Saturday, October 31, 2009
Ginger Snaps, while on the surface might seem another lurid tale of a teenage girl becoming a werewolf and going nuts sexually, is a really solid movie.
While it does have its lurid aspects and is every bit a genre movie, it is primarily a story about the toxic relationship between two sisters, and their loyalty to one another in the face of amazingly terrible events. Their story and the way it is portrayed, celebrated and acted the way it really drives the movie is the reason why 9 years later it has a well earned cult status and why I feel its worth while to post about it. It's a really well executed genre movie.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Now, as this clip from Mean Girls so artfully presents, there's a certain cultural fetishization of Halloween, the anonymity of donning a costume allows people to explore certain aspects of their character they don't feel they might in their normal clothes. Therefore, many women make the choice to wear sexy costumes and let it all hang out for that one night when they are culturally allowed to put on a mask and go out and celebrate. Like Mardi Gras, Carnival or Masquerade Balls, Halloween is a shared liminal space where people can play a part and part of that is expressing sexuality that is otherwise hidden, but the question at hand is... are nine year old girls expressing themselves or simply buying in to what is presented to them?
I've always been the sort that would adjust and amend any costume I got pre-made from the store. One my my very favorite Halloween costumes was the result of going with my best friend to the thrift store where we both picked out fantastic and utterly cheap clothes that we turned into rather fantastic Victorian style ghost costumes, with lace and greasepaint galore. We were 11 or 12 and while it didn't get me any dates at the middle-school dance, I absolutely loved the entire process of getting the costume together. There's a lot of fun and a lot of self-expression that goes into picking out a Halloween costume for child or an adult.
The scandal of "Slut-o-ween", is that Halloween is a 4.3 Billion Dollar holiday where pre-made costumes are more common than others, and quite reasonably for the millions of people without the time or inclination to make their own costume. But the choices for women are often overwhelmingly "Sexy _____" the blank representing any noun in the encyclopedia. Over the years the same principle of "Sexy _____" has trickled down throughout the costume market to little girls, who want to emulate older women and older girls, who are also their, mothers, sisters, and aspirational role models of all stripes.
The pressures are only compounded when you look at the costumes of celebrities, and even child stars like Noah Cyrus, Miley Cyrus's little sister, who at 9 has been splashed all over the news because of her "inappropriate" witch/vampire costume.Did her parents let her out of the house like this? Obviously they did and have before, can we talk until we are blue in the face about this one girl's possible exploitation for publicity? Sure, but let's not. Let's instead take a look at what drives the production of sexy costumes for little girls?
1) Girls want them, and they are easily available.
Why might this be? Might it be that they are considered scandalous and seem cool? They make it to the newsstands and news reports EVERY Halloween as though this is the first time something questionable has ever been marketed to the under-10 set? (A Scary NEW Trend, NY Daily News... really?) The free publicity that these costumes get from the news of the scandal rocking the good name of Halloween only add to their bad-girl mystique, and while turning a blind eye to them is silly, this yearly outrage obviously drives sales.
2) Parents purchase them for their daughters and allow them to wear them out in public.
I don't think there's an easy answer to the "my daughter wants to wear this risque outfit" issue. On one hand, as a parents you're totally aghast that your little moppet wants to wear something that might make a stripper blush out to Trick-or-Treat with her friends. But it's not as simple as "that's inappropriate and I'm not going to let you wear it out," for many parents. One wants to allow their child self-expression and as girls get older they want to emulate older girls and women, and you might consider "if I let her wear this now, maybe she won't be as fascinated by it when she's older, it'll become something she did when she was a little kid."
On one hand, its obvious that for most kids and parents, this is a discussion that can be done reasonably, the child isn't accustomed to getting everything they want all the time and some sort of compromise can be reached that satisfies both the child's desire for a particular look and the parent's particular standards of aesthetics and propriety. From everything I've seen, read and experienced, it helps to go costume shopping prepared so that both parent and child know what the ground rules are when picking out a costume.
Here's my list of requirements for any costume I buy or make for myself or my kids, it's based on my years as a costume designer, event planner and wearer/buyer of Halloween costumes:
- Can one move in it?
- Will it be appropriate for the weather?
- Is the fabric comfortable enough that I won't claw off my skin?
- Will I be visible in the dark? (Especially important for Trick or Treating)
- Am I going to be comfortable with what this outfit covers or uncovers? (also think about how it's going to act when you move? will the hemline rise if you walk?)
- Is this something I'd want to wear more than once?
