Archiv der Kategorie ‘Women‘

 
 

Women in Film and TV productions V – Female Characters and Gender Construction in ‚TOP OF THE LAKE‘

by Kerstin Stutterheim

Gertrud Stein once wrote that it takes hundred years, three generations, to change habits and narratives. Is Generation One still in charge? And, can the American Way of Life (and thinking) and thus film productions using following the “American Dramaturgy” (cf. Frenz 1962, Stutterheim 2015, pp153) give us a model for living today and the future?

Fatherhood, motherhood, and the biological family are core elements of the “American Narrative” (cf. Fiedler 2017 , Gelfert 2006). And that specific form of designing the narrative, and much more importantly the implicit dramaturgy, mirrors the culture and feeds back into the understanding of gender, hierarchies and more into the Anglo-American film industry, thus the global world as well.

An unwritten rule of designing a successful movie or series for US-American or British audiences involves the narrative referring to conservative Jewish-Christian believes, which are mingled with historical experiences thus priming the Cultural Memory (cf. Assmann 2010, Assmann 2002, 2004, Gelfert 2006) of these nations. And, apparently, one can find here traditions, topics, and themes from the American Novel transformed into elements of “American Dramaturgy”. The novel emerged as the new mass medium. (Fiedler 2017 44) It’s core elements are a result out of the shift from Catholicism (or other religions respecting female Goddesses) towards the father-cantered Protestantism, which was the religion of the new mass of that time in the developing United States of America. (Fiedler 2017 44)

Other elements of “American Dramaturgy” reflect the influence of ‘the Code’ and its moral stakes for representational spaces towards Hollywood (Maras 2016, pp1) and film productions elsewhere.

The series Top of the Lake is an American-British co-production for Sundance TV and BBC One. Jane Campion and Gerard Lee wrote the series. Season one is directed by Campion and Garth Davis.

Although the main character – at least for season one – is a young female character, Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss), the overall narration again follows the ‘American dramaturgy’ – a version of that old story. The first season is about sexual abuse and paedophilia intertwined with questions of fatherhood, relationships and family. Young Robin, who usually lives in Sydney, is visiting her dying mother Grishina (Skye Wansey) in New Zealand. The mother-daughter-relationship is overshadowed by an event from their past, fitting the model of an analytical drama as well as a crime story. Robin remembers her father as the better parent. Soon after her arrival Robin becomes involved in a case of sexual abuse of a very young girl, Tui (Jaqueline Joe). Tui is the 12-year-old daughter of a bad macho and drug dealer, Matt (Peter Mullan) and an Asian woman who no longer lives with Matt’s patchwork family. Since Robin’s character is introduced as a specialist in cases involving children, this is in the beginning reasonable enough to make us believe she could be asked to join this department; besides which, the story is situated on the South Island, where the capital is located and thus very likely there may exist a specialist too.

Robin is set up as a detective who tries her best to solve the case. In the beginning, her character acts professionally in as much as she has to keep voyeuristic policemen at a distance and to be the only one Tui is communicating with. The promising start, reminding one of such series as The Killing (here I refer to the original Danish production, not the US adaptation), is soon interfered by Robin’s backstory and diminishing the gestus of professionalism, inviting the audience to fall back into or a typical critical-incredulous look at her.

Thus, the narration is split into different levels – central is the case, secondary the private story of Robin. In dramatic tradition usually telling a story this way – divided into a ‘collective’ or more general level and one private thread – would indicate an ‘open form’. But within this model of narration one doesn’t need a backstory and definitely not a Happy Ending. The way the narrative is set up for Top of the Lake mixes traditions of narration but focussing more on drama traditions derived from the hero driven tragedy in combination with ‘the journey of the hero’. The latter brings us clearly back to patriarchal Christian-puritanical worldviews (cf. Campbell 1949). As one can see, these are dominant against the modern approach of using an open form.

In the backstory, in the private thread, it is told that Robin was raped as a 16-year-old girl and got pregnant as result of it. Her Catholic mother did not allow an abortion. Thus Robin became a mother but gave her baby away for adoption the very next day after giving birth.

There is also an additional storyline of a group of women who set up a community close by in a place called ‘paradise’. These women have different stories to tell and to overcome, all related to relationships with men. At some point as well Tui and Robin have to ask for shelter there. Paradise is situated at the end of a dead-end street close to the end of the world surrounded by a most beautiful landscape. Is this a place to be compared with monasteries from Middle Ages, which accommodated women having physical, psychological or monetary stigmas from a male point of view, labelled as ‘unfuckable’?

