I've Heard the Mermaids Singing
Canada, 1987 (fiction, 81 minutes, colour / black and white, English)
Also known as
"Eu Ouvi o Canto das Sereias", "Gesang der Meerjungfrauen", "He oído cantar a las sirenas", "Ho sentito le sirene cantare", "Jeg har hørt havfruerne synge", "Le chant des sirènes", "Merenneitojen laulu", "Sjöjungfruns sång", "Zpev sirén"
Film Description [in French] :|
"Polly réagit à tout ce qu'elle voit en prenant des photos qui déclenchent des visions en noir et blanc. Ce processus d'autodécouverte s'arrête soudainement lorsqu'elle accepte un emploi dans une galerie d'art. Polly développe une adoration tenant du voyeurisme pour son arrogante et belle patronne, et pour l'amante de cette dernière, Mary. Cependant, la soumission de Polly au jugement de la directrice étouffe l'émergence de sa propre personnalité. Ce n'est que lorsqu'elle démystifie ses gourous du monde des arts qu'elle peut à nouveau entendre le chant des sirènes."
-- Noah Cowan
"I've Heard the Mermaids Singing is a quietly amusing and fresh tale told from the point of view of Polly (Sheila McCarthy), a self-admitted 'organizationally impaired' temporary secretary. In her videotaped confession, she tells us how she got caught up in a voyeuristic fascination for her new boss, the beautiful and ambitious curator (Paule Baillargeon) of the Church Gallery, a gallery in downtown Toronto. Polly, innocent beyond her years, witnesses many things quite beyond her ken: pseudo intellectual 'art talk' and the sexual relationship between the curator and a young woman named Mary Joseph (Ann-Marie McDonald). Polly responds to her discoveries through her hobby of amateur photography. After expeditions around the city, snapping pictures of her various new obsessions, she develops her pictures in her bachelorette bathroom. In the little red womb of her bathroom, she spaces off and slips into the black and white worlds inside, worlds where she can fly, walk on water and hear mermaids singing."
|Film Credits (partial):
||Alexandra Raffé, Patricia Rozema, Don Haig|
||Sheila McCarthy, Paule Baillargeon, Ann-Marie McDonald, Richard Monette, John Evans, Brenda Kamino|
||Canada Council, National Film Board of Canada / Office national du film du Canada, Ontario Arts Council, Ontario Film Development Corporation, Telefilm Canada|
Awards won by I've Heard the Mermaids Singing
- Cannes Film Festival: Prix de la jeunesse [youth prize] (Directors' Fortnight) -- awarded to Patricia Rozema
- Genie Award: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role -- awarded to Sheila McCarthy
- Genie Award: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role -- awarded to Paule Baillargeon
Notes about I've Heard the Mermaids Singing
- Filmed in Toronto.
- Nominated for a Genie Award in the Achievement in Direction category.
- The film got a standing ovation when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1987 as part of the Directors' Fortnight.
- The film's budget was $362,109.
Quotes by the Director
"I have become post facto a representative of the country. So if you ask, 'Is Mermaids a Canadian film? -- it has become one. It has become a means whereby people characterize Canadian film. I think in the creation of Mermaids, I did see it in political terms. I thought of the underdog. Canada is not a superpower by any means. It's very quietly, comfortably democratic, but it's plagued by a sense of inferiority."
-- Patricia Rozema
"Our voices, our representation of ourselves, have been in the hands of others, namely men, since the beginning of the mediums of film and television. My main character in I've Heard the Mermaids Singing videotaped a confession that is used through the film. It's her way of having control over her definition of herself."
-- Patricia Rozema
Quotes about I've Heard the Mermaids Singing
"Perhaps the bravest thing about this movie [I've Heard the Mermaids Singing], is the way the lesbian theme is so blithely understated, as though it were simply one of the facts of the universe."
-- Ally Acker
"What is interesting about this film [I've Heard the Mermaids Singing] is that it is built on the very contradictions which are present in the feminist discourse itself."
-- Mary Alemany-Galway
"Against mainstream cinema's positioning of women as passive objects of an aggressive male gaze, I've Heard the Mermaids Singing is a film that places female 'looking' at its centre."
-- Brenda Austin-Smith
"Polly is both the subject and object of her own fantasy. Her reverie is not built around an image of another, but instead, around an idealized image of herself; it is based on activity rather than simple fetishization. [Patricia] Rozema's appearance in Polly's fantasy (an an onlooker, no less) in effect erases the director-as-author as the driving force behind the narrative, and thus, turns the tables on the creative process."
-- Robert L. Cagle
"[I've Heard the Mermaids Singing is a] wonderful film, a sad and uplifting comedy in which the insecure and insignificant Polly eventually proves herself better than her superiors."
-- Alison Darren
"Its reception as an exemplary film of women's cinema is ground for serious self-questioning by those of us who still want to claim the term for a feminist political project."
