Archiv der Kategorie ‘TV series‘

 
 

Women in Film & TV II. FROM DARKNESS – by Kerstin Stutterheim

One achievement of so-called Scandinavian Noir, the specific aesthetic and dramaturgy of contemporary TV series made in Sweden and Denmark[1], was the invention of independent and convincing modern characters. Designed like contemporary modern men and women in democratic societies in Europe, these characters are created as active parts of stories dealing with the challenges we have to face today in Europe, not just in the single country that action is situated in. Female and male characters were arranged to act on eye-level, not only in the action but as well within their dramaturgical impact. In these productions men and women have to solve same problems, on duty and at home with their families. The stories were dealing with current levels of crime—from trafficking, terrorism, to international acting mafia-like organizations. The family life of the detectives as part of the action were set as a dialectic contrast to the crime stories to be investigated by them. Thus, these productions still inherited a moment of hope, of normality, the utopian moment of modern, democratic, civilized society.

Consequently, they were filmed in a more modern or postmodern aesthetic[2]. No false illusion of realism or naturalism is given the way these productions are designed.[3] To count here are productions like Forbydelsen (DAN 2007-2012) or Arne Dahl, 1st Season (S 2011), The Bridge (S/DAN 2011-) and Wallander (S 2005-), or to mention another series, Jockare än Vatten (S 2014).

New productions are released, designed in a way it is obvious they want to follow the trend, and to participate in the success productions mentioned above have had achieved internationally. Those two to be discussed within this essay were expected with high hopes or rather announced as high-quality Noir-like productions. First example to be discussed in this post, is the BBC production From Darkness—broadcasted during the last weeks.

From Darkness was classified as a “psychological crime-drama”[4]. It was announced to be a dark thriller with a strong female protagonist. To call this character a ‘Strong Woman’, means to show that female character acting outside social rules, unable to become an acceptable member of the bourgeoisie society. (Stutterheim, 2015b) Claire Church (Anne-Marie Duff) is a blond, athletic Ex-Detective; one can see here borrowings by Sara Lund (Forbydelsen) and Saga (The Bridge), to be worked out but a character completely different from both role models. The design of the whole production is dark, but the crime is the usual TV crime—tortured and murdered prostitutes. All together we are again confronted with helpless and emotional overacting women in high numbers throughout the four episodes of the mini series.

With this text no full analysis can be given, but some central aspects discussed from a dramaturgical point of view for this production, and in opposition to the above already mentioned productions, make this misogynistic. First is the design of the main character Claire Church, her motives for behaving and acting given within the story; second the murder, her character and motives; third the crime and the victims; another aspect to be discussed this way is the last sequence of the season. Before starting the analysis I want to keep in mind that characters are always designed to support the overall idea, they are written to service the action, they are neither real nor independent deciding human beings. (Stutterheim, 2015a)

Claire Church (Anne-Marie Duff) as a former police officer is a runner. Is she training for ‘Iron Men’, or running away or running her trauma through she suffered along that case 15 years ago? Already the first sequence shows the character Claire after woken up by a bad dream and fleeing the husband joint bed, running, intercut with pictures of prostitutes and tortured women. Within the second sequence, a body is to be found, marked by a red high heel, and setting of the detective and his assistant driving to the new home of Claire Church, who 15 years ago was in charge of the case of a missing prostitute, a less important case. The detective went away after the case was closed without solving it. For some reasons her former superior kept the file in his archive. Now he comes to her new place somewhere in Scotland to pick her up. An Island with rough landscape, a loving husband and stepdaughter are her new home.

Clara is slightly shocked by meeting her former superior unexpectedly again. Filmed in front of a mirror it takes her time and a pill to overcome her physical reaction to this encounter. Later she resists all his demands and luring until he forces her to go with him. The character of Claire Church is designed as an external closed and rough person, hiding her emotions to everyone. This is set in contrast to her husband, a loving father and caring husband. She has to take antidepressants.