While Robin is working on the case, she has to encounter not only voyeuristic colleagues but as well an increasingly abusive boss and one of her rapists. With a closer look, it becomes evident that the action of season one is designed in such a way that the enthusiasm Robin is investing in solving the case appears more and more like displacement behaviour to processing her own traumata and not so much the action of a professional detective. This approach by the authors/directors of telling her story supports two other old stereotypes within Anglo-American narratives. The first one is that working women are acting more emotionally than logically and that they are working intensely and passionately (only) to overcome trauma, disappointment or misbehaviour excluding them from their social group – as becoming a single mother no matter the circumstances. One influential novel in this regard is The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Hawthorne and Murfin 2006), which shines through the pattern of the construction of Robin’s story as well. For example, when Robin finds out that everyone in the police department knows she has been raped as a young girl and Elisabeth Moss as Robin is directed as sitting there stunned and tears forming in her eyes or stunned and tearful.

By surviving all this she is not only proving her ability to solving the case, rescuing the girl and the baby, but as a reward, the prospect of sentimental love lies ahead for her. The happy ending as establishing a man-woman-relationship in love is another traditional element of American Narratives, grown out of the American Novel representing the worldviews of the protestant/puritan bourgeoisie (Fiedler 2017 pp 44) transformed for the movies by the founder generation of Hollywood (Gabler 1989).

Season two was broadcasted recently, again written by Gerard Lee and Jane Campion; directed by her and Ariel Kleiman. China Girl tells the story of Robin coming back to Sydney, after years of having a not-much-defined break from the police work. The authors trigger a presumption seeing her having been at home with her beloved Jonno. An intense emotional private disappointment spurred her to return to the police force she left years ago, but no one other than her boss seems to know her from these earlier times.

With the very first episode, the character becomes damaged. Firstly, when Robin is inappropriate reacting to a provocation in a common situation, in front of the whole department and some superior men observing the event. Secondly, she is presented drinking beer regularly after duty. By doing so, she is endangering her brother who managed to overcome his drinking habits. Soon she gets her new case – a murdered China Girl. She is supposed to solve this case together with her colleague Miranda Hilmarson (Gwendoline Christie) and all other staff of the department, one of them attracted to Robin from the very first meeting at the corpse. He is trying every possible way to start any kind of relationship with her.

The murder case leads Robin and her team into a milieu of prostitution and surrogacy. Correspondingly, the theme of season two mirrors and potentiates themes of season one – now it is biological motherhood, prostitution, abuse, and men seeing themselves as superior to women.

From a dramaturgical point of view interestingly, Robin is no longer the main character. As a very dominant antagonist to Robin, a pimp called ‘Puss’ (David Dencik) is established, and besides the actor speaking with an East-European accent, he is also called ‘the German’. Pervasive is the character not only as lousy character dominating and exploiting a group of women, terrifying people around him but more importantly as a character who is designed to be controlling the progress of the action. Actions this character got from the author-directors bolstering him driving the story, not the detective. She is designed as a much more reacting character than in season one.

This pimp has a similar hairstyle to Matt in season one, and he appears as an incarnation of the “Eternal Wanderer of Misogynism”. That Puss is designed and directed as a character, who lives in and from the conviction that it would be man’s destiny to enslave women. He has a stream of dialogues written, and the character can present this thinking in a variety of argumentations. Accordingly, he can declare prostitution as a profession and portray himself as a feminist who is supporting women to earn money to be able to support their families. This character is situated as the antagonist to Robin on both levels – the murder case and the private level of the narration. Sure, a bad persona has to say and do terrible things fitting the designed character; this is not the point I want to question here. There are decisions to be made within the process of how to use dramaturgy to balance the dynamic between characters. Interestingly, dialogues and actions between the pimp and the detective are following the traditional “Western”-model more – the male outlaw being the more exciting persona, having the potential to become the one who is acting out the morally better one. By invoking that model in a combination of giving that persona this ample opportunity to make the point of the misogynist, he gets more influence on the action, thus he is a main character. Consequently, this persona ‘Puss’ is not only challenging the character of Robin, he is a dramatic opponent too but as well – from a dramaturgical point of view – diminishing the importance of the persona Robin within the structure and hence the effect of that character. From a dramaturgical point of view, the character of Puss is designed as the potentially morally good outlaw, in which he is allowed to see himself, hence the one questioning the Sherriff. One could write all this that way and contrast it with the directorial approach and the representation of that character, but that isn’t happening here. On the contrary, Puss is shown as the active and smart persona, while Robin is deliberately designed as a most vulnerable Female.

