The Blah Ring

Not been to the cinema very much recently. Feels silly to spend a few hours in a dark room when the days are long and warm, doesn’t it?

I did see The Bling Ring this week though. A tremendously strong passer of the test as the film features a mostly female cast.

What this film also proves is that even a strong passer of the test can be not especially feminist.

It might be my personal politics but I found the entire conceit impossible to give the tiniest of shits about. Rich people steal from richer people in the pursuit of massive materialist consumerism. YAWN.

And despite the fact that this story is based on real events, the women characters seemed strangely two-dimensional and unrealistic. The only character you might feel some sort of sympathy for was the male one, who came across like an actual real person.

I like Sofia Coppola‘s style, and she’s very good at making films that have women in them but I think she’s fixated on rich women (and men – let’s not forget the snoozefest that was Somewhere) in particular. In this case, the film was really quite boring for me. Her movies all seem to be about the loneliness of being really rich. Excuse me if I’m not affluent enough to do one over this. Ennui is a privilege. And a boring one to watch.

The soundtrack is really good though.

Compliance & Cloud Atlas

I have been slack recently. I think going to the cinema once a week was too ambitious, let alone going once a week to see a Bechdel-passing film.

That said, I went twice this week. On Wednesday I saw Compliance which was easily the most horrible & uncomfortable film I have ever sat through. It is a really well made film but I never want to see it again. It passes the test on many, many occasions because the two lead characters are female.  It’s based on a true story & the film claims that nothing is exaggerated. I think it’s an incredible film but it left me feeling sick for hours.

The other film I saw this week was Cloud Atlas. It’s based on the book by David Mitchell & I think if you haven’t read the book, the film might be impenetrable. It only just passes due to  conversations between two of the fabricants (Somni & Yoona) working in Papa Song’s. A lot of the cleverness & wit of the book is lost in the mawkishness of the film – a massive difference is that the book’s main theme is “predacity” & the film’s main linking theme is “love” (ergh).

The interesting thing the film explores is identity – mostly through the same actors playing different roles. They play different genders & ethnicities (this has sparked a bit of controversy). I enjoyed it but I did find myself wanting a few more women actors (of 13 main cast, 4 were women) to see them being allowed to explore changing identity as much as the male actors. The exploration of identity certainly fits with something the directors might want to examine. Director Lana Wachowski made her first public appearance as a fully transitioned woman in a trailer for the movie.

For all the explorations, 7 of the 13 main cast members are caucasian men, so the film still has a very White Man basis from which it explores.

These are just some thought farts of mine. Both of these films have got me thinking which is probably a good thing.

Ah! Lore!

I remedied my missed weeks by going to see Lore today.

I wouldn’t have considered it previously as I’d not heard of it at all. I haven’t seen any trailers or posters for it. I was hoping to see Zero Dark Thirty but my local Picturehouse wasn’t showing it & I was beginning to feel like I wasn’t putting in enough effort with this challenge.

So, I saw Lore was on, read the blurb, watched the trailer & it looked like a good contender for a Bechdel-passing film. It wasn’t listed on bechdeltest.com though so I tried googling to see if anyone had blogged about whether it passes and accidentally learned that the film is directed & co-written by a woman. Surely, thought I, this film must pass the test. I asked Twitter and a helpful follower told me it did. Of course I couldn’t be totally confident after the Bullhead palava but seeing as there were lots of women in the trailer, a woman writer, a woman protagonist (which the film is named after) and a woman director – I felt pretty certain this film wouldn’t let me down.

It didn’t. It passes the test over & over again. Along with Beasts of the Southern Wild, this is my favourite film of 2013 so far. It really satisfied my (now increasing with this project) demand for stories about women, told by women. Having a woman protagonist (technically, a teenager here) is a real pleasure for me to watch. I especially like seeing relationships between mothers & daughters explored & the idea of women being in charge of difficult situations. 

I found the film to be beautiful, detailed & fraught. I don’t know if my enjoyment of it was boosted because of it being exactly what I want from this experiment or whether I enjoyed it so much because I started this experiment to find movies exactly like this.

I probably would not have seen this film at the cinema were I not doing this project so I’m really pleased as I feel like I’m beginning to get what I was hoping for from it. It’s now March, by January 2014 I hope I have a sizeable list of films like this.

Bull

This week I was duped! Oh, the drama.

I asked on Twitter if anyone who had seen Bullhead knew if it passed the Bechdel test. From the trailer it didn’t look likely but someone, who it turns out was the script consultant for the film, told me it did.

Well, it doesn’t. I paid my £4 to see it at the Prince Charles Cinema and I sat through the whole film waiting for it to pass and feeling a mixture of disappointment & annoyance.

I was annoyed because I’d been misinformed but also because this whole experience was playing on my mind and I became annoyed at the very fact that I’m doing this experiment because of the lack of representation of women in films and that I couldn’t just sit back and enjoy a film because, once again, I was watching a bunch of men telling me men’s stories.

Even looking back at all the films I’ve watched this year at the cinema, NONE of them have focussed exclusively on women’s stories. Bullhead focusses on men’s stories only. The women are incidental devices. But in none of the Bechdel-passing-films I’ve seen so far have there been any where men have only been used as devices to tell women’s stories. So even with this experiment, I am not seeing fewer men’s stories.

I’m only 6 films in, so maybe this will even up over time but I’m not hugely optimistic.

The guy who tweeted me did offer to refund me, so at least my annoyance was acknowledged. I turned down the offer though, because isn’t accepting money off a stranger on Twitter really weird?

Any Club That Would Have Me As A Member

In an average year I pay to go to the cinema 20-30 times. If I manage to go every week as I plan to with this experiment, I’ll be going twice as much as I normally would. In order to afford this I’ve been looking at cheap cinema options.

