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The Bechdel Test
September 3, 2008 5:28 AM   Subscribe

Alison Bechdel, creator of the very long-running "Dykes to Watch Out For" as well as the autobiographical graphic novel "Fun Home", may end up best known for her creation/popularization of "The Bechdel Test" (also mentioned on wikipedia).

NPR has just done a segment on The Bechdel Test, and their pop culture blog has taken things one step beyond, with suggestions for other rules for "The Deggans Rule", after Eric Deggans, (1. at least two non-white characters 2. in a show that's not about race), and "The Morales Rule", after "Middleman star Natalie Morales, (1. Nobody calls anybody Papi, 2. No dancing to salsa music, 3. No gratuitous Spanish). The Middleman has been mentioned previously, and its stellar passing of the Bechdel test noted
posted by rmd1023 (257 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Counterpoint to the Bechdel test: There are no women at all in The Thing, and it´s the best movie of the last fifty years.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 5:45 AM on September 3, 2008 [9 favorites]


Quick reminder: I forget again (and again can't find the control) how to make a flickr image big enough to see.
posted by DU at 5:48 AM on September 3, 2008


To expand the strip, there's a small button above the image that says "all sizes".

original size
posted by polexa at 5:51 AM on September 3, 2008


I like the rule. At first I was like, well that's pretty easy to meet, there are women all over the place. So I'll just think of a funny boyzonish one...like Queen Amydala in Phantom Menace! She talks to her female servant....about Anakin.

Yeah, I'm coming up blank. Haven't seen a lot of movies recently though. Moving to TV, Mythbusters used to have Scotty and Kari talk about building stuff.
posted by DU at 5:55 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


(there's a small button above the image that says "all sizes".

Moving up from the top edge of the image, I see a lot of whitespace, then "The Rule", then a horizontal line, then the flickr menu. Your link wants me to have a Yahoo login.)
posted by DU at 5:57 AM on September 3, 2008


I read this back in the day and hadn't remembered it.

It's even more harsh now than it was then. The Bechdel Test is so very reasonable, and so difficult to follow.

For a long time, I announced that I wouldn't go to movies where firearms were discharged, and that was pretty hard. Probably the last such movie I saw was Almodóvar and not all of his movies have two female characters (Volver does pass the test, and also rocks...)

Is there a list of the movies that pass the Test?


DU: I think that's the largest size that's been uploaded on that Flickr page.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:59 AM on September 3, 2008


Is there a list of movies that pass the Test?

Not as far as I know -- there was a related question on the green didn't seem to find one.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:02 AM on September 3, 2008


Is there a list of the movies that pass the Test?

Here. I just forced myself to sit through Dark Knight and I don't seem to remember too much not-about-a-man female to female dialogue.
posted by three blind mice at 6:06 AM on September 3, 2008


In trying to find a non-Yahoo'd link for DU, I googled 'Bechdel Test' and 'Bechdel Rule' and was surprised as to how quickly the images turned into forum icons, cheesecake pictures of actresses, and one choice picture of Bill Bailey wearing a shirt that reads "This is what a feminist looks like."
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:06 AM on September 3, 2008


The existing Test is hard enough to pass, but I can imagine some catty movie (Devil Wears Prada?) having two female characters rip apart a third behind her back, which probably isn't much better than the existing situation. Maybe: 1) two females 2) who talk to each other 3) about something other than human relationships.
posted by DU at 6:08 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wierd, I blogged about this last year and never thought to post it to MeFi because I was sure it would have been a double. I love the Bechdel test, and I do frequently apply it to movies I've seen. As already pointed out, not passing the test does not automatically disqualify a movie from being good - it's just something to think about. I personally give movies a pass if they specifically occur in a context where no women really would be around - like in The Thing or any movie that happens in a boy's boarding school.

In my blog post last year I looked at Pixar movies and found that the only movies that passed were The Incredibles and A Bug's Life. I'd love to analyze all the Disney movies, but that's a long term plan as I'd have to go back and rewatch them all first.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:12 AM on September 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


No, it sounds like Devil passes with flying colors. But this is the kind of marginal Test pass I'm talking about. (Not numerically, although that seems to be lacking as well.)
posted by DU at 6:14 AM on September 3, 2008


Detective Ramirez calls Jim Gordon's wife and they have a brief conversation about the Gordon family's safety. Ramirez is however under gun point, so one might say she's only relaying a man's words and it's not actually a conversation between two women.

I thought so. The Dark Knight Fails.
posted by three blind mice at 6:20 AM on September 3, 2008


Man, I never watch movies anymore, and now I know why... In fact, I think the last movie I saw in the theatre was "There Will Be Blood", and there are *no* female characters in it at all...

I like how Bechdel includes lots of swords, guns and other phallic images in her movie posters. If you look at the cover of *any* DVD at the video store, there is almost always phallic imagery, including the obvious guns and swords, to point fingers and fists.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:23 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fun Home sounds awful. I'm going to buy it right now.
posted by cometwendy at 6:25 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


As already pointed out, not passing the test does not automatically disqualify a movie from being good - it's just something to think about.

That's my take on it as well. Strict application of the test would obviously eliminate a huge number of films -- like, pretty close to all of them -- which is sort of the point. It makes audiences (and, one might like to think, filmmakers) more aware of the role of women in film.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:30 AM on September 3, 2008


arcticwoman, you (and others) might enjoy a blog I found via the list that threeblindmice posted, which tackles animated films more in depth:

http://animation.memory-motel.net/
posted by NikitaNikita at 6:32 AM on September 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


There's an article linked in the site 3bm links discussing why screenwriters are, essentially, taught to fail the Test. Part of the argument:
According to Hollywood, if two women came on screen and started talking, the target male audience’s brain would glaze over and assume the women were talking about nail polish or shoes or something that didn’t pertain to the story.
Whe she dismisses as BS, which would be fine if writers were "allowed" to write interesting female characters. It's a bit circular--writers are told not to write interesting female characters because men wouldn't be interested, and men aren't interested because the female characters aren't interesting.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:35 AM on September 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


It makes audiences (and, one might like to think, filmmakers) more aware of the role of women in film.

Or the lack of roles. The fact that the list of movies which pass this test - even when generously applied - is so short is disturbing.

From the link I provided above: You see, the reason the Bechdel criteria are spot-on is that having conversation between women about things other than their romantic relationships with men is that it means that women are driving the story. Dialogue is where you get to the meat of the problem, the heart of the plot, the explanation for why characters act the way they do.

Whilst looking at glass ceilings we fail to see the glass walls.
posted by three blind mice at 6:40 AM on September 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Props to Tarantino, I guess.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:48 AM on September 3, 2008


not passing the test does not automatically disqualify a movie from being good - it's just something to think about.

One I like to think about is whether violent death gets top billing. To pass, there have to be no murders, no wars, no monsters run amok, no giant natural or manmade disasters, no unnatural deaths other than perhaps an everyday accident. The story is about people living, not people tossed into a blender to see what sort of mess comes out.
posted by pracowity at 7:01 AM on September 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


Do the women have to be alone? The first one I thought of is _Match Point_, where two men and two women at a table argue about the extent to which their actions are predestined.
posted by escabeche at 7:02 AM on September 3, 2008


To pass, there have to be no murders, no wars, no monsters run amok, no giant natural or manmade disasters, no unnatural deaths...

Excuse me, but I think you mean to fail!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:04 AM on September 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


"Metafilter's own" Charlie Stross talked about the test, and applied it to his own fiction. He inspired me to write my own passing piece (self link).
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:05 AM on September 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


The test makes a good point rather than being a good idea.

DU's right, but doesn't go far enough. You could make a satirical test-compliant film full of nothing but women yakking incessantly about cooking, knitting, hats, make-up, interior decoration...
posted by Phanx at 7:07 AM on September 3, 2008


Starship Troopers passes the Test! Is there no end to its goodness?
posted by biffa at 7:07 AM on September 3, 2008 [5 favorites]


I really like Bechdel as a cartoonist, but I've always loathed this test. I understand the sentiment, and agree that women are often poorly-served in film (and books, and comics, etc etc). But I think it's a horrible idea to erect some sort of ideologically-motivated litmus test (even if it's for an ideology I support) and apply it to art. Bad, bad idea that just leads to closing your mind and inevitably deprives you of good stuff that happens to fail your test.

For people saying they treat this more as something to think about but not a strict pass-or-fail test, I guess that's closer to something I can get behind. But I'm still very uncomfortable with it.
posted by COBRA! at 7:08 AM on September 3, 2008 [7 favorites]


Though come to think of it, I'd quite enjoy a really good film about knitting.
posted by Phanx at 7:09 AM on September 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


But I think it's a horrible idea to erect some sort of ideologically-motivated litmus test (even if it's for an ideology I support) and apply it to art.

What if we're applying it not so much to art, but to entertainment? It's perfectly reasonable for a woman to want to see movies which include women having conversations with each other.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:14 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


For people saying they treat this more as something to think about but not a strict pass-or-fail test, I guess that's closer to something I can get behind. But I'm still very uncomfortable with it.

The test is strict pass or fail. This is the entire point. Not all movies that fail are bad. Not all movies that pass are good. That there are so few movies good or bad that pass is what is interesting.

Even two female characters talking to each other about the weather would pass and still the list of films is short. It's staggering really.
posted by three blind mice at 7:17 AM on September 3, 2008 [12 favorites]


Bring It On passes easily.
posted by surenoproblem at 7:19 AM on September 3, 2008


Maybe I'm being too literal with the rule. Is the rule

"It has to have at least two women in it who ONLY talk to each other about something besides a man."

or

"It has to have at least two women who talk to each other about something besides a man AT LEAST ONCE."

Because when I first read the rule, I interpreted it the second way, and was able to think of lots of movies (A League of their Own, Tank Girl, Spice World, Romy and Michelle, Heavenly Creatures, Ghost World) that I strongly suspect (without being able to immediately verify) would pass the test.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:24 AM on September 3, 2008


Like a poet who takes a vow of silence until a rhyme for 'orange' is discovered, some 'rules' are silly to apply with any more rigor than necessary.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:25 AM on September 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


What if we're applying it not so much to art, but to entertainment? It's perfectly reasonable for a woman to want to see movies which include women having conversations with each other.

I don't really draw a line between art and entertainment (I'd call, say, Meet the Spartans a form of art, just really, really shitty art). And I'm totally down with women wanting to see movies where women have conversations with each other. No problem with that. My problem would be with people refusing to see any other type of movie (although even then, people are free to make choices I don't like). Ultimately,

Like a poet who takes a vow of silence until a rhyme for 'orange' is discovered, some 'rules' are silly to apply with any more rigor than necessary.
posted by Blazecock Pileon


pretty much sums up where I'm at.
posted by COBRA! at 7:30 AM on September 3, 2008


Back in old 1929, Virginia Wolf made a similar observation in Chapter 5 of a Room of One's Own:

"’Chloe liked Olivia . . .’ Do not start. Do not blush. Let us admit in the privacy of our own society that these things sometimes happen. Sometimes women do like women.
‘Chloe liked Olivia,’ I read. And then it struck me how immense a change was there. Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature. "

"They are confidantes, of course, in Racine and the Greek tragedies. They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen’s day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman’s life is that; and how little can a man know even of that when he observes it through the black or rosy spectacles which sex puts upon his nose. Hence, perhaps, the peculiar nature of woman in fiction; the astonishing extremes of her beauty and horror; her alternations between heavenly goodness and hellish depravity—for so a lover would see her as his love rose or sank, was prosperous or unhappy. "

Which makes you wonder about the amount of progress we've made in the last 80 years on this front.
posted by OrangeDrink at 7:31 AM on September 3, 2008 [33 favorites]


escabeche, I wouldn't think so. That sounds like a pass to me. And 23skidoo, I think it's the latter.

Like a poet who takes a vow of silence until a rhyme for 'orange' is discovered, some 'rules' are silly to apply with any more rigor than necessary.
Awesome. Having female characters who are actually meaningful is no more necessary than having a word that rhymes with 'orange.'
posted by jinjo at 7:32 AM on September 3, 2008 [9 favorites]


boo on being dumb with block quotes and 730am.
posted by OrangeDrink at 7:32 AM on September 3, 2008


I really like Bechdel as a cartoonist, but I've always loathed this test. I understand the sentiment, and agree that women are often poorly-served in film (and books, and comics, etc etc). But I think it's a horrible idea to erect some sort of ideologically-motivated litmus test (even if it's for an ideology I support) and apply it to art. Bad, bad idea that just leads to closing your mind and inevitably deprives you of good stuff that happens to fail your test.

You seem to have missed the point. It's not supposed to deprive anyone of good stuff; do you seriously think Bechdel, or anyone, refuses to watch movies that don't pass the test? It's an excellent way to focus an important concern that should get much more attention. "Movies should treat women more seriously": vague, easily ignored. Bechdel test: pointed, effective. Thinking about the Bechdel test would help filmmakers make better films, if they bothered to do it.

The existing Test is hard enough to pass, but I can imagine some catty movie (Devil Wears Prada?) having two female characters rip apart a third behind her back, which probably isn't much better than the existing situation. Maybe: 1) two females 2) who talk to each other 3) about something other than human relationships.


This also misses the point, which is not to have Deep Movies about... what, astrophysics? Of course human relationships are at the center of movies, and should be, unless you're a robot. The point is to have women talk about something other than men. There's nothing wrong with having two female characters rip apart a third behind her back; women do that a lot, why shouldn't it be in the movies? And yes, women also talk about men, but not all the time, which is the impression you get from current entertainment.
posted by languagehat at 7:33 AM on September 3, 2008 [25 favorites]


I heard this piece on the way home yesterday. I was, initially, delighted to hear NPR talking about the Bechdel Rule, and then even more delighted to hear Alison herself being interviewed about it.

