The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Archive for the ‘It Happened one Night’ Category

Gender perspective on movies – are we tired yet?

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I have a conflicted relationship to gender perspective on film. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you might have noticed.

There are some days when my feminist bear growl can be heard miles away. During those days I have very little tolerance for stereotyping and imprisonment of women in set roles and I watch everything through a Bechdel test filter.

You will hear me barking at basically everything, even at a classic such as It Happened One Night.

It doesn’t matter if the film reflects society as it was in 1934; it’s still not enjoyable to se a movie presenting women as always depending on men since they’re too stupid and lost to possibly be able to take care of themselves. It deserves to be called out for what it is.

But then there are other days when I’m sick and tired of anything gender related. On those days I just want to tell the feminists to shut up and just enjoy the film. Do they really have to make an issue about everything? Can’t they at least leave the cult movies alone? Don’t they have ANY humour at all? (Please notice that on those occasions I suddenly exclude myself from the the group. It’s “them”, not “me”).

Ray Bradbury
In the beginning of June I was close to swear an oath to stop nagging about the lack of strong, capable women in movies altogether, never to mention the issue again.

It happened after I had read a text by Ray Badbury, reprinted in New York Post shortly after his death. Previously published in the 1979 Del Ray edition of Farenheit 451, this is a reply to all people who over the years have complained about the lack of different perspectives in his books. He’s as well formulated as he’s furious. I’ll give you a couple of long quotes to enjoy (but I urge you to read the entire article – it’s worth it.)

There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist/Unitarian, Irish/Italian/Octogenarian/Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh-day Adventist, Women’s Lib/Republican, Mattachine/Four Square Gospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.”

[…]

“For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin, nuclear-head or water-conversationist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics. The real world is the playing ground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws. But the tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights end and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule.

If Mormons do not like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent type-writers. If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mushmilk teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture. If the Chicano intellectuals wish to recut my “Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” so it shapes “Zoot,” may the belt unravel and the pants fall.

For, let’s face it, digression is the soul of wit. Take philosophic asides away from Dante, Milton or Hamlet’s father’s ghost and what stays is dry bones. Laurence Sterne said it once: Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine, the life, the soul of reading! Take them out and one cold eternal winter would reign in every page. Restore them to the writer — he steps forth like a bridegroom, bids them all-hail, brings in variety and forbids the appetite to fail.

In sum, do not insult me with the beheadings, finger-choppings or the lung-deflations you plan for my works. I need my head to shake or nod, my hand to wave or make into a fist, my lungs to shout or whisper with. I will not go gently onto a shelf, degutted, to become a non-book.”

I suspect Bradbury’s sentiments are the same as what many filmmakers feel and experience today. The agenda for what is politically correct is endless and you can’t win. There are so many urgent matters to consider and if you remember to include a few you can bet that you’ve forgotten a couple of others and will be bashed for that. And the first victim will be the story.

The Avengers poster
I gave Bradbury completely right and I stayed in my “I’m never going to nag filmmakers about gender perspectives again” for a couple of weeks after reading his coda.

But the other week the tide turned again and went in the other direction. It was when the new Swedish film blog Flickorna pulled my attention to Kevin Bolk’s wonderful parody of a promo poster for the The Avengers. In the original poster all members of the crew were facing the audience showing their front, apart from Black Widow, who was showing her bottom. All Bolk did was to reverse this, which was a real eye-opener to see the absurdity in the original.

What astonished me was that I hadn’t noticed how weird that poster was in the first place – not until it was pointed out to me like this. And this blindness bugged me. Have I become so infiltrated by the predominant view on women in film as sex objects and very little else, that I’ve stopped to see those things, stopped to question it? If not even women notice, that doesn’t give much hope for a change, does it? At the time I watched The Avengers I thought it was pretty fair from a gender perspective. After all Black Widow did things on her own and was an accomplished member of the team, not just there for decoration. But maybe I’ve lowered the bar. Would it be wrong to expect a little bit more?

Swinging back and forward
You see how I’m swinging. Back and forward.

Some days I just want to leave it alone, hoping that it will work out in the end anyway. Just give it some time.  There’s no need to get hysterical. So what if the director and protagonist and cinematographer all are male? As long as the movie is good it doesn’t matter. Leave the artists alone and let them do their thing! Don’t grind the future Bradburys into silence will unreasonable demands!

