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 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.


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?

Top Dollar

This week’s film was Beasts of the Southern Wild. An amazing film and it features the youngest ever Academy Award for Best Actress Nominee, Quvenzhané Wallis.

I’ve been thinking about the value of male actors & female actors and how the movie industry values them.

Right at the top with the highest paid actors, there is a huge discrepancy between what male actors and female actors earn. The pay gap is astonishingly big. I don’t have exact and precise data, but working off data collected by Richard Ash, and presented on his site in graphs, you can clearly see the pay chasm from 2011/2012.

The average earnings for the top ten men was $36.15m and the average for the top ten women was $19.75.

The data is from Forbes so we can’t be sure of its accuracy, but even with a big margin of error, the gap is enormous. Here are the numbers from the previous year, also according to data from Forbes and presented on Love Graphs’ site.

Average earnings for top ten males: $37.5m. Average earnings for top ten females: $21.8m.  Both genders earned more that year but the gap remains around the same.

I was also quite surprised that Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock earned more in 2011/12 than ANY female actor. I guess what this shows is what Hollywood values. It values blockbuster action franchises over (arguably) original, quality film making. And it certainly values men over women.

Another thing I noted was that of the top ten men in 2011/12 – none of them had ever won an Oscar, but the top ten women had 7 Oscars between them (though Meryl Streep claims 3 of those). From the previous year’s list, the men had 2, both from Tom Hanks and the women again had 7.

What this shows is that to earn the top dollars, female actors need to be considered the very best in their field. They have to have been given the highest accolades within their profession in order to command the highest pay. And even when they are Oscar-winning, their pay still isn’t as high as the top paid men. So, The Rock, a wrestler by trade and training, whose highest acting accolade was a nomination for 2008’s Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award for favorite movie actor, can command considerably higher pay (over three times as much!) than 3 times Oscar-winning Meryl Streep.

What would be really interesting would be to see how the gender pay gap works on a much lower level, those who are not at the top. Do men and women actors get paid the same in small indie films? Does the pattern continue right down to TV movies? Or, maybe, the lower the overall budget of a movie the more equal the earnings? Someone probably has data on this. I don’t. I’m just a woman watching movies with chicks in.

Quartet & Age

This week I saw Quartet. This is definitely not a film I would’ve paid to see at the cinema if I wasn’t doing this experiment. This was the 1st week of the year where I felt really restricted  in my film choices. The options were Quartet or Les Miserables. To be honest, I thought I might not make it to the cinema at all this week. Both those films I wouldn’t mind seeing but am not particularly drawn to. Additionally, I didn’t think I could convince my boyfriend to come see either of those films and split my Wednesday 2for1 deal with me. As it turned out, I had some miserable news and I think he felt sorry for me so agreed to come. Possibly also because we watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on TV last week and quite enjoyed it.

What Quartet (and TBEMH) made me think about was the representation of older women in movies. We know Hollywood loves young women, preferably with their kit off, but I wonder how the breakdown of women in film would be when looking at age. I’m inclined to think that most lead female roles would favour women within a 20-40 age range. That’s a total guess. I would also guess that male leads would be dominated by that age group but I can immediately think of many lead male roles for older men and not as many for older women.  We know women make up only around a third of all speaking parts so there are fewer roles overall, but I wonder if the ratio of younger women to older women is more pronounced than younger to older men.

If that is the case, it’s an unhappy one for women as we see that, as under represented as we are in films already, we get less representation as we get older. I wonder if there is data on this somewhere.

I might be totally wrong about this.

As an aside, Pauline Collins is really brilliant in Quartet and the film is an extremely strong passer of the Bechdel test.

Week One Films

On Monday I saw my 1st cinema film of the year.

It was Sightseers. It passes the test in the first few minutes and passes on many occasions after. I don’t want this blog to be reviews of films so I won’t write the whole thing up except to say I thought it was funny and I enjoyed it. The script was written by Alice Lowe, who is also the star of the film. It’s a great performance from her (and Steve Oram who is the other writer/star).

I know it’s obvious, but if you have a female protagonist, a film is almost certain to pass the test. I guess I’ll be seeing a lot of films with women protagonists this year. This excites me. When I saw Brave last year, I connected with it so much, despite it being an animated film about a Scottish royal family± from the middle ages. Aspects of my own personality and experiences were echoed by the women in the film. Similarly, when I watch Borgen (my favourite TV show) I get a real thrill from seeing complex female characters from a variety of perspectives, and it’s certainly not at the cost of male characters who are equally complex and engaging. It’s a brilliant show.

I saw Sightseers at the Prince Charles Cinema.

Today I saw Silver Linings Playbook. I struggled to get my boyfriend to come as he was very put off by the title which he thinks is one of the worst in history. But I managed to convince him which was just as well as I was going with an Orange 241 offer and nothing is sadder than a 241 voucher and no one to share it with.

The film only just passes – there’s a scene where two sisters briefly talk to each other about each other. I really liked this movie. It’s very moving and surprisingly funny. The lead actors are terrific. Jennifer Lawrence has impressed me in every movie I’ve seen her in.

This leads me to thinking about the roles women have in films. In this movie only Lawrence’s female character feels fleshed out and real. Her sister and the mum come across as fairly two-dimensional. The male characters are plentiful and more rounded.

There are so many talented female actors and far fewer female roles. In my experience, I’d estimate there are around 8 women actors for every 1 male actor. It could be much higher, it’s definitely not much less. In terms of parts available, the reverse ratio is probably the case. Again, I don’t have exact stats, I’m just estimating based on my own experience of studying drama for 18 years and being a professional actor. And of these parts available for women, they are often stereotypical and two-dimensional, particularly in TV and film. I could write in great detail about this and I might later but I just wanted to touch on it in relationship to this experiment. I would anticipate that films that pass the Bechdel test would feature at least one interesting, developed female role and that films that strongly pass the test would feature at least two.

Of the films I saw this week, that is certainly the case. Sightseers passed strongly and had two weird, interesting, unpredictable women in it. Silver Linings Playbook, which passed just about, had one. Two examples are not enough to base a thesis on but it’s something to look out for. I’d definitely love to see more complex female characters in film, not least because that means more possibility for me to play more parts, but also because in real life no women are stereotypical and two-dimensional and our art should reflect that the way it does with men.


Films seen at the cinema so far in 2013:


Silver Linings Playbook

± I am a staunch republican