Friday, 24 April 2009

Explore the benefits of applying a gendered critical approach to studying film with reference to specific case studies

The film industry has been dominated by men since its beginnings at the turn of the nineteenth century with misogyny and discrimination aplenty. Latest figures reveal that patriarchal assertion has not faltered, with women accounting for only six percent of the directors of the top two hundred and fifty domestic grossing films in 2007. The problems surrounding limited production of female influenced film is what Laura Mulvey describes as the “male gaze”. This is where the audience are made to observe the world through the male’s eyes and as such women on screen are often subject to the male erotic gaze, where women are perceived as objects through the micro elements of film E.G. camera angles and shots may focus on the parts of women that men find most sexually attractive. Mulvey asserts the idea of fragmentation where women are rarely seen in long full body shots but in compartments. Indeed, using a gendered critical approach such as Mulvey’s allows assessment of how and if a film challenges previous gender conventions, or does it contribute to existing stereotypes that ultimately create an unrealistic version of our social reality.

A recent example of the “male gaze” is perhaps evident in the film “Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life” directed by Simon West in 2003. There are various fragmented shots of her large breasts and full lips, disputably parts of the female anatomy a heterosexual man would find alluring. However, the benefit of applying a gendered critical approach is that the character of Lara Croft can be deemed to sit in a grey area. Though, micro elements such as camera shots, costume, lighting and sound point to visual stimulation for men, the characters attributes such as knowledge, confidence and power assert that Croft is a potentially positive role model for women in the real world. The premise that the character of Croft was initially invented by men justifies her voluptuous physique however, the context in which she was created in the midst of a feminist movement of “girl power” suggests that the creators maybe embraced this movement and created an ultimate women; one with brains and beauty.
Therefore, in essence Croft can be seen to challenge previous gender conventions of women being less intelligent and strong than men though, she is perhaps generic in the social expectation for women to be beautiful.

Furthermore, gendered critical approach is vital for critics who wish to measure how ground breaking or subversive a film is. A gendered critical approach provides a basis on which to judge the meaning and value of a film, which if judged highly could reap financial rewards as well as eminence within the industry. Such is the case with the film “The Piano” directed by Jane Campion in 1993. A gendered critical approach allows people to look beyond the initial scope of colonial issues within the film and recognise the typical issues males and females in Victorian times would have faced but their alternative ways of dealing with them. “The Piano” is a milestone in cinema and a text book example of how gender study can influence the making of a film. For example, the film presents men as objects and women as subjects. The female protagonist Ada can be seen pulling a curtain to reveal an unclothed male named Baines. The position of the camera slanted down towards him suggests it is Ada who is scanning his body and thus, alternatively presenting a “female gaze”. The setting of the film in an idiosyncratic time and place, Victorian New Zealand, serves to highlight the importance and significance of the mute Ada’s acquisition. Ultimately, gender studies allowed the director Jane Campion to obtain recognition for her subversive portrayals of men and women in strict Victorian society.

In the case of “Thelma and Louise” directed by Ridley Scott in 1991, a gendered approach to the film stirred up controversy over the American penile system and its inability to protect women. On a micro scale though, gendered critical research on the film explored and highlighted the notions of gender and how they were changing and evolving. It also provided an argument to the contrary that the film was merely “toxic feminism” and suggested instead that it flipped gender roles around, subverted the generic road buddy movie genre and most importantly forces men to be held accountable for their oppression of women.

In conclusion, applying a gendered critical approach encourages audiences to be more selective and critical about what they watch. It also pushes people to consciously question how what they see influences their opinion of others specifically other genders. Essentially gendered criticism all comes down to defining and then breaking the patriarchal structure of film meaning fighting for more female influence in the making of films. Ultimately, it can educate future film makers to avoid gendered stereotypes and eventually create equality of representation within film.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Evaluation of Research Project

My research project was relatively successful in that the final presented piece was informative, cogent and coherent for audience members and even encouraged discussion. I approached the researching process by gaining a greater understanding of key concepts within my hypothesis, such as “The American Dream” and “dystopian youth”. Understanding this more clearly myself, I was able to analyze my key study films with acute awareness as to what I was looking for. In my research methodology I used secondary sources such as the internet, books and magazines and also primary sources in which I carried out a structured, open questioned, group interview. The internet was beneficial in that it allowed reference to previous critical articles, which gave some valuable quotes to build up my argument. However, internet resources could also be useless as there were many subjective essays which did not place much emphasis on knowledge and argument which I felt would not strengthen my research. Though, subjective opinions were never the less useful in my primary research, where I felt it necessary to use interpretive data to gain valid opinions from young English cinema goers. Here, I tried to gain a fairer picture by posting the structured interview questions on “rotten tomato” and “Imdb”,to get a response from young Americans living the supposed dream yet this was deemed a fruitless task as I received no replies. Therefore, my primary supporting research relied heavily on perhaps un-representative data.