But I was puzzled, and then pissed off, when they managed to get through the whole piece without mentioning that the strip she drew it for is called Dykes to Watch Out For. WTF, NPR? You can do a piece about...I dunno, the cultural and political implications of how to watch pop culture without mentioning the name of the strip that prompted your piece in the first place? Grrrr.

Also, Fun Home is fantastic.

You can read DTWOF here.
posted by rtha at 7:33 AM on September 3, 2008 [5 favorites]


One I like to think about is whether violent death gets top billing. To pass, there have to be no murders, no wars, no monsters run amok, no giant natural or manmade disasters, no unnatural deaths other than perhaps an everyday accident. The story is about people living, not people tossed into a blender to see what sort of mess comes out.

You hate everything I love.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:34 AM on September 3, 2008 [16 favorites]


Indian-Canadian comedian Russell Peters has stated many times that he will never, under any circumstances, play the ubiquitous "bumbling Indian guy," which essentially means he will probably never work in mainstream film or television, despite his huge success in stand-up.

It's pretty disgusting that in the year 2008, entire races of people are still relegated to the role of Human Joke.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:36 AM on September 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Frozen River passes, and with bonus Indian-Canadian content to boot!
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:42 AM on September 3, 2008


You seem to have missed the point. It's not supposed to deprive anyone of good stuff; do you seriously think Bechdel, or anyone, refuses to watch movies that don't pass the test? It's an excellent way to focus an important concern that should get much more attention. "Movies should treat women more seriously": vague, easily ignored. Bechdel test: pointed, effective. Thinking about the Bechdel test would help filmmakers make better films, if they bothered to do it.

I don't think I missed the point, but I'm probably guilty of bringing a lot of external baggage into a limited discussion. Bechdel's rule comes up a lot in the cartooning world (applied more widely than to film), and I have seen/heard people claim to reject movies/books/comics that fail that Bechdel test. And that drives me nuts. I don't think that Alison Bechdel- or most of the people in this thread- are zealots who're working to nail blinders to their heads. But those zealots are out there, and they depress me.

Bechdel had a good idea, but it's all too easy and common for people to pick up someone else's good idea and run too far with it.
posted by COBRA! at 7:43 AM on September 3, 2008


Maybe: 1) two females 2) who talk to each other 3) about something other than human relationships.

Four Months, Three weeks, 2 Days.
posted by hecho de la basura at 7:48 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Bechdel's rule comes up a lot in the cartooning world (applied more widely than to film), and I have seen/heard people claim to reject movies/books/comics that fail that Bechdel test. And that drives me nuts.

Ah, OK, that would drive me nuts too. Just try to remember to focus your ire on the idiots rather than the rule!
posted by languagehat at 7:50 AM on September 3, 2008


I don't think that Alison Bechdel- or most of the people in this thread- are zealots who're working to nail blinders to their heads.

I dunno, I'm of the opinion that most male writers already have blinders on our heads; the main benefit of this "Test" is that it's helping us notice them.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:51 AM on September 3, 2008 [19 favorites]


I think that you can get rid of many false-positives by placing a stringent definition on conversation. Something like: >30 seconds, >10 lines, >2 ideas/thoughts exchanged. Hollywood hates thinking; that's not my problem.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:52 AM on September 3, 2008


nicolas léonard sadi carnot: "Counterpoint to the Bechdel test: There are no women at all in The Thing, and it´s the best movie of the last fifty years."

That's not a counterpoint. The test isn't supposed to prove if a movie is good or not.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:54 AM on September 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


I *think* that Silence of the Lambs passes. Remembering Clarice talking to victims, the senator?

The worst part about evaluating movies on this test is wondering if there was a passing conversation that I don't remember because of male-female-talking-now-induced narcolepsy.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:56 AM on September 3, 2008


I dunno, I'm of the opinion that most male writers already have blinders on our heads; the main benefit of this "Test" is that it's helping us notice them.

According to the Charlie Stross link provided above, it's helping some male writers notice it in themselves as well:

PS: From now on I intend to start applying this test to my fiction before I embarrass myself in public.
posted by three blind mice at 7:57 AM on September 3, 2008


This reminds me of a friend of mine who, when I said that my favorite movie of all time is The Shawshank Redemption, turned up her nose and said "I could _never_ love a movie that didn't have any female characters in it."

Ooooh, wow, her feminist credentials TOTALLY trump mine!

For fuck's sake, it's set in a men's prison. I still find it to be a deeply moving and beautifully shot movie.

I do like the Bechdel rule, but it's a rule to keep in mind, not a rule to live by.
posted by cereselle at 7:57 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


American Beauty mother/daughter scenes. Plenty of male conversation, but other topics too IIRC.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:58 AM on September 3, 2008


That's not a counterpoint. The test isn't supposed to prove if a movie is good or not.

It doesn't even really prove whether the movie is or isn't sexist...I mean, for God's sake, Sin City and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back PASS the Bechdel test.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:58 AM on September 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


According to the Charlie Stross link provided above, it's helping some male writers notice it in themselves as well:

Sorry Greg Nog. That is what you said. I misread your post.
posted by three blind mice at 7:59 AM on September 3, 2008


A part of me thinks that the Bechdel test has been dramatically taken out of context of its lesbian-separatist roots. I should add that separatism didn't just mean going off into the woods and starting a commune. The 70s and 80s saw a rich tradition of DIY economic activism with feminist and gay rights groups creating their own media production and distribution networks. The demise of the independent lesbian-friendly feminist bookstore would become a major theme of DTWOF. When the strip was first published, you almost certainly got it from a gay-friendly newspaper distributed in a gay-friendly bar, coffeehouse, or bookstore. The strip was speaking to the choir in advocating that lesbians reject the MSM in favor of friendlier media.

Two films that IMO fail the test but stand out as undeniably feminist films are The Tango Lesson and Monsoon Wedding, in spite of the fact that heterosexual relationships are at the center of both films.

COBRA!: But I think it's a horrible idea to erect some sort of ideologically-motivated litmus test (even if it's for an ideology I support) and apply it to art.

Well, in context, it was an off-the-cuff come-on line leading to the conclusion that the couple in question would rather spend the evening getting into each other rather than Rambo. But so what if it is a litmus-test? Of the kind of movies parodied in the strip, Rambo: First Blood Part 2 grossed $150M the year this comic was published. Death Wish III, $16M. Sudden Impact the previous year $67M. Conan a few years previously, $38M and $27M. Is anyone really the worse off for not having seen any of these films? Can it really be argued that the industry is harmed if a tiny minority who wasn't a part of the target audience anyway decided to stay home?

In contrast, I can't find numbers for Virgin Machine and 9 years later Go Fish had a mere $2.4M. It strikes me as rather silly to fault Bechdel's shilling for publications that counted themselves lucky to stay in print, and films that counted themselves lucky to have a festival audience.

Now how many people who identify as left-of-center here brought tickets to Expelled, watch the O'Reilly Factor on a weekly basis, or have bought fiction by Tim LaHaye? I know I didn't. We all have our ideological "tests" that we use to choose how we spend our limited entertainment dollars.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:59 AM on September 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


As I mentioned here I'm a bit split on this - sure, it highlights some stuff, but it IS basically an identity politics checklist to see if something is "acceptable" or not, which isself parody territory.
posted by Artw at 8:00 AM on September 3, 2008


Also it's totally gameable. Tight focus on a single protagonist? Female protagonist == instant win (assuming theres one other woman in the peice), Male protagonist == autofail.
posted by Artw at 8:01 AM on September 3, 2008


I employ a more useful (to me) variant on this test: Does the film feature one or more female characters who are not defined in large part by their relationship(s) with the men around them?

Yes, this requires a modicum of critical thought, rather than just running down a short checklist. But this way, Sex and the City doesn't get an automatic pass. And, you know, Queen Christina is an awesome film, but you don't make it any better by giving Garbo a female sidekick.
posted by Joey Bagels at 8:02 AM on September 3, 2008


One I like to think about is whether violent death gets top billing. To pass, there have to be no murders, no wars, no monsters run amok, no giant natural or manmade disasters, no unnatural deaths other than perhaps an everyday accident. The story is about people living, not people tossed into a blender to see what sort of mess comes out.

Can I anti-favourite something?
posted by Artw at 8:03 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ooh, Million Dollar Baby mother/daughter.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:04 AM on September 3, 2008


For fuck's sake, it's set in a men's prison. I still find it to be a deeply moving and beautifully shot movie.

Hey, it's like Ice-T says, some men are bitches too.
posted by Artw at 8:05 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Awesome. Having female characters who are actually meaningful is no more necessary than having a word that rhymes with 'orange.'

I'd argue that rules that broaden horizons are good; rules that are followed unthinkingly are simply any robot's dogma and not worth much. Ms. Bechdel's particular "rule", as such, is useful for making a point (which I certainly agree with). To suggest that women are marginalized — even victimized — in mainstream cinema is as reasonable as to ask why, for which there are numerous and complex reasons beyond simple misogyny. Adhering to her rule thereafter, however, is only useful insofar as it might take someone in the direction of queer or lesbian cinema (just for example). To limit one's intake of art on the basis of identity politics seems silly.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:05 AM on September 3, 2008


I'm coming up with a fair number of movies with strong female characters, but exactly one. Or they are separated from each other in the plot. Ran and Manchurian Candidate for example. That's saying something too that even in movies with strong female characters their relationships to each other are not even passingly important.

Also, Saved. Election?
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:08 AM on September 3, 2008


Indian-Canadian comedian Russell Peters has stated many times that he will never, under any circumstances, play the ubiquitous "bumbling Indian guy," which essentially means he will probably never work in mainstream film or television, despite his huge success in stand-up.

That's interesting. I was watching House the other night and noticed the Lawrence Kutner character and I remember thinking 'Nice to see a South Asian charcter who's not Apu for a change.' (Nothing against the Simpsons or Apu, I'm a big fan. I'm just saying).
posted by jonmc at 8:09 AM on September 3, 2008


One I like to think about is whether violent death gets top billing. To pass, there have to be no murders, no wars, no monsters run amok, no giant natural or manmade disasters, no unnatural deaths other than perhaps an everyday accident.

Dogme 95, #6-8.
posted by theclaw at 8:14 AM on September 3, 2008


Nice to see a South Asian charcter who's not Apu for a change.

Hey, theres all those british dudes who get to play terrorists!
posted by Artw at 8:14 AM on September 3, 2008


Spirited Away.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:17 AM on September 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Gawsh. It seems that people are getting so very worked up over something that was:

1: A bit of a joke,
2: Part of DTWOF's extended shilling for lesbian-feminist media and bookstores,
3: A critique of 80s red-blooded action movies (yes, the background behind the characters is important), and
4: A come-on line.

Blazecock Pileon: Adhering to her rule thereafter, however, is only useful insofar as it might take someone in the direction of queer or lesbian cinema (just for example). To limit one's intake of art on the basis of identity politics seems silly.

Well, I don't know that I agree with that. Most people don't have unlimited disposable income or time in the day to watch everything. Why should feel compelled to watch movies that they are not going to enjoy out a a sense of, what, an artificial notion of fairness?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:19 AM on September 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


The Descent.

Virtually no male characters, scary as shit.

(I think I might be looking at this wrong, because I'm pretty sure that there are a ton of horror movies with female characters who talk to each other at length about not getting killed by whatever monster is chasing them.)
posted by quin at 8:25 AM on September 3, 2008


Why film schools teach screenwriters not to pass the Bechdel test

It's linked from a comment in the Stross article, but I thought I'd call attention to it in this thread. It's a woman's account of her experiences trying to write scripts that *did* pass the Bechdel test while in school, and the hurdles she ran into. (She also wrote a follow-up post on quitting screenwriting that further clarifies some of the frustrations she had with the Hollywood institution.)

(The Hathor Legacy in general is a great site for people who want to read and think about feminism and entertainment.)
posted by rivenwanderer at 8:27 AM on September 3, 2008 [8 favorites]


Mommy Dearest
posted by autodidact at 8:28 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Lawrence of Arabia has no female speaking roles.
posted by Bromius at 8:29 AM on September 3, 2008


^^ Oh, and I hated the descent because, in the end, it all came down to jealousy over a man. Flashbacks and everything. Thought that was pretty lame.
posted by autodidact at 8:29 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


The House Bunny
posted by geekyguy at 8:33 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Interesting test, hadn't heard of it -- and I love Fun Home. Woody Allen's lousy Vicky Christina Barcelona has two female leads but I'm not sure it'd pass -- all they talk about is Javier Bardem. I just happened to watch Lady Vengeance, and that's a winner. Out this week on DVD: Itty Bitty Titty Committee. You betcha that one passes. Choke? Nope.
posted by muckster at 8:34 AM on September 3, 2008


^^ Oh, and I hated the descent because, in the end, it all came down to jealousy over a man. Flashbacks and everything. Thought that was pretty lame.

SPOILERS FOR THE DESCENT:

Whether it ALL did comes down to how M. Night-y you think the film is -- if the lead is actually insane, and hallucinates the Gollums and kills her friends herself, then arguably, yes...although the death of her husband and daughter would seem to be a bigger deal re: said homicidal rampage than finding out that Juno was having an affair with her husband. (Which, depending on how reliable the film's main narrative is, she doesn't even find out until the last act.)

