Friday, February 09, 2007

Femmes (et hommes) d'un certain âge..... plus plus!

For a school project I have been looking for representations of life in old age in mainstream films. We all know that in a predominantly visual medium dominated by Hollywood box-office values, middle-aged female characters generally function as background or minor counterpoint to male protagonists. And if you're an actor over sixty it seems to me that you have two character options, picturesque or grotesque - either in a rocker or off it - arf!.......sorry........
Oh, and there are always deathbed scenes.

There are honourable exceptions in the middle years: contemporaries of Kathy Bates, Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon and Diane Keaton have enjoyed these women's screenwork for decades, and will always want more. English stage actresses Helen Mirren and Judi Dench have broken through good and proper, and Maggie Smith's up there having a great deal of fun, I think. Jessica Tandy - very talented - became everyone's favourite little old lady in Batteries Not Included, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, and Driving Miss Daisy. I can't remember, but I would imagine she was in Cocoon, too, with husband Hume Cronin. Hopefully, the Talk-To-The-Hand generation will get over Lindsay Lohan and the vacuous Hollywood Teen Diet and find their own A-List to grow up with.

Still, but, however, (second cup of coffee, here!) I wish that those of us who can't get to her stagework could see more of Judi Dench's phenomenal range. Unfortunately, casting directors seem to have filed her under T (Terrifying) subset steel magnolia/rose/gardenia, bitch-queen, bitch-goddess. Yes I know she does them so well, but, Newsflash: Judi Dench can do sexy, sparkling, vulnerable and very funny as well as formidable and ferocious; more people should get to see that! It was such a treat to see her and Maggie Smith in Tea With Mussolini, and Ladies in Lavender.

I was struck by a newspaper feature describing this as the Silver Foxes' Oscar season because Helen Mirren, Judi Dench and Meryl Streep are all up for honours. An industry commentator cautioned against seeing this as reflecting a more inclusive attitude within Hollywood, because affluent teens and twenty-somethings remain the target market. More telling is the increasing DVD market: apparently, we creakies would rather stay in than go out, and, being blessed with the patience, wisdom and home theatre systems that come with advancing years, are content to wait for movies to come out on DVD. In fact, it appears that distributors are now trying to take two bites of the apple at once. There have been rows in Germany and the UK recently, with cinema chains withdrawing films because of near simultaneous DVD releases which disregard an unofficial convention of a four-month gap between cinema and DVD release. Good grief, could we grown-ups count for something in big 'ol forever young Califo'nia?

Anyway, I have been trying to find a copy of On Golden Pond (a film I have avoided since its release) for its portrayal of relationships across generations, or Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, or Grumpy Old Men, for their inversion of ideas of what it means to be old. (I don't think they're quite ready for Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson in Something's Gotta Give, or Barbra Streisand's 'relationship counselling' sessions in Meet the Fockers. Plus, getting fired won't look so good on my CV.) No joy.

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of working with 11-14 year-olds, it makes no difference that their actual grandparents are educated professionals with driving licences and laptops, or practise yoga, or come with them on family skiing holidays; nor that they have full use of all limbs, teeth and faculties, and a sense of humour to boot. Oh no. Say 'old man' or 'old woman' to a twelve year-old, and s/he immediately doubles over, clutches an imaginary walking stick, and commences shuffling and hacking round the room, glaring through narrowed eyes at everyone else; the epitome of the Old Man in the fairy story:

(This is actually the commedia dell'arte character Pantalone, the 16th Century stereotype of the grumpy old man!)

...or the Old Crone of the fairy story.

(This painting is by Atanur Dogan)

Perhaps I should add that this is an age group for whom Keanu Reeves is old, and who respond to the pop music music of two years ago with rolling eyes and gasps of disbelief - of course, they may have a point about that........ ;)

Anyway, I resorted to the 2003 Disney movie Secondhand Lions, which stars Robert Duvall, Haley Joel Osment and Michael Caine, and which I'd heard good things about but never actually seen.

(spoiler alert!) It turned out to be engaging redemption movie
in which a rootless boy finds
a family and a sense of himself,
and the old man finds a new
reason to live............
Ok, you can look now!

Living in the middle east, I had mixed feelings about the content of the story-telling sequences, but given their tongue in cheek Boys' Own Hero style, I decided to run with it. All things considered, this an upbeat and entertaining family film with warmth and humour, and the storyline is bolted together pretty well!
If the core is somewhat hackneyed, Robert Duvall invested it with something more in his role as Uncle Hub. (He made his screen debut as Boo Radley in the 1963 movie To Kill a Mockingbird, which I watched just two nights later. I must find what else he's done.)
I noted, but didn't watch, a feature on HJO (playing Walter) entitled An Actor Comes of Age. I hope that this is the case, and that now that he's older, he will be allowed to break the typecasting and extend his range.
Michael Caine had a pretty good grip on the accent, and a very nice handle on the character of Uncle Garth. I really enjoy his work, from the classic Get Carter to Little Voice to Miss Congeniality, and now this. Lovely. (BTW, if you saw Stallone's Get Carter, forget it. A travesty. No comparison. Michael Caine gives the performance of his career inthe 1971 Get Carter. Go get Get Carter!)

I did find a sequence I could use, so I'm happy.

And finally, girls, look to the future with optimism, and never underestimate the appeal of the older man......

1 comment:

nzm said...

I'll send you a videoclip whic demonstrates the "woman in the background" theme quite nicely!

Yes - Tandy was in Cocoon.

The row between German DVD shops and theatres would explain why we could find NOTHING of value to watch tonight in our local DVD store!

Divine Secrets is ok as a movie but better as a book - opt for one of the other 2 if you can.

And of course, you're spot on - Hollywood's resorting to honouring the "oldies" because none of the "youngies" have an acting bone in their bodies between the lot of them!