Subversion in the Mainstream and James Bond in a Dress

Ready to have your life changed? James Bond just became a feminist.

Today is International Women’s Day. In fact, it’s the 100th International Women’s Day. 100 years ago, women’s rights leaders joined together in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark to campaign for their rights in a concentrated effort, demanding the right to work, to vote, to be educated and trained, to hold public (and private) office, and to end discrimination and victimization in the public and private spheres. (You can learn more about International Women’s Day and historical feminist activism here.) What does this have to do with Daniel Craig in drag?

Well, director Sam Taylor-Wood and writer Jane Goldman have given us a short film where the bravest, most daring, most dashing person in the world has found one mission he doesn’t want to take on: being a woman. I could pontificate on the power of seeing one of the manliest British actors in relatively convincing drag or the subversive nature of Dame Judi Dench’s authoritative narration, so different from the voiceovers that we usually hear from female actors. I could rant about the frustrating fact that despite a woman’s first Oscar win for Best Director was for an action film, this two-minute short is the first Bond film directed by a woman, despite the success of Bond producer Barbara Broccoli.

Maybe that’s an unfair complaint. Kathryn Bigelow only won the Oscar a year ago, and the successes of the short’s writer Jane Goldman (StardustKick-Ass, and Kick-Ass 2) are heartening for women who want to make action movies or other “masculine” genres. The success of Tina Fey’s 30 Rock and Diablo Cody’s Juno are helping women carve a place in the world of comedy.  (Although I’m sure Fey’s new book is going to point out how far we need to go on that front too.)

Women aren’t making Bond films, but Bond films have changed to reflect this new world M references in the PSA. There are lots of interesting feminist moments in Casino Royale, but the littlest one, and possibly my favorite, is around 7:30 in this clip. Bond is kissing Vesper and then she starts saying “No. Stop. Stop it.” In a Sean Connery Bond film this moment would be when he kisses her harder, and then she reveals that she likes it, that no means yes. In Casino Royale, Bond stops. Immediately. And he doesn’t get resentful or scary, or share a sad look with the camera. He’s always looking at her, and he doesn’t resist her paying her share. This Bond is a different kind of Neanderthal, not a perfect feminist partner, but certainly not the paragon of male chauvinism we see in the Ian Fleming novels and 60s and 70s films.

Contrast the dynamic between Vesper and Craig’s Bond and Honey (Ursula Andress) and Sean Connery’s Bond:

“Are you looking for shells?”

“No. Just looking.”

And see the tables turn in Vesper and Bond’s first meeting, where she calls him on his character’s chauvinist legacy:

It is Craig’s portrayal of Bond that makes the PSA so powerful. Continue reading

Men, Women, Auteurs, and Collaboration: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Be a “Woman Director”

My favorite designers usually end up setting up a challenge for me. On Bad Hamlet, Meg Cunningham gave me three doors. On A Number, Isabella Scannone kept me from using props. These are the best things that could have happened to me. The rules were liberating, exciting. It made us think about why we wanted the props in the first place. That limitation came from Isa, not me, but it helped everyone focus their work. Does it matter who writes the rules as long as we as a team get to play the game?

There’s a lot of talk at CMU about the director’s “vision,” about making it clear and compelling, about having the most and the most impressive ideas. For a long time I wondered why I wasn’t comfortable with that, and then I realized that, in many ways, that idea of singular auteurism can be counter to collaboration. When you’re too busy trying to have the good idea, you end up ignoring the best ones.

It is said that the worst thing someone can say about a director is that “he doesn’t know what he wants.” I use “he” here because in some ways this refers to a very “male” style of directing. (I know that’s a problematic construction. We’ll address that. I promise.) CMU brings in a lot of producers and usually one of the directors asks them what they want from a director. They always say “leadership,” “vision.” But what does “vision” actually mean?

Does vision mean that every idea has to come from the director? Or that the director always has to be the inspiration for the idea? Because I think it’s pretty hard to make that happen every time. Can one really claim a vision as solely theirs when a lot of directing involves saying “Oooooh. Do that again”?