I choose to believe the film's story is meant to be taken literally, if for no better reason than the alternative...sucks? I'm pretty sick of the "it was all a _____" genre, personally. Like the "Deckard was a replicant!" people, though -- all of whom, including Ridley Scott, are wrong -- this theory has its adherents, none of whom seem to care that their pet idea turns the ostensibly good movie into High fucking Tension.

posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:38 AM on September 3, 2008


SPOILERS FOR HIGH TENSION:

It sucks
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:40 AM on September 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


The House Bunny
American Teen
The Ruins
My Blueberry Nights
Cloverfield
Smiley Face
Untraceable
Maybe Doomsday
Does Vicky Cristina Barcelona count? I don't think Javier Bardem is the only thing those women talk about, is he?

And that's just stuff I've seen in the last few months that hasn't yet been mentioned here. But it's worth noting that out of all those films, none of them save VFX extravaganza Cloverfield and Pussycat Dolls-scored The House Bunny made much coin. I mean yes, lots of Hollywood executives are kind of stupid. But it's not solely sexism that makes them shy away from female-led casts and screenplays. If they thought there was money to be made by remaking 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days with the cast of Gossip Girl, or whatever, they'd be doing it.

Bechdel is right about this much — you need to vote with your wallet to effect change.

On preview, House Bunny and VCB have already been discussed, but I still suspect they both qualify under the letter of the Test if not the spirit.
posted by Joey Bagels at 8:42 AM on September 3, 2008


To pass, there have to be no murders, no wars, no monsters run amok, no giant natural or manmade disasters, no unnatural deaths other than perhaps an everyday accident.

There goes my entire video collection.

Counterpoint to the Bechdel test: There are no women at all in The Thing, and it´s the best movie of the last fifty years.

Hells yeah. The Thing is my favorite movie of all time. But you're forgetting about the "female" chess computer that Kurt Russell calls a "cheatin' bitch" and destroys with a shot of whiskey.
posted by brundlefly at 8:43 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, it doesn't matter whether or not Rick Deckard is a replicant. What matters is the ambiguity. And that matters a lot.
posted by Joey Bagels at 8:43 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is the DVD commentary on The Thing just the height of DVD commentaries or what? They should have stopped making them after that.
posted by Artw at 8:45 AM on September 3, 2008


Definitely.
posted by brundlefly at 8:48 AM on September 3, 2008


It's a very good rule for writers to carry in the back of their mind, if only to be aware of how often they fail it. I think my stuff has about a 95% fail rate, if I'm being honest. (if putting violent deaths in stuff make it fail, then I am a giant Easter basket of FAIL, and am happier for it).
posted by Bookhouse at 8:51 AM on September 3, 2008


But it's not solely sexism that makes them shy away from female-led casts and screenplays. If they thought there was money to be made by remaking 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days with the cast of Gossip Girl, or whatever, they'd be doing it.
Yeah, I know. Like Sex and the City, which totally bombed in the box office. Oh, wait... it didn't? Totally a fluke - everyone knows women don't go see movies.
posted by Karmakaze at 8:51 AM on September 3, 2008


The Thing was originally supposed to have a female role BTW. The actress got pregnant and it went instead to a man.

Funhome is fantastic, I just read it last week. And it's all about a man! (Alison's father)

Finally, if this rule idea seems nutty to you, I'd suggest reading some Judith Butler. IIRC she basically suggests that film cameras are themselves emblematic of the male gaze and thus any film whatsoever forces one to adopt a patriarchal viewpoint.
posted by stinkycheese at 8:53 AM on September 3, 2008


Also there is a female voice in The Thing, over the radio. And not just any female but Adrienne Barbeau (NSFW)!

/Thing nerd
posted by stinkycheese at 8:55 AM on September 3, 2008


ooh, brundlefly got there first. Sorry brundlefly.
posted by stinkycheese at 8:59 AM on September 3, 2008


Does she talk to the chess machine?
posted by Artw at 9:00 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Finally, if this rule idea seems nutty to you, I'd suggest reading some Judith Butler. IIRC she basically suggests that film cameras are themselves emblematic of the male gaze and thus any film whatsoever forces one to adopt a patriarchal viewpoint.

But what if that also seems nutty?
posted by adamdschneider at 9:04 AM on September 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Sex and the City ... totally bombed in the box office. Oh, wait... it didn't? Totally a fluke - everyone knows women don't go see movies.

Yes, but movies where women talk endlessly about men and shopping are not what The Bechtel Test is really about, are they? Talk about characters who are defined solely by their relationship to the men around them — the whole film revolves around the main character's love for Mr. Big and all the fabulously expensive things he can provide for her, right?

I mean, I kind of liked Sex and the City, but I'm not about to make an argument that women will be well-served in Hollywood if studios try to duplicate that film's success.
posted by Joey Bagels at 9:04 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am, BTW, probably about 100% fail on my published writings, but that’s all shorts. At least I can bask in the warm superior feeling of knowing my first work of any length will have three strong female leads, making me some kind of feminist, and I didn’t even try (It’s mostly about explosions and death though, so maybe I am just fail all around).
posted by Artw at 9:05 AM on September 3, 2008


But what if that also seems nutty?

Edge case: That seems sensible and this seems nutty!
posted by Artw at 9:06 AM on September 3, 2008


Artw: She is the chess machine. But you've seen The Thing. So I am confused.

adamdscheider: Oh it's nutty alright. I just meant to suggest here's something really nutty. And if you have a hard time watching films b/c you employ the Bechdel test, well Butler might cause you to stop watching films altogether.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:07 AM on September 3, 2008


I tried going down the list of Best Picture nominees since 2000, and I don't think a single one passes the test. Maybe Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?

But if you want a more recent MAN movie than The Thing, I submit Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. There is one, count her, one woman in the movie; she's a hottie; she has no lines; and she merely serves as a Russell Crowe crush object before he's off to lay the smack down on some Frenchies
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:07 AM on September 3, 2008


Finally, if this rule idea seems nutty to you, I'd suggest reading some Judith Butler. IIRC she basically suggests that film cameras are themselves emblematic of the male gaze and thus any film whatsoever forces one to adopt a patriarchal viewpoint.

Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema
posted by jackflaps at 9:11 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


there are numerous and complex reasons beyond simple misogyny

Nah, that's pretty much it. Not hiring women writers, not considering scripts that do feature strong women characters, not putting women on screen who look older than 30 (Hollywood 30, not regular people 30) while we endure yet another Jack Nicholson love scene with a hot babe, etc. etc.--it may be so ingrained to be unconscious, but yeah, that's misogyny.
posted by emjaybee at 9:12 AM on September 3, 2008 [15 favorites]


Saw that on Charlie Stross' blog and thought it was a great test. I was reminded when I saw The Dark Night, and how hard that one failed...

I have a similar test: only see movies 1: where there's at least one gay character who 2: is not in it to be the butt of a joke 3: whose sexuality is not used to emphasize his evilness.

Of course if I would apply the test I wouldn't see a whole lot of movies besides those explicitly produced for the gay market. And they all too often just suck.
posted by kolophon at 9:12 AM on September 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


It's harder than you might think to make a movie with no women at all:
The Thing: Adrienne Barbeau as the voice of the computer;
Shawshank Redemption: Andy's wife is seen briefly in flashback necking with the tennis pro; a female customer at the Food-Way where Red works while on parole;
Master & Commander: One Brasilian native woman in a dugout canoe;
The Hunt For Red October: Gates McFadden has one line, as Jack Ryan's wife;
Does anyone else know any prison/pirate/submarine movies well enough to contribute to this list?
posted by Lord Kinbote at 9:12 AM on September 3, 2008


Damn jackflaps, posting before morning tea and all that. I was just looking for a Butler quote and wasn't finding one. That explains why.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:14 AM on September 3, 2008


It's harder than you might think to make a movie with no women at all

What about movies with no men? Before I knew the remake of The Women was a remake whose intent was, in fact, an all-female experience, I saw the trailer (before Pineapple Express, which seems like a very odd choice). Within seconds it struck me that something was wrong.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:17 AM on September 3, 2008


Well, there’s people generally liking films about relationships as well (when the films are not about explosions, and most of those are also about relationships).
posted by Artw at 9:22 AM on September 3, 2008


it may be so ingrained to be unconscious, but yeah, that's misogyny.

Misogyny? Really? Hatred for women?

Naww. It's purely market forces and market segmentation. Julia Roberts' name above the title just doesn't carry as much market weight as Tom Cruise's. That's why Cruise pulls $20 million per movie, and Roberts pulls $10 million. Sex and the City is a bigger brand than Sarah Jessica Parker, but Tom Cruise is a bigger brand than War of the Worlds.

At the segmentation end, males, especially teenagers, simply see more movies and buy more DVDs than women. Ergo, more movies are marketed toward male teenagers, who want to see fast cars, hot chicks, zombies and explosions. Preferably, all four together. When a movie is aimed at a different market, you aim with a different style altogether that has been historically shown to appeal to that market.

Now, we can discuss why this is, socially. But it's not misogynistic practices perpetrated by a wicked cabal of evil white men who want to wipe out all traces of womankind. If anything, it's evil white men who simply do marketing research.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:30 AM on September 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


I don't believe that Bechdel personally thinks that movies that fail the test should automatically be dismissed out of hand, otherwise everyone would have to forego the Futurama movies (which feature a strong, intelligent, honorable female character as one of the leads) in favor of Starship Troopers 3. Saying that it's a hard and fast rule is a straw man on par with noting that almost all of the female comics characters in the Women in Refrigerators list did not, in fact, end up in refrigerators. Just try flipping the rule around and imagine that movies where two men talked about something besides a woman were the exception and not the rule. Wouldn't that be weird?
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:31 AM on September 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


"Door hinge" rhymes with "orange."
posted by mosk at 9:31 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am going to write a story about a clan of elite ninja women who fight against unmarked helicopters piloted by the UN's crack "Howlin' Amazons" unit. They will speak only of honor and tactics and revenge until the MacGuffin is dropped, thus unleashing the cyberaptors.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:31 AM on September 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Julia Roberts' name above the title just doesn't carry as much market weight as Tom Cruise's. That's why Cruise pulls $20 million per movie

I'm, uh. Thinking maybe you might want to update your references, cpb.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:33 AM on September 3, 2008


Lord Kinbote: I don't think any women speak in The Great Escape, and I'm pretty sure there are no women at all in The Enemy Below.

Man, it's really shocking how few movies there are that pass. Hardly any on the AFI top 100 list, for example. (Gone with the Wind passes, and The Wizard of Oz, but there aren't many others...)
posted by equalpants at 9:41 AM on September 3, 2008


Hey, nice post, and I also appreciate the Dykes to Watch Out For mention that NPR inexplicably left out.

But what if that also seems nutty?

Then try RTFA -- this one, I mean -- AND considering it in the context of its time. (The context of the current state of the film industry, as in this post cited above, seems worth a look too.) Without context, yes, it is nutty. Your favorite theory that explains culture, taken out of context, sucks too.
posted by clavicle at 9:42 AM on September 3, 2008


Madison Lee: [thinking that she's about to kill Charlie's Angels] Enjoy heaven.
Natalie Cook: Go to hell.
Alex Munday: [the Angels kill Madison; she dies amid flames] She's so fired.
And that's just a little taste.
posted by Wolfdog at 9:45 AM on September 3, 2008


In an extremely small nutshell: Men won't see "chick flicks," but women will see anything, so movies with no female characters are not a problem.


"Door hinge" rhymes with "orange."

Not if you pronounce orange correctly ("ah-ringe")
posted by chowflap at 9:46 AM on September 3, 2008


It also rhymes with 'boring' if you pronounce it incorrectly ('bore-inge").
posted by jonmc at 9:47 AM on September 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Sorry if it's already been linked, but I didn't see a reference here yet for xkcd's blog entry on popular movies with two female leads.

Like a poet who takes a vow of silence until a rhyme for 'orange' is discovered, some 'rules' are silly to apply with any more rigor than necessary.

I don't think Alison Bechdel follows the rule, but merely included it in the comic as an observation on female characters in films. It was actually her friend's rule, but she liked it and so used it in the comic. It was proposed by one of her characters early on in the comic, and her characters often take insightful observations just a little too far in terms of behavior. Read any storyline about Mo or Stuart for outstanding examples of that.

I have a similar test: only see movies 1: where there's at least one gay character who 2: is not in it to be the butt of a joke 3: whose sexuality is not used to emphasize his evilness.

Of course if I would apply the test I wouldn't see a whole lot of movies besides those explicitly produced for the gay market. And they all too often just suck.


Yeah, it's true. I will mention (I guess it's maybe gay market) that A Touch of Pink was surprisingly good, for a romantic comedy. Usually I detest those, but I really liked that one. It wasn't just the ghost of Carey Grant popping in and making scathing observations about other people that did that, either. Although I did love that about it. They developed the main character's mom a lot, and she was outstanding. In general it avoided the usual pitfalls of romantic comedies and stayed interesting all the way through.
posted by Tehanu at 9:50 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I mean, I kind of liked Sex and the City, but I'm not about to make an argument that women will be well-served in Hollywood if studios try to duplicate that film's success.

I can't remember exactly how it goes, but there was a line in the NYT review that claimed that if you thought about it, the women in SATC weren't even women -- they were more like drag queens.

I don't know if I'd go quite THAT far, but it comes as close as anything I've ever found to summing up for me why I never got into that show.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:51 AM on September 3, 2008


stinkycheese: Yeah, I initially misread what you wrote as providing some education on the topic, not as providing a nuttier contrast. My mistake, realized as soon as I read it again; after posting, of course.

