Sunday, October 3, 2010

Age of Consent (Michael Powell, 1969)

An Australian artist of some note becomes tired of the art world, particularly those who invest in art or buy things that are pretty, spurs Bradley Morahan (James Mason) to take refuge on a small island to recover his artistic sense. It doesn't take long for him to encounter Cora Ryan (Helen Mirren), a seventeen year old living with her grandmother who collects shellfish and other trinkets for the local store. Morahan begins employing Cora as a model, and she soon becomes his muse, much to the ire of the gin-sloshed gran.

It is a troubling story. Cora's mother was a woman of reputedly loose morals, now dead, and Cora does not know who her father is. The grandmother holds this shame over Cora and constantly berates her. Cora steals in order to save money so she can leave one day for Brisbane. Despite its swanky, swinging sixties soundtrack, the film is fairly dark and the relationship between artist and model is tenuous, especially when you add in the other locals and Morahan's "friend" Nat Kelly, who arrives to borrow money and creates havoc in the artist's life.

Mason was one of the producers of this film, which makes me wonder a bit about him. He seems to be such an upright, stiff-upper-lip sort of Brit, yet he sets out to make this film about an older man and a young girl in love about seven years after the quite similar Lolita (Stanley Kubrick, 1962). This film, like Lolita, is based on a novel, this time by Norman Lindsay. The obsession is different, however.

Mirren was about twenty-four at the time, and is quirky and funny. Cora is similar physically to Lolita, but personality-wise quite the opposite. She is uncultured, and a tad uncouth. She is self-sufficient yet trapped by family ties. Rather than being the dirty girl from an affluent family, she is a nice girl from a trashy family. Cora is sexy in a non-sexy manner... if that makes sense. She is very natural, and does not typically try to be sexy. She realizes she is unsophisticated. It is hard to not be sexy, however, when Helen Mirren is your mortal coil, particularly whilst running around naked on a reasonably regular basis.


Copyboy said...

A sexy art film indeed.

dfordoom said...

It's a very odd movie. It has too much broad comedy for my liking but when it focuses on the two main characters, played by Mason and Mirren, it's pretty good. It was rather controversial here in Australia at the time, what with all that nudity.

It's interesting to compare it with Sirens, which is about Norman Lindsay rather than being based on one of his books. Lindsay was a colourful figure and very very controversial in his day. Sirens is an underrated movie, also mildly controversial due to copious quantities of nudity.

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