In selecting material for my presentation script I first planned an essay like structure to my argument created by the research I had undertaken, and then proceeded in using the relevant evidence to enhance these points. Any points that I then felt did not aid my argument, or were not relevant I then discarded. However, because I was strict in finding relevant material in the first instance I found that I did not need to discard very much material. Overall, I found that my project was very relevant to the context of the recent American presidential elections, and this formed a double layer to my project, as I honed in on the idea that becoming president is the epitome of succeeding the American dream. I therefore, concluded that the stance of the American dream E.G. whether it was alive and well or if it was decaying, was directly or indirectly linked with dystopian youth which is ultimately, a generation of disillusionment as depicted by my focus films. This point was highlighted by Barack Obama in a recent speech that “The American Dream needs to be reclaimed” and then perhaps American society can re-exist in harmony, though that is assuming that America has resided in harmony before.

Lara Croft: feminist icon or object for sexual desire for the male gaze?

The eponymous Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of life (2003) is a complex character within gendered cinema. On the one hand she is a seductive, sexy and capricious action heroine who likes to get down and dirty yet, on the other she is a strong, confident and highly educated woman. This "juxtaposition of physical prowess and sexuality" continues to produce a great deal of ambivalence among feminist and non-feminist commentators; therefore, her character seemingly stands in a grey area.

The concept of Lara Croft evolved from a video game created by males. This perhaps provides an explanation and an understanding to the full and curvacious body form the character of Lara Croft displays. It is presumably through the micro elements of the construction of film that the "scopophilic gaze", where women are set up as objects of desire for male satisfaction, are prevalent. In the film, male director Simon West proceeds with fragmenting actress Jolie's body so the camera at various points sits comfortably with her breasts, a part of the female body that heterosexual men find provocative, and her face with the former demanding most attention. Further evidence of the sexualisation of Croft is within the shower scene. It is erotic with its focus on her curvacious sillouhette, rounded off with a hint of her breasts. As an audience we are put in the position of her male servant, observing Jolie's naked body from behind yet, it seems her character is still in control and is even taking advantage of her sexuality through instances such as this. Therefore, it is clear to see how Croft is being manipulated to stimulate male audiences yet, within this idea Croft seems to maintain power by realising and advertising her sexual potential though never allowing a man to sexually pursue her ultimately, establishing a balance.

If the shower scene is to be argued as a orimary stimulus for men, the film never the less is not short of a counterpart for the female audience. The film includes a male shower scene in which a very toned Daniel Craig (Alex) emerges naked out of the shower, to be covered in an Austin Powers like way, by various well placed furniture around the room. Thus, again restoring a balance between the sexes, which is ultimately what feminists seek; equality amongst men and women. In this way also though, Lara Croft can be seen to go beyond establishing gender balance and can even be argued to overpower patriarchal dominance presented through the various masonic like institutions of the illuminate and the male dominated auction house. Her ease within a male environment or even her contempt for it, is shown by Croft putting her feet up on the chair in front in a public auction.

Ultimately, Croft lives in a male world as portrayed by her presence as one of the only females within the film. Sadly though, it is only too overt that Croft is a product of this male society being brought up by her father single handedly. Though, perhaps Croft represents an ethereal ultimate human, a mixture of traditionally male traits balanced by a female intuition. Indeed, the context in which Lara Croft the video game character emerged, was one of Spice Girls "girl power", and so it is understandable why commentators would debate the films over riding ideology though, perhaps Croft merely represents the expectations of modern women, brains and beauty.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Annotated catalogue


Item 1: “Thirteen” (2003) Dir: Catherine Hardwicke
This is my main focus film. It was the first film that I thought of, which dealt with the social issue of dystopic youth, and possibly the breakdown of the American dream. It also presented an alternative style of film making as well narrative.

Item 2: “Kids” (1995) Dir: Larry Clark
This film also shows American youth gone haywire. It presents the idea of a lack of older role models and a deficit of future positive role models. This is also social realism presented in an alternative way, with the use of amateur actors.

Item 3: “American Beauty” (1999) Dir: Sam Mendes
This film focus’s less on the youth, though it presents a view of the American dream and its state. Therefore, I thought to bring in the argument of the American dream it was highly relevant.

Item 4: “Boys Don’t Cry” (1999) Dir: Kimberly Pierce
I felt the films subject matter of abhorring homosexuality or any alternative sexuality to heterosexuality felt by those specifically living in the Southern U.S, presents a certain lack of homogenisation and cultural integration around the country. Therefore, this lack of integration through prejudice and discrimination in the country perhaps shows a pessimistic view of America and the so-called American dream; which seemed to encourage liberation.