So, I wonder if Y: The Last Man passes. I mean, its cast is made up almost entirely of women, but the Last Man himself is such a huge part of the plot they might just all talk about him all the time. I don't recall.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:51 AM on September 3, 2008


At the segmentation end, males, especially teenagers, simply see more movies and buy more DVDs than women.

And why do you suppose that is?

Ergo, more movies are marketed toward male teenagers, who want to see fast cars, hot chicks, zombies and explosions.

Yep. And around and around and around it goes.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:51 AM on September 3, 2008 [8 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon: "To limit one's intake of art on the basis of identity politics seems silly."

Identity politics? It's not identity politics. It's wanting to see movies with female characters, that's all.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:52 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm, uh. Thinking maybe you might want to update your references, cpb.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:33 AM on September 3 [+] [!]


Well, OK. Name the two biggest male and female box office draws right now. I bet the salary ratio for the "name above the title" stars will be about the same.

How about this list of biggest box office draws this summer?

1. The Dark Knight - $870.3
2. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - $780.1
3. Iron Man - $570.6
4. Kung Fu Panda - $576.4
5. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian - $410.4
6. Wall-E - $361.2
7. Sex and the City: The Movie - $393.2
8. Wanted - $259.8
9. The Incredible Hulk - $253.3
10. Hancock - $225.2

Only two -- Sex and the City and Wanted, featured women in their marketing angle, but Wanted certainly wasn't aimed at the female market.

Hancock and Iron Man even included former Best Actress winners (Charlize Theron and Gwyneth Paltrow), but neither was featured prominently in the advertising.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:08 AM on September 3, 2008


And why do you suppose that is?

Whatever it is, it's not misogyny. I mean, come on. That's like a Godwin in this discussion.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:09 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


So, I wonder if Y: The Last Man passes. I mean, its cast is made up almost entirely of women, but the Last Man himself is such a huge part of the plot they might just all talk about him all the time. I don't recall.

It passes. Granted, many conversations between women when Yorick are absent are about him, or what to do now that there are no men, or mention missing particular men, so maybe a lot of the scenes fail in that sense. Even scenes with great substance, like the argument between the Democrats and Republicans about how to constitutionally replace dead representatives to Congress when almost all of the governors are dead. So maybe such scenes fail for mentioning men or the absence of particular men (husbands are mentioned by name, so I can see the logic in that). But I think there are other scenes that pass pretty easily. That'd be interesting to look for in the issues, though. I wonder how often the scenes pass.
posted by Tehanu at 10:10 AM on September 3, 2008


Excellent. I've added my favorite film, Mulholland Drive, to the list. I know it will pass but if she's never seen it before she'll need to watch it at least twelve times and risk head explosion just to figure out what they are talking about.
posted by mannequito at 10:20 AM on September 3, 2008


Mmm. You think she's not seen it?
posted by Artw at 10:29 AM on September 3, 2008


Virtually every episode of Six Feet Under passes the Bechdel test, which is one of the many reasons why it is excellent.
posted by Kwine at 10:34 AM on September 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


adamdschneider: Let me rephrase. I didn't just mean to suggest here's something nutty. I meant that, if you think the Bechdel Test is too limiting in its implied viewing and too reductive or gender-based or 'feminist' by half, here's something that puts that to shame.

I was referring, as jackflaps pointed out, to the ideas of Laura Mulvey, not Judith Butler, for the record. Both writers well worth reading FWIW.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:35 AM on September 3, 2008


Eric Deggans must watch a lot of Bollywood.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:38 AM on September 3, 2008


HEY, this comic is not about depriving you of your favorite movies.

Jesus.*

*Wait, does the bible pass this test?**

**If you consider God to be male?***

***If you consider God to be female?
posted by sondrialiac at 10:40 AM on September 3, 2008


"It's harder than you might think to make a movie with no women at all:
The Thing: Adrienne Barbeau as the voice of the computer;
Shawshank Redemption: Andy's wife is seen briefly in flashback necking with the tennis pro; a female customer at the Food-Way where Red works while on parole;
Master & Commander: One Brasilian native woman in a dugout canoe;
The Hunt For Red October: Gates McFadden has one line, as Jack Ryan's wife;"



First Blood? I don't remember any female characters in that.
posted by An Infinity Of Monkeys at 10:54 AM on September 3, 2008


Then try RTFA -- this one, I mean -- AND considering it in the context of its time.

I read it. It's gibberish. That shit is so masturbatory it makes me feel raw and walk funny just for having read it. Does anyone outside of literary/film criticism take psychoanalysis seriously anymore? I'm aware that they've tried to update their theory to include empirical discoveries, but this strikes me as having about the same efficacy as believers in Intelligent Design doing the same, and anyway it never seems like the lit crit crowd bothers to update their worldview beyond Freud. Throw that bathwater out, there's no baby in it. Every time you quote a psychoanalyst, Karl Popper kills a kitten.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:55 AM on September 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


To both the naysayers and the people who take the test too literally. The test is not all that interesting on a case by case basis. Yes, film x may pass (or just squeak by when you remember that one throwaway scene where two female characters make small talk for 2 minutes, but who cares. What is interesting is how you have to think about films to see if they pass. Image for a moment there was the male version of the test. Two men, who talk to each other, about something other than women. It's pretty damn hard to come up with a movie that doesn't pass that test. Hell it's hard to come up with a movie where you even have to think "does this pass the test." And when you let that sink in it's pretty damning of the movie industry as a whole.

Oh and as an aside, I'd change the test just slightly. Rule #3 should be doesn't talk about a man or their children. Too many times the only role for married women in films is as child protector.
posted by aspo at 10:58 AM on September 3, 2008 [10 favorites]


Of the kind of movies parodied in the strip, Rambo: First Blood Part 2 grossed $150M the year this comic was published. Death Wish III, $16M. Sudden Impact the previous year $67M. Conan a few years previously, $38M and $27M.

The difference being that those first three movies are terrible and Conan is awesome.
posted by electroboy at 11:04 AM on September 3, 2008 [7 favorites]


Oh and as an aside, I'd change the test just slightly. Rule #3 should be doesn't talk about a man or their children. Too many times the only role for married women in films is as child protector.

Don't forget wartime nurse.
posted by sondrialiac at 11:06 AM on September 3, 2008


Conan might pass the test - doesn't the feamle thief he teams up with have a conversation with the princess he's out to rescue at some point?
posted by Artw at 11:11 AM on September 3, 2008


But which is more awesome, Conan or The Thing? That would be the tough question.
posted by Artw at 11:12 AM on September 3, 2008


Cool Papa Bell: Whatever it is, it's not misogyny. I mean, come on. That's like a Godwin in this discussion.

This is of course ignoring the basic fact that words change away from their Greek roots from use, and misogyny rather like homophobia is now commonly used within feminist theory to describe pervasive bias rather than just "aarrrgh!" hatred, or "eek!" fear. Your sophomoric pedantry is misplaced on this count.

electroboy: The difference being that those first three movies are terrible and Conan is awesome.

No, Conan is one of those rare films that somehow manages to transcend the fact that its pure crap into unintentional comedy.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:13 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


An Infinity Of Monkeys : First Blood? I don't remember any female characters in that.

It's stretching the definition but IMDB does list one actress:

Amy Alexander ... Woman on street

Though I can't imagine 'Woman on street' was a character with a lot of depth.
posted by quin at 11:17 AM on September 3, 2008


I am, as we speak, writing a movie where Conan battles The Thing.

I call it By Crom! Who Goes There!
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:19 AM on September 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


Crom laughs at you. He laughs from his mountain.
posted by Artw at 11:20 AM on September 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


Regarding Y: The Last Man, I don't think you can fairly evaluate it in regards to this test; when you create an alternate universe in which all men (except one) are dead, you're consciously changing the entire playing field, which makes the rules sorta meaningless. It's like trying to talk about the racial politics of Thundercats with Panthro as the sole example of a black man.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:28 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Conan the Barbarian is an endlessly rewatchable classic. Glorious dreamlike excess from the days when people still built ridiculously ornate sets, a great turn from James Earl Jones, and thanks to the context, even Arnold is convincing. A thunderous brassy score, stridently crypto-fascist politics, and that one dude with the long hair and RIDICULOUS hammer - it´s really got everything. Anyone who can recite Mako´s opening monologue (¨Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis...¨) I trust implicitly.

Conan the Destroyer, however, is trash, a comic strip. I suspect this is where disagreements about ¨Conan¨ arise, since not liking the first movie is like hating sunshine or birdsong.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 11:29 AM on September 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


Even though it's presented as a Rule, I think it's more predominantly used as a Test, despite the actions of the DTWOF character.

Ummm...kind of because you can't tell if the two women talk about things besides men unless you watch the movie/read the comic/read the book. And I don't stop engaging in a piece of media when it's failing the test, but the test is such a handy rubrick! It's not saying that you have to have a 50/50 cast, it's not talking about screen time or who-gets-to-do-what, it's just as simple as two women talking to each other about something else besides a man. And for me, really, that can occur at any point. I'm not choosy. The rule itself isn't even that choosy.

It's a really easy way to quantify something for an observer who's not ready to discuss the cultural repercussions of all this feminist study, like boyfriends who just took you to the movies. You don't have to hammer in 5 talking points about invisible backpacks, you just mention the Rule. When someone talks about how the such and such actress' character was kind of lame, you point out that she was given nothing interesting to say.

Bechdel's Rule and the newly found definition of Manic Pixie Dream Girls are my daily, easy-to-reach tools for evaluating how I read/watch media.
posted by redsparkler at 11:34 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


A few films that pass the Bechdel test, that aren't mentioned here:

Trust and The Girl from Monday -- yes, it is my job to shout-out to Hal Hartley in every last film thread. There's a five-minute scene in Trust between the protagonist, her sister, and her sister's unnamed friend, about their decisions to have children and/or terminate pregnancies. At least one of the scenes between the protagonist and her doctor may also count, but from what I remember they mostly talk about how the lead ended up pregnant (which would require a man). In The Girl From Monday, Sabrina Lloyd and the female alien discuss the planet from which the alien falls, and her identity there. (Many of Hartley's movies have roles for strong women and feature women talking to one another about things other than men, but these are the two best examples I can think of off the top of my head.)

It -- the silent feature with Clara Bow. If memory serves, there are several scenes in which Clara and her roommate discuss their respective lots in life and what they're going to do about it. As the roommate is a single mom, this might not pass the modified rules of the Bechdel test, but it's worth mentioning. (There are also a few brief scenes in which Clara and her coworkers discuss how much they hate their job, but it's usually interrupted by an observation about a handsome customer.)

Sullivan's Travels -- two-minute scene in which Sullivan's assistant hands Veronica Lake a wrapper. The Miracle at Morgan's Creek may also pass, but since Betty Hutton's character is pregnant throughout, there's a strong possibility it wouldn't.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes -- Jane Russell frequently corrects Marilyn Monroe. (And how!)

Also off the top of my head: Cat People (Alice offers to show Irina around the town); I Walked with a Zombie (Alma teaches Betty about voudoun); La Belle et la Bete (the two stepsisters order Belle around), and possibly Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. Possibly also All About Eve? Maybe?
posted by pxe2000 at 11:34 AM on September 3, 2008


I mean, I kind of liked Sex and the City, but I'm not about to make an argument that women will be well-served in Hollywood if studios try to duplicate that film's success.

Honestly, I didn't watch the show and didn't see the movie. I wasn't remotely interested. But it is notable that it was a movie with an almost exclusively female audience and dominated its opening weekend. And yet, in the face of financial proof that women will so go see movies on their own, the response isn't "Hey, maybe we should make other movies women might like", it's "What a random fluke. Huh. Anyway, back in the land of men..."

It's not that Sex and the City was great art, it's that it's an example that a lot of producers are letting sexism blind them to financial reality.
posted by Karmakaze at 11:36 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


It'd be interesting to apply this to character-heavy video games, actually. The structural territory is so different that it'd take some thinking to work out some of the analogies, but you look at a game like Final Fantasy Seven vs. the Metal Gear Solid series, etc.

And another huge endorsement of Fun Home. It's just really great.

It's like trying to talk about the racial politics of Thundercats with Panthro as the sole example of a black man.

SUBSCIRBE
posted by cortex at 11:40 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


almost exclusively female audience

I honestly have no idea, so I'm asking rather than arguing, but is that really accurate? An almost exclusively female target demo, I'll buy, but the actual butts-in-seats audience that drove those ticket sales?
posted by cortex at 11:43 AM on September 3, 2008


Regarding Y: The Last Man, I don't think you can fairly evaluate it in regards to this test

Yeah, I agree, I was just interested in a trivia sort of way. I mean, if even that failed, etc.

Conan the Barbarian is truly a cinematic masterpiece.

A thunderous brassy score

Hell yes. Poledouris's Hunt for Red October is likewise awesome.

that one dude with the long hair and RIDICULOUS hammer

Thorgrim. He always reminds me of Christopher Guest.

Anyone who can recite Mako´s opening monologue (¨Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis...¨) I trust implicitly.

Let me tell you of the days of high adventure.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:43 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think that you can get rid of many false-positives by placing a stringent definition on conversation. Something like: >30 seconds, >10 lines, >2 ideas/thoughts exchanged. Hollywood hates thinking; that's not my problem.

But then you're excluding movies like Resident Evil, which has two (strong!) women as the main characters and only one idea in play, which is to say, "AAAAAUUUGH! ZOMBIE ROTTWEILERS!"
posted by kittyprecious at 11:45 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I honestly have no idea, so I'm asking rather than arguing, but is that really accurate? An almost exclusively female target demo, I'll buy, but the actual butts-in-seats audience that drove those ticket sales?