Other days I’m on fire and want to tear down every wall there is and accept no excuses why the film industry still is a man’s world.

I want things to change, not as much for me as for my daughters and my future granddaughters. I want them to grow up in a world where it’s as natural and possible for a woman to become a successful film director as it is for a man. I want them to grow up in a world where Black Widow doesn’t need to show her ass to get accepted as a part of the crew. Isn’t it a bit lazy and cowardish to expect other people to do all the fighting for me?

My views and perspectives change over time, not only in this area.

I grew up reading Carl Barks’ series about Donald Duck and his friends and in one episod the evil witch Magica de Spell used a spray on people that made they take the appearance of the last person they’d met.

That’s me in a nutshell.  I read something and nod to myself: “yes, that’s how it is”, and the next day I read somone arguing in the opposite direction and think they’re completely right.  Go ahead and spray your views on me and they’ll stick, provided that they’re reasonably well argued. No wonder I suffer from internal conflicts!

Life seems to be so much simpler if you’re a devoted follower of an “-ism”, doesn’t it?

My defense and comfort is I think there are worse things in the world you can do than arguing with yourself.  Contradiction brings us further than silence. I’d rather talk to someone who is inconsistent than indifferent.

To all you opinionated people out there – the toast of the week goes to you. Cheers!

Written by Jessica

July 6, 2012 at 5:00 pm

A case of classic gender stereotyping

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Every woman needs a strong man in her life or she’ll just run around like a headless chicken, plucking her eyebrows to perfection but not taking responsibility for the necessities of life.

Every woman needs a father or later on a husband to guide her and bring her a sense of security. Women just can’t manage when they’re on their own. They need to be taken cared of.

This view on the genders is quite common in the world of movies, but it’s not as dominating as it used to be. Nowadays we get to meet young women who can care very well for themselves, such as Hanna in the movie with the same name or Ree in Winter’s Bone. But the further back in film history we go, the more likely is it that the main female character will have a guy at her back to protect her.

Sometimes I can disregard of it completely and enjoy the movie for what it is anyway. I put it in a historical context and I tell myself: “It’s OK. That’s how life was back in those days. They really couldn’t help it and seeing the movie through your modern glasses is meaningless.” Especially if there’s a dance number or some other aspect that delights me, I can forget about and forgive the gender stereotyping.

But other times I can’t.

I can understand why the stereotypes are there; I don’t judge anyone for them, but it makes the view less enjoyable for me. Watching blatant sexism for one and a half hour eventually gets to me.

And sadly enough this was the case for me with Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night.

SPOILER ALERT.

The story goes like this: there is this rich, spoiled girl with overly plucked eyebrows who runs away on an impulse, defying her wise father, to marry a jerk who just is after her money. She’s spotted on a bus trip by a reporter who in exchange for the exclusive scoop to write about her offers her manly protection during a long bus trip. Eventually they fall in love and after a few mandatory complications built on a misunderstanding they end up marrying each other with the blessing of her father. She’s safe once again under the protection of a new man in her life.

END OF SPOILER

This movie is considered one of the biggest classics of all time, an iconic rom-com, which took a grand slam at the Oscars that year. It’s still loved by many, many film buffs and I’m perfectly aware of that I’m in a minority as I’m bitching about it.

Peter Bradshaw, critic at The Guardian, called it “fresh as a daisy” and “As buoyant and elegant as bubbles in a glass of champagne” when he reviewed it last year, claiming that it “survives triumphantly because of its wit, charm, romantic idealism and its shrewd sketch of married life”.

I wish I could just agree with him. I wish I could enjoy the champagne and throw the gender perspective out of the window, but I can’t. Once I got the thought about it in my mind, it kept nagging me.

I don’t know why I was so picky about this one while I often can disregard of the stereotyping in older movies, but I think it might be that I just had expected more from Capra. More of the idealism, more of the radicalism that makes me love It’s a Wonderful Life and Mr Smith goes to Washington so much.

All I can do is to sadly recognize that this one misfired for me. Iconic classic or not.

It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, US, 1934) My rating: 3/5

Written by Jessica

November 18, 2011 at 1:00 am