I finally had some leisure time during my holidays away from the health concerns and trivial activities that sapped my energies this winter.
I delighted in reading Pamela Gravagne book: THE BECOMING OF AGE : cinematic visions if mind body and identity in later life.
I obviously cannot write a comprehensive review of it since I am not conversant with all its content especially the literature and filmography about ageing men. I am frustrated by the fact that I was not introduced to Deleuze’s writing in my degree course during the 90s. I remain ignorant and unable to appreciate the final chapter of this excellent book all the more that it considers my favourite film Strangers in Good Company. However I found Chapters 1, 3, and 5 – Understanding and Theorizing Aging and Old Age, The Silence and Invisiblity of Older Women and The Cultural work of Alzheimer’s – remarkable.
These chapters should be essential reading to anybody interested in films, ageing and representation. I find often that film experts are ignorant of ageing issues, and ageing scholars are unaware of the importance of films in our ageist culture. I would recommend this book to all tutors supervising dissertations on films with an ageing content and to everybody interested in the subjects of film and ageing. The theoretical language is accessible to non academics and very clear and enlightening on the importance of film images in our culture. The concepts in Chapter 1 give a framework for the study of films and age. I am determined also to refer to Chapter 5 in any general discussions and conversations about Alzheimer’s that so often are distorted by fear.
I am therefore surprised by Gravagne’s reading of The Mother in Chapter 4 Intimacy and Desire in Later Life. I just do not understand how a prime example of classical Family Melodrama genre can be read as an old woman’s ‘becoming’ in Gravagne terms. I have written about The Mother in previous blogs. At the risk of boring my readers as I do my friends I need to explain my point of view so opposed to both Kaplan’s and Gravagne’s. To accept May as a woman who achieves orgasm for the first time, and is liberated, I have to ignore all the other significant components of the film and the way May fits into the whole. As in other melodramas where the subtext is a society problem, this film for me exposes the worst features of our society: individualism, consumerism and obsession with sex. As in melodrama, strong oedipal strands are present, as in other melodramas there is a tension that is resolved in a violent explosion. May starts as a passive victim in a loveless marriage and after experiencing sexual satisfaction leaves the scene. It is as if orgasm is the only worthwhile value and must be achieved at any price. Imposing herself on her uncaring acquisitive son and daughter households, May learns to be as selfish as the other members. Orgasm is to be achieved whatever the consequences : betrayal of her daughter and the lover’s wife, humiliation by the daughter and the lover, and even the offer of paying the young worthless married lover, father of a disabled daughter to flee with her.
I only insist on expressing my point of view, shared by many of my friends, because both Kaplan and Gravagne mention some viewers’ dislike of the film in a disparaging way. In very academic texts supported by extensive references, the two writers speculate on the reasons of this dislike without any evidence. Gravagne even accuses dissenters of being ageist. For me the question to be asked about this deeply sexist and ageist film with no redeeming features or space for the viewer to think, is how and why it seduces some people so readily. The answer may well be in the sex scenes discussed in the section Towards an Economy of Touch. But this is not a piece about The Mother. I feel sad that neither Innocence nor the great classic Fear Eats the Soul are considered in Chapter 4.
I will come back again and again to this enlightening, accessible book. Its theoretical framework, rich filmography and bibliography, and also its feminist approach will keep me busy studying and trying to understand films and ageing for some time. I need also to study Deleuze to explore films in a new light.