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
I think it's fair to say that Alexandre Dumas is spinning in his grave fast enough to power Europe if it were somehow harnessed in a turbine.
Also, while at least they're out to protect a prince they don't even use Muskets, they use sparkly fans...
Monday, October 26, 2009
Well, for starters, how about having it actually be good? Oh, and throwing out "Strong Female Characters" (tm) once and for all?
It's unfortunate that we can't just talk about Amelia as a bad movie. As another unwieldy, under-characterized, over-cliched biopic trying to combine legend and humanity into one half-baked, generic panini, the kind made, inevitably, with chicken, crummy cheese and a few overwhelming hunks of roasted pepper. But when Amelia fails, it's an indictment of women's movie, of "older women's movies" (that's us ape-leaders over the magic 25) and of those with "strong female characters."
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Hilary Swank's latest film, Amelia, is currently taking quite a critical drubbing, bad news for the film, and, as Ann Hornaday explores in today's Washington Post, for the increasingly small pool of strong female roles for women in Hollywood.
Hornaday argues that Amelia's box office results will essentially be a failure either way: "If 'Amelia' earns respectable receipts," Hornaday writes, "chances are it will be dismissed as a lucky break. If it fails, it will be cited as yet more proof that strong female protagonists are box office poison."
That's right, to have a strong heroine, not only does she have to be old and dead...
From the NY Times:
For actresses, it is no longer enough to be young and beautiful onscreen, they have to be dead and famous, too — one of history’s immortals. Filmmakers have long resurrected the dearly and notably departed with actors and actresses who flatter their memories, of course, partly because Academy members like to reward other success stories. Last year, Marion Cotillard warbled her way to the awards podium for her turn as Édith Piaf in “La Vie en Rose.” Since 2000, six of the best actress awards were for biographical performances, most of dead women. This year, Julia Child, Coco Chanel, Queen Victoria, Keats’s great love, Fanny Brawne, and now Amelia Earhart are all making a run for it.
You can’t blame filmmakers (or actresses) for raiding crypts. It’s rarely been more difficult to be a woman in the movies than now, particularly in the United States, where for the past few decades most blockbusters and microbudgeted D.I.Y. enterprises have been overwhelmingly male. Last year, only one movie about a woman — “Twilight,” the vampire romance about a living teenager and her undead but supercute boyfriend — squeezed into the ranks of the Top 10 grossing titles, a chart dominated by superheroes and male cartoon characters. Another two female-centric stories climbed into the Top 20. That sounds shocking except that only three such stories made it to the Top 20 in each of the previous two years.
...if you want to watch a movie about a powerful, interesting, difficult, believable, remotely recognizable woman these days she should certainly be famous and probably dead... Female stories have become so marginalized on American movie screens, we should be grateful filmmakers are raiding the history books.
... but even if the film is successful it will be dismissed as a fluke.
From the Washington Post:
It is symptomatic of a production emphasis away from dramas in general:
Swank -- who also executive produced "Amelia" -- was optimistic. "I think things ebb and flow, and someone out there who crunches numbers probably affects that," she said regarding studios' reluctance to make films about strong women ("Amelia" was produced and distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures, a subsidiary of Twentieth Century Fox). "Then I think art has to override it, and the numbers people say, 'Oh right, that works.' It comes in and out."
Strong women, for now anyway, are out. Two years ago, when the Jodie Foster vigilante thriller "The Brave One" failed at the box office, industry blogger Nikki Finke reported that a Warner Brothers production executive announced to staffers that the studio would no longer produce movies featuring female leads. This past summer, actress and writer Nia Vardalos blogged on the Huffington Post that when she was pitching a project to a studio executive, he asked that she change the female lead to a man. Why? Because "women don't go to movies," he told her. "When I pointed out the box office successes of 'Sex and The City,' 'Mamma Mia!,' and 'Obsessed,' he called them 'flukes,' " she wrote.
"Dramas are dead," says producer Lynda Obst ("Contact," "The Invention of Lying"). "Some of the greatest parts for women -- the Academy Award parts for women -- are often in dramas, and this is the worst time for dramas since I've been in the business for the last 10,000 years." More than ever, Obst adds, the movie business is geared toward the young men who go to movies most frequently. "And by and large that's a comedy audience and an action audience. To get a project greenlit now, studios are requiring more and more what we call 'unaided awareness,' which is where you get this addiction to toys and comics and old titles. And dramas don't live there."
