Friday, January 23, 2009

Om nom nom....

So, this week the Oscar Nominations were announced.

As well as I loved No Country for Old Men, I was pleased to see the unlikeable Burn After Reading get shut out after a degree of buzz.

Heather Ledger was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, to no one's surprise and on the first anniversary of his tragic passing. In somewhat of a surprise to me, he is up aginst Robert Downey Jr as Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder. Now, I stay out of debates about whether or not the deceased should win such awards; it is my feeling that an Oscar should neither be given nor denied just because someone died in the interim. In this case, however, I have to support Downey, for several reasons (other than his hotness and my admiration for him):
  • The role of Kirk Lazarus encompassed several other roles--specifically that of Lincoln Osiris.
  • The sub-plot of Lazarus as Osiris drew attention to Hollywood's racial politics in a way that is both funny and inventive without being insulting...all because RDJ made it work.
  • While Ledger did an amazing job, psychology that abdormal is somewhat less challenging to portray. The audience has no frame of reference and therefore suspends disbelief more easily.
I hope to be posting some more reviews here soon, including oscar contenders--so watch this space!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

British Literature Fail

I usually try to avoid talking about reality television, especially American Idol; however, Idol victor Taylor Swift has recently released a single that is not totally unrelated to Story, and I think about posting this each time I hear it. This week, which saw the kickoff of Idol's--*runs to do resarch*--8th season seemed like as good a time as any.

Now, don't get me wrong: I have nothing against Taylor Swift. From everything I've heard, she seems like a sweet, down-to-earth young woman. She also has a couple of songs that I kind of like--namely "Teardrops on my Guitar" and "Picture to Burn". I even have to concede that The Song in Question is kind of catchy.

It's "Love Story". You can read the lyrics here

Done reading yet?

Can you see what's wrong?

Swift invokes William Shakespeare's doomed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, as a shorthad for both spontaneous passion and parental opposition. Plenty of singers, poets and writers have done this before. That doesn't the change the fact that, as in may of those cases, the story of this ballad ends so differently from the play.

It bugs me a little bit. Was she sick the week they studied that play in high school? Was there not another famous romance that would have worked better? (Antony and Cleopatra? Okay, maybe not...)

I'm not saying the song shouldn't end happily...but then perhaps the "Romeo and Juliet" theme could have lent itself to something more melancholy and twisted, a la Blue Oyster Cult. (Read the chorus from Love Song again if you don't believe me. ) It would have been a more interesting song, but perhaps darker than would ever be Swift's style.

Ah well; until an English major does win American Idol, I leave you with a link to the very corporate but nonetheless pleasant music video. For those readers local to me, yes, part of this was filmed at Castle Gwynn.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

An epiphany for Epiphany: The Bechdel Test.

Recently a friend of mine introduced me to the Bechdel Test—introduced by Alison Bechdel in her groundbreaing comic strip Dykes to Watch out For. The elements of the test itself are covered in the wiki, but in brief, to pass the test, a movie must include:

      1. At least two women

      2. Who talk to each other

      3. About something other than a man.

Once you start thinking about it, it's really a revelation what a simple, objective and accurate measure this is for the importance of women in a given story. It's true, a lot of “chick flicks” have women talking about men—but they pass, because they also talk about other things. It's also true that an action movie can have a strong female character who kicks ass, is treated as an equal and doesn't end up in a refrigerator; but if that is the only female character, or if her role is so peripheral to a male that she does not talk to the other women about anything else, then that film fails the Bechdel Test, because it is primarily about its male characters. What really starts to bake your noddle, as the Oracle said, is to realize that most films fail.

I don't think it's a perfect measure. Sin City actually passes, and I find that a terribly sexist movie. All of the women portrayed are sex workers of some sort—all of them—except for one social worker who spends the entire movie naked and loses her hand. Let's also not forget the gang of prostitutes who have enough firepower to knock over an armored car, but would rather continue making a living by selling themselves. It's not that I think prostitutes don't deserve respect—just that black-market prostitution, as it occurs in the real world, does not; and that to have such a narrow range of characters in a story is more a product of infantile male fantasy than of genre or setting. On the other end of the spectrum, I was relieved that the Matrix trilogy passed, because I couldn't recall any specific instance where multiple women discussed anything other than Neo. (It's worth noting here that presumably, the conversation in question need not be private.)

A movie that fails the Bechdel Test is not automatically's just not pro-woman. More specifically, it's not as balanced and complete a picture of the human experience as a movie that does. I'm guessing that most of the movies that pass, except for those rare films with an all-female cast, have at least one brief conversation between two men about something other than women.

A good movie is one that tells a human story, and almost half of all humans are male. A movie that fails the Bechdel Test may still be a good movie. But until there is parity in whose story gets told and how, the Bechdel Test provides a useful and fun gauge for the health of our popular culture and the movie industry.

(Bend it like Bechdel! If you want to see how your favorite films stack up, or to chime in on one that's been overlooked, click here. The page includes a lof of other cool links!)