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.
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.