... One reason why we see fewer strong female leads these days is a changing business model, notes Silverstein. In the 1970s, 1980s and into the 1990s -- years when stars like Jane Fonda, Barbra Streisand, Sally Field and Goldie Hawn were making movies in a diverse number of genres -- studios were not, as they are now, subsidiaries of multi-corporations, responsible for contributing to quarterly bottom lines. With economic pressures greater than ever, studios are looking for movies that are guaranteed to make $100 million their first weekend out. The result: More Paul Blarts, fewer Erin Brockoviches.
The upshot, Obst says, is that "it's easier for male executives to get jobs now, because they want to develop male-oriented material. Girls don't grow up reading comic books or playing video games, or with Transformer or G.I. Joe toys. So the material they're looking for isn't necessarily as familiar to female executives who read books, which is becoming practically a liability. That's a real problem. That's how it becomes systemic."
I worry that the dialogue about the greater issue of women as an underserved market is that EVERY SINGLE MOVIE that stars a women becomes the life or death of women in the entertainment industry.
I'm glad Amelia is prompting people to write about these issues, I obviously think they're important ones, but one bad video game movie (let's say Doom) didn't stop people from making video game movies, one low-grossing action movie starring Nick Cage (let's say Bangkok Dangerous) isn't going to stop Nick Cage making movies, or people from making action movies.
Let's take a step back from the cliff, not all movies starring strong female characters will be great, nor will all movies staring strong female characters will be ludicrously successful. Let's stop acting as though an individual failure, or even one film's success is the end all and be all of women in Hollywood. In the words of Amelia Earhart herself:
"Please know that I am aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be a challenge to others. "
So regardless of the whether not Amelia succeeds at the box office, male executives are getting better opportunities in the studio system, or what stories feature female characters or their quality; there is only one mentality that will ever get women into Hollywood, and female characters the same screen time as male counterparts...
"The most effective way to do it, is to do it."
Monday, October 12, 2009
I could go on and on, which I will at some point, but right now, I'm going to talk about my favorite scene in Tinker Bell and why it makes me really excited about the "new look" that Tinker Bell has in the upcoming release . Tinker Bell has looked many different ways over the years, and that slide show I've link barely scratches the surface. If you think about mythical pixies and all their interpretations over the years there's a lot of lore to cover. Tinker Bell, as she appears in the Disney version of Peter Pan and also, in Disney Fairies, was based on Marilyn Monroe and for years has been seen as a teensy sex symbol as well as a beloved children's character. In rebooting her for a new generation of girls as an aspirational character, they did something amazing in Tinker Bell, they explained why she wore the clothes she did.
Upon arriving at her new home in Pixie Hollow, she is presented with some leaf-clothing that is about 8 sizes too large. In order to get down to the business of being a tinker, frolicking, exploring and generally being active, Tinker Bell cuts the clothes down to size so she can move and not be impeded by the sleeves of the dress. She also finds that her hair is in her face during the process, and pulls it back into her trademark pony tail.
The whole scene lasts about 20 seconds but speaks volumes to anyone watching about the kind of gal Tinker Bell is and why her clothes are a choice she makes. A functional and practical decision on her part is also one that ends up being stunning is not a bad thing, nor is the fact that her friends react by complimenting her, she's pretty but it doesn't affect how they treat her later on and she doesn't get a big head about it, despite the dramatic reveal in the next scene.
This scene warmed my costume designer's heart, and makes me feel happy as a parent to show the movie to my daughter. So, I'll eventually pick up the next DVD that comes out Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure. John Lasseter seems to be continuing the emphasis on making sure Tink's apparel makes sense as you can see in her new look for the film.
"I began thinking what the costume design would be for each season," he says. Since Lost Treasure is set in autumn, "the weather is cooler, and her outfit should reflect that."The fact that a female character is changing clothes in a property may seem small, but like my favorite scene, these small moments where motivation is addressed add so much to the story and the depth of character that can be displayed in a property. One small step for pants, one giant leap for storytelling.
The result is a tad tomboyish and covers more of her body, yet still clings to her curvy figure. "We wanted to make Tink as real as possible in Lost Treasure," says director Klay Hall. "It made sense she was going to put on a jacket, leggings and boots. This is sort of a new phase for Tink, and the look brings her up to the current feeling we are trying to convey," such as the belt she uses to carry items she needs.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
As it stands now, women still are under-represented as creators and implementers, and as characters are often relegated to subordinate positions in narrative that do not get fully considered and are two-dimensional. These decisions often lead to narrower story lines and narrower perspectives that make stories less interesting, not just to me, not just to women, but to everyone. If you have a guy ask why he doesn't understand women, ask how many women were depicted seriously in the stories he was exposed to from infancy to adulthood.
