FOR THE LEXI VIEWERS WHO MAY BE EXPECTING A POST ABOUT LEIGH’S ANOTHER YEAR, MY APOLOGIES, I HAVE BEEN EXTREMELY BUSY AND NOW PREPARING MYSELF TO GO ON HOLIDAY.
I am back from the stimulating symposium on “Women, Ageing and Popular Cinema” held in Newcastle University and organised by Rebecca Knight. At long last I feel that this field long neglected by academic circles is finally being explored.
I am glad that two papers went outside the ‘Popular Cinema’ label. Dr. Jacey talked about writing for the screen from a feminist perspective and Rona Murray showed us Agnes Varda as she represents herself: a plump old lady recounting her life.*
The rest of the papers were also instructive and inspiring. Between the two keynotes addresses which considered the comedies of early ageing and the tragedy of the dementia of later life, there were four interesting papers. Dr. Martin Shingler brought to life Bette Davis’s long career and the way she handled the issues of the ageing independent woman. Clare Mortimer tackled Margaret Rutherford’s subversive role of the old woman as Miss Marples. Kirstie Fairclough shed light on the acceptable face of ageing in Hollywood and Deborah Brewis looked at Mike Leigh’s treatment of age in Another Year. I am not a good note taker or quick thinker so I will not go into details of the diverse papers but hope that one day I will read them online.
It is however the keynotes addresses that interested me the most for two different reasons. I have often disagreed with my feminist cinema-loving daughter about Nancy Meyer’s films that I find insipid and boring. It was very sobering for me to hear Dr. Deborah Jermyn expose the attraction of Nancy Meyer’s later life romantic comedies. I realised that age makes a big difference to the way we make sense of films. When I first looked at the roles of older women in films in my very early 60s I thought that the most important issues were the lack of independent, competent old female characters and the recognition of their contribution to society. Now I think that the realities of getting older, disabled, frail but still women should be explicit on the big screen if the fear of old age is to be managed and intergenerational solidarity nurtured.
This brings me to Dr. Sadie Wearing who compared Iris with The Iron Lady and the treatment of dementia in biopics. I could not possibly give an account of her talk or her analysis of a clip from Iris that raised in me many questions. I have had the experience of seeing both my mother-in-law and my father with Alzheimer’s disease and I am very sensitive to its representation on the screen. My analysis of Iris when we saw it in a Women in Film group was rather superficial. I will now bring myself to view The Iron Lady and look at Iris again and read more about feminist and film theories.
What was the effect on me of this symposium? I derived enormous pleasure from hearing all the contributors talking about older women. I delighted in revisiting Bette Davis in All About Eve and The Whales of August. I felt at ease in the territory of the old woman in film that I have been inhabiting (often on my own) for more than a decade. For years I have craved for papers that would fuel my interest in the subject. I have been furnished with a lot of material. All I have to do now is read more and view more and hope that I can share with my friends what I am learning.
*I think that it is important in studying old women and films to go beyond the choices dictated by the box office. I have presented ‘art’ films and poorly distributed films to a U3A audience and they have been extremely well received.