Film, Opinion

THE BECHDEL TEST:

What is it?

The Bechdel Test was first developed as a tongue in cheek look at female representation in cinema by Alison Bechdel in her comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For. Since it first emerged in 1985, the test has become hugely influential. Whilst some deride the test as overly simplistic, there is no doubt that it does raise some interesting questions about how women are represented in cinema.

To pass the test, a film must have at least two named female characters, who speak to one another about something, ANYTHING, that isn’t a man.

Films which fail:

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source: Pop Inquirer 

Creed – an example of how the test isn’t exactly extensive, Creed fails the Bechdel Test in spite of having an arguably very progressive female character in the form of Bianca (Tessa Thompson) . Bianca’s character rises far above the “girlfriend” stereotype so often found in sports films and is a great example of how Ryan Coogler has updated the Rocky franchise, with her character being fully formed and having her own life and dreams outside of her relationship with Creed (Michael B Jordan). So why does such a great film fail the test? Because Bianca is one of the few female characters, and she never has a conversation with any other females, meaning the film cannot fulfil the second requirement.

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source: Wet Paint

Toy Story/Toy Story 2 – Even kids films aren’t safe! There is a real case for arguing that achieving equality in children’s films is actually the most important of all – they are what children are growing up consuming, and go a long way in forming opinions and perceptions. It may come as a surprise, but both Toy Story and Toy Story 2 fail the Bechdel Test. Whilst there are female characters in both films, they are massively outweighed by the male centric cast and they do not have any conversations with one another. Again, this doesn’t mean the films aren’t great – Jessie is a fantastic female character who debuts in the second film – but it is interesting that across two movies there aren’t any interactions between named female characters. However, it could be argued that Pixar took it on board, because they closed the trilogy in 2010 with Toy Story 3, which does technically pass the test.

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source: Youtube

The Big Short – Adam McKay’s Oscar nominated film depicts the real life circumstances of a group of men in the run up to the 2008 housing mortgage crisis in the US. There are few female characters outwith some celebrity cameos from Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez, so it comes as little surprise that the film fails the test. Films based on true events are always interesting to talk about in relation to the test, as it highlights how gender inequality is an issue which impacts our society as a whole.

Why is it important?

The above films are just a very small slice of the hundreds and thousands of films which fail the test, giving a sense of how the representation of female characters is an issue which is widespread across almost all aspects of film, from animated children’s films to adult orientated content.

The Bechdel Test does have a place, even in just creating a dialogue about how women are represented in films.It should not be used as the only way of measuring gender issues in cinema, and a film failing the test clearly does not automatically make it a sexist film, but it does raise interesting questions about the ratio of men to women in cinema.

For instance, take the situation and apply it to male character – there aren’t many films which would fail the test. We live in a society where women make up 50% of the population, so why aren’t we seeing those proportions translated onscreen? The Bechdel Test provides a way to highlight this, and whilst a lot of the details may slip through the cracks in the process, it has merit in being able to do so.

What do you think of the Bechdel Test? Share your views in the comments section! 

 

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Film, List

5 GREAT FILMS THAT WERE BOX OFFICE FLOPS

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When it comes to mainstream cinema it’s all about the numbers, and the box office performance of a film is often what dictates whether it was successful or not. This can lead to sequels of bad films – Terminator Genysis, for example, is pretty sure to have a sequel in spite of appalling reviews and poor box office turnout in the USA due to the fact that it proved itself to be a money making machine in the gargantuan cinema-going demographic that is China. It can also lead to films that are actually pretty excellent only getting recognition years later due to a poor financial performance. Here are five films which performed poorly at the box office in spite of being great films…

Honourable mention…

Steve Jobs (2015)


Director:
Danny Boyle

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels

maxresdefault (2)An honourable mention due to the fact that it is still out in cinemas, Steve Jobs significantly underperformed upon it’s initial US release earlier this year. The film, structured like a three act play, stars Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs and goes behind the scenes in the time leading up to three significant product launches. Penned by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) the film has garnered $18 million since its release. On a budget of $30 million, the film still has a way to go before even making its money back.