I can't provide hard numbers, but I can tell you the long line for the movie I saw that weekend when I was seeing some other movie was almost entirely female.
posted by Karmakaze at 11:48 AM on September 3, 2008


Picnic at Hanging Rock?
posted by mandal at 11:49 AM on September 3, 2008


Conan the Barbarian is truly a cinematic masterpiece.

Contemplate this on the tree of woe, KirkJobSluder.
posted by Artw at 11:51 AM on September 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


SATC: An almost exclusively female target demo, I'll buy, but the actual butts-in-seats audience that drove those ticket sales?

Some people are strongly underestimating the appeal to gay men, to undiscriminating mixed-gender groups of friends, and to the sorely mistaken number* of couples who thought it would be a good date-night flick.

*at least at the screening I attended
posted by kittyprecious at 11:52 AM on September 3, 2008


I’m such an awesome feminist that I babysat and let the wife go off to see it with her mum.
posted by Artw at 11:54 AM on September 3, 2008


...and i'll happily do the same for Mamma Mia, should she choose to go see it while it is still showing.
posted by Artw at 11:56 AM on September 3, 2008


I’m such an awesome feminist that I babysat and let the wife go off to see it with her mum.

Caring for your own child is babysitting now?
posted by Tehanu at 12:02 PM on September 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


Tehanu: "Caring for your own child is babysitting now?"

Someone owes me a whole lot of back pay.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:07 PM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Heh, in that it's taking the role that a babysitter would take had we gone with the initial plan of going together, yes, but good catch.
posted by Artw at 12:10 PM on September 3, 2008


It's harder than you might think to make a movie with no women at all

The 1963 Lord of the Flies.
posted by inigo2 at 12:27 PM on September 3, 2008


Hey, I didn't say I didn't like Conan The Barbarian, it's on my list of must-see movies every year.

But "cinematic masterpiece" is pure bullshit from the knock-offs of Harryhausen effects to giving three really good actors an opportunity to chew the scenery just to keep up with Arnold's grunts. It's a masterpiece in the same way as Rocky Horror and Plan Nine, an accidentally beautiful disaster of a film that's saved from an ugly script and campy performance by some slick editing and great soundtrack.

And somehow, it works even when Arnold has a mouthful of the silliest, most unrealistic excuse for a vulture since a Roadrunner cartoon. If it wasn't total crap, it would be utterly unwatchable. Contrast Conan with Arnold's unwatchable later work when he transformed from a really bad actor with modest physical timing to a mediocre actor. The veteran actors on the cast realize the script is a piece of shit, treat it accordingly, and crank up the delivery way past the bounds of good taste into a sublime state of overdone camp.

A true appreciation of Conan demands a solid recognition of its inherent paradox. Those who can't realize this, don't love it, and don't deserve it.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:38 PM on September 3, 2008


If your answer to "What is the riddle of steel?" is "a masterpiece in the same way as Rocky Horror and Plan Nine" then you shall be cast out of Valhalla and laughed at.
posted by Artw at 12:45 PM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh and as an aside, I'd change the test just slightly. Rule #3 should be doesn't talk about a man or their children. Too many times the only role for married women in films is as child protector.

Word. Incidentally, this is one important reason why Ridley Scott's Alien is about 10 times the movie James Cameron's Aliens is.
posted by Joey Bagels at 12:47 PM on September 3, 2008 [5 favorites]


I was watching House the other night and noticed the Lawrence Kutner character and I remember thinking 'Nice to see a South Asian charcter who's not Apu for a change.'

I was thinking about House too, because of this and also because of the Rule. House is a show with a large cast including several strong female roles. But I was trying to think about specific instances when the women talk to each other and it seems pretty rare, at least compared to the male-male, male-female, and many-male-one-female conversations. A big deal in the season finale was Cuddy called out Thirteen's real name, and when you think about it...Cuddy's the only one who probably would use Thirteen's real name. And no one had until that moment. And so...Cuddy and Thirteen don't address each other that much, I guess.

And video games: I so wish they'd make a GTA with a female protagonist. I love the games as they are, but I want to be a crazy rags-to-riches criminal shooty chick! I really do. (In a game).
posted by lampoil at 12:48 PM on September 3, 2008


Word. Incidentally, this is one important reason why Ridley Scott's Alien is about 10 times the movie James Cameron's Aliens is.

It's a better movie, but by an order of magnitude? way off. Now if it were Terminator Vs T2...
posted by Artw at 12:52 PM on September 3, 2008


Artw: Didn't you miss your cue to jump off the ledge into a pit with a headless snake, or into a shack already?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:05 PM on September 3, 2008


It's a better movie, but by an order of magnitude? way off. Now if it were Terminator Vs T2...

It's a better film, it's a different movie, and order of magnitude is pushing it but Alien definitely makes some personal lists that Aliens doesn't have a place on. And I'm a stupid nutso fanboy for the whole franchise.

Terminator vs. T2 is even hazier. They're just very different films. But the parallel to the first to Alien films isn't bad, actually; in both cases there's that jump from claustrophia to extravaganza, from creature-discovery to creature-showcase. But neither of these really pass Bechdel muster, anyway—Sarah has, what, brief incidental conversation with her coworker friend? Maybe a policewoman later on?

And was there another significant female character in T2? I think she shouts at Mrs. Dyson when she's trying to kill his husband, and Mrs. Dyson rolls to disbelieve a bit later on, but that's about it. But then, Sarah was set up—in the film and in the marketing of the film—as this implausibly badass she-Rambo anyway; it wasn't a film that was trying to make her into a woman among contemporaries in the first place.

Anyway, if we want to talk sequel decay, let's talk Highlander vs. Highlander 2.
posted by cortex at 1:07 PM on September 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


But "cinematic masterpiece" is pure bullshit from the knock-offs of Harryhausen effects....


Wrong! Artw, what is best in life?
posted by electroboy at 1:09 PM on September 3, 2008


TO CRUSH YOU ENEMIES
SEE DEM DRIVEN BEFORE YOU
AND TO HEAR DER LAMENTATION UFF DEH WIMMIN
posted by Scoo at 1:21 PM on September 3, 2008


Everyone knows that.
posted by Artw at 1:32 PM on September 3, 2008


Anyway, if we want to talk sequel decay, let's talk Highlander vs. Highlander 2.

That's like the triple platinum standard. There's some straight-to-DVD sequels for films pretty much no-one knows have sequels which *may* beat it, but IMHO they're obscure enough not to count.
posted by Artw at 1:33 PM on September 3, 2008


cortex : Anyway, if we want to talk sequel decay, let's talk Highlander vs. Highlander 2.

Heresy! Highlander had no sequels. There was no spin off TV show, there were no action figures. There was just one clever story which ended.

There was only one.

*places fingers in ears*

LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU
posted by quin at 1:35 PM on September 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Put Barbarian Queen on the list of passing movies.
posted by rfs at 1:37 PM on September 3, 2008


Fuck it, I'm never watching another movie as long as I live, just to piss everyone off!
posted by not_on_display at 1:40 PM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Anyway, if we want to talk sequel decay, let's talk Highlander vs. Highlander 2.

Where are we going?

PLANET ZEIST!

When?!

REAL SOON!
posted by adamdschneider at 1:40 PM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Brendan McCarthy worked on Highlander 2, other than that I've nothing good to say for it.
posted by Artw at 1:53 PM on September 3, 2008


Just want to thank rivenwanderer for the Jennifer Kesler link; it's terrific. Money quote:

“The audience doesn’t want to listen to a bunch of women talking about whatever it is women talk about.”
posted by languagehat at 1:57 PM on September 3, 2008


I'm wondering if she ran into some trouble getting her conversations into some horribly rigid McKee approved story-structure.
posted by Artw at 2:08 PM on September 3, 2008


Another entry from the same site languagehat mentions about why, on earth, you'd not try to go after the profits from writing movies featuring decent women characters--laziness:

That laziness factors into TV and film because in the case of TV advertisers don’t seem to want to know that women are worth pitching products to because it would mean learning something new (look at the shortcuts they take when pressed: “make it pink, mention shoes”), like what types of ads women respond to. In the case of movies, it would mean… well, nothing. Honestly, you write women pretty much like you write men. But they think it would mean learning something new, and to be fair, for many of them it would mean learning to write credible voices belonging to a group of people they associate with little more than high school rejection, being told to clean up their room, divorce and child support checks. It would also, for many of them, mean noticing someone who has never before existed to their eyes: women who don’t fit the “hot chick” profile. Women who, like so many of our favorite male movie icons, are more fascinating than modelesque, who are sexy because they’re made of awesome, instead of just looking awesome.

Misogyny doesn't have to mean active hatred; it can just be lazy, don't-give-a-crap hatred too.

(since we've already had lots of off-topic discussions, I will say, the Y series has not impressed me one bit--I haven't found that many women who were impressed by it. In a world of (mostly hot, I notice) women...it's still all about the Guy. Meh.)
posted by emjaybee at 2:25 PM on September 3, 2008 [5 favorites]


Aha! Footloose! Sarah Jessica Parker and Lori Singer talk about how badly they want to get out of town.

I can't believe that's all I can think of. Footloose? Really?
posted by cereselle at 2:52 PM on September 3, 2008


Highlander 2

This movie does not exist.

Anyway, most of the films I can think of off-hand that would pass the test are horror movies. Feel free to decide what that may or may not tell you.
posted by rodgerd at 2:56 PM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


In the interest of science, I just grabbed the closest stack of DVDs from my collection to see how they rate:

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
-- passes the test. Donna and Laura talk throughout, and not always about Bobby and that motorcycle dork.

Spartan -- Yeah, I don't think so.

Dangerous Liaisons -- I believe this passes, although most of the female conversations are about men.

40 Year Old Virgin -- nope

Rocky -- nope

Johnny Handsome -- I think not

Hard Candy -- passes thanks to brief scene with Sandra Oh.

Payback -- nope

Chopper -- I don't think so

Miller's Crossing -- no

A Better Tomorrow
boxset -- no

Inland Empire -- passes

Four out of twelve isn't bad, especially considering the obvious emotional adolescence of the DVDs' owner.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:07 PM on September 3, 2008


Now that I'm at home and looking over my (admittedly not hugely impressive -- maybe two hundred movies, tops) DVD collection, here's what's leaping out at me that hasn't already been cited in the thread:

May
Ginger Snaps
Suspiria
Phemonema (AKA Creepers)
High Tension (!)
Death Proof
Planet Terror
Carnival of Souls
Ghosts of Mars
The Vampire Lovers
Pan's Labyrinth
(I think? Do mother/daughter conversations count?)
Frida
Battle Royale
(I'm pretty sure; I'd have to watch it again)
The Exorcist (maybe...see Pan's Labyrinth)
Kill Bill

That these are almost exclusively horror films may say more about my tastes than about the genre.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:07 PM on September 3, 2008


Quality horror films though. Glad to see someone else (presumably) digging May.
posted by Artw at 3:21 PM on September 3, 2008


I'm all wandering around metafilter, going "huh, how come so few posts have been made to the front page recently? not a whole lot happening in metatalk, and my recent activity page is dead. what's up?" then I click "Recent Comments" and see. ah! a feminism thread. this and the sarah palin thread have ground metafilter to a halt, apparently.
posted by shmegegge at 3:28 PM on September 3, 2008


Dude, yes. I'm (sadly) less crazy about McKee's followup, The Woods, however (which also passes the test -- as well it should, since it's a shameless steal from Suspiria!).
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:29 PM on September 3, 2008


Spartan -- Yeah, I don't think so.

Are you sure? I could swear that someone talks with Kristen Bell towards the end. Though I could just be thinking of the reporter who gets her on the plane, and I don't think that would count.
posted by quin at 3:30 PM on September 3, 2008


shmegegge, I've wondered for a long time if mefi comments are a matter of limited resources—if, indeed, a big busy thread means a proportional drop in comments on other threads. I really need to analyze this at some point.
posted by cortex at 3:32 PM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Spartan -- Yeah, I don't think so.

Are you sure? I could swear that someone talks with Kristen Bell towards the end. Though I could just be thinking of the reporter who gets her on the plane, and I don't think that would count.


I don't think so ... they just rush her onto the plane. Interestingly, though, the female soldier does make a point of telling the protagonist that when Kristen Bell is found, she'll need a woman there to talk to, and that no one had thought of that yet.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:40 PM on September 3, 2008


it's a shameless steal from Suspiria

Sold!
posted by Artw at 3:42 PM on September 3, 2008


ah! a feminism thread

A feminism and NERD thread even.
posted by Artw at 3:43 PM on September 3, 2008


Does West Wing pass? Those characters have great dialogue, but how often do the women talk to one another?
posted by Tehanu at 3:47 PM on September 3, 2008


Does West Wing pass? Those characters have great dialogue, but how often do the women talk to one another?