The main task given to the character of Robin by the creators Campion and Lee is to understand herself as a mother. She has to get to know her daughter Mary – incorporated by Jane Campion’s daughter Alice Englert. Campion and Lee designed Robin’s character as being haunted by her past and working to forget her pain. Her salvation is to understand and accept her motherhood and to get a new perspective on herself. (Bonus Material, Making Robin. Campion and Kleiman 2017) Thus, she has to meet her daughter Mary and her new parents. Through her actions, and since she is designed as another most vulnerable and at the same time exceptionally stupidly-behaving young woman, Robin is brought into challenging situations – in the private as well as the crime level of the narration. Throughout this action, her character is again and increasingly taken into circumstances in which she is challenged to react on her emotions or to act professionally.

In addition to the conflict between the detective and the pimp/murderer, Robin is set into a conflict with her subordinate colleague Miranda. Another stereotype is employed with setting up this conflict – women can’t work together. The persona of Miranda is outlined as a bit naïve, not well-educated, but longing for love and being loved. Since this character was deliberately designed for Gwendoline Christie (Bonus Material, Making Miranda. Campion & Kleiman, 2017), her problem is apparent – she is taller than everyone else, hence misperceived as a female monster. Her character also gets no chance to become a role model. Her character has been set up as being in a new relationship with her married boss, lying to Robin and others. And much worse – after the boss declared his relationship with Miranda as true to Robin, Miranda seems to be flirting with Robin’s brother Liam (Kirin J. Callinam). Consequently, following the rules of the American Dramaturgy, Miranda has to be in real danger when she is wearing Liam’s shirt. Cheating against the new relationship and wearing a visible sign of it, like a ‘scarlet letter’, makes her dramatically vulnerable and punishment – for her sin – is inevitable.

A similar traditional layer of traditional, as well as conservative American Dramaturgy pattern, is recognisable for the development written for Robin within the action. In addition to aspects mentioned earlier, two other issues can be emphasised here as well. Firstly, the promise of a sentimental love-relationship is used as reward for Robin, of a man who appears as a mixture of her father and Jonno (Thomas M. Wright) as we remember both from season one. Interestingly, the dynamics of the relationship between Robin and Mary’s father Pyke (Ewan Leslie) according to her motherhood success. When Robin is shown as understanding herself as the mother of Mary and acting accordingly, the dynamics between her and Pyke are good. In situations, Robin is working as the detective, and given the construct of the crime story acting against the interests of Mary, Pyke has to backtrack from her. And, since this relationship is against standards of morality, the situation when they are having sex has to be interrupted by a call of high importance.

The other weird issue, dramaturgically speaking, is the situation of the encounter of Robin and her former senior Al Parker (David Wenham) for a hearing. The overall story gives the impression that some years lay between the end of season one – Robin shooting Al – and beginning of season two. Robin had three miscarriages, and as we can see, Al has a new family and two children. The boy must be about five or at least four years old, to estimate from the appearance and dialogue. What made them wait so long to set up the hearing about the events happening at end of season one? What took the authorities four to five years to arrange that? That situation – of meeting again for the hearing – enables the authors and the director to display a violent attack against Robin. Although it may have been planned as a situation showing Robin’s strengths and cleverness, it shows first of all that the man in his wheelchair still is stronger than her, and very much determined to abuse her – and all of this is demonstrated much in detail and length supporting a voyeuristic view.

After Robin’s character suffered this much, accepted her motherhood and was able to solve the case, she is rewarded with being trusted by her boss to deputise for him for some time. Mary manages to free herself from her relationship with Puss and goes back to her adoptive mother; who herself has returned to her marriage and gets rewarded for doing so by getting Mary back.

Just the Thai-women are still in the hands of Puss, and all those couples that were about to buy themselves the service of substitutes were penalised as well.

Thus, the dramaturgical analysis disappointingly reveals a white-male supremacy worldview dominating the layout and construct, the motivation and design of the narration and characters; as well the aesthetic representation.

Both seasons of Top of the Lake were perceived as exceptional productions making a difference in presenting female characters within TV productions. Nevertheless, it is pleasant to watch excellent actresses in exciting, challenging and rewarding roles; the implicit message is still questioning women in their rights and their economic, social as well as mental independence.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Assmann, Aleida. 2010. Memory in a global age: discourses, practices and trajectories. 1. publ. ed, Palgrave Macmillan memory studies. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Assmann, Jan. 2002. Das kulturelle Gedächtnis: Schrift, Erinnerung und politische Identität in frühen Hochkulturen. 4. Aufl. dieser Ausg. ed, Beck’sche Reihe. München: Beck.

