Saturday, January 31, 2009
I rented the movie Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, the story of a down-n-out nanny who becomes social secretary to a young starlet with three lovers on the eve of WWII. Although I knew the thing was fantasy, I was surprised at the retrograde tone of the film. The young actors are allowed to cavort naked, but the “mature” couple, Frances McDormand and Ciaran Hinds (both handsome, sexy people), is not even allowed a kiss.
Even more infuriating is the typical story of the starlet’s choice (when she should have stuck with Frances): the young, rich producer who will make her a star, the middle-aged businessman who keeps her in luxury, or the penniless musician who truly loves her (but also treats her roughly)? You get the picture. The notion that success as an artist is less important than settling down to make babies is pounded home again (believe me, that this is a “period” piece makes no difference—it’s for the contemporary female audience).
Last week I showed my class a video about Sally Mann, a photographer who achieved notoriety partially for shots of her children, sometimes nude. These kids, now older, have talked about growing up on camera, and are ambivalent about the experience. Like children of celebrities, they have benefited by their parent’s financial success, and are now famous themselves. My students were very harsh with Mann, saying she should have been “more of a mother.” When I asked them about the double standard, if the father had been a busy lawyer who rarely saw his kids, or a novelist who drew upon his family life, they looked at me blankly.
Sally Mann’s explanation was just that “the kids were there. I shoot what’s around me. I love my kids. Now let me work.”