I’m a member of my local cinema which is a Picturehouse. If I go on a Wednesday before 5.30pm, I can get 2for1 tickets with an Orange voucher. This means £2.75 a ticket. The difficulty is finding someone to go with me. It also means if I’m busy on a Wednesday then I miss that. I also found out that my Picturehouse membership gives me 90 days free use of Mubi. It’s puts up a new film every day that remains available to stream for a month. It’s like having a personal indie cinema curated by a cool film buff.

I also discovered that joining the Prince Charles Cinema is only £10/year and can get you £4 weekday tickets. They show a lot of films on late release which is why it’s so much cheaper than many other cinemas. This works out well for me as I can catch films I might’ve missed. It’s also convenient as it’s right in the centre of town (just off Leicester Square).

Today I went there and I saw Safety Not Guaranteed at 4pm. It was screened downstairs in what is a huge, beautiful, old music hall style cinema. I think there were fewer than 10 people in. I felt like a millionaire. I went and bought a drink & a snack from a Chinese supermarket in nearby Chinatown. I took myself on a great date.

As for the film, it just about passes the test. I was quite surprised that it only passes on one short exchange considering the lead role in this film is a woman.

I feel now I’ve started this experiment demanding more women in my movies, that a film that only just passes isn’t good enough. I want films with 50% women! Or half of the films I see to have 100% women!

I know that’s a bit silly, but I definitely do feel that my awareness of the absence of women in many films does distract me from enjoying it. Before I started this experiment I would go to every film I saw and consciously note if and when it passed the test. For example, Dredd passes within the first few minutes & I felt myself celebrate internally, then relax and enjoy it – if you’ve not seen it, I recommend doing so. It was one of my favourite films of 2012.

It’s very hard to un-notice the lack of women once you’ve become aware of it. So, sorry if I’ve done that for any of you following this blog, I guess. You can join me, though. Especially on Wednesdays afternoons when I need a 2for1 partner.

 

 

“Missing Out”

When I declared my intention to only pay to see Bechdel-passing films in 2013 on Twitter, I got an interesting response. Quite a few people retweeted my original tweet and the tweet with a link to this blog had a bunch of retweets and favourites which either shows that some people are interested in this, or that lots of people are indiscriminate retweeters and favouriters with no idea what they are doing. I will choose to assume that some people are interested in this experiment of mine.

I also had a bevy of men (only men) saying things like “you’ll be missing out on so many great films!” with a tone wrapped up in heated concern, as if I’d decided to give up eating for a year rather than choosing not to pay to see films without women in them. One said to me, “it’s not always possible to have two women in a film”. Seriously, pal? But it’s always possible to have two men in a film, isn’t it? What a ludicrous argument that shows how skewed the representation of women in film is!

OH GOD! I WON’T BE ABLE TO SEE JACK REACHER OR THE HOBBIT IN THE CINEMA! REACH FOR THE BLEACH! LIFE ISN’T WORTH IT!

I will address those who are so concerned about me “missing out” on all these great films with a few points.

1. I’m not ‘missing’ anything. I’m not paying money to see any new film that doesn’t pass the Bechdel test in 2013. If it’s the movie of the century, I’ll see it next year when it comes out on DVD. Calm yourself down. Get some perspective, dude.

2. Why is there the assumption that all the best films will definitely fail the test? What does that say about the movie industry? Films that are about or feature women don’t make good movies? I definitely don’t think that’s true. What that says is that the film industry’s default setting is to tell male stories using men. You know what? I’ve seen a lot of male stories told by men. Yes, some of them are excellent, but I don’t need anymore right now. I want one year when the movies I pay for tell other stories that feature women, because my life features a hell of a lot more women than are seen on screen.

3. Somebody suggested that I do the “really unexpected” thing and only watch films that fail the test. I pointed out how that is essentially what everyone does anyway, so is not only “expected” but the basic norm.

4. Why this panicked rush to ‘save’ me from ‘missing’ all this ‘great art’? I don’t know exactly, but I can guess that because my choice is a rejection of the status quo and an implicit demand for change, that unnerves people. Change is difficult and scary. People love movies. If there are more women in movies it might RUIN MOVIES FOREVER, is the thought that tickles the subconscious of the unthinking misogynist (or the conscious mind of the upfront misogynist). Another is: WHAT IS WRONG WITH MEN IN MOVIES, IT’S THE BEST & THAT’S WHY IT’S LIKE IT IS. As I said, there’s nothing wrong with movies about & featuring men, I just want more that feature women. My life isn’t mostly about men and their stories and I no longer want my art to be.

I don’t think my choices or this experiment will change anything except my own experience. However, I am really looking forward to a year of seeing more women on screen and I’m excited about how that might make me feel, or might change my own perspective. I don’t think it will be super easy to find a Bechdel-passing film each week, but as tasks go, it’s hardly diamond mining.

A Year of Bechdel

The Bechdel Test is a very simple test designed by Alison Bechdel to gauge representation of women in film. 

Image

The rules again, if you didn’t get it from the comic, or just enjoy seeing things expressed in pictures and words and then in words alone:

1. there must be at least two (named) women

2. they must speak to each other

3. about something other than a man

Sounds simple, eh? Except loads of films don’t pass it. Bloody loads. 

I’m bored of watching films that don’t feature women. So, this year I am going to try to only pay to watch films that pass the Bechdel test, and I’m going to try to see one new film a week. I’ll check if a film passes it by checking here or asking people on Twitter who have seen it. I’ll probably be going mostly on Wednesdays (with my Orange Wednesdays 241 – let me know if you want to be my cinema buddy) and I’ll update this blog with how it goes. 

I love movies. I LOVE them. I can watch three in a row without getting bored but I really wish they better represented women and I hope this experiment sheds some light on the representation of women in cinema.