Back in Manchester she becomes heavily involved in the investigation, as some consultant or external investigator and as target as well. The antagonistic character is a woman who is suffering a trauma after she was raped 15 years ago, but not murdered. She has been first mistaken for being a prostitute, and survived, but hating since then the young female detective Claire Church. In a flashback it is told that this Claire Church and her partner arrived at the scene, Claire promising to the surviving victim to come back to help her, but on her way back young Claire forgot this completely, and went away kissing her partner instead of helping the raped woman. No one else had this victim in his or her mind either. This sequence makes the new series of killings a personal revenge of one woman to another woman, and just as well the young detective a woman more driven by desire than being professional. To increase this designed side of the character of Claire, it is told that she became pregnant out of the relationship with her superior detective. She was not brave enough to tell him this, but quitted her police career, and attempt suicide, survived, but lost her baby. This situation shows that character in a different dramaturgical approach to most of the female detectives in Scandinavian Noir Productions. Those characters are worked out in a way, that they either become mothers, and tries their best to find a balance between job and motherhood. Or, in a more similar situation to the constructed for the Claire character, the young female detective gave her baby, result out of a difficult and violent relationship, in the care of adoptive parents. After the couple had died, she fought him successful back.[5] Not Claire Church. This character is situated in a story constructed following and repeating traditional conservative role models as well as misogynistic clichés.

About the mentally disturbed other woman, who became a murderer after she heard the news about the discovered bodies, we get not many information. Both female characters are designed as acting out of her uncontrollable emotional apparatus and in blind revenge. John, her former partner and lover, is married, has a son, and owns a house, a car, like it should be. He never acts out of an emotional status, although he sometimes is stretching the rules a bit.

The overall construction culminates in the last sequence of the mini-series: when they—John and Claire—separately understood what happened and probably will be the next step the murder will take, the catastrophe takes place. John arrives first at the scene, and due to circumstances given with the last episode, unarmed. The murder shoots him; he is not dead, but seriously wounded, heavily bleeding. Claire arrives, first acting professional—but after she spots her former love that way, she is losing her self-control, takes the gun and shoots her enemy to death. This, she destroys not only the fictional life of Claire Church and that of her family, but also the chance to let her develop into a convincing professional female detective. She is overacting, driven by desire and emotions, absolutely unprofessional. Besides this aspect, that sequence is as well a misogynistic answer towards the end of The Killing. With first glance it seems to be similar in that way, that the female detective is killing the murderer out of a spontaneous situation. The difference is obvious: in The Killing the female detective, Sarah Lund, is a professional investigator, fighting against crime suspects, struggling with political intrigues and circumstances not always easy for women in her position. Her motivation is based in her understanding that law and professional investigations are confronted with a powerful enemy, and she as detective never ever managed to get a hold of him. That makes her kill the man. Not caused in a situation, where she herself is private and emotionally involved; not because her long ago lover is in danger. The system the character Sarah Lund worked for as professionally as possible had failed; thus, she as well is stepping out of the system, acting equally powerful. And she as a women is shown in a situation less powerful then that Old-Boys-Group, what implicitly makes a difference as well, giving the situation a more metaphoric subtext.

Literaturverzeichnis

BBC ONE. 2015. From Darkness [Online]. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06h7yy4.

STUTTERHEIM, K. 2013. Überlegungen zur Ästhetik des postmodernen Films. In: STUTTERHEIM, K. & LANG, C. (eds.) “Come and play with us”. Marburg: Schüren.

STUTTERHEIM, K. 2014. Häutungen eines Genres – skandinavische Ermittlerinnen

Generic Metamorphosis – Scandinavian Investigators. In: DREHER, C. (ed.) Autorenserien II / Auteur Series II. Paderborn: Fink, Wilhelm.

WAADE, A. M. & JENSEN, P. M. 2013. Nordic Noir Production Values. The Killing and The Bridge. akademisk Kvarter. The academic journal for research from the humanities [Online], 07. Fall 2013. Available: http://www.akademiskkvarter.hum.aau.dk/UK/contact.php.

