I’ve decided this blog doesn’t have to feature perfect updates. My guess is ambition kills many blogs. Instead, I hope to update regularly starting from today.
I am thinking in middle-age witches, a topic I’ve touched upon in my research, and which I plan to do a paper on in the Spring (see below for papers on Vanessa in Penny Dreadful and Fiona in American Horror Story season 3).
I just re-watched Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) because it has plenty of witches and I was struck by how discriminating it is against not only the middle-age witch, but against people with any kind of physical abnormalities. (spoiler alert) Here are female dwarfs, conjoined twins, women with scars, tattoos, you name it. They are all murdered by young and perfect-looking Hansel and Gretel. And even the two good witches in the film are burnt and stabbed to death. No survival for any witch, whether she is good or bad. Being a witch in itself is reason to be killed, although the film says good witches should be allowed to live. Well, they don’t.
Don’t watch Hansel & Gretel for plot. Yet it belongs on my films-with-witches-list because of Famke Janssen, who is always fabulous and plays the leading witch. She delivers a character who is intense, believable and the only interesting (or captivating) character in the film. When she first appears, hauntingly beautiful, you agree it is her forest and the witch hunters had it coming. In fact, she takes over the screen from everyone else, including Jeremy Renner (Hansel) and Gemma Arterton (Gretel).
The film fits the recent trend of having stunningly beautiful actresses play evil queens/witches. Other examples are Monica Belucci in The Brothers Grimm (2005), Charlize Theron in Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016), Jessica Lange in American Horror Story season 3 (2011–]) and Angelina Jolie in Maleficent (2014).
I’m interested in the portrayal of middle-age women as age anxious and desperate to kill anything/one to stay young. Famke is interesting here, because her character is one of the few witches to not fret about her age or looks. Thus, both Belucci and (oh, I forgot her) Julia Roberts in Mirror, Mirror are too in love with the mirror to be in love with anyone else.
We know the story already: To age is more terrifying than any monster or even death – because it is to fall into the abyss of death. And aging starts at an earlier age as time passes. Today, even the young get botox before thirty, because, as Danish film scholar Anne Jerslev puts it, the best way to grow old is to never grow old. Society’s gender script stipulates that, as Jerslev says, “youth is good, desirable, and beautiful; old age is bad, repulsive, and ugly” (2017: 4). Susan M. Behuniak in “The Living Dead? The Construction of People With Alzheimer’s Disease as Zombies” (2011) says society constructs aging as dying. Behuniak is talking about real aging people with Alzheimer’s Disease.
I’ll stop here but return to the witch in later blog entries. Just let me end noting how rare stories are where men are preoccupied with their wrinkles and old age. The exception I can think of is Jonathan Hyde as Eldritch Palmer in The Strain (2014–2017).
Susan M. Behuniak, “The Living Dead? The Construction of People With Alzheimer’s Disease as Zombies,” Old Age,” Ageing and Society 31 (2011): 70–92.
Sylvia Henneberg. “Moms do Badly, But Grandmas do Worse: The Nexus of Sexism and Ageism in Children’s Classics.” Journal of Aging Studies 24 (2010): 125–34.
Anne Jerslev, “The Elderly Female Face in Beauty and Fashion Ads: Joan Didion for Céline,” European Journal of Cultural Studies, accepted and forthcoming in 2017, PDF 1–17.
Rikke Schubart, “The Journey: Vanessa Ives and Edgework as Self-Work,” Refractory: A Journal of Entertainment Media 29, Special Issue: Penny Dreadful, Summer (2017): no page numbers, 1–16, 8. Available online: http://refractory.unimelb.edu.au/2017/06/14/schubart/ (accessed November 28, 2017).
Rikke Schubart, “Age Anxiety, Television Horror, and Off-Script Femininity: The Middle Age Mother in The Walking Dead, Hemlock Grove, and American Horror Story” Conference Paper presented at Society for Cinema and Media Studies, March 2015. Available online: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275649735_Age_Anxiety_Television_Horror_and_Off-Script_Femininity_The_Middle_Age_Mother_in_The_Walking_Dead_Hemlock_Grove_and_American_Horror_Story