Pass or fail?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES -

bal ex­change amount­ing to a “con­ver­sa­tion” of more than a minute (a cri­te­rion some­times added to the test).

It is rel­e­vant to con­sider why pornog­ra­phy comes to th­ese crit­ics’ minds when imag­in­ing sce­nar­ios in which women talk to each other. It is a rhetor­i­cal move pre­sup­pos­ing a cul­tural hi­er­ar­chy (in which porn is the op­po­site of a qual­ity film) and ridicules those be­hind the A rat­ing for not know­ing that po­ten­tially, it gives them pre­cisely what fem­i­nists are sup­posed not to want: porn.

The cri­tique evokes a fear of women in­ter­act­ing with each other that goes back to early cin­ema car­i­ca­tures of suf­fragettes, in which women work­ing to­gether for the right to vote de­scends into drink­ing, smok­ing and fight­ing.

It also brings to mind the renowned Swedish critic Bo Strom­st­edt, who, upon watch­ing Mai Zet­ter­ling’s The Girls in 1968, ex­claimed: “What a case of clogged up menses!” Zet­ter­ling and her film have now been reval­ued and given a cen­tral place in Swedish film his­tory.

Dis­re­garded in this de­bate is the fact that there is an au­di­ence that is very in­ter­ested in movies fea­tur­ing women in­ter­act­ing with each other in in­ter­est­ing ways. There is a great fan base for films such as Thelma & Louise (Ri­d­ley Scott, 1991), Fox­fire (An­nette Haywood-Carter, 1996) and The Heat (Paul Feig, 2013).

Au­di­ence plea­sure can’t be re­duced to the abil­ity to iden­tify with or de­sire a “strong woman”. The A rat­ing is not about clas­si­fy­ing films as fem­i­nist or non fem­i­nist. It aims to alert view­ers who find fe­male so­cial­ity com­pelling to films they might like, and so chal­lenge the in­dus­try to make more such films.

This is an old de­sire, as Bechdel notes in her blog, where she points to Vir­ginia Woolf’s work A Room Of One’s Own as in­spi­ra­tion. Woolf mocked gen­der hi­er­ar­chies in lit­er­a­ture by imag­in­ing a novel by a fe­male writer in which two women are friends, a thought so rad­i­cal that read­ing the sen­tence “Chloe likes Olivia” might feel like a scan­dal. The de­bate over the A rat­ing shows that the scan­dal Woolf joked about per­sists.

Com­plex is­sues

The Bechdel test is of course not a mag­i­cal so­lu­tion to all crit­i­cal ques­tions around gen­der and cin­ema. There are many pos­si­ble lev­els – di­vi­sion of labour in film pro­duc­tion, au­dio­vi­sual lan­guage, char­ac­ters, nar­ra­tive – at which a film could be said to be fem­i­nist or, at a very ba­sic level, in­ter­ested in women.

The Bechdel test is not a sub­sti­tute for crit­i­cal in­ter­pre­ta­tion. And ques­tions of race/eth­nic­ity, sex­u­al­ity and class are as rel­e­vant and com­plex as ever. But it is equally re­duc­tive to deem the A rat­ing as “dam­ag­ing to the way we think about film”, as Rob­bie Collin, the chief film critic of the Tele­graph, con­tends.

Analysing nar­ra­tive, char­ac­ters, di­a­logue, and what counts as “rep­re­sen­ta­tion” is a com- SOME un­likely films did sur­pris­ingly well on the Bechdel test, while some you’d think would pass, failed mis­er­ably. > All the Alien movies pass (the first one is a bor­der­line case though), ex­cept for Alien3 which had only ONE named fe­male char­ac­ter. Corpse Newt and Alien Queen Em­bryo don’t count. > The big­gest film fran­chises of the mil­len­nium, Harry Pot­ter and Lord Of The Rings, fail. > White House Down doesn’t ex­actly pass, but fares bet­ter than Olym­pus Has Fallen (which has a strong woman char­ac­ter, the Sec­re­tary of State, who un­for­tu­nately doesn’t talk to the other women char­ac­ters). Roland Em­merich’s flop has mul­ti­ple named fe­male char­ac­ters, but they only talk about men; specif­i­cally, Chan­ning Ta­tum. There you go. > The Wolver­ine passes (Yukio and Mariko’s friend­ship) while Iron Man 3 doesn’t quite make it (Pep­per and the Ex­tremis lady only ever talk about Tony Stark and Aldrich Kil­lian). > James Wan’s The Con­jur­ing passes, while his In­sid­i­ous: Chap­ter 2 fails. plex in­tel­lec­tual, af­fec­tive, and so­cial prac­tice, not at all the sim­plis­tic at­ti­tude that some crit­ics claim. Fur­ther­more, at­ten­tion to th­ese fea­tures in no way ex­cludes an in-depth anal­y­sis of cin­e­matic lan­guage. Films that pass the test have the po­ten­tial to pro­vide a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women as agents and so­cial sub­jects with dif­fer­ences be­tween them, in­stead of fall­ing back on uni­ver­sal­is­ing ideas about wom­an­hood. This is im­por­tant given the still dom­i­nant mytho­log­i­cal nar­ra­tives that as­sign to women only the func­tions of ob­sta­cle, vic­tim or gift on the path of the male hero.

In­stead of re­ject­ing the Bechdel test and the A rat­ing as sim­plis­tic, crit­ics should fo­cus on the ob­vi­ous. What does it mean that, in film, women can barely be imag­ined to have im­por­tant things to say to each other? Does this have any­thing to do with im­plicit cri­te­ria of qual­ity and taste? Why not take the chal­lenge to push one’s imag­i­na­tion out­side the con­ven­tion­als that come most eas­ily to mind? This is a call for producers, dis­trib­u­tors, crit­ics and au­di­ence alike. – Guardian News & Me­dia

Fly­ing colours: Thelma&Louise is one pop­u­lar movie that passes the bechdel test. (Inset) yes, even Theheat passes the test.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.