Boob to Willy Ratio

“Everywhere I look, something reminds me of her” Naked Gun (1987)

When I watched the first episode of Game of Thrones, years ago, I couldn’t believe that I had just seen a penis on my telly.  In a sex scene of all places!  I pointed at the screen.  At the penis.  On my telly.  Extraordinary.  It got me thinking about male nudity in tv and film.  I ran my eyes through my film collection and realised that I didn’t own a single title with a visible penis in it, and all the more pertinently I knew this for a fact because I would most certainly remember if I did.  But, with the lightening quick speed of cold treacle, my brain also made the association with female nudity.  Yes there is more female nudity than male nudity in tv and film. Duh. But the imbalance is staggering.  My film collection is full to the brim with boobs.  Subtle boob, gratuitous boob, gritty boob, realism boob, exploitation boob, partial boob, demon boob, multiple lots of boob, lady with triple boob; these are just some examples from a small book case of DVDs.  One might say that is a great thing that the boob has been so expressive in cinema and TV.  Forlone Masculinists may well look at their crotch and despair that cultural depicications of the penis on screen are either for hilarity or a signpost that things have gotten seriously serious (SHAAAAAAAAME, 2011): Poor masculinists.  However, the omnipresience of boob in anything rated 15 or above is not about a celebration of the expressive boob, but something more lazy and lame.

No industry has a better understanding of the spectrum of taboo than cinema and tv.  It’s not just an understanding of what must be avoided to appease censors, but what what the fringes of a taboo are, how far they can be pushed, and what associations a taboo may carry; these understandings are just as important in the construction of a good narrative, in which controversy is just one part.

TV and filmakers have such a good understanding of the taboo of nudity that they categorise its use with a Victorian precision.  The human anatomy is broken down into a list of acceptability and is displayed strategically to prevoke particular reactions from the audience.  TV and film makers place the boob on the spectrum of cinematic taboo between the bum and genitalia.  Is this why there is more boob than penis on my telly?  Could it be that the male anatomy lacks this middle ground in the taboo spectrum and therefore the boob is used as a convenient shorthand for titilation?  In visual culture the man bum is, in theory, on equal pegging as the lady bum; the man chest has nipples, but lacks the oomph of the lady boob; and the penis has nuclear properties that are equally – if not more – controversial than the vagina.  If it is the filmaker’s desire to get a reaction from an audience the bum simply doesn’t carry the impact desired for a nude scene and the penis is just too much in the other direction.  But if this were true there should be way more man arse than there is lady boob on my telly.

It’s almost as though the industry has sleepwalked into a paradoxical comfort zone when it comes to nudity; a predominantly male industry that has fought censorship from the Hays code onward to show what it wants to see (mostly boobs).  And now the censors have become more lenient the industry is left with a bulldozed and protected form of nudity in the boob, and lacks the will to fight the cause for other less marketable forms of nudity.  But this denies a certain responsibility on the part of the industry.  The industry isn’t ignorant to the impact of the boob; an actress’s contract can pivot on nudity clauses.  Every boob we have seen on telly and in cinemas has a small history of a very considered approach from the film maker.  As gratuitous as some of the displays of boobs may seem, in terms of a nude scene the boob has to have some context, even if it is to be gratuitous.  Every boob that is seen is meant to be seen, and at every level of the film making process – from the script, to set, to editing suite – the boob has been considered and given the green light. No boob has ever found its way onto the screen by mistake.  It is this evident awareness that makes the imbalance of the boob:willy ratio so weird, and frankly a bit creepy on an industrial level.

There is a new trend in particular that bothers me. When the boob isn’t being used to display a medieval subjugation of women (GoT) or background distraction for scenes of prolonged dialogue (I’m looking at you The Sopranos), the most recent and oft repeated use of the boob is to display it in a bedroom as a projection of ‘disarming honesty’ between a man and a woman in a private context. Gone are the days when everyone on TV shared beds fully clothed (Friends), and we now move on to a new dawn when a wee flash of a boob is shorthand for cajj romance.  I call bullshit.  I desire – nay DEMAND-to see more penises within the context of the bedroom on TV and film to level this imbalance.  I’m not denying the use of taboo to tell stories, and I have to acknowledge that – by design or no – the penis is more confrontational than the boob. Also, I am aware that when it comes to finding solutions to any gender issue it is rarely a case of flipping gender expectations because constructions of gender are less dichotomous and more complex than they may seem. But fuck it, this skew is too much, and I’m nowhere mature enough to find an adult solution. So I reckon… I dunno… 3:1?

