How We Are Now was shot over a period of six days and edited in just over three weeks. I wanted to employ a non-intrusive, observational shooting style, so as not to be in Peter & Douglas' way, but also to give as accurate a sense as possible of how they live. This meant that we shot over 21 hours of footage, from which we extracted and structured the final 30 minute film.
The whole experience was a joy from the first minute we set foot into their apartment to meet them a month earlier. Not only did they make us instantly feel welcome, they were overjoyed we would be taking over their lives for a week and kept asking us if they were in our way! Now that the shoot is over, we all still see each other on a regular basis and I can't imagine my life without them.
The aim when making How We Are Now was to explore in detail what it means to be elderly and how the elderly live their day to day lives. When we are younger, and hopefully healthy, we view the future as a guarantee and as something that is as much a part of our life as the present. The way we are in the present is in many ways dictated by how we would like our lives to be in the future, as our goals, hopes and ambitions shape the way we act and live. In old age the future becomes uncertain and our past is what makes up the majority of our life.
The eldery are often portrayed or thought to be people who exist in the present, but live through their past, recounting memories and times that are long gone, as if that was when their lives were important. My hope was to find a person or a couple who would be willing to show us what lies beneath our assumptions about the elderly, by allowing us an intimate insight into how old age affects every aspect of our lives, from the practical to the philosophical and how they adapt to that.
Peter and Douglas immediately struck me as being utterly unique. They are people who are on the one hand thoroughly realistic about their physical situation and the limitations it imposes on their lives, but who, on the other hand, harness an explosive energy and positivity that allows them to constantly adapt to their situation and live looking ahead. Their company and unreserved candour was as touching as it was entertaining.
Peter and Douglas’ focus on their present I believe shows the way in which old age is simply another phase in our lives which, to be able to tackle successfully, we must adapt to wholly.
‘Old age doesn’t mean you can’t have hopes for the future, it just means your hopes are different to when you’re younger and it might take a little longer for them to come true.’
Peter & Douglas
Douglas Adams (left) & Peter Kerr
Writing a bio for Peter and Douglas is a surprisingly difficult task, as the way in which they talk about themselves and their past is scattered and episodic. They weave it into their present through bursts of anecdotes and memories, but never linger on it too long. Neither are they people who linearly guide you through their past, explaining the narratives of their lives. It’s more something they dip into, usually for humour, or to underline a point. As a result, I can write down detailed snippets and moments from their lives, often however, without knowing how or when they all join up.
I do know that Peter came to the UK from Australia when he was just a teenager, aspiring to be an actor, which he soon became. I know he rapidly began to build a successful career on the stage and that for a time he was flatmates with Sean Connery and knew Lawrence Olivier well. I also know that at some point the world of theatre became too much for him and he went into hair and makeup, through which he met and became friends with a multitude of celebrities he is always more than eager to talk about.
Douglas, who would become a successful interior decorator and run Chippendale’s in London, met Peter shortly after he moved to London and the pair immediately started seeing each other. This part of the story has many more details, which I should probably leave out…!
When I asked them when they got together, they both replied that they didn’t know, that they never really though of themselves as being ‘together’. They just were. This is one of the things I love most about them; they innately couldn’t care less about so many things, which ultimately aren’t important, even though many of us regard them as such. I remember when we found out we would be shooting during Douglas’ birthday, we excitedly asked him how old he would be turning. “I’m not sure” he replied “eighty-three or four”.
Peter and Douglas haven't been conventionally ‘together’ for their entire lives. They have seen other people and had different friends, but they have always been a strong presence in each other’s lives and they have always only deeply loved each other. This for me is the most important and indeed touching aspect of their relationship. Even though they started seeing each other when homosexuality was still illegal, lived through the AIDS crisis and saw the legalization of gay marriage, they hate the word gay, don’t look at themselves as gay, nor are they particularly bothered or interested in talking about any of it. It bores them. What they always stress is that they simply need and thrive on each other and despite meeting and being with others, have only ever loved one another.