-- Teresa De Lauretis
"Patricia Rozema's I've Heard the Mermaids Singing is an especially appropriate film to discuss in the context of [Laura] Mulvey's call for a counter-cinema, because in a number of ways it does what Mulvey suggests. It subverts most male-centred conventions of female representation by refusing the voyeuristic pleasure of objectifying or fetishizing women and it also interferes with the male-active, female-passive dynamics of most mainstream films. At the same time, however, Mermaids is visually appealing, emotionally complex, and fun to watch, whether or not one is consciously aware of the conventions it is subverting."
-- Marilyn Fabe
"A temporary secretary in an art gallery, Polly is a frustrated artist and photographer whose rich phantasy life interrupts the main narrative in the form of black-and-white sequences where she scales Toronto office towers or flies through the air like a Canadian superhero."
-- Christopher Gittings
"As in all feminist filmmaking, Rozema's theme and technique in Mermaids are inextricably bound because in cinema technique constitutes the signifying system. [...] Rozema's technique is to make conscious the mechanism of cinematic looking, while her theme is the legitimisation of one woman's way of looking."
-- George Godwin
"Patricia Rozema's charming debut feature I've Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987) was not the first film from the [Toronto] New Wave -- that honour would go to Atom Egoyan's Next of Kin (1984) -- but it established the movement, in part, because of its international and domestic success."
-- Steve Gravestock
"Characters dressed in period costume, special effects (Sheila McCarthy flying across the Toronto sky or hanging on to skyscrapers), colour (Polly's recent past) alternating with black and white (her dreams, with the exception of the one when, after taking her vengeance on Gabrielle, she pictures herself as an orchestral conductor -- in Technicolor) and with video tape (the depressing reality of being yet again an out-of-work secretary), all kinds of small but engaging and even outrageous details give a certain flair to the film which was shot in 23 days on a budget of $350,000."
-- André Lavoie
"One of the first films that the OFDC [Ontario Film Development Corporation] had invested in, made for a very modest budget of $350,000, the film [I've Heard the Mermaids Singing] was not only a critical success, it sold to 37 countries world wide, was picked up by Miramax for US distribution and went on to gross more than 5 million dollars, an unprecedented and never to be replicated feat. [...] While few other films in the next decade would match Mermaid's recoupment miracle or [Atom] Egoyan's cachet with international and national film critics, both directors would nonetheless be installed in the policy rhetoric of both the OFDC and Telefilm [Canada] as key exemplars of the viability and vision of the state funding system."
-- Brenda Longfellow
"Sexy, stylish and steeped in a Canadian melancholy, I've Heard the
Mermaids Singing was part of the initial move toward magic realism
that freed Canadian film from the tethers of realism -- and let it fly into the ether of the imagination."
-- Katherine Monk
Quotes about I've Heard the Mermaids Singing [in French]
"En somme, quelle que soit la forme narrative utilisée (la confession sur
vidéo, le flashback et les rêves en noir et blanc sont habilement liés au son d'une trame sonore le plus souvent très séduisante), Polly nous dit que la beauté est dans l'oeil de celui qui regarde et je suis tout à fait disposée à endosser son point de vue naïf sur l'art."
-- Marie-Christine Abel
"[En 1986] Patricia Rozema, une jeune cinéaste ontarienne, réalise son premier long métrage, Le chant des sirènes. Ce film drôle et magnifiquement interpété par Sheila McCarthy et Paule Baillargeon rencontre un immense et mérité succès international. Il permet à Patricia Rozema de poursuivre une brillante carrière marquée par le mésestimé White Room (1991) et le brillant When Night Is Falling (1995) avec Pascale Bussières."
-- Sylvain Garel
Bibliography for I've Heard the Mermaids Singing
- Alemany-Galway, Mary. "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing." In A Postmodern Cinema: The Voice of the Other in Canadian Film, 140-163. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002.
- Austin-Smith, Brenda. "Gender Is Irrelevant: I've Heard the Mermaids Singing as Women's Cinema." In Canada's Best Features: Critical Essays on 15 Canadian Films, edited by Eugene P. Walz, 207-233. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002.
- Brownworth, Victoria A., and Judith M. Redding "Patricia Rozema: I've Heard the Mermaids Singing." In Film Fatales: Independent Women Directors, 203-211. Seattle: Seal Press, 1997.
- Fabe, Marilyn. "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, 207-227. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.
- Gravestock, Steve. "The Toronto New Wave." In World Film Locations: Toronto, edited by Tom Ue, 56-57. Bristol: Intellect, 2014.
- Lavoie, André. "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing." In The Cinema of Canada, edited by Jerry White, 136-143. London: Wallflower, 2006.
- Posner, Michael. "The Little Movie That Did: I've Heard the Mermaids Singing." In Canadian Dreams: The Making and Marketing of Independent Films, 1-21. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1993.
