I am presently vacationing on Tybee Island near Savannah, Georgia. Yesterday, I attended the screening of actress Gena Rowlands’ latest film, “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks,” October 28, 2014, in Savannah. This is an extraordinary film, made with keen sensitivity. It centers upon the growing relationship between the character played by Ms. Rowlands, the widow of a Southern Baptist minister, and her young dance instructor, a gay man.
The film is multi-layered and incorporates many dimensions of human interaction. Several lines, or perceptions, especially stood out to me. The young dance instructor mentions that the relationships one has with one’s family members must continue to evolve even after the death of one member. He says that that must happen or the surviving member will stagnate as will their relationship’s “raison d’etre.” Their sometimes hurtful relationship must be understood with greater depth and wisdom as the survivor of the relationship ages. In other words, human beings are not only able to go backwards in our minds in our memories of our previous relationships, but we can also reach into the future with our minds trying to help the previous relationships heal and evolve, even when one member is deceased. Amazing concept. Yet true.
Another insightful line is that, perhaps, people do not actually change over time, but that they, instead, simply reveal more of who they actually are. Another penetrating line in the film, humorously delivered by Ms. Rowlands, who lies about her age as her character in the film, says, “Shhh, don’t say your real age out loud, or your face will know.”
In the dialogue with the audience after the screening Ms. Rowlands acknowledged that she is now 84 years old, and her irridescent beauty is still evident on the screen. I asked her a rather personal question. I had thought about what I would most like to learn from her if I had one question to ask. In the film, it was obvious to me that Ms. Rowlands had not had facial plastic surgery. She looked like a woman in her late 70s to mid-80s, yet still fully aware and still mobile. I wanted to know why she had not had plastic surgery, but in awkwardly asking this question, my question came out, finally, as “Do you think that aging actresses need to have plastic surgery, especially in light of your response earlier that, ‘love is everywhere, that it is all around us,’ and in light of the director stating that you had never done a dishonest thing on film?” (Before asking this very personal question of Ms. Rowlands, I did have the forethought to tell her that she had been “brilliant” in her Academy Award nominated role in the independent film, “Gloria,” which was directed by her late husband, John Cassavetes. I told her that everything she had done in that film had been “flawless.”
The director of this film, who had praised Cassavetes as having singularly paved a way for independent films once the U. S. Supreme Court had broken up the monopolies on films that the major studios in Hollywood had established. The director said that Cassavetes was not only an outstanding director and actor, but that he was a man who had the courage, energy, and intelligence to fight the major film studios in Hollywood and win in his battle to produce successful, independent films. This current exceptional director of “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” had jokingly answered (when I asked my question of Ms. Rowlands) that it was he who was in need of plastic surgery.
To her credit as a sensitive human being, Ms. Rowlands did not ignore my question as superficial nor laugh it off with the director’s humorous remark thereafter, but, instead, she attempted to answer publicly a rather awkward question of her. She started off saying that she has been afraid of plastic surgery. She said – I believe as her voice was low at times – that no one wants to see a really unattractive person on the screen. She did say that plastic surgery has made great strides in the last few years in being able to do simple and effective procedures. She said that it is very popular in California. So, she said she had nothing against its being done, but she said, “You lose something, too, when it is done.”
Those last few words told me so much about Gena Rolands. It seemed to me that she was implying that you cannot have everything in life. You may be able to look younger by surgery, but, in the process of having plastic surgery, you are denying who you truly are – an older person who has lived many years upon the Earth. I contrasted Joan Rivers with Gena Rowlands, in my mind. Joan Rivers, a consummate comedienne, recently died at age 80, and with the help of plastic surgery, had arguably looked 20 to 25 years younger than her chronological age when she died. Ms. Rowlands, on the other hand, is presently 84 years old, looks close to that age, and is still inspiring and touching souls through the sensitivity and depth of her acting performances – without having plastic surgery.
I would love for Gena Rowlands to have elaborated upon what it is that one may lose by having had plastic surgery, as she had said, but I perceived – as she attempted to answer my question with seriousness – that she was not a woman given to the analysis of the professor, but that she is, instead, a great actress with a heartfelt and sensitive interior life who translates what she has learned in life onto the screen, or stage, through making manifest her deep interior life which shows forth not so much through words (or analysis) but through her eyes, her expressions, her movements, and her rhythms of her sensitive interactions with other characters on the screen.
BRAVA to you, Gena Rowlands, not only for an outstanding performance in “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” but for answering my seemingly superficial question with depth, grace, and care. You are truly “one in a million,” as the film declares.