The Boston Phoenix
Review from issue: January 6 - 13, 2000

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Nursing parents

Laurel Greenberg's 94 Years

94 Years Pissed-away opportunities. In Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, a family must move off its estate because the potential groom is too clumsy and shy to make a necessary marriage proposal, and the willing bride is too mannerly to make him say what's on his mind. In the films of Yosujiro Ozu, family tragedies occur often because Japanese codes of politeness keep people from revealing their hearts. Laurel Greenberg's painful, deeply felt 94 Years and 1 Nursing Home Later, which will screen at the MFA next Thursday, January 13, at 6:30 p.m., is, though a documentary, of that type: a frustrating tragedy of the Unsaid.

The filmmaker's charismatic Jewish grandmother, Bella, squandered the last years of her vital life in a Philadelphia nursing home, partly because she was too proud to ask family to take her in. In earlier years, surrounded by needy relatives, she was a master caretaker and provider ("She was too good," was what people said). But Bella couldn't abide it when she was the one who needed help. She continued to play self-reliant, even as her life was restricted to stumbling about with a stroller from bed to reading room. "They've got a nice hall," she says (without irony) of her nursing home.

And yet there are cues (grandma has been videotaped) that Bella isn't exactly happy. These aren't picked up by Bella's sixtysomething son, Marvin, who, while his mother is locked away, shuttles with his wife from one retirement condo to another. 94 Years is partly Laurel Greenberg's indictment of Marvin, her dad, who, though an astute psychiatrist, chooses to take his mother at her word when she insists she's fine living alone.

94 Years screens just once at the MFA, where the Jamaica Plains filmmaker will be present to answer questions. I hope programmer Bo Smith decides on encore showings: like Joel Meyerowitz's Pop, which is about the photographer's relations with his Alzheimer's-plagued father, 94 Years is guaranteed to provoke adult viewers to a question of conscience: what kind of children are we to our aging parents?

It's only America's largest-circulation film magazine, but who cares a fingertip about what's uttered monthly in glossy, empty Premiere? At last, however, an article worth perusing: Holly Millea's "Maria Schneider: The Long Strange Trip After Last Tango," in Premiere's "Women in Hollywood 2000" special issue. For those curious about what happened to that pouty-faced baby Bardot with the Mary Pickford curls, the story of Schneider's slide is all here: hard drugs and obsessive, round-the-globe partying; greasy men pressuring this always-a-lesbian to be their bisexual toy; press and public making jest of her forever after the infamous Land-o'-Lakes-style butt fuck of Last Tango in Paris (which is screening this Monday, January 10, at the Coolidge Corner).

"People thought I was the girl in the film," Schneider, now 47, tells her interviewer. "It hurts my feelings. The jokes, the giggles. On the street, in restaurants: `Do you want some butter on your potatoes?' " What she remembers about the Last Tango shooting is that Brando was blithely unprepared (post-Method?) for his part. "Laziness," Schneider describes it. "So when the close-up was on him, I had the script written all over my body. He was reading me!"

Schneider also gives credence to a long-circulated rumor about filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci's sexuality. "He [Bertolucci] was in love with Marlon. The part was written for a boy! That's why the butter, the sodomization, the gag. . . . And they didn't dare do it with a boy."

Kudos to the Tab's Ed Symkus for a persuasively humanizing December 24 mini-interview with Gwyneth Paltrow, who is Grace Kelly-cool in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Paltrow explained that, for '50s verisimilitude, filmmaker Anthony Minghella made each actress wear, beneath her frocks, an Ike-era girdle. "It gives you a sense in a very physical way of that '50s mentality, and sociologically what was expected of women. It was actually a very good tool, but . . . it itched like a bastard."

And for winning a Best Actress for Shakespeare in Love? A surprise take from Paltrow: "The Oscar is in storage. The thing freaks me out. I still am sort of traumatized by the night. I haven't been able to feel really good about it yet. I just sort of feel embarrassed. In the weeks leading up to it, I felt like I couldn't get any air. . . . The paparazzi were with me all the time. I ran out of gas . . . and they didn't even give me a ride. They just took pictures of me filling a gas can."

Lots of American "indie" filmmakers are swellheaded snots, but one of the most humble and thoughtful I've met is video artist, Sadie Benning, a lesbian icon since her grrrl-punk experimental animations. Now she's playing drums and singing with Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna (plus Johanna Fateman) on the spirited new CD Le Tigre. The song, "Hot Topic," offers a Who's Who tribute of feminist role models, including underground filmmakers Carolee Schneeman, Vivienne Dick, and Valerie Export. Then there's "What's Ya Take on Cassavetes," with a female dialogue about the filmmaker: "Misogynist? Genius? Alcoholic? Messiah?" But you don't have to have a take on Cassavetes, or even know movies, to appreciate the South Park-slick lyrics of "My My Metrocard": "OH FUCK Giuliani/HE'S SUCH a fucking jerk!"

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