There are a few contributing factors which may explain why the film has been a financial flop in spite of excellent critical praise. Director Danny Boyle blamed the marketing strategy, believing that the film had to wide of an initial release and did not generate enough word of mouth. There is also the issue of Steve Jobs fatigue – the Apple founder has been the subject of dozens on films and documentaries, and the critical and commercial failure of the Ashton Kutcher starring Jobs (2013) is still fresh in the minds of US audiences. The film was released by Universal, who reportedly still have faith that the film can recover if it stays in cinemas until closer to awards season.

Amy Pascal of Sony passed on the film, seeing it as too big of a risk after the likes of Christian Bale did not agree to star, and rumours suggest that Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell actively tried to stop the films warts and all portrayal. Both Sorkin and Boyle have been very vocal about their belief that the film is not a biopic, but Powell’s sway in the tech community may be another factor as to why the film didn’t perform well.

5 – The Iron Giant (1999)

Director: Brad Bird

Starring: Vin Diesel, Jennifer Aniston, John Mahoney, Eli Marienthal

iron-giant-hogarthBased on the Ted Hughes novel The Iron Man (1968), this Warner Brothers Animation changes Hugh’s English setting for Cold War America. Set in 1950’s Maine, the film charts nine year old Hogarth Hughs (Eli Marienthal), a young boy who discovers a fifty-foot tall metal eating iron giant. The film was the directorial debut of Brad Bird, who is now best known for his work with Pixar, which includes The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007), and incorporated a mixture of traditional animation and elements of CGI.

The film made around $23 million on a $70 million budget, making it a financial failure in spite of critical adoration. The film had a pre Fast and Furious Vin Diesel in the titular role, as well as roles for America’s sweetheart Jennifer Aniston and Fraiser’s John Mahoney, but selling animations on their star power are more difficult than live action films. The film also used a washed out colour palette and held some pretty strong anti-government themes. Take into account that the film is a non Disney animation and that Bird was yet to make his name, as well as the fact that it came out the same year as Toy Story 2 (1999) and that Pixar were making CGI films popular and it becomes clearer why the film made a loss.

The film received a limited rerelease in cinemas this year ahead of the release of the Blu-Ray edition, which contained two minutes of new footage, and the film is considered one of the best non-Disney animations. Bird’s work at Pixar also went on to be some of the most financially successful for the studio, so it’s not all bad.

4 – Heathers (1988)

Director: Michael Lehmann

Starring: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannon Doherty

Heathers2Heathers is an excellent black comedy/satire from Michael Lehmann. The film stars a young Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannon Doherty, and is pretty fearless in its approach to tackling issues such as bullying and teen suicide. The film was made on a very low budget of $2 million but still only managed to make back around half, meaning it was still a financial flop.

The film was very well received by critics, but a couple of noted individuals such as Roger Ebert took issue with the films extremities. The film came out in the late 80’s – making it a great showcase of the fashion of the era – which means it came out in the midst of the John Hughes era. Seeing as the film was a total subversion of everything a Hughes teen film stood for, this is probably a significant reason as to why the film did not fare well commercially.

The films stars Ryder and Slater were also yet to make their names – Ryder was only 16 upon filming and had appeared in Beetlejuice (1988) the same year, but only really became better known in the 1990’s with roles in the likes of Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Mermaids (1990). Similarly, Slater was 19 when the film came out with only a few credits to his name. Notoriously difficult Shannon Doherty also hadn’t had a chance to prove how notoriously difficult she was, with her roles in Beverly Hills 90210 and Charmed coming in 1990 and 1998 respectively. This lack of percieved star power is another reason the film failed to gain any financial traction.

3 – It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

Director: Frank Capra

Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers

tumblr_inline_nmh0a4Ufom1r4j8j1_500Frank Capra’s holiday classic, based on 1939 short story The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern, is one of those rare films that it is very difficult to find anyone who dislikes it. However, whilst it may be hard to believe, the film was a letdown at the Box Office, debuting in 26th place. Made on a $3 million budget, the film only made $3.3 million in its initial run despite starring the hugely popular Jimmy Stewart in the central role of George Bailey, a man who is contemplating suicide and is visited by an angel, Clarence (Henry Travers) who shows him what life would have been like had he never been born.

