Saturday, January 21, 2012

Older woman on screen

This incredibly beautiful woman is Meryl Streep made up to look like Margaret Thatcher at the height of her power. Maggie was never so beautiful, and her face was never quite so mask-like and I don't believe Street has ever before been so plastic-ly ideally beautiful. That is how she looked in about half the scenes of the movie, Iron Lady. Another actress played her in a few scenes when she was about 20.

The other half of the movie showed us Thatcher as she supposedly looked a few years after leaving office when she was struggling with grief over her husband's death and beginning to suffer from both forgetfulness [she now has severe Alzheimer's disease] and seeing hallucinations of her dead husband, sometimes knowing it was an illusion and sometimes not. In those scenes the perfect face and perfect coif are gone. She is always shown as dignified, even when hallucinating but the make-up artist has, it seems to me, exaggerated what a 75-ish woman's face looks like.

As the title of this blog admits, I'm more than 70. I am not happy that I don't look like I looked ten or fifteen years ago, but I'm not as changed as Thatcher was shown to be. I look around me at the senior women in classes I take and teach. I can see that they have changed from their younger selves; there are degrees of aging that is probably both genetic and a matter of care. Some women wear too much makeup or wear it badly, many eschew makeup entirely, sometimes I see a happy balance.

I believe the makeup artists for the movie over-reached themselves both with the powerful Thatcher and with the aged Thatcher so that both are grotesques of a woman who was, until disease intervened, entirely herself, never a mask and probably not the face that is all sags and bags and ropy exaggerated neck. As I think of that image and what the movie is trying to tell us, I am angry at the director for making those choices. I believe the director is not a young woman, but she certainly has a horror of old age -- a horror that I think is an unfair stereotype. I think of Angela Merkel, Madelaine Albright, not beautiful women, probably never beautiful, but older women with faces full of character -- real women with serious jobs like Thatcher's. I am not thinking of Betty White or Elaine Stritch who are actresses and have a vested interest in their face. I read that the Baby Boomer generation are horrified that they are pushing at the Big-7-0, and I believe they are horrified because they cannot break away from the extreme pictures that they see in entertainment like this movie. In movies about "ordinary" people the older women are usually caricatures of dotty grandmothers, whining, demanding, disappointed mothers, sometimes frail and needy, sometimes harridans.

Fine as Streep's acting is, and it is superb, she was handicapped with the faces she was given in this movie. Although I did not like the way the script was handled, it was the masks Streep had to wear that ruined the film for me.


Kass said...

I came upon my father's diary shortly after he died and he talked about a woman he had an intense liaison with in his early twenties. They continued to see each other (as friends) for many years after they were both married (which was a shock to me). A move separated them and he didn't see her for twenty years. At this time, he viewed her at the mortuary before her funeral.

While I was disappointed to read of his connection to her throughout the years, I was more disappointed to read the horror he felt at viewing "the ravages of age" on her face.


June Calender said...

"Ravages" -- what a word. Destruction. Youth and youthful beauty is gone but the person has lived that face. Thanks, Kass, I'll be pondering the word all day.