Until then:

Predator Minigun 2 terminator 2

Storytelling, Videogames, and Cinematic Imitation

Vinewood

Have you ever noticed how film adaptations of video games are mostly rubbish? Of course you have. And so has everyone else. In fact, a quick google search will show an extensive list of people making just that point. That is not what I am here to say (wait, where am I?). It is largely accepted that the video game industry has been treated poorly by the movie business, to the point of callousness. Where else but this hellish misunderstanding of the two mediums could give such prosperity to the likes of Uwe Boll? No. I am here to say that the video game industry has to take a step away from the great works of the film industry. Take a step right back I say, get over the terrible things that have been done to you in the name of film and grow up.

The relationship between these two industries has always been a bit testy. It would be fair to say that there is a longer history of film makers damaging the reputation of video gaming. Videogames have risen in an age of entertainment when cinema ROOLED. Coupled with gaming’s appeal to geek culture, the video game industry’s insecurities (amongst its fans at least) were often provoked by the world of film. In 1978, when Richard Donner was showing the world that a man could fly, the gaming industry hadn’t advanced much further than two lines knocking a square ball at each other. And when film moguls finally acknowledged the appeal (financially anyway) of gaming culture, they wasted most opportunities to achieve the visual spectacle that gamers yearned for, and made rubbish films instead. The list of casualties is extensive, and often held up as crimes against the gaming industry: Super Mario Bros, Street Fighter 2, Resident Evil, Doom amongst others. But now the gaming industry has the tools and skills to compete visually with the world of film and tell the stories that they have been desperate to tell for 40 years. Well-earned I say. Problem is that the stories they want to tell are rubbish.

It’s a bit rich to criticise the films listed above when one looks at the source material. The stories are unimaginative, the characterisation is very limited, and the script often particularly bad. There’s very little to build an actual story from. Let’s go through the list:

Street_Fighter_Movie_13

Street Fighter 2 (1991)– the only reason story even comes into this game is to imitate narrative closure at the game’s end, as well as providing some scantily clad characterisation in the form of the heroes motivation. The script serves as an early example of the problems in translation in video games. The film, Street Fighter (1994) was filing in a lot of gaps to make a cohesive story, and ultimately stretched the storytelling qualities of video games too far.


Super Mario Bros. (1993) does have the makings of a great story, which I think the filmmakers had a good crack at. I mean, how did two Italian plumber siblings find themselves in this eternal struggle against a world of dinosaurs and sentient mushrooms in a bid to save a princess from a giant spiky turtle dragon? Interesting premise, no? And Bob Hoskins (RIP). While the film was a big swing and a miss, it’s not as though any of the games in the Mario universe were ever telling a better story. The game follows the template of the maiden in distress story with no deviations, which works well for a medium that is not primarily aimed at telling a story. The game hardly provided the filmmakers with a cohesive story that only required pointing a camera at. The production of the film is a well-documented disaster with the budget exceeding millions before a final draft of the script had been submitted. But Hollywood egos and money chasing studios aside this failure can be put down to the fact that the Mario Bros was trying to retell a story that didn’t exist in the first place.

super-mario-bros-movie

The filmmakers of Doom (2005) seem to have identified the lack of a story in the source material from the start and instead tried to imitate the game as a game and resulted in a curiously uncinematic experience. It tried to tell the story using The POV device that is used in the game as a first person shooter.

 This managed to displace the viewer as a film watcher and also as a game player. It is not a criticism when I say that gaming is a more selfish medium than film. Gaming has a stronger emphasis on allowing the player to control a characters reaction rather than films emphasis on an understanding of the characters motivations; one seeks total immersion and the other aims to invoke empathy. This film didn’t achieve either of these things, because it fell in the chasm that separates the storytelling abilities of the two mediums that this scene thoroughly highlights.

Now that games have the technology to imitate the look of film the game industry has taken what appears to be a no-brainer decision, and focused more on cinematic storytelling. Now it isn’t uncommon to find 2 hours of a game’s running time that is taken out of the control of the player and replaced with cut scenes; boring, predictable, and largely rehashed scenes from rubbish 90s/00s films. Some games have even reduced the players involvement by telling them what buttons to press to progress through a cut scene in the form of quick time events.