The story doesn’t end there however – it was due to a copyright issue that the film went on to become a festive favourite. The film originally had a 28 year copyright claim, and when it expired the rights were not put up for renewal. This meant that in 1975 the film entered the public domain, leading to it having heavy circulation on television during the holiday season. This led to the film being reevaluated as a classic, and it has since garnered over $60 million in DVD and home video sales. NBC now own the rights and there is a good chance they won’t be giving them up anytime soon.

An interesting side note is that the FBI actually pinpointed the film as communist propaganda. A 1947 memo entitled ‘Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry’ argued it was propaganda due to its populist theme and negative portrayal of rich bankers. The film was not blacklisted in the infamous McCarthy era, but it is interesting to think that the FBI were concerned about the feel-good classic.

2 – The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Director: Frank Darabont

Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman

shawshank-musicThe seven times Oscar nominated film written and directed by Frank Darabont and based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is one of the more surprising entries on this list. The film is currently at the top of the IMDb Top 250 Films list. The film was made on a $25 million budget, but debuted in ninth place on its opening weekend with only $2.5 million.

The film is regularly quoted amongst favourite films/top films of all time lists, so why did it fail to gain any traction? Producer Liz Glotzer has argued that the film didn’t achieve any word of mouth promotion due to people being unsure how to pronounce the title. It could also be argued that the title gives too much away, though it’s not as though it gives away the main details of the plot (we are looking at you The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), the winner of the most spoilerific title of all time).

Things become even more confusing when we see what The Shawshank Redemption was up against at the Box Office. Opening on 23rd September 1994, other films that opened that day included It Runs in the Family, Shadows of Desire and Terminal Velocity. Not exactly bonafide classics. However, it is also worth noting that NBC’s beloved sitcom Friends debuted on the same date, drawing in some 22 million viewers for its pilot episode. Did this stop people going out to see the film on its opening night?

The film is similar to It’s A Wonderful Life in that it became more popular after its original cinematic run, and TV circulation and word of mouth in recent years has seen the film become the classic we know it as today, but exactly why The Shawshank Redemption underperformed on its initial run will always be a point of cinematic speculation.

1 – Fight Club (1999)

Director: David Fincher

Starring: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bohem Carter

the_coolest_inside_facts_about_22David Fincher’s cult classic Fight Club, based on the Chuck Palahniuk novel of the same name, made only $37 million on a $63 million budget. The film came out four years after his critically acclaimed and financially successful Se7en (1994), which also starred Brad Pitt in a main role. However, Fincher followed up the film with The Game (1997) starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn, which was again critically successful but saw significantly less box office returns compared to Se7en.

Fight Club has gone on to achieve cult status due to the fact that it was hugely successful when released on DVD, selling over 6 million copies and making its money back in that way. Whilst the film is now regarded as a modern classic, it was extremely divisive amongst critics upon its initial release. The films depiction of violence and counterculture led to criticisms from some critics, including Roger Ebert who said years later that it was “beloved by many, not by me.”

Another issue came in the marketing. Fincher reportedly had very specific ideas about how he wanted to market the film, but executives at 20th Century Fox didn’t like the film when they viewed it. The company were unsure of how to sell a film that is so openly critical of consumerism. The films release was delayed several times, and the film eventually came out after the Columbine High School Massacre, meaning that audiences were arguably much less open to a film with such graphic violence at its core. Brad Pitt was undoubtedly the most bankable star in the film, but Fincher refused to have him as the focus of the marketing campaign for fear of misrepresentation, and the lacklustre campaign is arguably the biggest factor in Fight Club’s poor box office performance.

The film was without a doubt one of the most talked about the of the year, and the controversy that surrounded its violent nature is arguably what made it successful in DVD sales, meaning it was not a total failure.

Which films do you think are great in spite of a less than stellar box office performance? Let me know in the comments section!

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Film, Opinion

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR PIXAR?

