Maleficent Leading Ladies

Whilst the Brothers’ Grimm are undoubtedly among history’s greatest storytellers, their stories proffer traditional gender roles. Sleeping Beauty is one such story that promotes a pretty archaic view of women by today’s standards. Maleficent, the remake of Sleeping Beauty is thus a strange place to seek a feminist manifesto, but that is exactly what I found whilst watching it. The movie is far from good, but it does take the original story and inject some much needed feminist-revisionst flavour. My male movie buddy, whilst agreeing that the movie was terrible, failed to understand why I was so excited to see the fairytale flipped and a strong, multifaceted female character as the lead in a movie. This led to a ‘heated debate’, some dangerous ideas and me pondering the archetypal woman in the wee hours of the morning.

Sleeping BeautyMy aforementioned movie buddy kept insisting that many movies have strong female leads (citing Frozen, Salt and numerous rom-coms as his evidence) and generally arguing that people prefer to watch men in save-the-world-superman-type roles as males are physically the stronger sex and it’s therefore more realistic (particularly for comic-book heroes). I huffed and puffed and…went home to do some research.

Did you know there’s a thing called the Bechdel test? I didn’t. It basically tests to see if a movie has two named female characters who talk to each other at some point about anything other than a man. I initially thought this is setting the bar ridiculously low, however to my surprise (and disappointment) the majority of top-grossing films do not pass. Yes, you read that correctly, the majority do not pass. The entire Star Wars series, the Lord of the Rings trilogy (including the Hobbit), and all but one film in the Harry Potter series fail. In The Empire Strikes Back, Princess Leia is the only named women in the galaxy and is the love interest of both male protagonists, Han and Luke. For all of Leia’s strengths and progressive leadership dialogue, she spends an awful lot of time getting saved or kissed. Make of that what you will.

More recently, despite being nominated for best picture this year both The Wolf of Wall Street and Her fail and the only reason American Hustle passed is due to a 10 second conversation between Jennifer Lawrence and Elisabeth Röhms characters about nail polish. You might be surprised that other hit movies such as Avatar, The AvengersThe Social Network, The Lone Ranger and Run Lola Run (despite Lola being considered one of the more well rounded female characters ever put to film) also fail. Yet, when you reverse the criteria and perform the Bechdel test on male characters, it is almost impossible to find a movie that doesn’t pass.

Possibly even more worrying however, is that in movies where females have a role (leading or not), they play to an archetype being either the innocent virgin maiden, the temptress or the evil witch. Most often, it is a male hero who drives the storyline while his female opposite has already been branded as a sinner or saint, Madonna or whore – according to her moral sins or virtues. The hero however is free to be complex and flawed whilst he navigates these archetypal women.

WonderWoman

Briefly going back to comic book movies, which my movie buddy was staunch in defending, it is interesting to note that whilst the likes of Batman, Spiderman and Superman have been rebooted numerous times, Wonderwoman and Catwoman have not. Again, the majority of these stories utilise the saving of the ‘damsel in distress’ to show the heroes worth. In many cases, a single man saves the known universe whilst all that is good and pure is symbolically embodied by the rescue of the single virgin/Princess Leia character who cannot fend for herself. Basically, a woman who is anything other than a love interest, who needs rescuing (or a sexual conquest in the case of Bond) is considered progressive, much like the ‘feline fatale’ Catwoman was when she first appeared in 1940 (she only had to wait 64 years to get her own movie). It’s interesting to note that Bob Kane, the creator of Catwoman said this:

I felt that women were feline creatures and men were more like dogs. While dogs are faithful and friendly, cats are cool, detached and unreliable…cats are hard to understand as women are…You always need to keep a women at arms length. We don’t want anyone taking over our souls, and women have a habit of doing that.

I’m not calling for existing super heroes to change genders, but is it so impossible to imagine they become involved in differing and more creative story lines? Why not have Mary Jane help Spiderman save the world rather than be the one in need of saving, or invent a new female superhero to join the Avengers? Is it really such a radical idea?

According to an analysis of 2013’s fifty most successful blockbusters, films with a better balance of women made more money overall, so there is a strong audience for such changes in film to occur.
Whilst I’d agree with my movie buddy that women’s roles in film have gradually changed, what is important here is not the exception to the rule, but the dominant rule itself. Old ideas are given weight through repetition, until over time they come to form popular notions about the essential human struggle. Yes, Maleficent was more well-intentioned than accomplished but it was at least original and went against tradition; a rare feat it should be applauded for.

Reality sucks; I wanna go back to Hogwarts.

So after a few glorious months away in Europe, I’m back in Melbourne. Upon hugging my mother hello, I had completed everything I wanted to do in Melbourne and am now ready to leave again. This is not a reflection of my life here, but rather a reflection of just how good the past few months have been.

My initial intentions of posting about my travels whilst away died within approximately 30 minutes of me arriving on European soil (coincidentally, the same amount of time it took for me to have a cider in my hand). So now my head is bursting with destinations and stories I want to share with anyone I’ve pestered enough to click on my page.

It seems logical (to me at least) to tell you about the last place I went to, first. And that just happens to be Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry! I don’t know about you but whenever I read ‘Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry‘ in my head I hear it said in a deep, booming, dramatic Dumbledore sounding voice. No, just me?

