Divergent, posters, women and the male gaze

 Divergent

Daredevil 300 GI Joe

On Stranger Tides The Avengers

The Dark Knight Rises GI Joe Retaliation Thor The Dark World

Divergent (Neil Burger, 2014)

Daredevil (Mark Steven Johnson, 2003), 300 (Zack Snyder, 2006), G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Stephen Sommers, 2009), Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Rob Marshall, 2011), The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012), The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, 2012, Empire Magazine cover), G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Jon M. Chu, 2013), Thor: The Dark World (Alan Taylor, 2013).

With the release of the latest Divergent poster we again step into the wider discussion about the male gaze through the feminist lens. In this case, Divergent’s theme of empowerment and individuality against the backdrop of a totalitarian society seems to be undercut by your female protagonist’s posterior facing the camera.

Laura Mulvey introduced the idea of the male gaze in 1975 in her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. The viewing lens is traditionally a heterosexual male. As a result, the female character is passive, usually the object of male viewing, unbeknownst to the viewer, which lends a voyeuristic tone.

The female body is for the pleasure of men, and the image decidedly focuses on them as an erotic object. The characters do not look back at the viewer, instead they are looking away, as if inviting a male to gaze upon them.

This is a particularly prominent image in advertising, and in many cases it is these ads that stand diametrically opposed to the ideas in the film is trying to put forward. We like to think of contemporary films as being more equal. We point out that Joss Whedon directing The Avengers is a good thing given his history of portraying strong female characters with agency. This may be true given that most of the characters above are warriors, self sufficient and capable women. But Hollywood is dominated by men (all of these films were directed by men), and the audience for these kinds of films are traditionally male, and cynically the marketing is going to sell to this demographic.

So for now, we will have to expect more of these types of posters. But in the meantime, thanks to Kevin Bolk for visually realising the The Avengers male cast in Black Widow’s pose.

avengers_booty_ass_emble_by_kevinbolk-d4hb4xl

Visit http://www.teaandamovie.wordpress.com.

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Credit:

http://kevinbolk.deviantart.com/art/Avengers-Booty-Ass-emble-270937785

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“Malickian”

Terrence Malick

The term Malickian tends to be associated with footage or stills which appear to be copying the style of Terrence Malick. For this analysis we will be breaking down the main elements to Malick’s style, citing examples from his filmography.

Over his career Malick has focused strongly on the dichotomy of man and nature. His films often bridges these two concepts, usually pairing man with destruction and nature with beauty. In The Thin Red Line this is defined as the split between the jungles of Guadalcanal and the battles of World War 2. In The New World the native American Indians are in symbiosis with nature compared to the colonists who only seem capable of destroying the land. In The Tree of Life, nature and grace are dichotomously introduced as a choice for Jack to choose between his father who is Darwinian and his mother who is ephemeral.

Fire and Water

Malick has represented the man and nature with fire and water respectively. For a fantastic visualisation of this, check out this video by Kogonada. Interestingly, Kogonada has also noticed that the balance has shifted over his career, noticeably leaning more towards water than fire. This is particularly noticeable in To The Wonder (2012) which has no fire, but a lot of water (Malick still shows negative impact man has on nature through the contamination of soil and water).

The reason for this shift may be a move towards less narrative film making and aiming for more ephemeral themes like life and love. Regardless of the reason, it is clear that this symbolic use of imagery is present in his films, below in The Thin Red Line and The New World:

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But he uses both images jointly, below in The New World and The Tree Of Life: 

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Nature

Aside from fire and water, images of nature are incorporated consistently in his film. The American country is a location used heavily, from Badlands, Days of Heaven and To The Wonder. But there are two seminal shots which are often referred to as Malickian, the upward shot of a forest with sunlight bleeding through the canopy (The Thin Red Line, The Tree Of Life and To The Wonder respectively):

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Grass in the wind (The Thin Red Line , The New World and To The Wonder respectively):

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And as mentioned before, flowing water (The New World, The Tree Of Life andTo The Wonder respectively):

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Cinematography and the visual pallet Malick employs focuses heavily on nature and other films that use it extensively run the risk (either positively or negatively) of being described as derivative.