If we had gone with my original vision for A Number, the set would have been naturalistic, filled with books, and candles, and technology, borrowing a bit too heavily from Blade Runner. Instead it was this:

Credit: Josh Smith (Scenic Design Isabella Scannone, Lighting Design Josh Smith)

Better, I think. Because in a world with very little objects, the objects in it become important. A photograph left on a disc’s surface, highlighted by light.

 

Credit: Heather Kresge Photography

 

Because there are so few, the objects can transform. A jacket becomes a dead body thrown at a father’s feet.

 

Denver Milord as Bernard 1 in A Number. Credit: Heather Kresge Photography

 

A tie becomes a noose and a chair with a coat on it becomes a monument.

 

Alex Rice as Salter in A Number. Credit: Heather Kresge Photography

 

Some of those images were my idea, but Josh lit them and Alex and Denver filled them. Isabella decided what the chairs looked like and found cool places for them to sit. Cass Malloy decided what the coat looked like. Chris Rummel created an aural environment that made this abstract world visceral. Tegan McDuffie and Nicole Luna made sure it made sense. And Heather Kresge captured it in gorgeous still images. It wasn’t my vision. It was our vision.

Maybe it makes some directors feel better to imagine it’s all them. To think that they’re the kernel of every idea, but odds are they’re not, even if they’re visionaries or auteurs. We can’t trace these kernels back to people or sentences, or fever dreams in the middle of the night. We pick up things where we can, and at some point, the profession is going to have to learn to acknowledge that though it’s easier to credit the auteur, they’re nightmares to work with. Maybe I should have had a “stronger hand” with my designers, or been more authoritative or demanding of my actors, less “female.” Personally I’d rather follow the crumbs (or blueprints) they leave for me. It’s a lot easier to move a caravan when you don’t have to drag people, or make them forget they have collars on. You never know where we might pick up and go together.

 

Alex Rice as Salter in A Number. Credit: Heather Kresge Photography

 

 

The Casting Couch and Where Does Chauvinism Come From?

So my lovely friend Elize’s blog seems to have infected me lately. Over at Female Gazing she celebrates our need to objectify and subverts Laura Mulvey’s observation of the “male gaze” in media with a gaze of her own.

Here’s an excerpt from a lovely post in which she explicates the concept:

Objectification of women will never end.  Women are beautiful and sexy.  We have soft curvy bodies which attract attention.  I don’t want to ask men to stop looking at me and my sisters.  I want to ask them to do it respectfully, remembering that I have as many opinions and feelings as they do.

I consider it my job, nay! my duty to gaze at men.  To make them ever so slightly uncomfortable, to turn my head when they jog past.  To hug one whenever I feel like it.  To have friends who are male and tell them what I think and feel without fear of being considered too girly, vain, or sensitive.

So please don’t feel threatened (for as a woman I’m taught that the last thing a man wants is a woman who is threatening) and join me.  Enjoy bodies (consensually!)  Gaze respectfully.  Gaze with love and responsibility.  Honor people’s feelings, his, hers, your own.

(If you like that also check out my favorite post so far, about one of my favorite guilty pleasures, the remake of Universal Pictures’ The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser.)

The blog is filled with pictures of gorgeous men (and women) who know they’re sexy and don’t apologize, and Elize helps you feel that way too. It’s a great mission but when I’m in one of my over sharing hormonal places it can be a little dangerous.

How you ask? Well, directing requires a certain level a maturity and sensitivity because you’re in a position of power. The clichés about the casting couch exist because they are based in fact. (Contemporary fact, if Megan Fox is to be believed.) That is a really depressing thing. And it goes both ways. As women become more powerful in Hollywood they develop the same power that was exploited by the cigar chewing male producers we see in the movies. Exploitation goes all kinds of ways: straight, queer, male, female, everything in between and outside. It is the person in power’s responsibility to not exploit, not the potential victim’s responsibility to speak up, which is why people in positions of power have to be very careful.

