Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hidden Snakes

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.”


namastenancy said...

I am always ambivalent about those who photograph the young in the name of art. Jock Sturges is the one I'm the most familiar with and I can't look at his work. I wonder what the parents of those kids were thinking - to allow him to photograph their budding daughters especially, in the nude. Most of the older kids look uncomfortable and sullen; given our society's taboos on nudity and given that he's a male photographer, I can't help but think of them as quasi-porn. I don't know what this has to do with the lady who is the subject of your post except that she was their mother and it's difficult issues - does art (in this case) trump being a mother and protecting your kids?

kloeamongtheturks said...

I think Mann's personality is that obsessive type we admire in our artists, except when they're mothers and their kids don't always come first (like MOST men).

I really love her work, and I think the child controversy is interesting for students to talk about because it brings up all sorts of expectations. Her kids are fine, they are articulate and complaining a bit. What about authors, do you think John Updike made up all that family stuff in his novels (I don't know...)?