Amy and Donna; Donna and C.J.; C.J. and Abby; Abby and Zoe. It happens.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:04 PM on September 3, 2008


Best West Wing passing scene ever, 4'11" Annabeth (played by Kristin Chenoweth) is doing a walk and talk with 6' C.J. (played by Allison Janney) which ends with C.J. looking down and saying "How are we the same species?"
posted by Dreama at 4:15 PM on September 3, 2008


Wait, three really good actors in Conan? James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, and, uh. Subotai?
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 4:40 PM on September 3, 2008


"All About Eve" does indeed pass the Bechdel Test, and with flying colors -- there are six important female characters, three of them major (Margo, Eve, Karen) and three of them minor (Birdie, Miss Casswell, Phoebe). They mostly talk about their careers, and about the personalities and machinations of the other female characters.
posted by Asparagirl at 4:44 PM on September 3, 2008


You know, you can apply the Bechdel Test to Broadway musicals too. I'm sorry to say that "Avenue Q" fails -- Kate, Christmas Eve, and Lucy only talk (or sing) to each other about the men in their lives -- but "Wicked", being one of the very few musicals to have two equal-sized lead roles for actresses, passes. "Mamma Mia" passes easily -- and, not surprisingly, it was both written by and directed by women.
posted by Asparagirl at 4:48 PM on September 3, 2008


I don't know that having a "strong female character" should really excuse a movie when the type of women people use that phrase for almost invariably means a woman who can a) shoot a gun, b) repair a vehicle, or c) have sex with whoever she wants. Meanwhile, the character is still one-dimensional, objectified, and often still has to be saved in the end. This article had a bit I really liked:

I think the major problem here is that women were clamoring for “strong female characters,” and male writers misunderstood. They thought the feminists meant [Strong Female] Characters. The feminists meant [Strong Characters], Female.
posted by arcticwoman at 4:58 PM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wait, three really good actors in Conan? James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, and, uh. Subotai?

Mako.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:05 PM on September 3, 2008


It's harder than you might think to make a movie with no women at all

The 1963 Lord of the Flies.


Also, this crapterpiece.
posted by dersins at 5:08 PM on September 3, 2008


If you apply the Bechdel Test to movies outside Hollywood, the results will be better. I've been thinking of a dejected Emmanuelle Beart chatting with an ex--girl friend in front of her door while reading the whole thread.

As for what is the meaning of life?
Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich justice of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.

(from one Howard story or other)
cortex, consider handing out Markov-generated extra comments to each user to stave off a possible recession.

blah blah orange
blah blah Marantz

posted by ersatz at 5:15 PM on September 3, 2008


I don't know that having a "strong female character" should really excuse a movie when the type of women people use that phrase for almost invariably means a woman who can a) shoot a gun, b) repair a vehicle, or c) have sex with whoever she wants. Meanwhile, the character is still one-dimensional, objectified, and often still has to be saved in the end.

To be fair, though, leaving aside "objectified" and "has to be saved at the end," that's pretty much any male lead in an action movie, too. These tend not to be parts written with a whole huge hell of a lot of, you know, depth.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:15 PM on September 3, 2008


Also, this crapterpiece.

Well it is a penal colony.
posted by Artw at 5:19 PM on September 3, 2008


I’m such an awesome feminist that I babysat and let the wife go off to see it with her mum.

HOLY CRAP!

I hope you were joking, and that you don't actually think of caring for your own children as "babysitting" and "letting" your wife go places.

males, especially teenagers, simply see more movies and buy more DVDs than women. Ergo, more movies are marketed toward male teenagers, who want to see fast cars, hot chicks, zombies and explosions

HOLY TAUTOLOGY, BATMAN!

Boy teenagers buy more movies than men, women, or girls, so more movies are made for boy teenagers than for men, women, or girls, so men, women, and girls don't buy the movies made for boy teenagers, so the boy teenagers buy more movies than men, women, or girls...

And you don't think any of this is because of sexism, CoolPapaBell? Really? Let's take "misogyny" off the table, and talk about sexism instead.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:26 PM on September 3, 2008


So...does this test include porno?
(you know you were thinking it)

Everyone takes the “crush enemies” speech from Conan. I remember the secret of steel: “There is nothing in this world you can trust. Not men. Not women. Not beasts. This” *he points to his steel sword* “This you can trust.”

“I wonder if Y: The Last Man passes.”

I’d posit that it would, given he’s more or less a McGuffin than a man. That’s not an absolute given tho’.
But reading the graphic novels I found myself more and more irritated with scenes with him in it (and the snappy pop reference patter).
I wanted to know more about what was going on in the world.
Filmwise I suspect you’d have to do the things to move the story along and that means either focusing on Yorick’s personal tale or the overall story.
Or, yeah, a bit of both. But the graphic novel did that and it didn’t work so well.
Oh, it was good work. But it gave me a bit of a headache.

“It's like trying to talk about the racial politics of Thundercats with Panthro as the sole example of a black man.”

I remember watching a re-run of Thundercats laid up in the hospital overseas in whatever backwater I was in at the time.
It was the only thing on that wasn’t some sort of soap opera and it was in English. I was doped to the gills for weeks (mmm...demerol). And I developed this thing with Cheetara. She had this whole pathos that I was noticing was really deep. Sort of a Cassandra syndrome going.
So finally I’m coming out of this haze and Thundercats starts:
“Trovão!- Trovão!- Trovão!-Trovão! Gatos!” dubbed in some sort of crioulo language.
I asked the nurse why they changed the language from English and she said it had been in crioulo the whole time I was there. Maybe it was the drugs, but maybe it was the language. The whole male/female dichotomy.
But (drugged as I was) maybe there is an Appolonian thing going on.
I mean, yeah, it’s a male trait to some degree.
But it’s just as much a stereotype to say ‘all men’ want, or ‘mysogyny’ and so forth.

Isn’t it possible that there are enough people who go to movies who want clearly defined stories to protect them from the messiness of emotions as there are those who dislike ‘women’s issues,’ and potentially are male or female?
(Essentially - even within the Appolonian archetype - there are schizms.)
Granting of course males make up the bulk of the audiance.(And yes, I’m borrowing from Schapira) But that addresses the whole ‘laziness’ thing in terms of sharply drawn edges vs. fussy logic. The shorthand thinking - hot chick is teh hot.

Addressing social ills through film or refusing to see something based on an apriori set of rules seems rather arbitrary tho’.

But I think the test itself is a useful tool to prompt discussion of the issue.
Asking why there aren’t more female characters, why they don’t talk, and if they do why it’s often about a man. Why they’re so stereotypical, etc.
It’s stuff that is valuable to address. At the very least to clarify and create better drama.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:40 PM on September 3, 2008


Also it's totally gameable. Tight focus on a single protagonist? Female protagonist == instant win (assuming theres one other woman in the peice), Male protagonist == autofail.

Um... not really. There are movies with female leads that fail the test because (to recap) there have to be two, not just one, women, and they have to talk to each other about something other than a man. That disallows all sorts of romantic movies, including one of my favourite films ever, Persuasion (or any Austen adaptation, come to think of it).

I'm always aware of the Bechdel test, because it's a quick little reality check. And, as has been noted above, it's not about what constitutes a "good" movie or a "bad" one, but about the sexism which we tend to take for granted, the way a fish does water. Sometimes it takes a nudge to notice the cultural values we accept and live within every day.

The majority of movies that pass the test do so on the basis of maybe 5 seconds of dialogue, such as Alien (with an exchange of exactly two sentences). One of the reasons I was so fond of Voyager-- yeah, I said it-- was because you would actually have multiple conversations over the course of an episode between the female leads. In fact, the balance of female and male main characters was about even, which is something even more unusual (and I bet, if you asked the average TV watcher, they would hold the opinion that the female characters dominated the show-- another interesting bit of perceptual information).

For what it's worth, I'm currently rereading Watership Down, which is by any measure a hymn to patriarchal values, in which what female characters there are show up only for their value as breeding stock, but I'm still enjoying it. It's a trick that you learn, being brough up female, to enter into all-male worlds; very early on you smother your cognitive dissonance and try to enjoy the story, even if it takes a leap of subjectivity.
posted by jokeefe at 6:20 PM on September 3, 2008 [5 favorites]


That's interesting. I was watching House the other night and noticed the Lawrence Kutner character and I remember thinking 'Nice to see a South Asian charcter who's not Apu for a change.' (Nothing against the Simpsons or Apu, I'm a big fan. I'm just saying).

A lot of British TV has South Asian characters who are simply 'normal' people, not representatives of stereotypes of their ethnic backgrounds (I hope that made sense). Then again, the Brits can cope with multi-racial relationships on their TV shows, so perhaps they are able to transcend that type of thing a lot more easily? Or more precisely, they know their intended audience can.
posted by Megami at 7:03 PM on September 3, 2008


Well, I think that Britain has had South Asian people actually living there for much longer than the US has. Also, there are lots of them there (I think per capita, there are more in the UK than in the US -- there are certainly more Indian restaurants there), so I think that has a lot to do with it. Although it's nice to see Kutner on House, he's still sort of a stereotypical character -- he's a doctor (like Apu is stereotypically a convenience store owner). I like the Office for having Mindy Kaling on there; there was an Indian kid in the movie Juno, and there is an Indian mathematician on Numb3rs. Padma Lakshmi hosts Top Chef.

There's lots more that I'm forgetting, but I think like someone above has said the key to getting women and minorities on TV and in film is having them actually creating the content -- being writers, producers, directors, etc. Mindy Kaling actually writes for the Office. Part of it is that people make what they know, so white men aren't as likely to make movies about Hispanic women. And part of it is having creative people advocate for their group; it's all well and good to say that women will go to the movies, but you need some creative person behind the scenes to make that argument. I think that's how SJP got SatC made.
posted by bluefly at 7:21 PM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, the movie In Her Shoes is fairly recent and would pass the test both in spirit and in letter.
posted by bluefly at 7:24 PM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
posted by Wolof at 8:31 PM on September 3, 2008


Years ago I wrote a small story for Ms. about this, analyzing some Oscar winners and classics and recent (at the time) Cannes winners. Some that fit the criteria: American Beauty, Gone With the Wind, Shakespeare in Love, Titanic, Secrets and Lies, Rosetta and Dancer in the Dark. Some that didn't: Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Godfather, Gladiator, Taste of Cherry, & The English Patient. Oh, and Lawrence of Arabia, not shockingly.

In at least two of those (American Beauty and Rosetta), the conversation that passed the test was a fight between a mother & daughter. Obviously some great films fail the test, and some terrible ones pass it. But the pool of films that pass it is definitely smaller than those that don't. This meme keeps popping up every few years ... hopefully at some point screenwriters will notice.
posted by lisa g at 8:53 PM on September 3, 2008


There's lots more that I'm forgetting

Parminder Nagra is on ER, so there's one more for that list. And speaking of Parminder Nagra, you can probably add Bend It Like Beckham to the Bechdel Passers list.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:18 PM on September 3, 2008


I'm so excited that Allison Bechdel is finally getting the attention she's due.
posted by serazin at 9:27 PM on September 3, 2008


I hope you were joking, and that you don't actually think of caring for your own children as "babysitting" and "letting" your wife go places.

Well, I'll give you "babysitting" there, but when either of us go off on our own anywhere (which is pretty infrequently), it's very much because the other has let us go there. Having young kids is like that.
posted by Artw at 9:57 PM on September 3, 2008


For what it's worth, I'm currently rereading Watership Down, which is by any measure a hymn to patriarchal values, in which what female characters there are show up only for their value as breeding stock, but I'm still enjoying it. It's a trick that you learn, being brough up female, to enter into all-male worlds; very early on you smother your cognitive dissonance and try to enjoy the story, even if it takes a leap of subjectivity.

I do the same when watching Buffy, which I still enjoy immensely.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:17 PM on September 3, 2008


So wait, the ideal film has two nonwhite women talking to each other about something other than men, in spanish?
posted by tehloki at 10:18 PM on September 3, 2008


One of them has to be disabled, you fascist!
posted by Artw at 10:21 PM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Holy crap, Smedleyman is back. When did that happen?
posted by adamdschneider at 10:34 PM on September 3, 2008


jokeefe: For what it's worth, I'm currently rereading Watership Down, which is by any measure a hymn to patriarchal values, in which what female characters there are show up only for their value as breeding stock, but I'm still enjoying it. It's a trick that you learn, being brough up female, to enter into all-male worlds; very early on you smother your cognitive dissonance and try to enjoy the story, even if it takes a leap of subjectivity.

Blazecock Pileon: I do the same when watching Buffy, which I still enjoy immensely.


You don't get to make that comparison. Yes, Buffy is very much a female-oriented show, but the last time I checked, Giles, Xander, Angel, Spike and Oz did other things besides getting rescued from lives of oppression, being fought over by oversexed women, and having babies. Unless you're talking about, say, alternate universe Porno-Buffy, in which case fair enough I suppose.

I agree with jokeefe - as a female reader/audience member/consumer, one learns to relate to an entirely male set of characters very early on, because if one doesn't, well, there's not much else. As Blazecock's pretty aptly demonstrated, even the most female-heavy casts have a lot more male action going on, comparatively.
posted by bettafish at 1:07 AM on September 4, 2008 [5 favorites]


Conan is a perfect movie, I watch it every time it's on TV, to the extent that my SO starts looking around for a book to read whenever an ad for it is on one of the schlock channels. On top of all the other virtues that have been mentioned here, it also has some surprisingly good cinematography of all of those great sets and locations, but it's the waaay-less-showy shooting of a previous era so I'm not surprised that it reads as middling now that we are used to 'great' cinematographers breaking into our homes and screaming in our ears about their godsent effulgence while we watch their movies.

I'm also never surprised these days to see people reflexively slag SATC as art while acknowledging its appeal to women, but if you have ever critically looked at the cinematography, set design and dressing, blocking (watch the extras in a crowded scene sometime to see some crazy attention to detail), scoring, super-light-touch grading, and editing in the post-season-2 episodes, you will see that all of those things are done at the highest level of skill that is exhibited in the industry. No one has to like SATC if it isn't their cup of tea -- it's a comedy and like all comedy, it's a style and a subject that is either going to appeal or it isn't, and that has zero moral reflection on the audience. But the trope that it is somehow a less remarkable example of its form than something like the Sopranos or Six Feet Under (because those shows have death as a subtext and few jokes, so they are acceptable candidates for Art) is weird. I prefer the writing and performance on SATC to those shows and I think it's at least a draw as to the other indicators of televisual excellence. There is a montage in the last episode of the series which I think should be taught in film schools as the ne plus ultra of condensed visual storytelling. And that is despite the fact that there isn't a single character on the show that I adore as an individual, and their specific concerns and struggles are nearly as distant to mine as the ones in Conan.