I go to the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama. It is filled with gorgeous, gorgeous, talented people. Like the way TV is filled with really, really ridiculously good-looking people who never have to go to work or take a bathroom break. And you know how when you’re watching TV you find yourself saying things that you wouldn’t say if the person was in the room?

For example:

Yes, darling, they're still there. But you should check again in five seconds, just to make sure.

Oh, just makeout already.

Continue reading

Lemoning the Popcorn Films for Summer 2010 (Part Two)

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away, I wrote the first half of a summer movie preview. Now I am going to complete it. (Because sometimes, only sometimes, I am a woman of my word.)

In case you don’t remember the system, it goes a little something like this:

I rate a film’s likely problematic nature based on a 1 through 6 scale, with 1 being the least offensive in terms of the lenses of gender, race, sexuality, class, etc and 6 being I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. I will also rate the films based on (my own) fangirl excitement, with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest. Snark and trailers abound, so let’s play.

The Last Airbender (July 1)

This is the big screen adaptation of the popular American anime Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender, known for its depth of imagination, humor, and surprising artistic competence despite it being American anime. Also, it has protagonists that are people of color and female characters who do useful things rather than screaming and falling in love. The adaptation made the (Native American and Asian) protagonists white. This is just the beginning of the terribleness, as this review from io9 demonstrates:

This is the part where I would insert a quick plot synopsis of the film, but it’s really unnecessary – Shyamalan has boiled every epic heroic story of the past 20 years down to its most basic, primal soup-y essence, so he can spray it all over the audience, in a kind of Hero’s-Journey bukkake. You will be finding chunks of Joseph Campbell’s calcified spooge behind your ears for three days after watching this film, no matter how many times you bathe.

Shyamalan’s true achievement in this film is that he takes a thrilling cult TV series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and he systematically leaches all the personality and soul out of it — in order to create something generic enough to serve as a universal spoof of every epic, ever. All the story beats from the show’s first season are still present, but Shyamalan manages to make them appear totally arbitrary. Stuff happens, and then more stuff happens, and what does it mean? We never know, because it’s time for more stuff to happen. You start out laughing at how random and mindless everything in this movie is, but about an hour into it, you realize that the movie is actually laughing at you, for watching it in the first place. And it’s laughing louder than you are, because it’s got Dolby surround-sound and you’re choking on your suspension of disbelief. Continue reading

How to Destroy Superman: The Doctor, Batman, Senility, and the Pandorica

[Note: This post contains spoilers for the DC Comics’ The Death of Superman storyline, and The Dark Knight Returns (among others), and Doctor Who Series 4 and Series 5 including the episode “The Pandorica Opens.” It has not yet aired in the United States. You have been warned.]

I am going to tell you right now that Batman is the greatest superhero of all time, precisely because his only superpowers are a bank account and psychological trauma. He is the superhero that is closest to the reader, even more so than Stan Lee’s everyboy Spiderman, who fulfills all of our empowerment fantasies, but always shows us the best in ourselves. Batman is a triumph of the human will to fight back in the face of unbearable pain in order to inflict that pain on others. He is our darkest fantasies brought to life.

The Ninth Doctor bears a strong resemblance to the pre-Frank Miller era Batman, a man who has found new purpose as a result of losing almost everyone he loves, and he slowly creeps toward the darkness and thirst for vengeance that belongs to both the Tenth Doctor and The Dark Knight we see in The Killing Joke, The Long Halloween, and The Dark Knight Returns.

Dark Knight Returns is an interesting topic to bring up, because it shares so many connections with the Doctor’s current [Eleventh] incarnation. The Dark Knight Returns is set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world where a formerly retired, middle-aged Batman dons the cowl once again to bring down Two-Face after the treatment Bruce Wayne funded fails to cure him of his psychopathic tendencies. But the Gotham police force is a little less grateful than usual. They’re not sure Batman’s vigilantism has a place in this world anymore. He’s become outdated. (Remember Eleven’s “I’m stupid.” statement? How often has he been missing things lately, making the wrong calls?)

Batman’s reappearance also pulls the Joker out of a catatonic state in Arkham, suggesting that the hero attracts, even rebuilds his villains unintentionally. (iDaleks anyone?)

