Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Web Series We Love: Isabella Rossellini’s “The Mammas”

Isabella Rossellini’s latest installment of her nature web series Green Porno is the opposite of puritanical. She wouldn’t have used the word “porno” in the title if she planned to be coy. Instead, The Mammas video series on The Sundance Channel tells the truth about the animal world’s various and bizarre maternal rituals. Her inspiration for The Mammas came from (according to NPR) “the work of evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk. Zuk wrote that self-sacrifice was not the basis of maternal instinct but rather good management of resources.” And it’s not for the faint of heart.

Rossellini as Mamma Spider.
Before your tween and older kids look at Rossellini’s videos, they need to understand where babies come from; and you have to be on board with your kids hearing blunt, honest yet biologically correct language including the words spawn, sperm, vagina, and genitals (to give a sampling). If you welcome frank discussions and (rather hilarious) illustrations of nature at its extremes, you’ll find an entertaining yet informative series. So many educators try to crack that code of making learning fun. Perhaps Rossellini has stacked the deck in her favor by choosing a provocative subject, but she does it with gusto and talent.

Rossellini embraces her "mate."
Rossellini stars in each video, costumed as the animal, insect, or fish in question. And she’s amazing. It’s hard to describe how wonderful it is to see children’s material performed by such a famous actress who isn’t exactly known for her whimsy. She attacks each character with the seriousness of a Shakespeare play, totally committed to her characters, as the absurd settings, dialogue, and costumes carry the humor. She reminds me of movie star Rosalind Russell’s description of screen acting: stand up naked and turn around slowly. And Rossellini does that, too. As a shrimp, she begins as a male; then turns female, peels off her shell and strips “naked” (though actually in a pink bodysuit) as she embraces a male shrimp.

Rossellini as part of a shrimp catch.
Rossellini’s interest in animals is serious, and in The Mammas as in every installment since the series began in 2008, she has her facts straight. Rossellini is working on her master’s degree in animal behavior at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. She told NPR, “As a semiretired actress, like any retired person, you always fear boredom” she says. “As I worked less as a model and an actress because of age, I was always interested in animal behavior, and I thought I’d go back and study it.” Her own commitment to life-long learning shows in the series: it’s filled with a sense of wonder and discovery. And I’m not surprised she didn’t go for a coy delivery. She’s never been a coy person. This long-time model for Lancome was also the star of the cult hit, Blue Velvet. The daughter of Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini, she was married to Martin Scorsese; and was the partner and muse of director David Lynch. And now she is getting serious about her life-long love of wildlife. She is a board member of the Wildlife Conservation Network and you’ll see conservation themes explored in her videos, too, as in the video on the life of shrimp that points out how many sea animals die during a shrimp catch.

There’s something marvelous about watching someone reinvent herself and embrace the new technology of multi-media video while she’s at it. You can see Rossellini’s videos on the website for  The Sundance Channel.

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