Patricia Rozema on ‘Mermaids’

I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing began with the invention of its lead character, ‘Polly’ – an unsuccessful career woman. [Patricia] Rozema had tired of the presentation, in film, of competent, intelligent, world-conquering women. She was more drawn to characters who were less articulate, less self-confident. She wanted these characters to address the same subjects as the educated and the articulate, but she wanted them to speak ‘in a real, simple, bumbly kind of wisdom, that was less aggressive or snotty.’ Or as she told the New York Times on the eve of the film’s opening there in 1987, ‘I wanted to take seriously someone you wouldn’t talk to at a dinner party.’

Rozema started writing while working as a third assistant director on David Cronenberg’s The Fly. When that film went into post-production, Rozema was given what she calls an honourable discharge and went back to writing her script. In the beginning, Rozema envisaged Polly as being very conservative – in dress, manner and speech-and completely alone. And she conceived the tone of the film as being ‘a lot sadder’ than the final result. ‘But I knew very early on that it was going to be about a temporary secretary who works at an art gallery and that she would have this inner life, of adventure and things I thought would be fun to do, like fly.’

Right from the start, Mermaids also had a strong anti-authority motif, a theme that stemmed in part from one very harsh review of Passion in the Globe and Mail. Stung by the review, and ‘pathologically sensitive to criticism,’ as she told the New York Times, Rozema resolved to essentially destroy the notion that objectivist standards in art have any meaning. A temporary secretary’s opinion on art, Mermaids seems to say, is as valid as anyone else’s. ‘The point of the film,’ she told one interviewer, ‘is to trust yourself – whatever they say.'”

— (via Canadian Dreams: The Making and Marketing of Independent Films)