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.

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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.

Where are the Women?

I haven’t been to the cinema since I saw Rundskop. This is due to a number of things: I’ve been a lot busier in the last two weeks, the films I wanted to see weren’t showing at convenient times/places, there weren’t many Bechdel-passing films showing.

Since my last blog we had the BAFTAs and the Oscars. We all know what a turgid misogyny-fest the Oscars was at the hands of exemplary privileged white male, Seth Macfarlane. Excellent human Lindy West wrote about this & captured the way I felt about it pretty well.

Prior to the awards I read this piece by Soraya Chemaly, discussing the absence of women in the nominee lists. And before this, as I was watching the BAFTAs, I became very aware of the terrible ratio of women to men collecting awards (in the non-gender specific categories). I actually made a spreadsheet. I counted up all the people collecting awards and I counted 34 men collecting awards to 8 women.

I don’t think this is BAFTA’s fault. Clearly fewer women work in film in the top jobs behind the camera. Why is this? And how can it be changed?

As with almost every industry in the world, it’s harder to be a woman in film making. I’ve talked a bit about this before, but I think women need to be exceptional to do well in male-dominated environments whereas many men can succeed by simply being adequate. Another issue is visibility – women are not as inspired to get into directing/writing/editing/cinematography/sound/FX when they can’t see other women doing it and doing well. I think one of the reasons there are so many aspiring female actors is because society values actresses. Acting is one of very few jobs where women are given plaudits as much as men, and are very visible doing it. Girls see this and can relate, and aspire to the same.

It’s kind of a catch-22 as more visibly successful women are needed to inspire more women to go into these areas of work who will in turn inspire other women. This is why I generally don’t have a problem with women-specific awards/festivals etc.

I’m hoping to see some films soon but there are not many Bechdel-passers coming up & there are practically none which feature primarily a story about a woman which is what I really want to see right now.

update: just read this on this year’s Oscars sausagefest & the movies nommed. Thought it was good & relevant to this post.

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?

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.

“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.