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1995 was a big year. I was born, Pierre Omidyar founded eBay and the DVD was invented. But one of the most notable events of the year (in terms of pop culture at least) was the release of Toy Story. The first ever wholly computer animated motion picture, Toy Story was a technological feat, and it made Pixar Animation Studios a household name.

The California based company have now produced no less than 16 films (including The Good Dinosaur, which is out in the UK today) and have revolutionised the industry several times over. For years Pixar were motored on, with an unprecedented hot streak that began with Toy Story and ended (arguably) with Toy Story 3 in 2010. In between these book ends audiences were graced with; A Bugs Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters Inc (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Cars (2006), Ratatouille (2007), Wall-E (2008) and Up (2009).

download2011 hit, and with it came Cars 2, for the first time raising some questions. Whilst the Toy Story sequels seemed necessary and resulted in one of the best movie trilogies of all time, Cars wasn’t a film that felt like it needed its world revisited. Brave, Pixar’s first fairytale the following year made it seem like the shine may have been starting to wear off the once untouchable studio, with Roger Ebert noting that it wasn’t the ‘groundbreaking’ stuff the studio were known for. Monsters University (2013) was a prequel, again raising eyebrows in spite of generally positive reviews.

Inside Out was a smash hit this Summer and was deemed a return to form for the studio known for its innovation, imagination and universal appeal. The jury is still out on The Good Dinosaur, which reportedly has been dogged a tough production, but early reviews have praised the animation over the apparently lacklustre plot. 2015 is the first year that the studio has released two films in one year, a feat it is set to repeat in 2017, and it seems that the two films represent the two reactions that Pixar films tend to be met with – critical adoration, or the realisation that they have failed to live up to the extremely high standards set by that 1995 – 2010 streak.

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Looking ahead, Pixar have announced five films, bringing them up to 2019. Only one of them – Coco (2017) – is an original concept, with the other five all being sequels to previous films. Finding Dory is set to hit screens next year, with Cars 3 following in 2017, Toy Story 4 in 2018 and The Incredibles 2 the following year.

Is this worrying? As stated earlier in this post, Pixar are loved for their original animations, and it doesn’t look like originality is high on their list of priorities at the moment. Cars 3 doesn’t really make a lot of sense – Cars wasn’t even one of the best loved original concepts, and the sequel was the closest thing the studio has had to a critical failure, making it seem strange that they have decided to go back for a third try, though it’s probably down to the merchandising opportunities – Pixar are still a company trying to make big bucks after all.

Finding Dory and The Incredibles 2 are in risky territory, running the risk of tainting two beloved classics. It’s also going to have been over a decade since the originals were released by the time the sequels come out – are they going to be able to make these characters and stories relevant a second time around?

maxresdefaultThe most worrying of all, however, is the fact that they are going back to Toy Story for a fourth film. The original trilogy is the perfect example of Pixar – and animation – at its very best, with a saga perfectly balancing across three films and ending on a spectacular and emotional high. If Finding Dory and The Incredibles 2 are in risky territory, Toy Story 4 runs the risk of destroying the entire generations happy childhood memories (Ok probably not quite that bad, but you catch the gist). John Lasseter, Pixar legend and the director of the first two Toy Story films, is back at the helm, and we can only hope that he would only come back for a great story. He announced earlier this year that the film would focus on the romance between Woody and Bo Peep, who was absent from the third film. It’s all very vague so far, and whilst it could go either way it is going to be a hard one to get right. It will still make piles of money though – everyone is going to want to see if they have pulled it off. Very clever Pixar, but you are playing with fire.

Coco looks like it could be promising. Following the story of 12 year old Mexican boy Miguel, the film is based around the Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico. Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) is in the directors chair, and the Day of the Dead festival is a promising inspiration for some beautiful animation, so heres hoping that they can complete the magic triangle with a great story to match.

So, what does the future hold for Pixar? Right now, it looks like a lot of sequels, and the studio is going to have to work hard to keep its most beloved work sacred. The huge success of Inside Out earlier this year will hopefully inspire the studio to get back to doing what they do best – inspiring us all with stunning animation and original concepts.

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