Let's hope that with a larger number of women in positions to talk about stories and the characters in them, people will take these characters more seriously and in turn, we can all learn more from our entertainment.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
It seems clear that there's a perception that if you market something to a man or a boy, women and girls who might seek it out would go see it anyway. Just as a boy who is interested would go and seek out a toy or property marketed to girls, theoretically. But, if you aren't describing that product or property accurately, how are they to know they would want it?
In the past month there have been two examples of properties where their creators have articulated that their properties are stories about women, or dealing with strong women, that you might not have seen that way if you just went by the marketing.
The really poignant example on this list is Jennifer's Body. Written, Directed and Starring women, is a story about the friendship between two high school girls, one of whom is actually literally, a demonic, homicidal monster. I seriously did not get that from the promotional material I first saw, the first poster I saw (the one at the top of the article) made me say "wow, that's something I will never, ever see."
What many reviews from friends and in the press have told me is that my initial impression of the movie was just not accurate, and not only would it be for me, it would be for a guy who went in for a romp in lascivious voyeurism and got a story of female friendship mixed up in his gore.
But the problem is that Jennifer's Body is not an ejaculatory explosion movie like Transformers 2. It is a horror movie, which means its built-in audience is already predominantly female (stats show that horror movie-goers are often over 60 percent women). Megan Fox is also not the main character; and she's not the boy hero's plucky sidekick (there are no boy heroes in this movie). Instead, she's the toothy, gory, puke-soaked object of repulsion and disgust. In short, she is the monster.
And she's a very specific kind of monster, too. She embodies one of the scariest demons who haunts girls' dreams: The popular, pretty girl who pretends to be your friend while secretly trying to steal your boyfriend, your pride, and your life. Written and directed by women, Jennifer's Body is a film made in a women's genre about women's problems. It's a movie about why women want to stab Megan Fox in the tit with scissors.
There were many more reviews by men (77) than women (26). The majority of these were culled from the Rotten Tomatoes site . . . Here's the breakdown: Male movie reviewers: 39% liked it, 61% disliked it; Female movie reviewers: 54% liked it, 46% disliked it.The director also explicitly stated that the marketing aimed at men looking for a standard horror movie "isn't doing us any favors."
The campaign wasn't aimed at me, but well, both the creators and the numbers seem to think it should have been. As a 25 year old female moviegoer, my demo is the one that led the charge to the box office that made The Final Destination's multi-week number one numbers starting last Labor Day such a shocker. (Though again, if you look at the numbers, this should NOT be such a shock.)
Secondly, the case of Dollhouse.
Dollhouse's Second Season started up a few weeks ago, and in its first season, Dollhouse performed abysmally, leading to its budget being cut and a "new creative direction" that has yet to really make itself known, that said, if things continue as they are, it may never get that far.
The ratings are low, the second week had a 20% drop off from the first, and the numbers say that re-runs of House would have higher ratings and be more cost-effective.
Now, that's some bottom line thinking, but to be honest, as much as I love the cast, which I do, and many of the characters (Especially what's going on with Amy Acker so far this season) Dollhouse is a show that has always run very hot or cold for me, as scattered as the personalities of the brainwashed characters, and I mean that in a very bad way.
The problem with this, and in my opinion many, of Whedon's creations is the balance between episodic shows, where anyone can understand the story who hasn't seen a previous episode, and the compelling concept and super-arc of the characters. My personal opinion is that the concepts are great, but the super-arcs have suffered massively from the episodic format, and that this isn't the first time this has happened in Whedon's work.
But putting that aside, Whedon described the show as the story of a strong woman trying to get her identity back from brainwashers. Is that the story you see when you look at the marketing?
Maybe Yes, Maybe No. io9.com's review of the "Virtual Echo" makes a lot of good points.
The "Virtual Echo" app, which runs on the somewhat insecure Adobe Air platform, is reminiscent of those "virtual girlfriend" programs that proliferated in the 1990s. You can customize how often Echo struts out onto your screen (wearing a different outfit each time) and does a trick. (When she's hostage negotiator Ellie Penn, she throws a card, which "hits" your screen and reads, "Your Boss Is Coming!" or "Why Be All Business?" or "Call Me." Which is sorta cute, I guess.) If you're missing her fashion catwalk strut, then you can always click "see me now," and she'll come when you call her.The best point, I think, is made in the article's title: "Virtual Echo" Turns Dollhouse's Squick Factor up to 11. Let's talk about "Squick", to the urban dictionary...
