Don’t Speak

Ah Ms. Banks, you really ought to check the filmography of those whose careers you wish to speak of before you decide to besmirch the name of a director, especially a white, Jewish, industry heavyweight like Spielberg.
There has been in Hollywood over the past couple of years a real push for more prominent roles for women and any race that isn’t white. That this is a thing in a country where a black man can start his own self-sustaining film industry – Tyler Perry – or a woman can, as far back as the sixties – Lucille Ball – run a television studio, is a little odd to a black person looking on from the United Kingdom as the U. S. was always the place to look for any sort cultural and ‘people like us’ references.
Blaxploitation, the blanket term used to describe the slew of black films that came out in the early seventies in America, set the tone. Films with black leads, set in black communities and featuring identifiable black cultural references. The films still managed to cross ethnic barriers, appealing to many outside of the black community at which it was marketed. Bruce Lee was the lone voice for Asian cinema with him popularising martial arts in the West.
Since the early days of cinema, it has always been a boys and their toys medium. Early works were made mostly by men, though Alice Guy-Blaché is credited as one of the pioneers of cinema having made a film, albeit only a minute long, way back in 1896.

What was important with regards to her early film, is that it was given a narrative at a time when other pioneers such as the Lumiere’s and Edison were only thinking in terms of a ‘live’ photograph.
Still Elizabeth Banks’ accusatory tweet – social media really gets people in trouble sometimes – dragging Spielberg over the lack of female leads in his films, whilst in some respects true – his films, like most leading Hollywood films, tend to have male leads – he did with his adaption of black author Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple back in 1985, address the issue of colour and a female lead – Whoopi Goldberg starred – more than twenty years before the first tweet or hashtag.
The world has changed over the past twenty years, the biggest shift being in social media and the ability to connect with people, at least superficially, relatively easily and quickly.

The internet has changed the way we receive and seek information. It has also become the place where everyone with an opinion can voice it. (I appreciate the irony of putting that statement in a blog!) A person with a degree of social influence – they get a lot of traffic on their blogs, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media platform – can start a topic and make it relevant in an hour, hashtags or shares spreading like wildfire.
That is how a subject you have never heard of makes the news now. Unfortunately, sometimes people like to jump on a bandwagon or wade into a subject that they have very little knowledge of or only know one side of the story. With the anonymity that can come with commenting online, some find a type of bravery that they would not display generally if asked to comment on a subject, whether they liked it or not.

Unfortunately, sometimes people like to jump on a bandwagon or wade into a subject that they have very little knowledge of or only know one side of the story of. With the anonymity that can come with commenting online, some find a type of bravery that they would not display generally if asked to comment on a subject, whether they liked it or not.
What’s so stupid is that it is easier than ever to check facts or stories before commenting on them or giving an uneducated opinion, the only reason to venture an opinion from a position of ignorance is laziness.
This need to call people out on supposed slights or for not stepping up to promote the case of women in cinema, in Spielberg’s case, smacks of bullying. To call out an individual when there are so many other high profile, not to mention more prolific, filmmakers who are not doing anything to further the cause of women or minorities in cinema is spiteful and truthfully, somewhat unhelpful.
It is good that many are no longer required to sit at the back of the bus, metaphorically speaking, but we must always be mindful to not let one sort of egocentric dominance be replaced by another.

Me See, Me Do.

More and more I am thinking that I am going have to write the next episode of my sitcom, even as I contemplate – see procrastinate – making the first episode. It is probably another way to avoid tackling making said episode. More procrastination.
I know I’m going to make the first episode, so I should just get on and do it. Yes. I’ll get to it. Instead of outlining the next episode or fashioning some pithy prose to persuade people to join me on my project – crew recruiting – I am having a cinema day. A female empowerment cinema day to be precise. Having just finished watching Colossal – a peculiar but highly enjoyable Anne Hathaway starrer, I have gone straight into the latest attempt by the DCEU to redeem itself in Wonder Woman, starring the luminous Gal Gadot. I realise referring to her looks is not very empowering, but the woman is distractingly attractive!
My stalling does seem to be working as I am sure I have the second episode opening worked out now. It has completely changed from what I had in mind a week ago, so score one for procrastination. Other elements of the story are coming together as well, though the main character is at a bit of a loose end at the moment. That, obviously, is a problem.
What you, dear reader, cannot know is that I write my blogs over the course of a day. Even though they are short, because I tend to write as I commute, my writing windows can be brief. Also with various goings on during any given day, the subject matter can sometimes get subverted. This being a film blog, after a fashion, and me having watched two films that bear similarities, whilst being very different, it is hard not to slip into review mode.
I am not going to review the films; Wonder Woman has already had many fulsome reviews, that I would just be reiterating and Colossal is a film that needs an in depth and researched review – I want to know who wrote it (though if you want to read a good review of it, you could do worse and go here). What I will say is what watching good films, which both are, does for me.
There is the obvious; they inspire, especially from a story point of view. That Wonder Woman is a tentpole film, but still manages to bring heart and emotion, as well as the thrills and spills you would expect, is testament to the story craft. Colossal is a different beast altogether, managing to make an incredible story, involving a monster a giant robot and disaster in Seoul, believable and engaging.
Watching good cinema, great cinema, having watched a fantastically intricate episode of American Gods the night before, one cannot help but be inspired by the talent of the writers and story makers. The visual flare of all the fare – American Gods is very cinematic in its shot selection – is breathtaking, true visual storytelling.
It makes me want to try different types of storytelling, explore less conventional methods of exposition, or in the case of American Gods, have the bravery to trust the audience to stick with the story. Of course, that takes compelling characters and a strong story arc. The detail in these projects – Colossal has a scene in which Anne Hathaway’s character, Gloria, visits Jason Sudeikis’ Oscar at his home and we the audience discover, just by the chaos of his home, that Oscar is not as together as he might seem. Wonder Woman not only has the detail you expect in a big budget film, it also, unlike so many of the rest of the DCEU fare, has amazing colour, though not quite on the level of the gorgeous Nocturnal Animals – cinematography to die for! – it still rises above the pallidness of Man Of Steel and B vs. S.
The best thing about seeing great cinema and television is the feeling of excitement to do your own thing, to try and emulate or match that which you admire. It may be procrastination, but it is the necessary kind and hopefully, it will help to make me a better storyteller and filmmaker.

