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archeology of a woman sharon greytak 2croppedDuring my recent conversation with Sharon Greytak about her new film Archeology of A Women, the acclaimed indie writer/director introduced the notion that films can ‘out’ social issues, secrets and taboos.

That’s an idea that thoroughly intrigues and appeals to me. I find that most of the films I find most interesting — be narratives of a dramatic or documentary nature — do actually ‘out’ issues, either by introducing them to public awareness or exploring them in such a way that audiences are forced to reevaluate, rethink what they know about them.

Archaeology of A Woman is an ‘Outing’ Film

Archaeology of A Woman is a drama that stars Sally Kirkland, now 72, as the dementia-afflicted Margaret, a feisty and independent woman whose efforts to hide her failing memory and capability are rapidly failing. Her daughter (Victoria Clark) is summoned with increasing frequency to rescue her from difficult situations.

The narrative yarn is spun with subplots — a secret crime in Margaret’s past that may be real or imagined, and her daughter’s current love affair, among other intrigues — but the film’s true grip comes from the relationship between mother and daughter, the dimensions of which will feel familiar to most women, whether their moms have suffered from dementia or not.

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The trials and tribulations of aging and Alzheimer’s are iconic, yet they remain secret and taboo, outside the range of polite conversation. They need to be ‘outed’ into the public debate, shed of shame, illuminated as part of the human experience.

Greytak, who’s made her way through life in a wheelchair since age 15, has had firsthand encounters with a public mindset that’s stuck, stunted, stifled by its need to conform to nonrealistic norms. She defies limiting preconceptions in life and in her work.

In Archaeology of A Woman, the extent of Margaret’s dementia is revealed when she puts her bra in the freezer. This is a pivotal moment in the film, but it’s not all that unusual. We’ve seen similar moment of dissociation used in the same way in other films about women suffering from dementia.

In Sarah Polley’s Away From Her, for example, Fiona (Julie Christie) puts objects in odd places as a sign of her increasing mental incapacity. But there’s a big difference in the representations of aging women presented by Greytak and Polley in their beautifully crafted films.

Polley’s Fiona is a lovely looking lyrical figure whose early anticipation of her gradual fade from reality leads her to take measures that enable her gracious surrender to it. The scenario is sad and effectively emotive, but the images do not go beneath the skin of conventional cinema prettiness.

On the other hand, Greytak’s Margaret is not descending gentry into dementia. She’s raw resistance. When she puts her bra on ice, she’s stark naked and folds of aging flesh fill the screen.

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Margaret’s nudity is a starkly honest representation of aging. It’s what happens at home, when cameras aren’t on. The image might be shocking, but that’s not why it’s there. Greytak actually lays aging bare to normalize it. She’s ‘outing’ it.

Her outlook is also stern on the subject of elder care.

“I feel that the scene in the senior daycare center is critical,” says Greytak. “We see Margaret among a group of elders who are doing activities they have no desire to do, one after another. They sing in a group, play games and eat together. They are infantilized, in effect. Their individuality and accomplishments are not acknowledged. Their initiative is drained.”

Te idea for this scene came from what happened to my mother when I brought her to a senior center. She’s retired and was living in the suburbs and had nothing to do. So I thought the senior center might engage her. But she hated it. She said that nobody ever talked about what they’d done with their lives, and what interested them. It was horrible. Yet, that’s the standard. And nobody talks about it or acknowledges it.”

This better change, because that kind of elder care is nothing that anyone I know would want to be exposed to. I want people to see it for what it is so they can change it,” says Greytak.

Greytak also tackles taboos about female sexuality, as well, when Margaret’s daughter seeks stress relief by becoming intimate with a man in whom she has no other interest. He’s stunned at how matter of fact she is about eschewing entanglements and wanting to get on with the rest of her day. Her openness about her attitude is refreshing and freeing.

A Challenging Career

Greytak sees her career as a filmmaker as relief from stereotyping, too.

archeology of a woman sharon greytak225“If you walked into a room full of people, I’m not the first person you’d pick out as a writer and director of films. I’m a woman. I have a disability. I have a different viewpoint and I want to put my viewpoint in front of audiences,” says Greytak. “We need a variety of expressions, a whole range of different viewpoints and concepts that could lead to change. I’m not interested in creating something that there’s already a lot of out there, I’m interested in seeing and making films that resonate with audiences and make them talk about things that they’re usually afraid to talk about because they feel some shame attached to them. I want the films I make to carry them beyond the fear and shame and to embrace the depth and breadth of the human experience.”

You’ll find a lot of that in Archaeology of A Woman

archeology of a women posterFilm Details

Title: Archaeology of A Woman
Director: Sharon Greytak
Cast: Sally Kirkland, Victoria Clark, James Murtaugh and others
Genre: Drama
Runtime: 94 min
Theatrical Release: September 12, 2014 (USA)
Parents Guide: Add content advisory for parents
Country: USA
Language: English
Filming Locations: New York City, New York, USA
Production Co: Emerald Pictures

Copyright Jennifer Merin
All rights reserved

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