The Velvet Café

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Archive for the ‘The Avengers’ 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

Oh my, that was fun!

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I grew up with comics. For years I had a subscription for Donald Duck and I read them over and over again until they fell into pieces. I read the Asterix and Tintin albums until I knew them by heart and I still catch myself ever so often quoting them in everyday conversations, taking for granted that everyone else knows exactly what I’m referring to.

I read all sorts of comics and I still do. Everything except for one kind: those about traditional superheroes. You know, those who have silly stretch pants and can fly. They were the territory of my seven years younger little brother. It happened that I threw a glance in his magazines. But they never stuck with me.

In an effort to give all sorts of movies a chance, I tried a couple of superhero movies last year, but they turned out to be disappointments and I as good as swore not to see any more superhero movies since they’re bound to suck.

I tell you this to let you understand the nature of my relationship with superheroes. With a few exceptions (read Dark Knight) it’s cold.

The Joss Whedon effect
Considering this I probably would have stayed away from The Avengers if it wasn’t for two things

1. It had been picked for the-movie-to-watch-together for our monthly meet-up with the Swedish film blogging network and I didn’t want to miss out the discussions.

2. It was written and directed by Joss Whedon, the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is one of my TV series. (And no, Buffy doesn’t count to the silly superhero category. She doesn’t fly and she hasn’t got stretch pants.)

So I went to the theatre with a fairly neutral mindset. I still remembered how bad I thought of Thor and I dreaded to see another movie in 3D after some bad experiences. But again: it was Joss Whedon. And my friends seemed to be hyped about it.

A long takeoff
So what did I make of it? Well, to begin with I didn’t know at all since the starting distance before I reached the takeoff point was huge, almost as long as the introduction of this post.

It’s not that there’s a long stretch of set-up and babble in the film; we’re thrown into action at once, but the movie just failed to bring me on board.

I think my problem was that the film is if not a direct sequel, at least connects to a whole bunch of other movies about the various superheroes that are in the center for it. And of all those movies, Thor was the only one I’d seen. I hadn’t seen The Iron Man, I hadn’t seen Captain America and I was only familiar with The Hulk through the TV series from my childhood, not from recent movies. While Avengers doesn’t require you to have seen all those movies, I think it helps if you have, since you’ll figure out who the characters are and connect to them more easily.

As it was now, it took almost an hour before I was completely into it. But on the other hand: once I was there, I didn’t want it to finish.

After the slow start, it got better and better, the more warmed up I got, and in the end I found myself digging The Avengers quite a bit, much more than I had expected.

Five reasons why I liked it
Those are my top five reasons for caring for it so much:

1. The humor. This is my number one reason and I think we have Joss Whedon to thank for it. I found myself laughing or giggling a lot, much more than in ordinary comedies. I’m generally sulky and hard to get to smile, but there was something in the tone, the self referring jokes, the glimpse in the eye, that worked for me, and I could sense the ties to Buffy. It’s fun, but in a loving way, never going as far as to being a travesty. I love it.

2. The special effects. If you make a superhero movie with a huge budget and an expected huge audience, you should have special effects to match it. Where Thor failed, showing the same little strip in the desert over and over again in fighting scenes that felt small and unimpressive, The Avengers goes all out and provides all the beauty and majesty and excitement you could expect, from cosmic worm holes to melting sky scrapers and a hulk that looks as believable as a hulk can be. It never feels cheap.

3. The cast. I’m not sure who I like best – Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye or Tom Hiddleston as Loki. But they’re all pretty wonderful.

4. The lack of cheese. With so many characters to handle, there’s very little time available to spend on the back stories for each one of them. Priorities need to be made. Sometimes this type of blockbuster movies can be dragged down into stereotyping and awkwardness by some cheesy mandatory romantic side story, but lo and behold, we don’t get much of this. The focus is rightly on the visually stunning fighting scenes and the fun dialogues. Thank you for that!

5.  The Hulk. There’s no shortage of superhero characters, but if you ask me to mention one, it will have to be The Hulk. I had a conversation over twitter with Steeve, whose middle-aged father also took a liking for him. My conclusion was that we easily can identify with him, having a lifetime of experience controlling our temperament. There’s a scene where we see him unlash his wrath at one of the opponents that especially stuck with me. I was close to standing up in my chair cheering and clapping. You’ll know when you get to it.

2D or 3D
In case you’re in doubt whether to watch it in 3D or 2D, I’d recommend you to go for the 2D.  The 3D isn’t as bad as in John Carter, but it doesn’t add very much either. Especially if you watch it with subtitles, you may encounter issues with the text getting blurry from time to time. That happened at our screening. Clearly this wasn’t just an issue with my eyes; everyone in our company complained about it. I solved this by only listening to the speech, ignoring the text as if the film had been scratched, but if you’re depending on the subtitles I can imagine that it’s extremely annoying. I would go as far as to say that I would be prepared to pay MORE to watch it in 2D than in 3D and I think that was a bit against the whole idea?

All in all I enjoyed hanging around with the superheroes enough to give it a good rating. I’m pretty sure though that if you ask me about it in a year or even as little as a month, I won’t remember a thing. The blurring process has already started.

TLDR version: Oh my, that was fun!

The Avengers (Joss Whedon, US, 2012) My rating: 4/5

I watched this movie together with my fellow Swedish bloggers in the informal network Filmspanarna, which meets up every month to watch a movie and chat intensely about anything film or blogging. If you have a movie blog you can get in touch with any of us to get an invite to our next meeting.

Here’s what the others thought about it:

Fripps filmrevyer

Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord

Jojjenito

Fiffis filmtajm

Har du inte sett den?

Deny Everything

Written by Jessica

May 2, 2012 at 7:00 am

Posted in The Avengers