Brief Sections of Books
- Acker, Ally. Reel Women: Pioneers of the Cinema, the First Hundred Years. New York: Reel Women Media Publishing, 2011. (vol. 2, pp. 286-289)
- Darren, Alison. Lesbian Film Guide. New York: Cassell, 2000. (pp. 115-116)
- Fay, Elizabeth A. Eminent Rhetoric: Language, Gender, and Cultural Tropes. Westport, Conn.: Bergin & Garvey, 1994. (pp. 81-87)
- Gittings, Christopher E. Canadian National Cinema: Ideology, Difference and Representation. London: Routledge, 2002. (pp. 276-278)
- Leach, Jim. Film in Canada. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2006. (pp. 106-108)
- Mayne, Judith. The Woman at the Keyhole: Feminism and Women's Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. (pp. 67-75)
- Monk, Katherine. Weird Sex and Snowshoes: And Other Canadian Film Phenomena. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 2001. (p. 302)
- Alemany-Galway, Mary. "Postmodernism in Canadian Film: I've Heard the Mermaids Singing." Post Script 18, no. 2 (Winter-Spring 1999): 25-36.
- Gasher, Mike. "Decolonizing the Imagination: Cultural Expression
as Vehicle of Self-Discovery." Canadian Journal of Film Studies / Revue canadienne d'études cinématographiques 2, no. 2-3 (1993): 95-105.
- Harrison, Marion. "Mermaids: Singing Off Key?" Cineaction!, no. 16 (Spring 1989): 25-30.
- Peterson, Shirley. "Devaluing the 'Ornamental
Pot': Voyeurism, Marginality, and Women's Cinema in I've Heard the
Mermaids Singing." West Virginia University Philological Papers 38 (1992): 302-309.
- Shary, Timothy. "Present Personal Truths: The Alternative Phenomenology of Video in I've Heard the Mermaids Singing." Wide Angle 15, no. 3 (July 1993): 37-55.
- Zuilhof, Gertjan. "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing." Review of I've Heard the Mermaids Singing. Skrien, no. 156 (November-December 1987): 17. [in Dutch]
Brief Sections of Journal Articles
- De Lauretis, Teresa. "Guerrilla in the Midst: Women's Cinema in the 80s." Screen 31, no. 1 (Spring 1990). (pp. 18-20)
Newspaper or Magazine Articles
- Abel, Marie-Christine. "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing." Review of I've Heard the Mermaids Singing. Séquences, January 1988. [in French]
- Bearchell, Chris. "A Canadian fairytale: Chris Bearchell talks to Patricia Rozema about taking her first feature to Cannes." Interview with Patricia Rozema. Epicene, October 1987.
- Canby, Vincent. "I've Heard The Mermaids Singing." Review of I've Heard the Mermaids Singing. New York Times, September 11, 1987.
- Delisle, Martin. "Le chant de la sirène." Interview with Patricia Rozema. 24 Images, Winter 1987-88. [in French]
- Elia, Maurice. "Patricia Rozema." Interview with Patricia Rozema. Séquences, January 1988. [in French]
- Fuchs, Cindy. "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing." Review of I've Heard the Mermaids Singing. Cineaste, vol. 16, no. 3, 1988.
- Godwin, George. "Reclaiming the subject: a feminist reading of I've Heard the Mermaids Singing." Cinema Canada, May 1988.
- Grugeau, Gérard. "Le chant des sirènes; Family Viewing." Review of I've Heard the Mermaids Singing. 24 Images, Winter 1987-88. [in French]
- Jaehne, Karen. "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing." Interview with Patricia Rozema. Cineaste, vol. 16, no. 3, 1988.
- Nacache, Jacqueline, and Jean Rabinovici. "Le chant des sirènes :
une rencontre avec Patricia Rozema." Interview with Patricia Rozema. Cinéma 72, September 30, 1987. [in French]
- O'Pray, Michael. "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing." Review of I've Heard the Mermaids Singing. Monthly Film Bulletin, March 1988.
- Rouyer, Philippe. "Le chant des sirènes." Review of I've Heard the Mermaids Singing. Positif, November 1987. [in French]
- Scott, Jay. "Outrageous fortune: Sheila McCarthy's triumph in I've Heard the Mermaids Singing proves that you can be goofy and glamorous at the same time." Globe and Mail, August 28, 1987, Toronto Magazine.
- Tanner, Louise. "Adrian Lyne and Patricia Rozema." Interview with Patricia Rozema, Adrian Lyne. Films in Review, December 1987.
- Variety. "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing." Review of I've Heard the Mermaids Singing. Variety, May 20, 1987.
- Mendenhall, Julia A. "Queering Lesbian Romance: The Polymorphous Perversity of I've Heard the Mermaids Singing." In "Genre Pleasures: Restructuring Narrative Thresholds and the Coming Out of the Northern American (English-Canadian and United States) Lesbian Romance Film," 184-220. PhD diss., Temple University, 2007.
Web Sites about I've Heard the Mermaids Singing