The SATC movie was a piece of garbage in every way, though. Two and a half hours of plaatsvervangende schaamte.

Oh right, the Bechdel Test. It's nothing more than an angle from which to observe the medium, and it's valuable as such when you try it out and realize how sad the state of the art actually is for the characterization of women, whether you're an artist who didn't notice that you were falling into a well-worn cultural rut, or a film viewer who didn't realize that you were only being shown works created with a reduced palette. I don't think it's meant to be more than that.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 3:18 AM on September 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's harder than you might think to make a movie with no women at all:

Glengarry Glen Ross
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:59 AM on September 4, 2008


Err.... actually now I look at IMDB that's got one women in the credits...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:00 AM on September 4, 2008


If you really want to game Bechdel you can include just about every 'women in prison' movie ever made but they are hardly the high water mark of feminism...

Thought it is shameful and not a little depressing on just how few films actually pass.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:03 AM on September 4, 2008


"Tipping The Velvet" is an interesting example of a sort-of-film (it was a miniseries) which is basically a female picaresque and has an complete inversion of the usual ratio of characterizations. There are a couple of guys, but they are only there as relationship adjuncts to the 'real' characters and their narrative importance is that they tell you something about the women they are attached to. I liked it a lot, but I think it's interesting that it has to be a fantastic-seeming lesbian adventure story set in the past (i.e. fringe with a capital F) before this structural inversion seems at all normal.

This, though: film cameras are themselves emblematic of the male gaze
is nonsense IMO. Film cameras are half a fuckton of glass and some treated plastic which records light whizzing by at a foot and a half per second in a dark container. Anyone can look through one, and the significance of what they point it towards is the result of the thing on the other end of their optic nerve.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 4:12 AM on September 4, 2008


It struck me as I was reading this thread that if you invert the Bechdel Test criteria, you end up with something like this:
HOMER
Uh, hi, Mr. Meyers. I've been doing some thinking, and I've got some ideas to improve the show. I got it right here. (pulls out a piece of paper) One, Poochie needs to be louder, angrier, and have access to a time machine. Two, whenever Poochie's not onscreen, all the other characters should be asking "Where's Poochie"? Three--
For some reason, though, it rarely ends this way:
MEYERS
Great, great. Just leave them right there on the floor on your way out.
posted by plant at 4:15 AM on September 4, 2008


plant - I was totally thinking “poochie” too.

“ ‘It's harder than you might think to make a movie with no women at all:’

‘Glengarry Glen Ross’”

That seems to be the inverse of the test. Certain movies explore male victimization in a male dominated world.

Glengarry Glen Ross seems to have this “look at all these guys - they’re assholes” thing going on. Not one sympathetic character... other than, perhaps, the Jonathan Pryce’s character’s wife (who apparently straightened him out) but she’s never on screen. Or at least not that I remember.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:34 AM on September 4, 2008


This, though: film cameras are themselves emblematic of the male gaze
is nonsense IMO. Film cameras are half a fuckton of glass and some treated plastic which records light whizzing by at a foot and a half per second in a dark container. Anyone can look through one, and the significance of what they point it towards is the result of the thing on the other end of their optic nerve.


Strangely, the cameras are not yet sufficiently advanced to direct themselves and the actors, nor do they script what they film. I hear Lucasfilm is working on a prototype though.
posted by Tehanu at 8:50 AM on September 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


jokeefe its been established by numerous studies that when people are shown images of mixed groups of men and women long enough to see them, but not long enough to really study the image, they will usually identify groups composed of 1/3 women and 2/3 men as being 50/50, and will tend to identify 50/50 groups as being dominated by women. The same goes for ethnic minorities.

The interesting part is that both men and women tend to ID 50/50 groups as being woman dominated, which goes to show how deeply rooted that sort of thing is in our culture. "Internalized misogyny" is the term.

Similarly, they've conducted tests where a man and a woman held a conversation that was controlled by a computer which would let each person know when they could talk. After the conversation was over they'd be asked to estimate how much of the time had been given to each of them. When the woman was given 50% of the speaking time both parties tended to report that she had been given the bulk of the time.

So, yeah, it isn't at all surprising that people would think of shows like Voyager as being female dominated. Hell, I'd be surprised if people didn't think of Firefly as being "female dominated", the male characters outnumber the female characters only by one.
posted by sotonohito at 9:01 AM on September 4, 2008 [7 favorites]


the significance of what they point it towards is the result of the thing on the other end of their optic nerve.

Strangely, the cameras are not yet sufficiently advanced to direct themselves and the actors, nor do they script what they film. I hear Lucasfilm is working on a prototype though.

So we're in agreement then.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 9:16 AM on September 4, 2008


One I like to think about is whether violent death gets top billing. To pass, there have to be no murders, no wars, no monsters run amok, no giant natural or manmade disasters, no unnatural deaths other than perhaps an everyday accident. The story is about people living, not people tossed into a blender to see what sort of mess comes out.favourite author ever. Now if only they'd get around to actually filming some of it properly...


Wait, does the bible pass this test?

"Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." ~ Ruth, to her mother-in-law Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17). The whole book is driven by women, pretty much.


Does West Wing pass? Those characters have great dialogue, but how often do the women talk to one another?

Unfortunately Stockard Channing's role dooms her to rarely uttering a sentence that doesn't include the words 'my husband'; Donna is generally too busy mooning over Josh; Andi is only ever treated as an adjunct to Toby and not a character in her own right; and the various congresswomen and senators are treated with veiled but nonetheless there disdain by the male cast (Sam in particular has a habit of 'pet names' and 'little jokes' that drives me up the wall). Teri Polo's introduction gives us some good dialogue between her and Donna, but for the most part I'd actually say no, despite loving the show; even CJ seems to abruptly pivot into mushiness and man-hunger every time she speaks to another woman, as opposed to the no-nonsenseness and ass-kicking she dispenses when talking to men.


jokeefe, thanks for the mention of Voyager - I keep meaning to GMOB about that. It quite amazed me when I first realised that not only is the male-female ratio about even, but the women have almost all the agency - Paris is reduced to playing his little-boy games in the holodeck, Chakotay to repeating the computer, and Kim to being Eager Beaver Ensign, while the Captain, Seven and B'Elanna actually give all the orders and get all the interesting plotlines.


And I was about to do a quick within-immediate-reach test, but the two closest things are Firefly and Angels in America - one a show lauded for its strong female leads, the other an LGBT-interest film, and they both still fail. Oh, not 100%, but Meryl Streep and Mary-Louise Parker are only ever given identities as the mother and the wife, and that's all they ever talk about while onscreen together; and rewatching Firefly, despite the 5-4 men-women ratio among the main cast, I'm eternally surprised by how rarely those four women actually ever speak to each other. I own a fair number of women-led films, yet how many of them fail is also surprising - Far From Heaven, Amelie, Contact, 2/3 of (and arguably the rest of) The Hours...the list goes on. (Interestingly, 2005's Flightplan mostly fails, but The Lady Vanishes - upon which it was based, and which was made 67 years earlier - thoroughly passes, raising questions as to how far gender equality, at least on this measure, really has progressed in the intervening years.)

I guess what I'm trying to say is, the Bechdel Test shouldn't be looked on, as it has been upthread, as a reason not to see films, but a commentary on the sociopolitical milieu within which films are made, and which they reflect. Sidhedevil's pointing-out of Cool Papa Bell's causal supposition goes to the heart of the question - do these films reflect reality (or a subset thereof), do they reflect women's experience of reality, do they reflect a sexism present in reality, and should they merely reflect reality, rather than aiming for something higher? Is it really reflective of women's experiences in reality to have them never speak to another woman about anything other than their desire to be wedded and bedded?

I'ma go GMOB now.
posted by aihal at 9:26 AM on September 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


(on non-preview, should've previewed. sotonohito, thanks for that - I'm reminded of an article - which I can't now locate, cursit - written by a female journalist who wrote for a mixed-readership magazine, saying that even when only one in ten articles were devoted to women's experiences and women's voices, men would write in and complain that they were being marginalised and demanding equal time. I'll have a dig around and see if I can turn it up...)
posted by aihal at 9:34 AM on September 4, 2008


I guess what I'm trying to say is, the Bechdel Test shouldn't be looked on, as it has been upthread, as a reason not to see films

Um, it is kind of introduced, albiet in fictional form, as a reason not to see films. That probably slants discussion a little. Ansd, y'know, it's a valid point jokingly made, but since then it seems to have acquired a bit of a life of it’s own: In the time since I’ve become aware of it I’ve certainly seen it being used as a judgment on the moral qualities of individual films, more or less with a straight face.
posted by Artw at 9:38 AM on September 4, 2008


the significance of what they point it towards is the result of the thing on the other end of their optic nerve.

Strangely, the cameras are not yet sufficiently advanced to direct themselves and the actors, nor do they script what they film. I hear Lucasfilm is working on a prototype though.

So we're in agreement then.


I don't think so, because your comment reads like it's all in the eye of the viewer. Or are you referring to the optic nerves of the screenwriters, directors, producers, and network executives? The people describing the scenes, deciding how to shoot them, deciding what gets cut and what stays, deciding what gets funded and which elements, once funded, get noted as lacking in some way?
posted by Tehanu at 9:40 AM on September 4, 2008


HOLY CRAP!

I hope you were joking, and that you don't actually think of caring for your own children as "babysitting" and "letting" your wife go places.


That point was made immediately after the original comment, and quickly acknowledged as a valid one by Artw. Why did you need feel the need to berate him again?

My wife and I both use the term 'babysit' in this sense. "I would like to do foo which will require that I be unavailable for the family for X hours. Can you handle all the child-related tasks that we normally split at that time and date?" There's nothing inherently sexist about it, it's just one partner doing a favor for the other.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 9:47 AM on September 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


Glengarry Glen Ross seems to have this “look at all these guys - they’re assholes” thing going on.

Alas, there are many that miss the "they're assholes" part of that statement. It's just "look at all these guys". Or, some interpret that as "look at all these guys -- they're BADASS!"

But [warning big horkin' personal opinion alert here] you run into that problem with David Mamet, partly because he's not got a great track record for female characters. Women in his works are either somewhat weak and spineless, or are ball-busters. There are very few just plain normal women.

I keep thinking of some of the things that happened when his play OLEANNA was first staged -- the whole play is how could-go-either-way comment in a conversation between a college professer and his student gets spun into a he-said/she-said instance of sexual harrassment, and then further gets spun into a huge Incident. Mamet does fairly well at hinting at the complexity of both people involved -- he's got some issues that are coloring his reaction, and she is being manipulated by people with an agenda, and BOTH of them are being wrung through the wringer. At the end of the play, he just lashes out in frustration and actually strikes her. But I heard a LOT of stories of groups of men in the audience, when he strikes her, actually cheering at that point -- rather than taking away the "wow, they've both really gotten to a bad place," or "damn, he's an asshole," their reaction was more "yeah! he's a badass and finally kicked her ass!"

And this is really becoming a tangent, so I'll shut up.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:51 AM on September 4, 2008


True, but it's an assumption that the character's logic was:

Films with the following characteristics are immoral --> it's bad to see that kind of movie.

versus

Most films I go to leave my wallet lighter without giving me a lot of enjoyment --> I've isolated the factors involved in the films which disappoint me and this guideline will help me avoid them in the future.

(My guideline is live action movie more than 2 hours long, CGI is mentioned in the review. Guaranteed headache/lingering sense of ill-ease.)

I don't think so, because your comment reads like it's all in the eye of the viewer. Or are you referring to the optic nerves of the screenwriters, directors, producers, and network executives? The people describing the scenes, deciding how to shoot them, deciding what gets cut and what stays, deciding what gets funded and which elements, once funded, get noted as lacking in some way?

You're saying that if I say that the camera itself isn't emblematic of the male gaze, but is a tool used to express the intentions of its users, I therefore believe that completed film media magically springs into existence when a camera operator uses a camera?
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 10:00 AM on September 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sorry, this:

True, but it's an assumption that the character's logic was:

Films with the following characteristics are immoral --> it's bad to see that kind of movie.

versus

Most films I go to leave my wallet lighter without giving me a lot of enjoyment --> I've isolated the factors involved in the films which disappoint me and this guideline will help me avoid them in the future.


was in response to artw's comment that it was introduced in the comic as a moral guideline.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 10:13 AM on September 4, 2008


It's harder than you might think to make a movie with no women at all

You have to stretch pretty far to consider (for example) a non-speaking part that's onscreen for a few seconds as a female character in a movie.

Also, Titanic? Really? It must have been during one of the points I fell asleep.
posted by jokeefe at 10:35 AM on September 4, 2008


was in response to artw's comment that it was introduced in the comic as a moral guideline.

Just to note: it was introduced in the comic as a joke-- a kind of whimsy. It wasn't prescriptive. (I've been a DTWOF fan for years, and still remember stressing out when Mo and Harriet broke up, for what it's worth.)
posted by jokeefe at 10:37 AM on September 4, 2008


Just to note: it was introduced in the comic as a joke-- a kind of whimsy. It wasn't prescriptive.