Item 5: Catherine Hardwicke director of “thirteen” interview
This article was useful in gaining some quotes from the director which I could use in my analysis of her film. It also helped back up my argument and made my essay more valid and substantial.

Item 6:
American Beauty review
This article presented symptoms of what the American dream contained, such as an element of domesticity and the desire for a family. However, the article suggested that “AmericanBeauty”presented a “dysfunctional” version of the American Dream. It was overall helpful to get another interpretation of the film.

Item 7:
Remarks of senator Barack Obama: Reclaiming the American Dream
Barack Obama who recently was elected as Americas next president was relevant for me in that to reach presidency is the epitome of acquiring the American Dream. For him to reach it as a black man suggests perhaps the American Dream is alive and well. I found this article, which embodied a speech from Obama was invaluable as it justified my questioning as to the existence of the American Dream as Obama himself considers in the speech that “the American Dream was slipping away”

Item 8:
Thirteen review
This article presented me with the argument that Thirteen with its element of social realism presents a truer version of American youth as co-writer and actress Nikki Reed is suggested to have based it on real events that happened to her and her friends.

Item 9:
Ellie Drake re-awakening of the American Dream- gave me a deeper understanding of the American Dream and gave a good definition of how the idea of it has changed over time.

Item 10:
As a fellow black American it can be argued that Beyonce's opinion is valuable.

Item 11:
This provided me with a base and a solid definition of "The American Dream" defined by Truslow Adams. It also gave me an idea of the American dream, from a less formal perspective.

Item 12:
This supported my view that America has a large influence over the culture of other countries around the world due to globalisation.


Item 13: Movies of the 90’s (Taschen2001)
This was helpful in rounding my opinion of the commentary offered in the films Kids and American Beauty. Through describing the plot subjectively they gave me an alternative way of reading the films; which included things that in my analysis which I did not pick up on.

Item 14: 1001 Movies you must see before you die (Stephen Jay Schneider-General editor 2003 Cassell Illustrated)
This book was helpful in suggesting that the “modern day suburbia” that people have worked so hard to live is actually a suburban nightmare, and also raises the question as to what is desirable in life, to make yourself happy.

Item 15: Generation Multiplex: The image of youth in contemporary American cinema (Timothy Shary 2002 The university of Texas Press)
This book gave an insight into the changing face of American youth cinema and how cultural issues affected the subject matter shown in films for example the prominant theme of "pure teen angst" in "Rebel without a cause" 1955. This was beneficial to provide me with a more rounded arguement in looking at film as a social commentary.


Item 16: Empire March 2004
Provided a useful, simple quote to describe the film and made it relevant to my statement.

Discarded material

Magazine article Total Film Spin:
It was simply a three sentence long summary of the film, which provided no revelation in my project.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Analyses of the social commentary offered in the film “Thirteen” (2003) by Catherine Hardwicke on dystopic youth and the breakdown of the “American dr

The opening shot of “Thirteen” depicts what can be argued as a typical teenage girls bedroom with posters of models, fashion and boys on her walls. As the scene develops it appears more shockingly that two girls Tracy and Evie, the protagonists, are inhaling hair- spray from a can; a form of substance abuse. They are both uninhibited which is emphasized through point of view shots (POV) of the girls facing each other, which appear unfocussed and unsteady. The banality of what is happening is enhanced with the prompt of Tracey to her friend “hit me, I can’t feel a thing.” The hard and fast way that they are living is confirmed in the shot that zooms and focuses on the girls’ piercings, suggesting that they are rebels and thrill seekers. They are inevitably finding fun in dangerous places and it can perhaps be important to ask why? Why do these young healthy American born girls seem to have lost their way in search for the American dream of a better life?

The film goes on to profess that the audience will see how the girls got to this stage through the use of written information saying “four months earlier”. The audience can now establish that the film is to be a journey running chronologically to that time in the bedroom. The film in this way can be seen as a satire, which aims to show the follies of something and hold it up for ridicule; possibly the system and society which allowed the girls to stoop so low in the first place.

The idyllic picture of family life is shown with Tracey walking a dog with her friend down a typically American tree lined road to meet her mum. However, it is apparent that there is underlying conflict as Tracy’s mum hides the cigarette she has smoked, evidently concealing it from her daughter. This shows perhaps that the mum cares about protecting her daughter’s well being and happiness, in that it will prevent her worrying about the reason why her mum might have started smoking again; which it can be agreed upon that many children do worry about their parents.

