Monica Bellucci, older women, sexuality and the media

The sexuality of older people is frequently denigrated and neglected. This is particularly true for women. People of all genders are taught a dogma of youth=beauty and marketed a multitude of products to fend off the effects of time. But whilst men become “distinguished” with age, women are touted botox in a bid to keep their partners from trading them in. 54-year-old George Clooney is still considered a sex symbol, Hugh Hefner surrounds himself with bikini-clad bunny girls and it’s not uncommon for women to talk lustily of “salt and pepper hair” and be-suited “silver foxes”. Where is our celebration of older women? Of grey hairs, lines around the eyes, ageing breast tissue and hot flushes? Women are encouraged to continue to remain looking youthful, or risk being deemed “ugly” and discarded. Meanwhile, men are taught to only see attractiveness in the young. Where does this leave us?

Ever see this gender-swapped?

Ever see this gender-swapped with an older woman?

Much has been made of the casting of Monica Bellucci in the latest Bond film, Spectre. The choice of the 51-year-old actress as a Bond Girl (or should that be, Bond Woman), a pedestal of sexual attractiveness, has been lauded as “ground-breaking” and a “triumph” for feminism. Should it really shock us that Bond (played by Daniel Craig, aged 47) has finally been cast alongside a woman of his own age? We think little of him being paired with women in their 20s and 30s, as is common for the franchise. Bellucci, who can hardly be described as“old”, holds all of the assets commonly associated with “beauty”. She is famed for looking younger than her years and an ex-model, so perhaps her casting will not give great comfort to other middle-aged women. The film makes a small step for representation, but the furore around the issue reminds us of how few examples we have of older women portrayed as “sexy” in film.

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Daniel Craig (47), with “older” Bellucci (51) and Seydoux (30)

Narrow and negative views of women’s sexuality are punishing at any age. Younger women struggle with Madonna/Whore attitudes, which both encourage them to be “sexy” and then shame them for it. As women age, they quickly become stereotyped as “desperate” and predatory “cougars” if they choose to be visibly sexual or become entirely invisible. Although some women may prefer younger men, fantasies of the sexually experienced “older women” (a la The Graduate) aren’t helpful if they’re the only image of sexuality in older women we see. In a depressing excerpt in porn documentary “Hot Girls Wanted” a 25 year old performer describes progressing quickly from being cast as a “teen” to a “MILF”. These fantasies aren’t only damaging to women, who should be given opportunities to explore and express their sexuality as they age as more than a vehicle for a younger man’s naughty adventures. Women who sexually abuse young people are frequently given lesser sentences than their male equivalents and attitudes that boys would be “lucky” to receive such attention abound. Women don’t sexually deactivate at the age of 35, with some women describing feeling more sexual at this age than when they were younger. But all too often this part of women’s lives is silenced and we see little of it represented in the world around us.

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Six Feet Under’s Ruth, a great image of a sexually active older woman

Ideas about age and attractiveness are multi-faceted and can’t be entirely blamed on the media. However, greater representation of older women (and not just middle-aged) as attractive and viable sexual partners rather than the butt of jokes or pornographic fantasies can go some way to expand our narrow terms of reference. One particularly good example I’m reminded of is the character Ruth Fisher in HBO’s Six Feet Under. The character is widowed at the start of the series and begins to explore her sexuality, taking a number of lovers. Although there are jokes to her storyline, Ruth’s love life isn’t a humorous sideline and is treated seriously. Ruth’s adult children struggle with her newfound life, but her sexuality is shown in an honest and unedited manner. In one shot, she is shown naked, grey hair falling on her shoulders, lying in bed with her partner, also an older man. How often do we see images like this? Or are we encouraged to see them as somehow “disgusting” or ridiculous?

Recent years have shown an increase in films with older characters, reportedly vying for the “grey-pound”. We need to have accurate representations of people of all ages in the media, not just so that people can identify with characters like themselves, but for the ways in which it challenges and teaches us to think critically about our stereotypes about age. Monica Bellucci is a great addition to the Bond films but let’s not laud her as a game-changer for women in film. We need more representation of older women (not just those with model looks), as beautiful, sexy and sexual. They need not always be centre-stage, but included alongside other plots and characters, for a drip-by-drip education that can encourage us to see activeness in all ages. Images like these could serve to remind women that they don’t have a “best before” date and their sexuality, at any age, is something to celebrate.

