Thursday, August 28, 2008

Why would women talk about anything other than men, anyway?

Inspired by Johnny Bacardi (who was inspired by elsewhere), I want to take a crack at this meme-type thing regarding women in film.

It involves the not-at-all pretentiously named Bechdel-Wallace test, which assesses how inclusive a film is towards women. In order to pass, a film must contain:

1) At least two named female characters,
2) ... who have a conversation,
3) ... which is not about a man.

So the deal is, pick five of your favorite films. How do they fare in the Bechdel-Wallace test? My suspicion is not very well. Let's see!

Johnny already did Citizen Kane (FAIL), so I'll start with...

1. Casablanca: The film has three named female characters, Ilsa, Yvonne, and Annina (the woman trying to get an exit visa from Renault), but I don't believe they ever speak to one another. FAIL.

2. McCabe & Mrs. Miller: I'd have to rewatch to confirm it, but I'm pretty sure Mrs. Miller has talks with her prostitutes (including Ida, played by Shelley Duvall) which aren't specifically about men. Not that a madame and her passel of prostitutes is necessarily the progressive representation of women this test is looking for, but still. WIN.

3. Chinatown: I believe that Evelyn and Katherine have at least one exchange, if brief, while packing to flee town, but I'm not 100% sure on that. UNDECIDED

4. Unforgiven: Prostitutes again, but they speak to each other several times -- mainly about hiring a gunfighter, yes, but I don't think that that counts as "about a man" in the way the test means. I'm calling it a WIN.

5. The Wizard of Oz: Dorothy and Glinda the Good Witch have a couple of chats, as do Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West (which I'm counting as a named character: last name West, first name Wicked Witch of the), and Dorothy and Auntie Em, and Auntie Em and Miss Gulch... this one is all kinds of WIN.

Well, that's three out of five, but in two of those films just about the only female characters are whores, so that probably violates the spirit of the test, if not the letter. I've only got one real slamdunk here, and it's a children's movie.

Now that I think about it, not a lot of movies would pass this test, and certainly very few big releases. I mean, let's look at the movies I've seen this year and see how they stack up.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: FAIL

Iron Man: FAIL

The Dark Knight: FAIL

Hancock: FAIL

Step-Brothers: FAIL

Pineapple Express: FAIL

Tropic Thunder: FAIL

Hell, even in Waitress, which I recently reviewed, the majority of the conversations among the rich and interesting female characters revolve around men in some way. Dang, good thing I'm allowed to see movies that fail this test, or I'd never go to the theater!

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