I am totally down with that. The odd moral angle came from elsewhere, later on.

Also I'm not sure the rule as presented in the strip can really work since it requires foreknowledge of the contents of the film to decide if teh film is going to be watched.

(You can guess on available information, but you can still end up being wrong. For instance I have a rule that I don’t watch anything that spends more time on crying than explosions, and yet I still got suckered into watching BSG)
posted by Artw at 11:03 AM on September 4, 2008


Also, FWIW, I kind of liked SATC the show. At best the film is a rental view out of curiosity though.
posted by Artw at 11:15 AM on September 4, 2008


(and on rereading, damnit, preview ate my link. Should have read:

One I like to think about is whether violent death gets top billing. To pass, there have to be no murders, no wars, no monsters run amok, no giant natural or manmade disasters, no unnatural deaths other than perhaps an everyday accident. The story is about people living, not people tossed into a blender to see what sort of mess comes out.
Sounds like pretty much everything written by my favourite author ever. Now if only they'd get around to actually filming some of it properly...)

posted by aihal at 11:39 AM on September 4, 2008


Um, IIRC pretty much all of the Le Guin I've liked has had a certain amount of death and killing in. Certainly Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossesed, and I would guess the Earthsea stuff too.
posted by Artw at 12:23 PM on September 4, 2008


Not sure those are test-passers either.
posted by Artw at 12:23 PM on September 4, 2008


LHoD, aside from the main character (male), consists of an entire planet of 95%-of-the-time non-gendered individuals, so can't really fail or pass; it also doesn't contain particularly much war, if memory serves (other than a cold one, to mirror our own). I haven't read The Dispossessed in some time, alas (must go dig up my copy), but again I think the 'war' is a cold one, more watchfulness than warfare - though I think you're right in that it largely fails the Bechdel test. Earthseas 1 and 3 don't Bechdel, but 2 and 4 do (2 having a 95%-female cast, and 4 featuring two of the (female) main characters deconstructing gender roles in their society and how genders are defined by their opposition to one another) - and the only 'war' is the brief skirmish against the Kargs at the beginning of book one, which is resolved largely without violence.

Interesting that it's her earlier stuff (when she was consciously aping Tolkien and the rest of the then-male-dominated SF&F world) which tends to fail the test (and be more 'aggressive'), whereas her later stuff, like The Telling, The Birthday of the World and Tehanu a) does pass and b) tends to focus more on 'everyday life' and social-anthropological thought experiments ('what if people lived/thought/fell in love like this?'). In fact, when wars do happen in Le Guin's books, it tends to be their consequences she explores, not their pursuit - the entire Yeowe-Werel conflict, for example, happens offscreen, and the people we hear from are not soldiers but those a) taken prisoner during it or b) trying to pick up the pieces of their lives after it.

</massive geeky derail>
posted by aihal at 2:32 PM on September 4, 2008


I definately remeber a prison camp patrolled by stalking death-bots of some kind in LHoD, and some killing during the escape. Also I think it’s more that they have rotating gender than are non-gendered, but what could really fail the test for it is I;m not sure there’s any conversations that aren’t between the protagonist and someone else, and he’s male.

The Dispossed, IIRC, has some social uprising on the capitalist planet and a violent clampdown by the police.
posted by Artw at 3:54 PM on September 4, 2008


(will possibly re-read, or at least flick-through, to further the derail)
posted by Artw at 3:55 PM on September 4, 2008


The Dispossessed probably fails the test for the same reason, BTW. Both of them have quite passive protagonists who have a lot of conversations and think about things a lot, with not so much focus on other characters, which is probably quite bad for the test and for making movies. Both are absolutely excellent though.
posted by Artw at 3:58 PM on September 4, 2008


The Dispossessed fails the test because its POV is wholly with the protaganist; even if there were two women talking, the reader would only know if Shevek was listening to them. Yes, there's violence at the end, with military police firing on a crowd at a demonstration, and a member of the crowd dying in Shevek's presence afterwards. The only other violence I recall is a short-lived fistfight.

In the Left Hand of Darkness there's a passage that explicitly notes that there are no extra guards (certainly no robot ones) at the prison camp, because "they let cold and despair do their killing for them" and there's nowhere to run to anyway.

Man, the stuff you read when you are 16 really sticks, doesn't it?
posted by jokeefe at 5:53 PM on September 4, 2008


I couldn't bear Tehanau, btw. Every female character is violated in one way or other, and Le Guin seems to have problems imagining a world with both magic and women who are struggling for self-determination.
posted by jokeefe at 5:55 PM on September 4, 2008


...argh, my memory's skipping now, and I don't have The Dispossessed to hand. As regards LHoD, the Gethenians are biologically neuter twenty-four days of the month and biologically sexed (by reaction to a partner's pheromones) the remaining two ('going into kemmer'). I do remember conversations between Gethenians being recounted to the protagonist, but since the whole point of the book is that the world's inhabitants are (at least in public) neither 'male' nor 'female'...I guess the best you can say is that it would fail a reverse-Bechdel test too :)

(Death-bots I don't remember (Gethenians don't have complex machines); there are concentration-camp equivalents, which by the spirit of the original comment (whether violent death gets top billing) and written as it was during the Cold War, I'd count under allegorical commentary , not violence-for-the-sake. There isn't even particularly much violence - no-one dies during the camp escape (Therem literally walks in, picks up Genly and walks out again), and the deaths within it are from neglect rather than outright violence.)

Also, on preview, jokeefe: Le Guin has said that Tehanu was partly her attempt at least to comment on what she-now saw as 'wrong' about what she-then had written into Earthsea when she created it (since 'righting' it would have required breaking the rules she herself had written in). I confess I didn't like Tenar's rejection of magic(/knowledge/education) in favour of starting a family instead, as if the two were mutually exclusive, but I think by that point magic for Le Guin was more of a metaphor for male power than for neutral agency - her rejection seems to me more a refusal to play by the world's rules than an intentional waste of her potential.


...I really have sent this thread completely off the rails. Sorry. In an attempt to rerail, Charlie Stross also links the proposal of the Frank Miller Test* - that if the ratio of female sex workers to other women in any given piece of SF/F is greater than 1:1, then FAIL. Aside from Miller himself, supposedly progressive authors such as China Mieville and the almighty Pratchett himself seem to fail this one; throw in Niki Sanders in Heroes, Molly Millions in Neuromancer, Inara in Firefly...is it coincidence that prostitution seems to be the primary, if not only, way for women to gain agency, organisation and self-determination in many speculative fictions?

* proposed by my best friend, so self-ish link warning. I read the original when posted, but found Stross' link here on Metafilter. yes, the internet really is that small. and that was totally my copy of Night Watch I posted to Australia.
posted by aihal at 6:40 PM on September 4, 2008


I couldn't bear Tehanau, btw. Every female character is violated in one way or other, and Le Guin seems to have problems imagining a world with both magic and women who are struggling for self-determination.

Tales from Earthsea is much better. It includes a historical reimagining of Earthsea that links nicely to the Earthsea you know from the novels while establishing that magic is not for men only. I think her short stories are her best Earthsea work.
posted by Tehanu at 7:10 PM on September 4, 2008


throw in Niki Sanders in Heroes, Molly Millions in Neuromancer, Inara in Firefly...is it coincidence that prostitution seems to be the primary, if not only, way for women to gain agency, organisation and self-determination in many speculative fictions?

But...don't at least "Heroes" and "Firefly" actually pass this test? (It's been a long time since I read Neuromancer.) There are sex workers in these works*, but they don't outnumber all the women who aren't sex workers. That said, that we have to split these hairs at all does kind of say something.

*And at first I was about to argue Niki doesn't even count -- she's a camgirl, not a prostitute -- but then I remembered she did prostitute herself to the elder Petrelli brother (though I don't think he knew she was a prostitute?), so yeah, she counts.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:16 PM on September 4, 2008


Molly Millions and similar characters always pissed me off. It's the whole - violent woman = strong thing. I've worked with women who were trained and used violence and it's a completely different sort of tough.
I suppose it's closer to Ripley than Sarah Connor.
But y'know, I see women throwing overhand rights and such and they're essentially male patterns.
One woman I worked with wasn't much in the field, but she was one hell of a leader and I'd've followed her into hell.
But you almost never see that. It's this physical thing in a masculine form. Women just don't fight the same as men. And really, they can't. (Although I'd argue 99% of the confrontations in movies, men can't fight that way either).
I dunno how to say what I'm trying to say here. But it's rare to see "strong female character" who's not also kicking ass directly.
Maybe it's metaphor that's easier to explicate.
Hard to show inner strength, poise, self-discipline, etc, I suppose.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:54 PM on September 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Bechdel Rule" Should Really Be Called "Ripley Rule," Bechdel Tells io9
posted by Artw at 10:24 PM on September 4, 2008


Also, on the death-bots, I think I was actually thinking of a bit about labour camps from The Fifth Head of Cerebus. Thanks Google Books, that was driving me nuts.
posted by Artw at 10:31 PM on September 4, 2008


That should be Cerberus, shouldn't it?

Commercial movie writing is all about stereotypes, as the characters seem to be functional more than anything else - everything (and everybody) exists purely to further the plot. The characters aren't people at all, merely narrative functions.

Movies that are developed from character rather than narrative function tend to throw up very different results, though the only example I can think of where characters explicitly take the driving seat (on account of the nature of the writing process) are the films of Mike Leigh.

The notion of strong female characters raises some questions for me. Does the term mean "powerful" or does it mean "complex", or "at the centre of the film"? I worry that the idea of strength (even when it doesn't mean running around with guns and blowing shit up) results in another stereotype.

It struck me - I don't know why - that the Godfather films are driven by Michael Corleone's weakness in the face of power. Why it took me so long to realise that, I don't know. But weakness and failure (or the threat of failure and of being weak) stand at the centre of more compelling characters, from Oedipus onwards.

I wonder how often female characters genuinely fail on film (as opposed to fulfilling the function of being weak), even in women-centred films, made from a feminist standpoint.

For example: much of British television, especially primetime drama, seems (and I think one can judge from context, such as which advertisers are approached to associate with a programme, whom the broadcasters think they're addressing) to be designed to appeal to women. Consequently there are a number of "strong female leads" - off the top of my head I can think of Prime Suspect and Silent Witness - but there also seems to a tendency for such characters to be morally infallible, and for moral threats to come from an external (male) source. This is also (as far as I can tell, without doing any particular research) the frame that many Lifetime movies fall into. Would a feminist analysis regard such a morally infallible character to be as much a limiting stereotype as "long-suffering wife" or "third nurse from the left", actress' name above the title or no?

I have some sympathy with the issue. When I was very small - which was before the word "sexist" was in common parlance, especially among five-year-olds - I was very struck by the gender imbalance of most of the fairy stories we were being told. They very rarely had male central characters, and the male roles were usually limited to "Prince" or "ineffective father". I was finding it hard to identify. Firstly, the job of the Prince is to turn up at the end and provide a happy ending - he doesn't really do anything - secondly, there wasn't any notion that you could achieve Princehood - you either were one or you weren't, and even at that age I knew that I wasn't. It didn't seem to be much of a model for living, and I told the teacher that, though not in those words. And I was told that the problem didn't exist, but I still think today that it's a fair critique.

(Although there are Puss in Boots, Jack and the Beanstalk for boys who want to be a stooge or a burglar respectively; and Rumpelstiltskin if you want to be the self-destructive embodiment of evil. And who doesn't, eh lads?)

(I'm not going to go anywhere near Rapunzel, frankly. Pre-school S&M.)

And to bring it back to Dave Sim - one thing I find quite interesting about Cerebus is that the female characters are so well-rounded. Interesting, considering he's a mysoginist, I mean.
posted by Grangousier at 12:52 AM on September 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


And if most of this has already been answered - apologies, I read most of this thread on my phone, where I'm less inclined to follow links.
posted by Grangousier at 12:54 AM on September 5, 2008


Thanks for that interview link, Artw. I liked this (from Bechdel) a lot:

For me, the Rule is kind of like feminism in a bottle—applied theory, quick and easy. I think whatever name one gives it, the rule should be applied to everything everywhere, including real life.
posted by languagehat at 6:21 AM on September 5, 2008


one thing I find quite interesting about Cerebus is that the female characters are so well-rounded. Interesting, considering he's a mysoginist, I mean.

I get the impression that most of the mental stuff happened in the letters-columns, and in the later books which I never got around to reading.
posted by Artw at 8:43 AM on September 5, 2008


Idel thought: Aliens kind of an odd choice as it's so reproduction orientated, what with most of it consisting of people trying to avoid being forcibly impregnated by a creature entirely composed of weird sexual phobias. Which, I guess, would be a relationship of sorts.
posted by Artw at 8:46 AM on September 5, 2008


adamdschneider: Y:The Last Man passes the test because Yorick himself is a plot device, much the way women operate in conventional movies as plot devices -- molls, seducers, virgin-birthers and such.

Y would work well because for the most part, there's only one male protagonist and the women who are left are (surprisingly) mostly indifferent to male extinction. They form women-warrior communities and mostly move on -- they don't stand around whining about their dead husbands and boyfriends -- or at least they don't in the story that the writer, Brian K. Vaughan concnetrated upon.

SIDEBAR: Having watched most of Mattheiu Kossovitz's 'Babylon A.D.' (mmentioned here), it seems that 'Y' would have been more of the kind of story he would have preferred telling, than the 'Children of Men' recycle that 'Babylon' is. 'Babylon' passes the test, but it's not much in terms of a story.
posted by vhsiv at 9:31 AM on September 5, 2008


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