Now just to clarify, I didn’t go to the actual school (my acceptance letter got lost in the mail a few years back) but I did go to the Warner Brothers London Studio where all the magic was made. And it was only the greatest day ever!

The tour starts with the Great Hall and proceeds to go through all the authentic sets, costumes and props showcasing the British artistry, technology and talent that went into making all 8 movies. Surprisingly, more adults than children visit the studios and as a general rule, the children that do come are considerably better behaved than the adults.

At the studios you’re give the chance to fly a broomstick, drive the Weasley’s blue car and walk down Diagon Alley. There are also snitches to be found, emblems to be collected and the unwritten competition between friends where the first to state what movie and when any prop, picture or costume was used gets a point. It gets very competitive and mildly violent very fast.

Seeing Gringotts, Ollivanders and drinking Butter Beer outside Privet Drive is a truly magical experience and the energy and excitement of all the other visitors and staff is incredibly contagious and uplifting. Basically, if you’re not a delusional crying mess during and after the tour; you’re doing it wrong.

If you manage to get through the whole tour without fainting from excitement (it’s actually harder than it sounds) you get to the mystical and spell-binding (albeit expensive) gift-shop. A place where small children and grown men alike were crying over £30 marauder’s maps. Thanks to the gift-shop and after being sorted by the trusty sorting hat (twice for good measure) I can now rock my new authentic Ravenclaw scarf when I go out (I know I’m really showing off my geek cards/cred here).

Overall it was just an incredible day and place to visit. It was obvious that a lot of care was taken to ensure that the studios felt authentic and still held surprises for the tragic’s among us who have read and seen the movies more times then they care to count. The studios had so much positive energy and happiness that they felt like a tangible anti-depressant, and thus the true magic of Harry Potter was shown.

The last time I re-read all 7 books was the summer of 2010/11. Visiting the studios has inspired me to do it all again…so let my re-re-re-re-re-read (I’m just estimating here) begin.

The following are a few happy snaps from the day:

The don’t occupy Gotham movement. Or maybe do. I’m not sure.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the final Batman in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy has been released. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard about it. Marketing for the movie has only been prolific, having posters plastered everywhere and a viral social media campaign. No biggie.

Now staying true to the pop culture fan I pretend to be, I went to see the movie on it’s opening day. And given my new found inability to do things without telling the world about them, you get to find out all about it. Lucky you!

Now right from the get go and before the haters start sending me death threats, I want to say that the movie was enjoyable. Or, I at least didn’t hate it. I didn’t really love it either. To be honest after sitting through what felt like the longest movie in history my mind went to jelly and I couldn’t remember my name, let alone form an opinion on the movie. Maybe that was Nolan’s strategy?

Unlike ‘The Dark Knight’ where the antecedent was 9/11, the antecedent in ‘Dark Knight Rises’ was the financial crisis. A much more confusing and less dramatic event, which lead to a much more confusing and less dramatic movie. So much was going on at once that if you understood half of it (specifically, not generally) then you’re doing quite well.

Hovering in a mediocre middle ground, the movie never rises, but it doesn’t falter either. The plot mainly centers around a nuclear device that Bane (the bad guy) and his army steal and then threaten to blow up New York Gotham with. There are also other obscure plot lines, various character stories and lengthy explanations about everything in there too. But it’ll probably be easier if you see the movie, rather than have me try to explain it. Besides, I didn’t understand half of it anyway.
Ow and in the midst of all this chaos an odd sort of Occupy movement kind of took place. Except it was portrayed in such a way that overall it was against an anarchy and the 99 percent. All whilst disguising itself and pretending it was for the 99 percent. This was all happening at the 2 hour point in the movie and I was getting hungry so didn’t really pay enough attention to understand. Basically I think the movie was trying to be political. But what political message it was sending is open to interpretation.

For long stretches of the movie, there’s little going on that’s relevant to the main story line other than keeping the audience concerned for the fate of Gotham city. And after two hours, that concern drastically fades. But the biggest downfall of the movie was the one dimensional bad guy in Bane. He looked the part with his face and nose covered by a leather mask. But unfortunately the mask impeded the way he spoke so he sounded an awful lot like Darth Vadar and Scooby-Doo’s love child. Which in tune made him sound incredibly idiotic and unintentionally funny. Not to mention, the audience could barely understand anything he was saying. Speaking with Shakespearean overtures when Bane says “I have come to liberate you” it sounds like “have bear hibernate.” If Bane ever took charge no one would know what the hell was going on. Alas, Batman must come out of retirement to save Gotham and the English language. Batman (possibly) coming out of retirement is also a pretty big plot point (only an hour and a half of the movie is dedicated to it). I feel like I should have mentioned that earlier.

But the movie also has many positives. It it cinematographically beautiful, nothing short of what you would expect from Nolan. The story line, whilst incredibly convoluted, is dark and adds depth to the characters. The cast is incredible, and quite a few people make unexpected cameos. The plot twists are genuinely surprising and breathe a bit of life into otherwise dull moments. Additionally, the elaborated scenes of mass peril are perfectly calibrated for maximum tension. No one could have pulled off such a grand finale for the artful trilogy as well as Nolan. But at times there was just too much going on and it meant the movie had self importance without having actual importance. If you’ve got a spare few hours and want to lose yourself in a land of fantasy, then I’d recommend it. Just bring snacks and settle on being content, not blown away.