Assmann, Jan. 2004. Religion und kulturelles Gedächtnis: zehn Studien. Orig.-Ausg., 2. Aufl. ed, Beck’sche Reihe. München: Beck.

Campbell, Joseph. 1949. The hero with a thousand faces. New York: Pantheon books.

Campion, Jane, and A. Kleiman. 2017. Top of the Lake – China Girl. In Top of the Lake. UK/USA: BBC.

Fiedler, Leslie A. 2017 Love and death in the American novel. 3rd printing Dalkey Archive ed. Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press.

Frenz, Horst, ed. 1962. Amerikanische Dramaturgie. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt Verlag.

Gabler, Neal. 1989. An empire of their own: How the Jews invented Hollywood. New York: Doubleday.

Gelfert, Hans-Dieter. 2006. Typisch amerikanisch: Wie die Amerikaner wurden, was sie sind. 3., aktualisierte und um ein Nachwort Amerika 2006 erg. Aufl., Originalausg. ed. München: Beck.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, and Ross C. Murfin. 2006. The scarlet letter: complete, authoritative text with biographical, historical, and cultural contexts, critical history, and essays from contemporary critical perspectives. 2. ed, Case studies in contemporary criticism. Boston u.a.: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Maras, Steven (Ed). 2016. „Ethics in Screenwriting – New Perspectives.“ In Palgrave Studies in Screenwriting, ed Steven Maras. London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-54493-3.

Stutterheim, Kerstin. 2015. Handbuch angewandter Dramaturgie. Vom Geheimnis des filmischen Erzählens, Babelsberger Schriften zu Mediendramaturgie und Ästhetik /. Frankfurt am Main u.a.: Peter Lang Verlag.

 

many thanks to Sue Warren for proof reading

Women in Film and TV productions IV – Some thoughts about female characters in ‚Dunkirk‘ (Nolan 2017) and ‚Blade Runner 2049‘ (Villeneuve 2017)

by Kerstin Stutterheim

These days’ discussions about ‘the culture’ in Hollywood and elsewhere are directing the focus towards interaction between male executives and female actresses or team members. The word goes that more women behind the scene would change the way women are treated and represented. Yes, that is step one, long overdue. But will that be the definite solution – or do we think of some further aspects to change this kind of behaviour?

What about productions written and directed or produced by female professionals? Agnieszka Holland, Vera Chytilova, Deepa Mehta, Chantal Ackerman and Agnes Varda are for sure some and they are important role models in this regard, but other female writer-directors are still telling the same old stories. Gertrud Stein once wrote that it takes a hundred years, three generations, to change habits and narratives.[1] Is generation one still in charge?

Media productions, in particular mainstream TV and cinema productions, are in more or less subtle ways influential in priming gender constructions. And they have their freedom to tell stories in grandfather’s style, since neo-liberal thinking forbids criticising successful productions from the Anglo-American World. This is true in particular for productions made in Hollywood or by HBO, which are seen as working opportunities as nearest to heaven as one could imagine. The ‘Bechtel-Test’ is a nice first tool but it does not really indicate the importance of female characters within a narrative. Nor can dialogues meeting the ‘Bechtel-Test’ give these characters a true appreciation, which will make them embodiments of modern independent women who are allowed to live an autonomous life.

Fatherhood, motherhood, and the biological family are core elements of the ‘American Dramaturgy’.[2] And that specific form of designing the narrative, and much more importantly the implicit dramaturgy, mirrors the culture and feeds back into the understanding of gender, hierarchies and more into the Anglo-American film industry, thus the global world as well.

The last decade or two one had to experience an on-going backlash in presenting female characters – in TV as on the big screen.

The unwritten rule of designing a successful movie or series for US-American or British audiences involves the narrative referring to conservative Jewish-Christian beliefs, which are mingled with historical experiences thus priming the Cultural Memory[3] of these nations. And, apparently, one can find here traditions, topics, and themes from the American Novel in film narratives. The American novel is a result of the change from Catholicism (or other religions) towards the father-cantered Protestantism, which was the religion of the mass of that time in the developing US. The novel as medium emerged as the new mass medium.[4]

Other elements of ‘American Dramaturgy’ reflect the influence of ‘the Code’ and its moral stakes for representational spaces towards film productions in Hollywood[5] and elsewhere.