The counter argument I’ve heard is that the spectacle is enough. In fact, it is possible to watch the game like a film! How lovely! Thing is, that is complete bollocks. And if you agree with that premise, you are hogging the controller and should give someone else a go

Jason Melvin, you are a shit boyfriend. And why aren’t women playing games in these ads?.

If we are to apply Sturgeon’s law (that 90% of everything is crap) I would say that the 90% of films that are bad tell a story better than the leading 10% of video game titles. I’m not saying that games shouldn’t tell stories, because all art forms, to a degree, say something about the human experience. Instead I’m being critical of the gaming industry’s obsession with telling cinematic stories.  My favourite games have terrible stories, flat characters, and terrible scripts. Christ, Watch this. Watch all of it! The world of gaming is a billion dollar industry but is incapable of showing a realistic development of character over the course of a games running time, which can be in excess of 10 hours. Listening to Max moan and MOAN over the hours it takes to complete the game’s storyline is grating to say the least. I wasn’t rooting for him, and the games completion (like almost all games) was set on his survival to progress through the game. And in terms of visual aesthetic, the developers have just taken Tony Scott’s Man On Fire (2004) hook line and sinker. It’s not a great film, but cinematically it achieved everything it set out to do 7 years before Max Payne 3 came out, and did it considerably better.

uncharted-3-wallpaper-elena-love-646x325

Let’s focus on one of the gaming industry’s most often cited examples of how gaming is overtaking cinema in its storytelling: The Uncharted series. It was playing these games, which I enjoy very much, when I realised that naggling irritation I felt when I played the biggest releases of the gaming industry was a reaction to the rubbish films I was being made to watch rather than play. When the cut scenes are edited together to make a narrative without gameplay the story is a mash-up of Sahara (2005), Vertical Limit (2000), and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001). All of which are not remembered too fondly (I actually quite like Vertical limit. shut up.), but I think it is fair to say that when each of these titles is directly compared cinematically to the Uncharted series, they win every time on the charge of best dramatically told cinematic story. And when the crème de la crème of any entertainment or art form cannot hold up against bloody Sahara, it’s time to take stock.

sahara_poster_1024

KITCHENS IN FILM NOIR: Domestic Topsy Turvy

Blue dahlia

The Blue Dahlia (1946)

I first came to the idea of writing this blog because of a scene in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), an excellent homage to the film noir genre that seamlessly edits Steve Martin into the classic titles of the genre. In one scene Martin makes Burt Lancaster a pick me up of his own recipe (“you need a cup of my Java”) on the set of The Killers (1946). The small kitchen that Martin slips into, behind a curtain, was so well realised that when I came to watch The Killers a few years later I got disoriented: where was the kitchen? Bizarrely, Dead Men changed the scene for me, and I couldn’t shake the thought for the rest of the film. In its immense attention to detail (the score was by Miklos Rozsa of Double Indemnity, and costumes were also Edith Head’s last credit), Dead Men had inserted an extra level of noirish authenticity. As the kitchen is the heart of the home, was it in some way at the heart of the film noir genre?

Dead

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)

A story follows many arcs, and can take characters on many journeys. Where these journeys may take characters, and the audience with them, is as unlimited as the writer’s imagination. But more often than not our characters return from these journeys and, invariably, they return to the kitchen. When this story is told in the film noir genre, the kitchen has been turned on its head.

America had gone through the journey of living out a world war. Whether it was men physically returning from the battlefields of Europe, or the home front awaiting their return, America was a changed place and was, as a nation, anxious to see if it could return home to the kitchen. The kitchen was the heart of the nuclear family; a radiated core of motherly care. With the aid of more sophisticated and more affordable gadgetry the mother in the kitchen was marketed as an aspirational role to counter balance the father’s place at work, where a man had earned the right to improve his family’s situation after defending his country. The film noir genre often smashed the finest china at the feet of these gendered norms and fuelled its narratives with the domestic topsy-turvydom that resulted.

