death albeit somewhat feared, the different feel of time, the importance of the still photos of the past, the surprise that such a good film is not better known. One remark was different from the topics mentioned in all other workshops I have given, it was about the director’s instructions to the women. There is little I have read about this aspect except for Mary Meigs’s book In The Company of Strangers ed. Talon Books 1991.
It is such a pleasure introducing an unknown film about old women to a small group of viewers in a workshop setting. I can share my love of the medium, its complexity and richness, and reveal film language. Above all it permits viewers to express their own personal assessment of the film and talk about issues of ageing not often addressed in mainstream films. My only regret is that the discussion time was limited and that the viewing conditions were not ideal.