[1] WAADE, A. M. & JENSEN, P. M. 2013. Nordic Noir Production Values. The Killing and The Bridge. akademisk Kvarter. The academic journal for research from the humanities [Online], 07. Fall 2013. Available: http://www.akademiskkvarter.hum.aau.dk/UK/contact.php.

[2] cf. STUTTERHEIM, K. 2013. Überlegungen zur Ästhetik des postmodernen Films. In: STUTTERHEIM, K. & LANG, C. (eds.) “Come and play with us”. Marburg: Schüren.

[3] cf. STUTTERHEIM, K. 2014. Häutungen eines Genres – skandinavische Ermittlerinnen

Generic Metamorphosis – Scandinavian Investigators. In: DREHER, C. (ed.) Autorenserien II / Auteur Series II. Paderborn: Fink, Wilhelm.

[4] BBC ONE. 2015. From Darkness [Online]. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06h7yy4.

[5] Arne Dahl, 1st season

Women in Film and TV Productions I – by Kerstin Stutterheim

A closer look at women in film, as directors or as characters, provides a basic understanding of the situation of a society. Within this topic one is able to develop a much greater comprehension of if and how gender equality is represented and understood, through simple application of common sense. Gender role models are constructions, made common and perpetuated by media productions.

Movies are reflecting cultural and social relationships in a society, and subsequently have an influence on society as well.   Audience, the often-stressed unknown being, also includes women. In cinemas within some particular age groups, women are even the majority. We, the women, are an integral part of society; without us there would be neither society nor civilization. This is truism, but astonishingly enough it nevertheless has to be mention from time to time again.

Contemporary movies and TV productions are mostly dominated by male producers, directors, commissioning editors and heads of program, yet tell not only stories from that of a male perspective. Even character design is coined by a male view of the world; among the women represented, female characters are frequently designed in a way that gives an overall impression that women would be unable to act as independent human beings. They could be neither able to act as a director nor as female characters embedded in a story that do more than acting as a secretary, nurse, housewife, shop keeper or sex worker. Those characters often lack a name or intelligent dialogue lines, and can be exploited or tortured and murdered more easily than male characters. Productions like FORBYDELSEN (Dk 2007-2012) or BORGEN (Dk 2010-2013), ARNE DAHL (1st season, S 2011) still are the exception, not a standard.

Having analyzed many movies and TV productions produced during the last decades, one can say about female characters depicted in (especially but not limited to) German productions, that if they are part of the action, they are designed as either bad mothers or cold ‘career women’. In other words, female characters can be characterized as that of the ‘Weak Woman’ or ‘Strong Woman’.

‘Strong woman’ is a term representing the male glance towards women and inheriting dominant conditions of power and the structure of society. This term is corresponding to ‘a man from the boys’ and is directing towards a peculiarity, which throughout that ironic approach is pointing at a nearly unattainable exception. This is expressing that with either a ‘Man From the Boys’ or a ‘Strong Woman’ a traditional married life will be impossible. Instead, the term is expressing that those kinds of characters are demanding a specific hierarchy and personal freedom.

‘Strong Women’ in film and TV productions- with the exception of the aforementioned productions- usually have to fail miserably. In terms of dramatic action those women are infringing upon the implicit engraved rules of the society, which in the case of the western German tradition, means women should act firstly as ‘good’ wives and mothers. Here one can see the long shadow of the gender role models developed and set with that propaganda machinery during “Third Reich” continued with post-war cinema made in West Germany. In terms of psychology one can say that those were ‘priming’ the view and opinions of the audience, setting up anchors (Kahneman 2012) for an understanding of society and their codes. Within the hierarchy of such characters, female characters were almost always narrated out of a male position. Thus, they have little to no influence on the narrated action. If it is a female character indulged to be the protagonist, her action is shown as personal, fleshly or erotically motivated, not because of a societal or political motivation or longing of the character.

One can see an example of this given in BARBARA (D 2012, Petzold), the adaptation of DIE FLUCHT (DDR 1977, Gräf). In the DEFA movie the main character, a male doctor, is frustrated about the political and economic circumstances hindering his research, causing him to flee GDR to the west; in BARBARA the female doctor wants to go to the West to live with her love or lover, whom she is meeting for short events to have sex together in the wood or a hotel while he is crossing GDR for business trips, causing her to give up her exceptionally good position at one of the leading research hospitals, Another example is KRIEGERIN (D 2011, Wnendt), like BARBARA, premiered at the Berlinale Film Festival. Within the action the young, blonde female main character, called Marisa, (given by Alina Levshin) is shown as driven into the group of Neo-Nazis by her life situation and circumstances–her mother unable to support her, a bad job, a region undeveloped and of no hope for the young generation. As a result of her one and only human action (helping the illegal migrant to hide) she became sacrificed at the end. Independent decisions made by a female character ignoring the rules of the group she belongs to were not endured. The body of the death Marisa is shown aesthetically exaggerated, in sense of ‘Edelkitsch’ (Friedländer, 1999)

This dramaturgical approach to analyze the significance of the character for the action going on, is within sociology defined as ‘Agency’. Although this term as such first of all just means someone is able to decide independently (Holland, 1998) and still not the active influence of events happening because of a person character acting in a specific way, that term already is been used to discuss characters, especially female ones, in media productions. But to establish modern / contemporary female characters to show them as independently deciding and acting is a progress, but is not enough. Many films representing female characters with some kind of ‘Agency’, will pass as well the so called ‘Bechdel Test’ or other of these new measurements, but at the same time nevertheless stick to conservative role models. To change the ways of representing women in media productions it is necessary to have many more female writers and directors, who should in numbers correspond to the percentage of women in society and the audience. It is time to change the representation of both genders in media productions to give both of them a better perspective in a civilized world as well.

That this is possible without losing audience and attraction is obvious through mentioning productions like the TV series I mentioned above already – BORGEN, FORBYDELSEN, ARNE DAHL – as well as HATUFIM (ISR 2009-2012, Raff). Within these productions characters are interacting on eyelevel, especially within the dramaturgical structure. Action, hopes, dreams and decisions of female characters are of the same weight and influence for the action going on as those of the male characters. Their decisions and actions are not body directed or only emotion based- they are as clear and rational as those of their male counterparts.

Of course, cinema productions written and directed by women were and are successful, like f.e. movies by Agnès Varda, Agnieszka Holland, Deepa Mehta, Sally Potter, Małgośka Szumowska, Lucrecia Martel, Claire Denis, Jane Campion, Nora Ephron, Kathryn Bigelow, Sofia Coppola, Sussane Bier, Al Mansour Khairiya, El Deghedy, Shafik Viola or Natalya Bondarchuk, Ana Carolina, Věra Chytilová to name just few of the international well known directors. Based in socio-cultural structures in the cinema business movies directed by women were differently discussed, distributed and reviewed than those directed by their male colleagues. A closer look and analysis shows that female directors more often tend to open dramaturgical forms and less often tell classical stories of a hero. Thus, a more open minded reception is needed to give them same respect as traditional male narrated movies.

To support the discussion and critical thinking of representation of gender in Film and TV productions of today we will add here from time to time short reflections on randomly selected examples we came across.

One of those will be the BBC production FROM DARKNESS (BBC 2015) written by Katie Baxendale and directed by Dominic Leclerc or the 2nd season of ARNE DAHL (S 2015).

 

Kerstin D. Stutterheim, November 2015

 

Literaturverzeichnis

FRIEDLÄNDER, S. 1999. Kitsch und Tod: der Widerschein des Nazismus, Frankfurt am Main, Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verl.

HOLLAND, D. C. 1998. Identity and agency in cultural worlds, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.