Camera and Framing

At times, but not always, Malick employs a naturalistic, documentary style of camera positioning. His camera appears to follow the characters as they go about their routine unbeknownst to its presence. The camera does not really spend much time on the tripod, usually beholden to the freedom given to the actor. In particular, he has a tendency of framing characters running away from the camera (First two are from The Tree Of Life and the bottom two from To The Wonder):

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And under water (The Thin Red LineThe New WorldThe Tree Of Life and To The Wonder respectively):

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Narration

Malick is just as famous for his use of narration. However, Malick’s use of narration does not tend to deliver exposition but provides ethereal, whispered internal monologues.

Badlands Movie Poster

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Music

Malick consistently uses orchestral or choir music. The Tree of Life trailer prominently uses both Bedrich Smetana’s The Moldau and Patrick Cassidy’sFuneral March. In the trailer for The Thin Red Line, both instrumental and choir versions of the Melanesian Choir’s Jisas Yu Holem Hand Blong Mi are used. As such, pairing any of the images cited above with majestic music invokes Malick. Notice in particular the transition to Jisas Yu Holem Hand Blong in The Thin Red Line trailer with a shot of a forest canopy (Time: 2.02):

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An assortment of these elements is usually what brings out substantively the concept of being Malickian. To demonstrate this I will use two case examples of when the term Malickian could be, or has been used. Also look for my visual comparison between the trailer of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013) by David Lowery which takes many elements from Malick’s films.

Malickian Case Study: The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford (John Hillcoat, 2007)

The opening of Jesse James provides strikes a strong Malickian chord:

The narration strikes a distinctly poetic tone, in particular the lines:

Rooms seemed hotter when he was in them. Rains fell straighter. Clocks slowed. Sounds were amplified

The opening is accompanied by the beautiful score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. This hems closely to Malick’s use of music.

The cinematography has a distinctly Malickian feel, with the location the American country side and the utilisation of grass:

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trees and canopies:

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and this striking image of a field ablaze:

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which seems to have been lifted from Days of Heaven.

This mix of cinematography, images, music and narration easily draws parallels with Malick’s style.

Case Study: Man Of Steel (Zack Snyder, 2013)

Man of Steel

The teaser for Man of Steel was a shock to film fans as it departed widely from Snyder’s auteur bag; steering clear of speed ramping, glorified violence and eclectic use of music and instead cites Malick’s style.

As a case example we will take the teaser (there are two versions, with voice over by either Jor El and Pa Kent, but the footage is the same) and the first feature trailer. Both trailers hit on every element mentioned above, and is the reason why the trailer was described (in a positive way) as Malickian. The film-going community had cynically written off Snyder’s style, usually describing his career trajectory as a downward line from the heights of Dawn of the Dead (2004) and300 (2006) (though it has its vehement detractors too), to the maligned Sucker Punch (2011).

The Man of Steel teaser opens with water washing over a rock:

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With a section from the Lord of the Ring: The Fellowship of the Ring original soundtrack The Bridge of Khazad Dum by Howard Shore (Time: 4.40).

As the trailer continues we hear the narration of either Pa Kent or Jor-El, over a young Clark Kent running from the camera, in grass:

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With another shot of a butterfly stuck in a chain, a butterfly also appears in The Tree of Life:

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In the first theatrical trailer, the opening shot is a perfect marriage of two of Malick’s elemental themes: Fire and Water, with the bonus of a person in water:

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Clearly reminiscent of the underwater shots used by Malick, the image of the drowning child in The Tree Of Life is the most strikingly similar:

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Again, beautiful music, Elegy by Lisa Gerrard and Patrick Cassidy. The trailers stark departure from Snyder’s signature style was startling. Snyder is known for taking on other directors style, and the first trailers for Man Of Steel seemed to be following in Malick’s footsteps.

