I've Heard the Mermaids Singing

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I've Heard the Mermaids Singing
I've Heard the Mermaids Singing DVD.jpg
DVD cover
Directed by Patricia Rozema
Produced by Patricia Rozema
Don Haig
Alexandra Raffe
Written by Patricia Rozema
Starring
Music by Mark Korven
Cinematography Douglas Koch
Edited by Patricia Rozema
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release date
  • 11 September 1987 (1987-09-11)
Running time
81 minutes
Country Canada
Language English

I've Heard the Mermaids Singing is a 1987 feature film, directed by Patricia Rozema. The title is taken from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot.

Plot[edit]

The film stars Sheila McCarthy as Polly, a worker for a temporary secretarial agency. Polly serves as the narrator for the film, and there are frequent sequences portraying her whimsical fantasies. Polly lives alone, seems to have no friends and enjoys solitary bicycle rides to undertake her hobby of photography. Despite her clumsiness, lack of education, social awkwardness and inclination to take others' statements literally, all of which have resulted in scarce employment opportunities, Polly is placed as a secretary in a private art gallery owned by Gabrielle (Paule Baillargeon).

Ann-Marie MacDonald plays Mary, who is Gabrielle's former young lover, and also a painter. Mary returns after an absence, and she and Gabrielle rekindle their former relationship despite Gabrielle's misgivings that she is too old and Mary too young. Polly, who's fallen a little bit in love with Gabrielle, is inspired to submit some of her own photographs anonymously to the gallery. She is crushed when Gabrielle dismisses her photos out of hand and calls them "simpleminded." Polly temporarily quits the gallery, and goes into a depression. She returns to the gallery, and revives a little when Mary notices one of her photos.

All the while, Mary and Gabrielle have been perpetrating a fraud. Gabrielle has been passing off Mary's work as her own. When Polly finds out, she becomes livid and tosses a cup of tea at Gabrielle. Believing she has done something unforgivable, Polly retreats to her flat in anguish.

Mary and Gabrielle later visit Polly at her flat, and realize that the discarded photographs were by Polly. As the film ends, Gabrielle and Mary look at more of Polly's photographs and in a short fantasy sequence the three are transported together to an idyllic wooded glen, a metaphor for the beautiful world that supposedly plain and unnoticed people like Polly inhabit.

Cast[edit]

Reception[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

Camille Paglia praised the film's "wonderful comedy and realism", commenting of the character Polly, "This girl's kind of aimless, yet plucky. It's the twentysomething problem with self-definition."[1] In 1993, the Toronto International Film Festival ranked it ninth in the Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time, with Rozema becoming the first female director to have a film on the list.[2] The film did not appear on the updated 2004 version.[3]

Feminist criticism[edit]

In identifying a feminist approach to this film, and understanding Patricia Rozema's artistic intentions- described by Thomas Waugh as "the most prominent of English Canadian lesbian filmmakers" – Rozema herself, the director, says in an interview from 1991, that she refuses to define her work as "distinctly feminist" and emphasizes that "gender is a category that does not interest her."[4] However, in 1993, Rozema claimed that her films assume feminism, ..."it's in their foundation."[5] In Rozema's cinematic work, the main characters are predominantly women, in heterosexual or lesbian relationships, or is single. Several of her film features portray or touch upon lesbian love, a theme quite apparently shown in Mermaids.[6]

Awards[edit]

Cannes Film Festival, 1987: Prix de la jeunesse [youth prize] (Directors' Fortnight) -- awarded to Patricia Rozema [7]

Genie Award, 1988: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role -- awarded to Sheila McCarthy [8]

Genie Award, 1988: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role -- awarded to Paule Baillargeon [9]

Further reading[edit]

  • M. Alemany-Galway. A Postmodern Cinema: The Voice of the Other in Canadian Film (2002). Scarecrow Press.
  • B. Austin-Smith. "Gender is irrelevant":" I've heard the mermaids singing" as women's cinema. Cross Cultures (2002). Rodopi.
  • Marilyn Fabe. "Feminism and Film Form: Patricia Rozema's I've Heard the Mermaids Singing," in Closely Watched Films: An Introduction to the Art of Narrative Film Technique. (2004). U of California P.
  • Julia Mendenhall. I've Heard the Mermaids Singing. 2014. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press. Queer Film Classic Series, edited by Thomas Waugh and Matthew Hays.
  • George Melnyk, One Hundred Years of Canadian Cinema (University of Toronto Press, 2004).
  • David L. Pike, Canadian Cinema Since the 1980s: At the Heart of the World (University of Toronto Press, 2012)
  • Marilyn Fabe, Closely Watched Films: An Introduction to the Art of Narrative Film Technique (University of California Press, 2004).
  • Christopher Gittings, Canadian National Cinema (Routledge, 2001).
  • Wyndham Wise, ed., Take One's Essential Guide to Canadian Film (University of Toronto Press, 2001).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Paglia, Camille. Vamps and Tramps: New Essays. Penguin Books, 1994, p. 500.
  2. ^ Handling, Piers (Fall 1994). "Canada's ten best". Take One. p. 23. 
  3. ^ Gravestock, Steve (26 June 2015). "Essay". Toronto International Film Festival. Archived from the original on 4 July 2016. Retrieved 28 August 2016. 
  4. ^ Armatage, Kay (1999-01-01). Gendering the Nation: Canadian Women's Cinema. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9780802079640. 
  5. ^ Dale, Holly; Cole, Janis (1993-01-01). Calling the shots: profiles of women filmmakers. Kingston, Ont: Quarry Press. ISBN 1550820850. 
  6. ^ Šašinková, Soňa (2011). "The Films that Made it: Independent Canadian Women Filmmakers and the Recipe for Success" (PDF). Masaryk University. Retrieved March 30, 2017. 
  7. ^ "Awards of the Cannes Film Festival Given to Films by Canadian Women Directors (4 awards) -- femfilm.ca: Canadian Women Film Directors Database". www.femfilm.ca. Retrieved 2017-03-30. 
  8. ^ "Genie Awards Given to Films by Canadian Women Directors (87 awards) -- femfilm.ca: Canadian Women Film Directors Database". www.femfilm.ca. Retrieved 2017-03-30. 
  9. ^ "Genie Awards Given to Films by Canadian Women Directors (87 awards) -- femfilm.ca: Canadian Women Film Directors Database". www.femfilm.ca. Retrieved 2017-03-30. 

External links[edit]