Soli­tary shade of grey

If older women are given TV and film roles at all, any eroti­ci­sa­tion of their aged bod­ies is still deemed taboo.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - By LYNNE SE­GAL By KEN­NETH CHAW en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my

DIANE Keaton re­called her mother’s ad­vice – “don’t grow old” – as use­less, how­ever per­ti­nent for Keaton’s cho­sen ca­reer as an ac­tress. It’s a tru­ism that in­ter­est­ing roles for older ac­tresses are hard to come by.

While signs of phys­i­cal ag­ing are rou­tinely played down in lead­ing male ac­tors who reg­u­larly take roles as still vig­or­ous and de­sir­able char­ac­ters (whether he­roes or vil­lains), the op­po­site ap­plies to older ac­tresses – if they are al­lowed to ap­pear on screen at all.

Are things chang­ing? It was Keaton her­self who seemed to her­ald a shift when she played in the pop­u­lar 2003 film about love in later life, Some­thing’s Gotta Give. At the time she ex­pressed as­ton­ish­ment at be­ing of­fered the role of a ro­man­tic hero­ine, at 58, de­spite be­ing part­nered by Jack Nicholson, al­ready a decade older.

Yet, in Hol­ly­wood, the films that por­tray older women as de­sir­able re­main sparse, with Meryl Streep one of the pre­cious few still al­lowed to play a ro­man­tic lead. Mean­while, when not ex­cluded, one of the no­table ways that older ac­tresses make it onto the screen is by play­ing a char­ac­ter with de­men­tia: Judi Dench in Iris (2001), Julie Christie in Away From Her (2006), Streep in The Iron Lady (2011) and Em­manuelle Riva in Amour (2012). LOVE sto­ries have been told and re-told so many times and have taken so many forms it would seem un­likely that there are any new ways to ap­proach the sub­ject.

Yet di­rec­tor Tan Seng Kiat’s lovein­spired short film, 32°C Fall In Love, beat out 71 other sub­mis­sions in the BMW Short­ies 2013 short film com­pe­ti­tion to take home the grand prize as well as a pro­duc­tion grant worth RM75,000.

Billed as a ro­man­tic com­edy, the 14-minute short film – which also nabbed Best Di­rec­tor, Best Edit­ing and Best Screen­play – be­gins with a crook clad in a mask and rain­coat rob­bing a store.

The store­keeper and se­cu­rity guard, por­trayed by Emily Chen and Koe Sh­ern re­spec­tively, are cap­tured and bound to­gether but as they plot their es­cape, the two start to fall in love. The ac­tors’ per­for­mances also earned them Best Ac­tor and Best Ac­tress at the Short­ies.

Tan, 27, be­lieves “in­spi­ra­tion” – the theme for this year’s com­pe­ti­tion – can be de­rived from love.

He added: “Some­times, love can also come from the most bizarre and ridicu­lous of cir­cum­stances and be­cause many may not hap­pen in re­al­ity, I wanted my love story to also be in­te­grated with comedic el­e­ments.”

The film grad­u­ate re­vealed

How­ever, if cin­ema re­mains grim and for­bid­ding ter­ri­tory for older ac­tresses, tele­vi­sion is fi­nally start­ing to of­fer them more. To be sure, the ma­jor­ity of shows re­main youth ob­sessed, and older women – with The Golden Girls a strik­ing ex­cep­tion – re­main per­ceived as be­yond play­ful­ness and sex­ual pas­sion.

Still, with a third of the Bri­tish pop­u­la­tion over 50, and 10 mil­lion over 65 – and half of them women – the me­dia has had to give a lit­tle. Now along comes the sec­ond se­ries that he chose the set­ting for the story af­ter read­ing one of Haruki Mu­rakami’s works.

“It was a story about two men in ski masks who, in the midst of rob­bing a con­ve­nience store, bumped into an un­ex­pected yet amus­ing sit­u­a­tion. I re­ally liked the con­cept of the story, and so I adapted it to my short film.”

32°C Fall In Love – which took a full month to com­plete with an es­ti­mated pro­duc­tion cost of RM5,000 – is Tan’s first sub­mis­sion of the BBC’s Last Tango In Halifax, with its por­trait of the late-life ro­mance of two sep­tu­a­ge­nar­i­ans, Celia and Alan. The chan­nel is plan­ning some­thing sim­i­lar for next year with Grey Mates, in­volv­ing a friend­ship net­work of pen­sion­ers, star­ring Ali­son Stead­man, Stephanie Beacham and Russ Ab­bot – all in their mid-60s.

Not­ing the suc­cess of Last Tango, I have been pondering what it tells us about at­ti­tudes to bod­ies, old and young. Celia and Alan may be in the to the com­pe­ti­tion.

“I def­i­nitely did not (ex­pect to win). Ini­tially, we were just aim­ing to have our short film nom­i­nated for the sup­port­ing cat­e­gories ... What we truly ex­pected was to gain some ex­pe­ri­ence in join­ing the BMW Short­ies this year,” he shared.