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Antonioi’s L’Eclisse, Malick’s To The Wonder: love, discontent and modernity

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“I feel like I’m in a foreign country” “Funny, that’s how I feel around you”

Vittoria and Piero, L’Eclisse

Antonioni’s “discontent” trilogy ends with the 1962 film “L’eclisse” (Eclipse), which in turn ends with a very artsy but seminal seven minute montage. The scene, the street corner of Rome’s EUR district where the two lovers promised to meet, is shown through the course of the day. The lovers fail to make this rendezvous, and life goes on unperturbed.

Antonioni adds several flourishes, specifically a barrel filled with water. This is where the lovers meet and flirt, and in moments of casual restlessness, throw rubbish into the water. Now, with the passion gone, the barrel leaks water across the pathway and into the gutter. The water ebbs away in the same way the fickle passion in their relationship has disappeared.

These seven minutes abandon the films narrative and flicks between discordant images of modernist architecture, a bus dropping off passengers and a plane leaving a contrail in the sky.

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In my initial viewing it is this shot, of the plane leaving a scar against the clear sky, that stuck with me. It reminded me, as is the way my brain functions when I watch films, of To the Wonder, Terrence Malick’s 2013 film. Malick had a similar shot, this time over Oklahoma, and is one of many which echoes Antonioni’s film.

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This initial superficial connection gave way to larger thematic similarities. Both films feature people in somewhat fleeting love affairs, and more importantly, both feature the concept of discontent. Not just discontent with each other, but marking the clash between the classic and the modern.

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A.O. Scott of the New York Times asks rhetorically, why are people that are so well off so unhappy, when discussing Antonioni’s 1960 film L’Avventura.

And this may seem flippant but it cuts to the core of L’eclisse. In the first scene, Claudia cannot verbalise why she is leaving her lover, only that she must. But it is clear from their actions that modernity, a nebulous but ubiquitous concept, is at play, especially when Claudia opens the window to reveal the gaudy piece of modernist architecture, the mushroom shaped water tower.

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This ugly edifice looms over the pair as the stroll through their neighbourhood one last time together. The EUR district of Rome was flooded with modernist architecture, which rubbed against the existing classical structures. Antonioni is showing in his last seven minutes that these structures impermanence and flare is reflected in our protagonists.

In To the Wonder, Neil is traveling through Europe when he meets Marina, who lives in Paris with her daughter.Together they visit Mont Saint-Michel, a commune in Normandy.

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Marina agrees to move to Oklahoma, but it is clear that Marina is not comfortable in her new surroundings. This is particular striking when you compare the drab neighbourhood, with row after row of identical housing units, with the sublime beauty of Mont Saint-Michel, and Paris in general. Eventually, Marina leaves and returns to Paris.

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Vittoria’s new love affair with Piero, though passionate, is also fraught with the existing issues that plagued Vittoria’s previous relationship: apathy and emptiness. Their end is telegraphed, not too subtly in one of their first meetings, again depicting the jarring intrusion of modernity in the lives of our protagonists:

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What Antonioni is saying about love is similar to what Malick is saying, using the cinematic language to identify the modern idea of fleeting love based on superficial longing, can be doomed. And it is particularly interesting that these films would be discussing the same themes 40 years a part.

Acknowledgements:

The New York Times Critics Pick, A.O. Scott

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/18/critics-picks-video-lavventura/?_r=0

Indiewire’s The Essential: Michelangelo Antonioni

http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/the-essentials-michelangelo-antonioni-20131105?page=2#blogPostHeaderPanel

Criterion Collection, Jonathan Rosenbaum A Vigilance of Desire: Antonioni’s E’clisse

http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/359-a-vigilance-of-desire-antonioni-s-l-eclisse

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