Tuesday, October 22, 2013

'I Have the Power?':Older Women Playing "Villains" in Film and Telvision

Once you pass the age of 55 do women automatically become evil manipulative people.  Hollywood seems to paint that picture.  I was watching Hannah and Her Sister (1986) from writer, director Woody Allen, and realized roles like this for women at any age just do not exist on this level anymore.  My only argument is that the Woodman himself has continued to create unique and interesting women, see this years Blue Jasmine.

Back to Hannah and Her Sisters, why single out this film?  Hannah centered around three sisters and the men in their lives, the three sisters were played by Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, and Barbara Hershey.  Each sister is unique, has their own essence, and does not ever become one note, shrill, or resort to negative stereotypes.

Woody returns to this sister story in Blue Jasmine with both Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins the two characters are layered, while a bit crazier than Hannah, and her two sisters, the dynamic in both films is brilliantly formulated, and Mr. Allen knows how to weave a beautifully written story for a woman.

Moving on from Woody Allen, and these two great films I thought about Barbara Hershey's career trajectory as she has aged.  In recent years she seems to have been pigeon holed into "crazy mom" archetype, which started with Black Swan (2010).  Hershey was great in the film.  The next stop for this "crazy mom" role was as Cora, Regina's mother on the television series Once Upon a Time.  While these are just two recent roles for the actress, and not the only character she has played, this made me think about other women around her age and the "evil" characters they were playing.

Jessica Lange is another actress who will/has fallen victim to this villainy trope.  Lange has created such beautifully layered characters in each season or newly themed part of American Horror Story.  Ryan Murphy who has created the series has given the women some great material.  The shows second season Asylum showed her as Sister Jude, but she has not gotten as much attention for that cycle as she did in the first.  Will Lange be lost in the villain roles of her career?  Quite possibly.

Glenn Close in Damages is a great example of a wonderfully layered "villain" much like the ones Lange has played, the writing in Once Upon a Time prevented this from happening with Hershey.  Patty Hewes was on of the darkest female characters on television; she lied, cheated, and had people. Close plays this character brilliantly, and all of these women have this eternal strength and power, but this power often cuts off their humanity.

On the website "Bitch Flicks" (http://www.btchflcks.com) Amanda Rodriguez writes an article about Close from Damages and Madeline Stowe who plays Victoria Grayson on Revenge.  The article is is entitled "The Ruthless Power of Patty Hewes from 'Damages' and Victoria Grayson from "Revenge.'  The article focuses on the power these two women have, but also surmises that this power given and created by them which they own comes with a price, their humanity.  Rodriguez states "Unfortunately, there is such a profound darkness and emptiness in both Patty and Victoria as well as in their lives. They have cut themselves off from human connection and have lost the ability to love the simpler things in life."  

Does this "power" and "authority" have to come from corruption, and manipulation?  Most of these roles seem to draw the conclusion that once you achieve the power you lose all sense of self, and you can't be a sympathetic women in power.  Rodriguez concludes "The implication is that the kind of power these women seek is outside the feminine realm, and to grasp it, they must reject their very nature, which leaves them a hollow shell of a person. It’s all too rare that we see a subtle, powerful woman who commands respect who hasn’t sacrificed her humanness in the bargain."  Rodriguez says at the end these are fun characters to watch, but there needs to be more balanced female roles, in both film and television. 

Let's go back to the beginning, was Hannah and Her Sisters a fluke?  Why don't more films talk about women in a more well rounded nature?  When older women are looking for roles all they seem to find these days are the Patty Hewes, the Victoria Grayson, who manipulate and lose their humanity in order to control the world around them.  Women go to the movies, they watch television, and the message they are told today is in order to gain any form of elite power you must check your humanity at the door. I too would like to see more balanced female roles, but for now Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angella Bassett are on my television in the same television series nonetheless, and they would not be if these darker roles did not exist. Is that a win, lose or draw?

No comments: