Saturday, May 19, 2012

Passing the Test, the sequel.

I was watching Stardust, one of my very favorite movies, and thinking about how it passes the Bechdel Test.  I was wondering how many of my movies (as opposed to those which really belong to the whole household*) do so. I don't have that many movies (as opposed to television shows and DVDs of theatrical performances), and just about half (10 of 22) of them qualify. (Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 are simply unclassifiable, so I left them out.) The movies that I own are the ones that I really truly love.

There are animated features: The Incredibles, Spirited Away, Lilo & Stitch, Chicken Run, Despicable Me.  All of these have very strong women female characters**, and in all cases they are seeking to rescue themselves or ones they love from outside threats and return to or find one their home.

There are live action pictures Shakespeare in Love, Moulin Rouge, Dogma, and the aforementioned Stardust. (Not very many -- but then I don't own very many movies.) In two of these, the lead female characters want to become actresses. In Dogma, she wants to fulfill her mission --- which she only poorly understands -- and get back to her home.  More than that she is searching for God, and trying to find a glimpse of the divine in all the insanity that is happening all around her.

Out of all of the live action films, Stardust probably has the most strong women characters.  (Yes, even above Moulin Rouge.) It's not a chick flick -- I am not really a fan of rom-coms, and even ones that pass the Bechdel test tend not hold my interest: Terms of Endearment and Steel Magnolias are two of the most annoying movies ever made.  (I wish I had seen Bridesmaids -- I keep meaning to rent it.) The women characters in Stardust have a diverse set of agendas -- the most significant being the witches' hunt for the fallen star.***

What interests me is not just the movies I have that pass the Bechdel Test, but how many of them do not in any meaningful way: Master & Commander, Casablanca, Hair (the movie), Young Frankenstein, and Return of the King, UpA Christmas Story, and a Fish Called Wanda (small interactions between Archie's wife and daughter Portia). Shrek 2 (all the conversations between female characters revolve either around Shrek or Charming), Finding Nemo (there are interactions between the Peach and Flo, but these last a matter of seconds and can't really be called conversations), Toy Story 1 & 2, and Happy Feet, Wall-E. (If I am including the chickens, I really need to include toys, penguins, robots, and fish.)

The lack of no significant female characters makes sense in a lot of them: Master and Commander and Return of the King are war movies, pretty much. Casablanca is emblematic of its time.****  A Christmas Story is centered around a single male character, and A Fish Called Wanda plays heavily upon the sexual relationship between Otto and Wanda, and Ken's infatuation with her, and the balance of the movie would have been thrown off by another woman in the gang.

Then there is Mulan.  In spite of its faults, I think every girl under the age of ten (or over, for that matter), should own this movie.  Mulan is a wonderful story of female empowerment.  But I need to see it again to see if it would pass the Bechdel Test: working from memory, I don't think it does.  The conversations between Mulan and her mother may not be about a specific love interest, but are about the need for her to marry in general, and what she needs to make that happen.

It's not that these are bad movies.  They're good, as far as I am concerned, or I would not own them.  I don't think it is that I prefer male-centered movies, per se.  I think there are honestly fewer good movies that are not romantically centered that revolve around women characters.  Where are the movies about women on the prairie? Where are the movies about the suffrage movement?  Are they out there?

If so, I think I need to seek them out.

*To members of my household: has anyone seen my copy of the deluxe edition of Citizen Kane? I cannot find it, and I want to watch the documentary Battle for Citizen Kane which is also in the set. Also, Mary Poppins has gone missing.
**The hens in Chicken Run count. I am unsure quite whether the girls in Despicable Me and The Incredibles do, but I am opting to throw them in anyway.
***Stardust contains one of my favorite movie quotes: "Nothing says 'romance' like the gift of a kidnapped injured woman!" As far as the witches go, seeking youth after two centuries of decrepitude becomes more understandable as I age. They still seem evil, just more understandably evil.
****Of course, on the other hand, there is Gone With the Wind (a wonderful  movie I cannot stand -- the subject for a post for another day which I have been meaning to write for a while), Rebecca,  and The Wizard of Oz, none of which I own but all of which fall within roughly the same cinematic era as Casablanca.


  1. Have seen the Iron Lady? I love movies where the main female character is passionate and ready to champion her cause everything else be damn.

    1. I haven't yet. I keep meaning to rent it. Meryl Streep is almost uniformly good in everything she does.