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Daily Reads: Alison Bechdel Likes Non-Bechdel Test Passing Movies, Terry Gilliam’s Influence and More

Daily Reads: Alison Bechdel Likes Non-Bechdel Test Passing Movies, Terry Gilliam's Influence and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential
news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. Alison Bechdel Likes Non-Bechdel Test Passing Movies. Alison Bechdel was just chosen as a MacArthur Genius, but at this point few people who pay attention to cultural criticism don’t know about the Bechdel Test. But the Bechdel Test should be used more as a way to point out systemic inequality than dismiss individual movies. Case in point: in an interview with Kate Erbland in Cosmopolitan, Alison Bechdel said she likes non-Bechdel Test-approved movies.

For some reason, I never saw “Jackie Brown” until quite recently. It absolutely fails the Bechdel test but it has one of the strongest female protagonists I’ve ever seen in a Hollywood movie — it’s an amazing feminist text. But I’m not a stickler about the Test — if I were, I wouldn’t see many movies. Two other movies I’ve enjoyed recently are “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “About Time.” Pretty much total Bechdel Fails, but enjoyable in their own way. Read more.

2. Early Films of Modern Directors. The Criterion release of David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” features not only Lynch’s landmark surrealist nightmare, but also his terrific early shorts like “The Alphabet” and “The Grandmother.” This got Film School Rejects’ Monika Bartyzel thinking about the first films of modern directors. Here’s her take on George Lucas’ early shorts.

His first film was the 1965 short film “Look at Life,” which you can see part of here. He was at film school and testing the camera, recording a number of still images that were a lot more provocative and a lot less sci-fi fantastical. His eye gets more interesting a year later with his second, “Herbie.” Set to Herbie Hancock’s music, Lucas and Paul Golding play with a dark landscape and zoomed shots of reflected lights that distort into beautifully surreal landscapes gelling with the music. Read more.

3. The Trouble with Treating Female Characters Like Meat. The mostly-positive reviews for “A Walk Among the Tombstones” made it sound like the rare Liam Neeson action flick that was actually worthy of its star’s talents. But Alison Willmore of BuzzFeed found something regressive and troubling in the film’s treatment of women. In this case, the women in the film aren’t treated as much more than murdered catalysts for the hero.

Your tipping point on depictions of violence against women may vary. Here’s mine: Women really do get attacked, beaten, mutilated, permanently injured, raped, and killed, and removing representations of those facts from on screen won’t change that. But when your story includes women only so much as their grisly deaths make the men in their lives mad or sad, well, then you’re just turning them into meat — literally, in this case, as Scudder is hired to track down a pair of sadistic killers (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) who kidnap women, extract ransom money from their loved ones, then leave their victims’ dismembered bodies in plastic-wrapped piles. Read more.

4. “12 Years a Slave” in Schools. The MPAA rated “12 Years a Slave” R by the MPAA, ensuring that anyone under 17 without a parent would be turned away from a film that didn’t flinch at America’s darkest chapter. But Steve McQueen, Montel Williams and Fox Searchlight are teaming with National School Boards Association, among others, to make the film available for American public high schools. Matt Patches of HitFix reports.

When it comes to education and truth, the MPAA is rarely open to discussion. In 2010, Oscilloscope Laboratories’s “A Film Unfinished” earned an R-rating over “disturbing images of Holocaust atrocities including graphic nudity,” despite appeals founded on educational grounds. While “12 Years a Slave” managed just fine with its 17-and-up rating, taking in over $56 million domestically, the idea that impressionable high schoolers were turned away from the movie is eyeroll-worthy. That having been said, it’s worth noting that an edited DVD version of the film with disclaimer/parental consent can be requested for the aforementioned educational toolkit. Read more.

5. The Influence of Terry GilliamThe release of “The Zero Theorem” brings to mind…well, a lot of better Terry Gilliam films. However uneven his post-2000s works are, he’s among the most influential cult directors of all time. Charlie Jane Anders of io9 spoke with a number of people who were influenced by Gilliam’s work, including Rian Johnson.

I discovered “Brazil” my freshman year of college, around the same time I discovered “8 1/2,” and they’re obviously very different movies but they both cracked my mind open in a specific way. I’ll probably fumble it when I try to explain it here, but they both opened up the potential for intimacy through bigness. All the visual opulence of “Brazil” was not just spectacle, it was all one very small and relatable human emotion, writ large. That feeling of being a tiny vulnerable man in the gears of a big machine he has no control over, that’s something that struck home, and seeing it blown up to such obscene proportions it didn’t become diffused, it became concentrated, like looking at a dense stamp-sized micro miniature drawing through a loupe. Read more.

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