Wednesday, June 2, 2010

peter pan nightmare

Mick LaSalle, film writer for the Houston Chronicle, wrote an article about the perception of age as portrayed by actors in movies of today compared with those of yesteryear. If you read a hard copy of the paper, you might have skipped past this easy-to-miss piece on the back page of the entertainment section. LaSalle begins with commentary on modern movie releases and ends with a hard critique of our culture.

(Is his analysis correct? Read the article in its entirety.)

LaSalle begins by saying, "We're seeing this more and more in movies, not actors playing younger than they are but rather actors playing their age — middle age — as a time for beginnings. Look at the Sex and the City women, who are in their 40s and 50s playing women in their 40s and 50s, yet their whole atmosphere is young, and their whole story is one of constant renewal. There's no sense of settling down or turning from the world." He goes on to explain why for certain reasons this is due to perception: Baby Boomers and Generation Xers set the cultural agenda; and then he shows that for other reasons, this goes beyond perception: modern stars tend to take better care of themselves.

LaSalle then moves on to his final, and most important reason:

"There's a refusal to get oldto some degree it's a refusal to become maturethat's just part of our culture. . . . Adulthood just isn't what it used to be."

"In fact, when I see movies like Sherlock Holmes or The Losers, I wonder if we're not lost in some Peter Pan nightmare, in which adult characters can behave like children and yet no one seems to notice.

"Let's be fair to the past. Gardner may have been practically an old woman at 41. But in The Killers, at 23, she was more of an adult than most of our current actresses will ever be. Gable may have been an old fat guy at 47, but at 31, in Red Dust (1932), he was a man. Not a young man. A man. He was a year younger than Ashton Kutcher is today.

"Kirsten Dunst is 28 — the same age as Greta Garbo in Queen Christina (1933) — and yet she's still an ingenue. At 32, Hilary Swank tried to act the femme fatale in The Black Dahlia (2006) but seemed like a girl playing dress-up. Meanwhile, Jane Greer — perhaps the sexiest, slinkiest and scariest film noir heroine of them all — was only 22 when she filmed Out of the Past (1947). And Jean Harlow was only 26 when she died. She was a woman from her first appearance onscreen.

"Perhaps it takes a Depression or a World War II to put miles on people's spirits and make them seem older. By comparison, later boomers and Generation Xers have lived their lives in unchallenging times. I'm not complaining — that's a good thing — who needs calamity? Who needs to feel or act old a minute before it's necessary?

"Yet I wonder: Maybe we're seeing in our buoyant, middle-aged stars a representation of our own consciousness — the unclouded consciousness of a people who have evaded life's deepest and most meaningful lessons.

"That would even be worse than aging, to go through life and miss the point."


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