1. Noun. The physical sense of repulsion upon encountering a concept or situation one finds disgusting.
2. Noun. A situation or concept which engenders this reaction.
3. Verb, transitive. To cause someone to have this reaction.
4. Verb, intransitive. To experience this reaction.
That's the core of the story, her choice to volunteer for this, how could it have possibly included all of the situations where the choice is made for her? and was that initial decision entirely voluntary?
There's sex in the series, there's skimpy outfits, but might part of the point to be that squicky feeling? Does the marketing you're seeing make you feel a little gross for wanting to play with Echo without her consent? The same way the author of io9 suggests that the marketing says "this show is for creepy teenage masturbators" I think that a lot of Dollhouse's marketing does ignore the squick factor, regardless of the show's internal storytelling question marks. If you watch the show, there's a very real chance you might feel icky about looking at the naked Eliza Dushku commercial entr'acte and feel that way when you see her sexing it up as Echo on the promos on the street.
The argument I'm trying to make here is that marketing without considering your story, or marketing to a specific group over the idea of marketing the property as it exists in reality is not helping either of these properties. It creates an uphill battle for the property to live up to perception created in the eye of the potential audience member. When it doesn't live up to the expectation created audience members have to get over their initial confusion or even revulsion before they commit themselves further.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
This is interesting for many reasons, and I'm going to list several of them here. Firstly, there is a body in Sweden designed to hold advertisers to task, and while it has no legal authority, it exists and seems to be newsworthy.
Secondly, their school curriculum clearly includes some basic lessons in marketing and advertising. I was very lucky in junior high in that I had a speech class that was mandatory and included many lessons on manipulation and media manipulation, it really gave me a different perspective.
Finally, the kids observations were that by limiting the gender of who was playing with each toy, they also pointed out that it created a lack of interest in the toy in the opposite gender, when a sales bottom line would say that if you appeal to both genders, you would sell more product.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Their website describes the need for their company:
The women’s market is a huge business opportunity, as women buy or influence up to 80% of consumer goods. Yet, the gender dialog is missing from the design world today, probably because there are so few women in the industry to provide a female point-of-view. We are here to fill that gap. Gender needs to be a part of every design project in the same way we consider ergonomics, function, aesthetics, etc. Understanding gender is a new way forward; it is an untapped design tool that can make a difference in design and business.What they do primarily seems to be actually researching the market and also affecting the design of projects as they actually relate to women's needs, including design based on a woman's physicality and some of their experiences are described in this article in Fast Company.
Companies recognize the need, but most are clumsy -- if not patronizing -- in their attempts to address it. This often leads to what the Femme Den calls the "shrink it and pink it" reflex, the kind of mindless design that produces such works of genius as mini pink tool kits and Dell's pastel-saturated Della Web site, stocked with tips about "finding recipes" and "counting calories." (Dell dumped Della within two weeks of its launch.) What women really want, the Femme Den argues, is intuitive design. In a Yale University study, 68% of men asked to program a VCR using written instructions were successful, compared to just 16% of women. That doesn't mean women are less intelligent than men (please), but that they're less tolerant of complicated interfaces -- more willing to skip new tech than to slog through manuals. "Men will walk into an electronics shop and look at the white cards that list the features. Women will pick up the cameras, flip them around, and look at the buttons," Lin says. "They want to know: Is it intuitive?"While the Della is an example of stereotypical choices backfiring there are some compelling ideas that seem to be crossing markets because of their utility that were built with women in mind.
"They don't just understand our products," Sampson says. "They understand how our brands fit into women's lives."When companies ignore the research that they pay for about the female market, it might even be dangerous to consumers, even more than their bottom line.
Or how some products don't. When Cardinal Health, the $12 billion health-care-supply company, wanted to rethink the design of hospital scrubs in 2007, balancing the needs of both sexes helped set its product apart. "Probably 70% of the health-care population wearing scrubs is female," says Carl Hall, Cardinal's director of marketing. "But scrubs are really designed for men. Smart Design identified the gender thing early on as an opportunity and helped us really evolve that." Endura scrubs, introduced in March, swapped out V-necks for stretch collars, and added straps and snaps to make the hem and rise adjustable, breathable mesh at the back and knees, as well as a kimono sleeve to increase range of motion.
And that unisex cut? "We used the female form for measurements, so the fabric doesn't strain across the bust and hips," Hopkins says. "Men don't even notice the extra room." Cardinal has already fed two new projects to Smart Design and the Femme Den.