Untypically, the house they live in seems small and very much the domain of a family with not much money to spare. Money is made an issue within the film when it’s first discovered that Tracy’s mum and dad are separated and he has, again it seems, failed to pay child support money, as pointed out angrily by Tracy. This issue is again lightly brought up by her mum, who does hair dressing at home to earn some extra money, when talking about a “two dollar tip, they ate half of the lasagne!”. It is money which, when everything comes to a head, is blamed for its scarcity in their lives with Tracy screaming at her mum “It’s not like your broke ass has any money to give me anyway.” To which her mum replies “we’re not rich but we’re doing fine, you don’t have to steal”. This could show a breakdown of generational values in the idea of what is enough to be left content with.

Tracy is originally portrayed as a studious and intelligent girl when reading out her poem to her mum. However, implicit in her poem is suppressed anger and the burden of things she has been exposed to. The subject matter is met with the comment “it’s heavy stuff. It kind of scares me a little”. Perhaps, this is because she feels guilty for her daughter’s exposure to emotional harshness, such as coping with an alcoholic mum and witnessing her mum’s boyfriend cough aggressively after smoking pot; this would definitely have a traumatic effect on a child; which effectively is what a thirteen year old is.

Evie shows signs of being a victim of perversion as she seems very intoxicating and forward in her thinking, shown in her sneaking around with boys. Also, more disturbingly she tries to emotionally blackmail people to get what she wants. She tells Tracy’s mum that she was sexually abused “he put things in me” in order to get her to adopt her. She makes the audience uncomfortable when she proceeds in kissing her friends mum good night and telling her that she loves her after only knowing her for a short amount of time. Evie is like a leach clinging on to anyone who will love her, which is possibly why she sleeps around with boys, trying to get the emotional gratification she doesn’t get from her mum and dad who appear to have deserted her. Therefore, the film could show how the mistakes of the last generation are perpetuated onto the next.

Tracey’s destructive behaviour towards the end can be argued to be a culmination of the influence of modern American capitalist culture. When Tracy first goes out to meet Evie to go shopping, there are many shots of billboards and adverts depicting products and sexual imagery; this shows how capitalists use sex to sell products; the director Catherine Hardwicke feels sadly “that popular culture gives a confusing message to kids". The effects of this is the sexualisation of youth which is shown when Tracy and Evie overtly wear a thong. Ultimately, sex becomes part of the everyday and no longer holds sacred meaning as traditionally preached through religion. E.G Wait until marriage.

The girls’ unnatural way of living taking drugs, smoking, stealing and being promiscuous is contrasted with the characters that find more simple pleasures in life. Mario, although a previous drug user manages to seek joy in something small such as the way a chicken’s head doesn’t move when he moves its body. This could also show a generational difference in that though the two generations have similar problems, the younger generation with more technology, freedom, disposable income and media influence, sets the ground for unhappiness and dissatisfaction with their lives.

Ultimately, the film is not to scape goat teenagers it alternatively, intends to “spark dialogue between mothers and daughters”. It intends to make a connection between the generations by being frank about the issues that face teenagers. And hopefully through communication many young people can be helped to stay on the right track, and try to avoid entering a dystopic world of criminality and instead lead productive lives and strive for what can be called the “American Dream”. Therefore, in this light the American dream could be a social device which encourages an element of social cohesion in that it gives the American a collective purpose that gives meaning to their lives.

Bibliography -quote from Catherine Hardwicke

Friday, 7 November 2008

Evaluation of my focus group and other primary research

My discussion group was very insightful and productive. They all had opinions on the subject and seemed very passionate about what they were saying. There tended to be a an agreement that main stream American youth cinema presented an unrealistic picture of it as "perfect" and "over the top". However, they also suggested from watching the trailer of "Thirteen" that maybe this wasn't a realistic portrayal either. They felt that it was maybe an extreme at the other end of High School Musical.

Recently, I posted a similar structure of questions onto "IMDB" to obtain the opinions of American youths on Youth representation in American cinema. However, it proved to be a fruitless project to date. Therefore, to heighten my chances i posted the same questions onto an alternative website called "Rotten Tomatoes". However, to have more chance of reply, I changed the layout to make it as simple as i could for people to answer.E.G By numbering the questions as opposed to bullet pointing them. so they could refer back to the question number when replying.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Relevance of my project at this point in time

The recent American presidency election which saw Barack Obama win to John McCain, has inspired a debate about the existance of the American dream and its current stance in America. This debate has argueably sprung from the colour of the winning candidate. Many people thought America was not ready for a black, or even a female president, in the case of Hillary Clinton earlier on in the running for the democratic vote. However, It is currently thought that Barack Obama "is the American dream" ( This is because becoming president is the epitomy of success to some, and the idea that ablack man has reached this level suggests that the dream is still alive and well. In his speech in November 2007, Obama spoke vastly about the American dream and suggests that there was a breakdown of it saying "we need to reclaim the dream"( and so by looking at the time settings of the films I am analysing, I will try to come to a conclusion about the existance of the American.