And Some Wine For The Ladies.

With only two days to go until Wonder Woman hits the cinemas, it is a good time to reflect on the paucity of heroine roles in cinema. Whereas on the small screen there are an ever increasing number of strong female characters, from the kick-ass to the cerebral to the Machiavellian, on the big screen female characters continue to support their male leads.
There has always been the, frankly poor, argument of female leads not being able to open films. While it may be true that there are not many women who headline films, making them must-see events, it was not always so. Before the sixties, there is a whole pantheon of female actors who headlined films, from Lillian Gish to Claudette Colbert, Ingrid Bergman, Audrey Hepburn, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Fonda.
As films became more actions driven, less dialogue heavy, the men came ever more to the fore. Whereas before, cinema was still pretty much like television, with the dialogue being paramount, it was, perversely, the rise of television that created the need for something bigger.
To give people a reason to leave their homes and invest in seeing a story that is projected on a massive screen, there needed to be more than a film that would look just as impressive on a small screen. There needed to be a spectacle. For a short while, there was a resurgence of the musical, but as great as dancing is, musicals are an aural experience as much as a visual one. Cinema needed something else. The blockbuster was born.
The thing with those early seventies blockbusters is that they were very much old school hero films. Jaws, Towering Inferno, Airport and its sequels, these were films that centred around a man overcoming overwhelming odds or situations to save the day. With this model proving so effective, the everyman blockbuster was set to dominate. In the following decades, there were variations; muscles and martial arts in the eighties, muscles and technology in the nineties, back to muscles and martial arts in the noughties and then the era of superheroes began.
There have of course been many superhero films over the years, though, surprisingly on the big screen at least, few have captured the imagination. One would think that comics would be perfect for translating to screen, after all, they have ready-made storyboards and heroes and villains galore. Unfortunately, the lurid costumes that work so well on a two-dimensional page do not work so well when brought into the real world.

Though the camp television incarnations of Batman and Flash Gordon worked and even the earnest Hulk of Bill Bixby is fondly remembered, on the small screen. It took Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman to get costumes characters any credibility on the big screen. Still, it was not until Tim Burton’s Batman in ’89 and Jon Favreau’s 2008 Iron Man that the genre really began to gather apace.
With the genre being such huge business, the two main comic book players, Marvel and DC, have been vying for top billing in the world of superheroes. The battle has thus far been overwhelmingly dominated and won by Marvel. The DC output, up to this point, has been underwhelming, with only elements of the films under their banner garnering positive feedback.
Up until now, DC have never looked like matching Marvel. Their films have been bloated and humourless, the best version of the Batman was unrelated to their output and they have never managed to capitalise on their superior television output. Wonder Woman could be – someone would say needs to be – the turning point in their fortunes.
Wonder Woman is not only looking like a – if early word is anything to go by – good film, it is looking perfectly timed as well. Both studios have been trying to release a film with a female lead. Both had poor efforts before with Marvel’s anti-heroine, Elektra, best forgotten by any Frank Miller’s Daredevil fan and DC’s truly risible Catwoman, a film of almost indescribable awfulness. After these outputs, both believed that the cinema-going public did not want to see a female superhero.

Both studios have been trying to release a film with a female lead. Both had poor efforts before with Marvel’s anti-heroine, Elektra, best forgotten by any Frank Miller’s Daredevil fan and DC’s truly risible Catwoman, a film of almost indescribable awfulness. After these outputs, both believed that the cinema-going public did not want to see a female superhero.
They were wrong. People, as ever, did not want to see awful films. Marvel, their cinematic universe chugging along successfully, saw no reason to disrupt it with a female lead superhero film, shelving indefinitely a Black Widow/Scarlett Johansson vehicle that had been mooted. They were already ticking a box – ethnic – with Black Panther slated for 2019. DC could not boast the same.

Their films, even though they made money, failed to excite the fans or critics. Their headliner, Batman vs. Superman, failed to bring any excitement to the ailing DC universe. The only glimmer of hope in the film was Wonder Woman.
Gal Gadot, the actor portraying Wonder Woman, was, even before she had donned the costume, having to fight a backlash. She was too skinny, she’s not an Amazon, she’s got a funny accent – the comic book loving, keyboard critics were not pleased. They were calmed a little by the cameo in B vs. S.
Now we are on the brink of the first credible female led superhero film. It not only has a female lead, it is also directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins, and the word on the street is the wait was worth it. I for one cannot wait to see it. Marvel, DC have stolen a march on you for once in the superhero stakes, what have you got?