Tan re­cently grad­u­ated from the Na­tional Tai­wan Univer­sity Of Art with a de­gree from the Mo­tion Pic­ture Depart­ment. He dab­bled in small-scale short film projects throes of ro­mance, but we typ­i­cally see them, par­tic­u­larly Celia, in her over­coat. The dy­nam­ics of their ro­mance are mostly played out in the kitchen or the coun­try­side, with warm smiles and hugs. There is no ref­er­ence to their sex­ual con­cerns, and the bed­room stays off lim­its. This is all the more strik­ing be­cause their adult chil­dren’s af­fairs mean there is a con­tin­u­ous fo­cus on sex.

Last Tango up­holds one of the last ta­boos around sex, ag­ing and the body. In­ten­tion­ally or not, it prior to this, one of which was a nom­i­nee in the Pe­nang Youth Cre­ative short film com­pe­ti­tion.

The di­rec­tor also teased that he has a rough idea of what sort of short film he plans to make with the siz­able pro­duc­tion grant: “I’m look­ing for­ward to cre­at­ing a short film which re­volves around Malaysia’s cur­rent is­sues and hap­pen­ings in our ev­ery­day lives.

“It will most prob­a­bly be on the sub­jects of be­ing morally right or wrong. The in­de­ci­sive­ness of sug­gests that though in love, th­ese oldies are past sex­ual con­cerns. Yet our cul­ture has lit­tle prob­lem pre­sent­ing older men’s sex­ual de­sire. Nor do older men re­frain from ea­gerly pro­claim­ing this, whether in em­pir­i­cal sur­veys or in their own words.

Much of the most es­teemed writ­ing by men mourns not the pass­ing of sex­ual pas­sion, but pos­si­ble dif­fi­cul­ties in its per­for­mance. Whether in the work of Ire­land’s il­lus­tri­ous poet WB Yeats or Amer­ica’s cel­e­brated nov­el­ist Philip Roth, older men’s chief fear could be summed up as that of a crea­ture sick with de­sire, but fas­tened to a dy­ing an­i­mal – the threat of pe­nile fail­ure.

Older women’s erotic life, how­ever, is barely reg­is­tered, save in cer­tain gen­res of pornog­ra­phy. In the wake of Ger­maine Greer or agony aunts Irma Kurtz and Vir­ginia Iron­side, the most in­flu­en­tial women’s voices tack­ling old age tend to sug­gest they are con­tent­edly post­sex­ual, “free at last” from erotic pas­sion.

Given the com­plex­i­ties of de­sire, I am scep­ti­cal about this ap­par­ent gen­der con­trast. I see the me­dia’s end­less pro­duc­tion of eroti­cised, young fe­male flesh as feed­ing a sense of shame at­tached to older women’s bod­ies.

Any eroti­ci­sa­tion of our aged fe­male bod­ies re­mains taboo and this is one rea­son older women, in huge num­bers (70% of us over65s) live alone. Tack­ling our sex­ual yearn­ings, or reg­is­ter­ing our bod­ies with any­thing other than dis­gust, would in­deed be rad­i­cal. I wait to see it. — Guardian News & Me­dia

Lynne Se­gal is the au­thor of Out Of Time: The Plea­sures And Per­ils Of Age­ing. the hu­man char­ac­ter has al­ways in­trigued me and I feel that it is an in­ter­est­ing theme for a short film to be based on.”

The Boy Who Rocked The World by Paul Gan, a story about an imag­i­na­tive boy and his pas­sion for mu­sic, was another one of the jury’s favourite short films, bag­ging Best Cin­e­matog­ra­phy, Best Sound De­sign and Best Pro­duc­tion De­sign. Hidup Ber­sama, a four-minute vis­ual es­say of a poem of the same name, made by Lau Ming Yeow and star­ring na­tional lau­re­ate A. Sa­mad Said, earned the Judges’ Hon­ourable Men­tion ti­tle.

The Peo­ple’s Choice Award went to Cross­ing The Arc­tic, a vis­ual trav­el­goue doc­u­ment­ing di­rec­tor Za­hariz Khuza­imah’s jour­ney across the arc­tic.

For a full list of the BMW Short­ies 2013 win­ners and the sub­mis­sions by the top 10 fi­nal­ists, visit bmw­short­ies.com.my.

Herald­ing a charge that never came: diane Keaton’s cast­ing as a ro­man­tic hero­ine at age 58 in Some­thing’sGot­taGive was un­usual, yet hol­ly­wood films that por­tray older women as de­sir­able are still rare. — Filepic

Koe Sh­ern and emily chen (above) clinched the best ac­tor and best ac­tress ti­tles for 32°cFal­lInLove. (Inset) bmW Group malaysia chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer dr Ger­hard Pils awarded di­rec­tor Tan Seng Kiat (be­ing hugged by vet­eran ac­tress Gai yew Lan) the bmW Short­ies 2013 grand prize for his love-in­spired short film 32°cFal­lInLove.

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