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Ravenous – Excited for The Hunger Games

People say it’s fluff, but I really don’t care. Aside from the return of Mad Men, the release of the film of Suzanne Collins’ brutal tale of dystopian love and violence had been my most anticipated media event so far this year. I read the trilogy (aimed at ‘young adults’, which I’m not quite sure I count as) last year after reading some of the fuss and fanaticism about them online. The books were actually published back in 2008 but have risen to a kind of cult status in the US. Given that I’m not the books’ target audience it’s hard for me to say if they’ve had an impact over here in the UK, but the impression I’ve got so far is that they’d received little coverage. However, with the massive campaign around the film begun, I think that’s likely to change very soon…

So what’s the appeal? The films have been marketed in a way that is surely to capture on some of the frenzy that followed the Twilight Series, with ‘Team Gale’ and ‘Team Peeta’ (the two rivals for the heroine’s affections) t-shirts, but there’s very little similarity. It’s far darker, nastier, though there is a bit of sparkling. Apparently some teen hunks have been cast in the male lead roles, but given that to me both look rather like children, I’m unable to comment. The book is light, but enjoyably so (it is afterall aimed at a younger audience). It’s gripping, full of twists and cliff-hangers and nice, easy-to-read type. You could easily finish the whole thing in a few sittings. The plot bares some similarity to that of Battle Royale, in a strange future the people are ruled over and oppressed by a cruel dictatorial force. In order to keep them in line, each year 2 children from each district are put into an arena to fight to the death. Only one can survive. The battle is televised, and the contenders can win support (and supplies) by providing the nation with good entertainment. So things get grisly. Our heroine, headstrong tough cookie and nifty bows-woman Katniss Everdeen opts to take her sister’s place in the games and longs to stick a finger to the greedy Capitol. She enters the games with Peeta, a sweet-natured boy who claims to have always had a soft-spot for her. Or is he just saying that to win over the audiences? Will he really kill her? Time will tell….

Katniss with the rather revolting celebrity presenter, Effie Trinket

Collins has been criticised for ripping off Battle Royale, though she claims to have been completely unaware of it, basing her story more on greek myths and tales of gladiators. You have to admit the premise does sound awfully familiar, but it’s also a storyline that was seen in The Contenders and a few other places. Besides, there’s more to The Hunger Games than just the games themselves. I won’t spoil the plot, but it does extend beyond the initial fight-to-the-death. Given the books’ target audience, the film has been released as a 12a, which means they must be keeping the violence quite tame (not an easy feat for a book that revolves so much around young people killing each other). That was probably one of my main complaints with the books, they weren’t quite bloody enough! So I don’t have high expectations for gore in the films, I imagine a lot will be implied or off camera. Do you remember the fuss when JK Rowling announced that there would be a death in one of her books? The poor kiddies! Well, people die all the way through this, in rather gruesome ways.

Collins creates a rich and disturbing world of the future, intricate in its details. The cruel laws enforced by the government, the customs and luxuries of the privileged Capitol, the rituals that train and prepare the tributes for their final fight: these are the things that make the book so deliciously enjoyable. Just seeing the trailer has made me ooh and ah, the glorious parade costumes, the ultra-modern city, the slick and secretive training camp, I’m excited to see it brought to life! I’m not expecting Oscar-worthy cinematic gold or a really thought-provoking piece, which I very much doubt it will be. As with many a hotly-anticipated blockbuster, I want something visually stunning, glorious on a big scene, silly and enjoyable. It’s big-screen comfort food. I can’t wait.

See the trailer here.

Film Inspiration

Shooting with film seems to be a dying art now that digital cameras are so widely avaialble, which seems a shame. Ok, you can’t take the same photo 5 times and delete the duds, but there’s something really exciting about waiting to get the prints, to see how they worked out. And you spend a lot more time making sure you’ve set your shot up when you know you can only take a limited number. I think using a film camera has helped me to better understand how cameras work and be a better photographer. I thought I’d share with you a photographer I discovered recently.

Tamara Lichtenstein is a 20 year old Texas-based photographer that I recently discovered and absolutely love. Obnoxiously young and talented, her pictures and filled with the energy of the young subjects she photographs. They’re natural, sensual and full of life. Tamara shoots predominantly film, of her friends rather than models. Her friends just happen to be very good looking. Seeing her work made me think about what can be achieved using the old-fashioned way. Knowing that these photos are taken on film kind of makes them seem even more special, they’re beautiful, fleeting moments of someone’s life captured for a second.

 

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February is David Lynch Season!

 

February is a bit of a miserable time of year. Grey and miserable, too long since the Xmas holidays, Valentines day appears in the middle just to poke fun at the single and the alone.

So what better way to spend the weary hours emmersing yourself in the surreal, noir and deliciously bizarre world of David Lynch? Throughout the month the British Film Institute will be screening all of his films, plus his early short films and a couple of talks on the great man and his work, as part of their ‘David Lynch: A Reputation Precedes…’ program.. I, for one, have never seen any Lynch films in a cinema, and I think it’d be quite a treat.

And if that isn’t enough, there’s Lynchian Cabaret extravaganza, the Double R Club, at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club on February 16th. I’ve never actually been, but I hear great things and I have high hopes that it will be sinister and seductive. I’m thinking a bit of a cross of the spooky club with they go to in Mulholland Drive, and Twin Peaks’s red room.