“You’re like iPods. One in every color.”

(Dark Knight Returns also sports a female Robin who rivals Amy Pond in terms of quips and needing to be rescued.)

The interesting thing about the Doctor is that he is both Batman and Superman. As of the 2005 revival, he has a dark trauma in his past that gives him the purpose and drive to save the universe again and again (because he failed to save his own people.) Like Superman, he is an orphan of a dead culture, and grew into the individual we know and love as a result of his “adoption” by humans. (I know it’s hard to think of William Hartnell as a baby Clark Kent, but just go with me on this one.) The Doctor’s companions softened him from a persnickety old man to a formidable clown whose cartoonishly long scarf or piece of celery in his lapel hid a dangerous brand of competence. (We are going to ignore Colin Baker’s silly costume.)

Pay no attention to the man in the tacky outfit. 

This paradox of the Doctor as both Batman and Superman was brought to a head with the most recent episode of Moffat’s new series. Continue reading

A (Pansexual) Love Letter to Kurt Hummel

On Tuesday night’s Glee, “Laryngitis,” (It’s less cutely titled than usual, thank God) Chris Colfer’s character, Kurt, became quite possibly the most interesting LGBT character on a predominantly straight show.

(I will admit I am not as familiar with shows that are predominantly LGBT  as I’d like to be. I watched The L Word, Queer as Folk, and like pretty much everyone in America, I watched Will and Grace until things got all weird and Grace was pregnant and it was strange. I’m certainly taking recommendations if anyone has more things for me to watch.)

Why is he interesting?

Well there’s the whole football “Single Ladies” thing.

He also almost out sopranos Lea “Spring Awakening and Ragtime when I was a baby” Michele when they both compete to sing “Defying Gravity.”

Above all, Chris Colfer lets Kurt keep his dignity, which is the character works in the first place. There are plenty of stereotypical gay men in the media. (Thank you Will and Grace and Ugly Betty.)

Continue reading

Lemoning the Popcorn Films for Summer 2010: Part One

Summertime! And the air conditioning is preferable… Popcorn’s popping and movie attendance will be high. But Lillian, you say, I’m a discerning filmgoer. I’m queer and feminism conscious. What popcorn films can I see?

Well, my friend, I have devised a scale very similar to Mr. Kinsey’s except with misogynism and feminism instead of hetero or queer.

Let's call 1 "Whalerider" and 6 "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell" (It's pretty homosocial when you think about it.)

Remember, a higher number in this case is more problematic. This is in no way a judgment on homosexuality, I just like implying that Tucker Max is not in any way the hetero bro he so insists he is. These are all guesses at the issues presented in the film and judgements based on the marketing.

Sometimes I’ll give fangirl ratings. That’s working on the usual 1 to 10 system with 10 being the best. (All films are listed in order of release date.) Continue reading

And Frank Deford Wonders Why Women “Aren’t Into Sports,” or the Curious Case of the Ben Roethlisberger Rape Apologist

This will probably be the only time I talk about sports other than soccer, blitzball, and quidditch (I promise).

Let me preface this by saying I was raised on NPR. I even worked at my local public radio/television station, WVIA, for a whole summer, and it was an amazingly nurturing and safe working environment. That said, I am absolutely livid at NPR right now. If I didn’t know that WVIA’s programming is often independent of NPR, I would be urging others to withdraw their membership dues.

Why am I so incensed? Well because of this story. In it, one of my favorite sport commentators, Frank Deford, says that we should dismiss the accusations of sexual assault against Roethelisberger and revoke the NFL’s temporary suspension of him because:

To what earthly benefit is it to suspend Roethlisberger? Does it teach little, impressionable children a lesson? Is it going to make other football players pause and think about being a role model late at night when they are on the cusp of committing mayhem? I mean, let’s give Roethlisberger credit. At least he wasn’t packing a firearm like so many of his athletic brethren do when they are out taking the air these evenings.

I’m sorry, Mr. Deford but I really think you’re missing the point.

