Santa Cruz Good Times

Thursday
Dec 18th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Senior Miss Sunshine

ae3 MagnusWennman1Flamboyant seniors help redefine beauty in Walter Matteson’s documentary ‘Pretty Old’

Walter Matteson was in Copenhagen, Denmark to visit his then-girlfriend (and now wife) when he first saw the photograph that sparked it all. The photo, hanging at the 2007 World Press Photo Exhibit, displayed three senior women in a backstage setting. “I had just seen sports photography and war photography, and I was like, ‘What in the world is that?’” remembers Matteson. “It almost looked something like a David Lynch painting to me; it was a large print—it was giant—that I saw from across the room and it didn’t look real.” The caption was simple: “Ms. Senior Sweetheart Beauty Pageant, Fall River, Massachusetts.”


Upon returning home, Matteson researched senior pageants and discovered that an entire subculture of them exists in America. He then reached out to Magnus Wennman—the photographer of the aforementioned shot—who sent Matteson an article that accompanied his pageant photos. “He took about 10 photos that were featured in this article,” says Matteson. “He had an interesting take on it because he’s Swedish and so he had sort of an outsider’s point of view.”

Matteson remembers the first time he telephoned the pageant’s founder. Fondly imitating the scratchy New England accent he heard at the other end of the line, he says, “This is Len Kaplan from the Senior Sweetheart Beauty Pageant of America-slash-International, how can I help you?”

The story that followed that call is chronicled Pretty Old, the closing night documentary of the Santa Cruz Film Festival, and a labor of love that was directed, written and produced by Matteson. The film covers the 30th anniversary of the Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant and its 30 female competitors, ages 67 to 84, from around the world.

In addition to profiling pageant founder Lenny “Low Price” Kaplan, the film focuses on four participants through preparation and competition: a woman who has survived two heart attacks in the year preceding the pageant; another who is battling cancer; another who is losing her husband to dementia; and a so-called “pageant junkie,” who is a Betty Boop impersonator.

ae3 MagnusWennman2Getting the subjects to open up on camera was a process, but eventually they proved willing to do so. “One technique was just being around a lot, and another one was letting them into my process a little bit; instead of just asking them the questions, sharing a little bit of my story as well,” says Matteson. “I think that the women really let their guards down because they were so used to me, Trish [Govoni, director of photography] and Leah [Sapin, co-producer], that eventually the camera disappeared.”

“Walter has a quality where these women took him in almost like a grandson, and they really opened their lives to him,” says writer-producer Josh Alexander. “They really wanted to share with him, and I think that’s a unique type of access. I’m not sure that every director would’ve been able to have that type of access.”

Part of making a documentary is about being in the right place at the right time, and the ability to anticipate said time and place. “It’s very much about paying attention,” says Matteson. “Because if you’re not in the right place at the right time it doesn’t even happen—you can’t really capture the emotion or the event that actually happened. Someone can tell you about it, but when you’re really there it’s a better document.”
After sifting through 250 hours of footage, Matteson, Alexander and editor Matthew Prinzing produced an 85-minute final cut, scored by Kris Kaczor. More than just trimming, the three were crafting a narrative arc that carried a message they hadn’t necessarily expected.

“I think all of us went through that process; we had ideas about what a senior beauty pageant would be. And I think that’s a question that any audience member is going to bring to the film,” says Alexander. “But I think once you start to spend time with these characters and get to know them, you see that you’re dealing with some pretty remarkable people, and that this idea of beauty is really multifaceted.”

After the Santa Cruz Film Festival, Pretty Old—which won Best Documentary at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival—will continue its festival run. “One of the things that I hope people take away from the film is that many of these women whether they’re 60 or 70 or 84, they’re all struggling with the things that all of us are struggling with,” says Alexander. “How to find meaning in our lives, how to find meaning in our relationships, how do we feel about death, and how to find happiness and joy.”

‘Pretty Old’ plays at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, May 19 at Del Mar Theatre, 1124 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $12-15. Visit santacruzfilmfestival.org.
Photo: Magnus Wennman

Comments (1)Add Comment
...
written by Tom W, May 15, 2012
I saw this at the Newport Beach Film Festival and it is a wonderful film. Go see it!

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Is This a Dream?

A beginner’s guide to understanding and exploring the uncanny world of lucid dreams

 

Giving and Giving, Then Giving Some More

2014 is almost over. Wednesday, Dec. 17, the Jewish Festival of Light, Hanukkah, begins. We are in our last week of Sag and last two weeks of December. Sunday, Dec. 21 is winter Solstice, as the sun enters Capricorn (3:30 p.m. for the west coast). Soon after, the Capricorn new moon occurs (5:36 p.m. for the west coast)—the last new moon of 2014. Sunday morning Uranus in Aries (revolution, revelation) is stationary direct (retro since July 22). Uranus/Aries create things new and needed to anchor the new culture and civilization (Aquarius). We will see revolutionary change in 2015. Capricorn new moon, building-the-personality seed thought, is, “Let ambition rule and let the door to initiation and freedom stand wide (open).” Capricorn is a gate—where matter returns to spirit. But the gate is unseen until the Ajna Center (third eye), Diamond Light of Direction, opens. Winter solstice is the longest day of darkness of the year. The sun’s rays resting at the Tropic of Capricorn (southern hemisphere) symbolize the Christ (soul’s) light piercing the heart of the Earth, remaining there for three days, till Holy Night (midnight Thursday morning). Then the sun’s light begins to rise. It is the birth of the new light (holy child) for the world. A deep calm and stillness pervades the world.The entire planet is revivified, re-spiritualized. All hearts beating reflect this Light. And so throughout the Earth there’s a radiant “impress” (impressions, pictures) given to humanity of the World Mother and her Child. The star Sirius (love/direction) and the constellation Virgo the mother shines above. For gift giving, give to those in need. Give and give and then give some more. This creates the new template of giving and sharing for the new world.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Stocking Stuffers

The men behind the women of the Kinsey Sicks Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet explain their own special brand of ‘dragtivism,’ and their holiday show at the Rio
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Tramonti Pizza

Why there’s no such thing as too much Italian food in Seabright

 

Guitar or surfboard?

Guitar. The closest thing I ever came to surfing was sliding down a rock hill. Charlie Tweddle, Santa Cruz, Hats and Music

 

Fortino Winery’s Intriguing Charbono

At the opening celebration of the new Santa Clara Wine Trail in August, one of the wineries we visited was Fortino. This is where I first tasted their intriguing estate-grown Charbono—a varietal that is one of the rarest in California, with only 80 acres grown statewide.

 

Beyond the Jar

How Tabitha Stroup has built her rapidly expanding jam empire