 A sparse bachelor’s pad makes a common appearance in the film noir genre. The bachelor’s kitchen is presented as a place of compromise and emasculation. There is little association with the bachelor’s kitchen and the independent male; the ‘man’s’ kitchen did not achieve an aspirational status until years later, with the resourcefulness of CC Baxter and his tennis racket/colander in The Apartment (1960)or Harry Palmer’s seductive cooking in The Ipcress File (1965). The only exception that comes to my mind is the men’s men in the form of Mitchum and Bogart; I don’t think either of them prepares food in their films. Instead, the kitchen is reduced to a space fit for function, devoid of mothers. There is no kindness, just a place to get some grub in ya – or a place to mix a drink. The bachelor’s kitchen shows how the life of a man (more often than not) has been reduced to day-to-day living, passing the time in-between meals. In Double Indemnity (1944), we see Walter Neff filling his day with meaningless lonely activities when he isn’t in the office such as getting a beer at a drive-in café, or going bowling. He avoids his kitchen because he knows what awaits him there. He inevitably returns home, and awaits the presence of the films femme fatale, Phyllis Dietrichson, whereupon they mix drinks in the kitchen and hatch plans to murder her husband. In the light of the living room that they kiss for the first time – signifying the collapse of Neff’s masculine control of the situation – and then move through into the darkness of the kitchen, where Miss Dietrichson begins to get the upper hand. It is an unglamorous kitchen, where the absence of a mother/wife figure is keenly felt. This is a role that Dietrichson fulfils, but in the terms of the femme fatale: a twisted femininity that corrupts Neff’s morality by corrupting the kitchen space.

Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity (1944)

big

The Big Heat (1953)

 The kitchen is also used as the light reflection of the criminal underworld. The Big Heat (1953) we see the hero enjoying a happy family life in scenes largely set in the kitchen a domestic bliss that is ruthlessly taken from him when his wife is blown up in a booby-trapped car meant for him. In these kitchen scenes we see a man and wife clear dishes, talk about their hopes and fears, and even get a bit frisky before their idyllic daughter interrupts them so that they will tuck her into bed. The criminal flipside of this is shown in a gangster’s apartment, where the family is replaced by hoodlums and corrupt officials, and the kitchen table is replaced with a poker table. Kitchenware is shown in the form of a coffee pot boiling on a hotplate, but this is only there for a display of unspeakable violence. Lee Marvin’s antagonist throws this coffee over his lover, who is disfigured for life.

jhj

The Big Heat (1953)

Big Heat Poker Table

The Big Heat (1953)

 The film noir genre of the period was constantly preoccupied with the difficulties of being a man in modern America. It shows masculinity under attack from a lack of employment, loan sharks, and – most significantly – women. In these films the most dangerous women are the ones you would never find in a kitchen. The femme fatale character is the anti-mother figure, and would most likely have gained their heightened social status through their sexual prowess over powerful men; she would leave the kitchen work to a maid.

Mildred Divorce

Mildred Pierce (1945) “I was always in the kitchen. I felt as though I’d been born in a kitchen and lived there all my life, except for the few hours it took to get married”

The most notable film noir that is from the point of view of a woman (along with her own foreboding noirish narration) is Mildred Pierce (1945), which puts a spin on the trope of the woman in the kitchen. Although she is tied to her kitchen, Pierce identifies the culinary skills she holds in the kitchen as a means of achieving her own success. Living within a broken home, Pierce seeks to control her life first by working in a restaurant, and then by making moves to start up her own café and successful franchise. This infraction of domestic norms results in numerous power struggles with men, and ultimately results in murder.

Early in the story she does away with her philandering husband, demanding he leaves the home; she does this within the kitchen whilst cooking over a stove. Whilst inverting the domestic comfort that is expected of the kitchen environment should come with the kitchen environment, the scene also associates Pierce with the power that comes from owning the kitchen space. Monte Beragon is another man who takes part in this power struggle. A socialite, his inherited wealth is diminishing whilst Mildred’s financial situation improves through hard graft. When he doesn’t get his way he talks down to Mildred about her experience with kitchen work, targeting the strongest source of power she has over him. Then there is Wally Fay, whose sexual advances are rebuked throughout the film. His character is mocked in the film’s portrayal, peaking with a scene where Mildred ties an apron on him in the kitchen to help on the opening night of one of her cafes. Although the mantle of ‘femme fatale’ doesn’t fall on her shoulders (that is reserved for her rather nasty daughter Veda), she rocks the accepted forms of femininity to the perceived anxiety of the male characters. Even her ex-husband comes to the opening night of her café to humbly acknowledge that had expected her to fail but is now mostly redundant due to her successes.

Mildred cafe

Mildred Pierce (1945)

 It’s safe to say that America was going through changes at the high water mark of the film noir genre. The changes had gone right through from the public to the private, and into the heart of the home. This wasn’t the kitchen that the war had been fought for, but it was the one that you were stuck with… unless you made a play for something different. While waiting for the coffee to brew, husbands and wives across the nation sat at the kitchen table and considered their insurance policies. Straight down the line.

Coffee Pot