This isn’t a higher standard. This is a human standard. Sexual assault is not a charming, roguish behavior, especially when it involves a barely legal to drink college girl and an acknowledgment by Roethlisberger himself that the situation was not a good one. A selection:

The young woman, who by all accounts was extremely drunk, told her friends, “We need to go. We need to go.” She told them she had just had sex with Roethlisberger. They asked if it was consensual. “No,” she said.

Linda Holmes has already chewed Deford out a bit on her NPR blog, but she doesn’t have a segment on NPR, she has a blog. And frankly, she doesn’t go far enough.

Sexual assault, or even sex where consent is confused is in no way comparable to the consensual infidelity of Tiger Woods or carrying a firearm into a club. And it is just insulting to every woman to assume the boys will be boys attitude that we ladies all want to have sex with Ben Roethlisberger, drunk or no. I go to school in Pittsburgh, alright. We know he’s a terrible person. In fact, a lot of the town hates him for both his attitude and his general stupidity. This is a man who has already been accused of sexual assault. I don’t care how magnetic you think athletes are, Mr. Deford, they aren’t that seductive.

Frank Deford owes an apology to anyone who has ever suffered from the effects of a sexual assault, victims, survivors, and allies alike. Roethlisberger’s suspension is not about him failing to be a role model, it’s about him failing to be a decent human being, and Deford’s trying to twist the story into some statement about how we force our athletes to be role models is not only misguided but downright ignorant.

I’m not okay with assault or carrying a concealed weapon, but they are not comparable to sexual assault. They just aren’t. It is unacceptable. And I say that as somebody who still loves Russell Crowe despite his bad behavior, which includes assault and various levels of terrible person-ness.

For example:

Never were Crowe’s spirits more in flux than when he was to read the climactic, “And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next” scene, in which his character, Maximus, removes his helmet and reveals his identity. It was only the most seminal line in the entire movie, and yet Crowe was convinced that it was ridiculous – overwrought, puffery that no man would ever be caught dead saying, least of all a brawny, sword-carrying killer standing under the unrelenting African sun. Scott was one of the few people who seemed to understand Crowe, that underneath all that volatility was a very scared actor who needed to feel safe. Rather than blow up at him, Scott waited until the tantrum subsided. Then he agreed to shoot the scene the way Crowe preferred.
After doing the take, Crowe still looked dissatisfied. “Let me see the other script again,” he said to Scott, referring to the loathed revision. After studying the page stonily, he shrugged. “Well, we might as well try it.”
And so, the scene was reshot. Everyone agreed it was brilliant. Everyone, that is, but Crowe. “Russell, what’s the problem?” Scott asked, finally showing a hint of exasperation. “It worked.”
“It was shit,” Crowe repeated, “but I’m the greatest actor in the world and I can make even shit sound good.” And with that he marched off.

That’s an athlete and a role model, Ben Roethlisberger and Frank Deford. Who do you think you are?

Planes, Trains, and Darkened Streets: Things I’m Afraid of Because I’m a Woman

My dear Lemoners-

It is time for me to do penance for ignoring you. It’s been a week and I’m sorry. I’m casting my thesis show at Carnegie Mellon, A Number. The Vineyard never stops being challenging, and I need to find time in the day to show this clip to everyone I know:

That Time Lord can do anything! (More to come when the special comes out on DVD!)

Anyway, as penance, I’m going to take a cue from my friend Jessica and give you more posts for you money. So today I’m going to talk a bit about the flight to Pittsburgh, pretty much forgetting how to get around the city I’ve called home for three years, seeing a dog maul a gay couple with a baby (after the jump. Seriously.), and about the subway ride to the airport, where I realized some very interesting conclusions.

Continue reading

Denny Crane: A Feminist/Queer Studies Love Letter to Boston Legal

Okay, confession time. My first crush was Captain Kirk from Star Trek: The Original Series.

What am I looking at? Oh, just my ego's shadow.

Now here’s the thing about Captain Kirk. He’s a jerk. He’s xenophobic, expansionist, and a professional chauvinist. And he never really apologizes for it. As a feminist, I should hate him. But he also does stuff like this:

Continue reading