One can understand how influential the priming of conservative Jewish-Christian gender construction is when it is found in the implicit dramaturgy of modern productions, when one looks at most recent productions. Examples could be endless, I am choosing here randomly some out of the highest ranked and most discussed productions of this year 2017, so far. In Dunkirk (Nolan, USA 2017) for example women exist only as ‘extras’ – representing nurses and handing out bread and tea, which does not represent their roles within the historic event. In this movie, all women have to die amongst the wounded and/or terrified soldiers since they are in ships which have been bombarded and are sinking at the shores of Dunkirk. One can find several layers of association given the style the film is made in – the Nazis were brutal and bombarded Red Cross ships, but also: the weak are first victims, always.

Another example is Blade Runner 2049 (Villeneuve, USA 2017), which is opulent and strikingly disappointing. For this sequel, women are reduced to appearing either as an attractive killing machine, or predesigned after the physical appearance of that figure but as most lovingly acting holograms. One other female character is set up as an asexual being focussed on her duty, thus she has to die early. But in total, the movie is dedicated to men and their desires for power and total independence, which allows just as much love as it can to enable them to become part of a real biological family, although this may happen just for a short time, not for life. (Spoiler!: hence in the end father and daughter were united. Implicit, that makes the biological/family relation the most important aspect of the implicit dramaturgy. The ‘moment of catharsis’ is the solution and fulfilment of the whole action – father will meet his daughter after many years not knowing if she made it and survived. The option indicated in an earlier scene, that this young woman is a result of true love and hence not designed, could just by her existence change the life of female characters shown as living underground, is not strong enough to be part of the solution – or a set up to develop another sequel. Those women hoping for change are shown as prostitutes and spies in one, which is an old figure one can always find, for example in Deuteronomy (the Old Testament), as the story about Rahab and the Canaanites.[6]


will be continued – one day, here or elsewhere

 

[1] (Stein, 1990)

[2] (cf. Frenz, 1962; Stutterheim, 2015)

[3] (cf. A. Assmann, 2010, 2012; J. Assmann, 1992; Gelfert, 2006, 2011)

[4] (Fiedler, 2017 )

[5] (Maras, 2016)

[6] (Raṿeh, 2014)

 

Assmann, A. (2010). Memory in a global age: discourses, practices and trajectories (1. publ. ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Assmann, A. (2012). Memory and political change (1. publ. ed.). Basingstoke, Hampshire u.a.: Palgrave Macmillan.

Assmann, J. (1992). Das kulturelle Gedächtnis: Schrift, Erinnerung und politische Identität in frühen Hochkulturen. München: Beck.

Fiedler, L. A. (2017 ). Love and death in the American novel (3rd printing Dalkey Archive ed.). Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press.

Frenz, H. (Ed.). (1962). Amerikanische Dramaturgie. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt Verlag.

Gelfert, H.-D. (2006). Typisch amerikanisch: Wie die Amerikaner wurden, was sie sind (3., aktualisierte und um ein Nachwort Amerika 2006 erg. Aufl., Originalausg. ed.). München: Beck.

Maras, S. E. (2016). Ethics in Screenwriting – New Perspectives. In S. Maras (Ed.), Palgrave Studies in Screenwriting (pp. XXV, 263 p. 219 illus). London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Raṿeh, I. (2014). Feminist rereadings of rabbinic literature (K. Fish, Trans.). Waltham, Massachusetts: Brandeis University Press.

Stein, G. (1990). Erzählen (Narration. Four lectures by Gertrude Stein). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.

Stutterheim, K. (2015). Handbuch angewandter Dramaturgie. Vom Geheimnis des filmischen Erzählens. Frankfurt am Main u.a.: Peter Lang Verlag.

 

many thanks to Sue Warren

 

Interview zu Staffel 7: «Game of Thrones»: «Family first, America first» in der NZZ

Claudia Schwartz :

Seit sieben Jahren verfolgen Zuschauer weltweit gebannt «Game of Thrones». Die Filmwissenschafterin Kerstin Stutterheim über das Phänomen dieser TV-Serie und die Gründe eines solchen Erfolgs.

 

Secrets of Storytelling in Documentaries, Movies and Games – BU Inaugural Public Lecture at Lighthouse Poole

Stories are all around us – in the books we read, games we play and films we watch. The best stories are those that draw us in, captivate us and make us empathise with the characters and their situations. But can you create a story that will thrill and engage your audience?

Professor Kerstin Stutterheim, Professor of Media & Cultural Studies at Bournemouth University, is an expert in dramaturgy – the study of the different elements that make up a story. As part of her inaugural lecture, Professor Stutterheim will share insights from her research and professional practice as a documentary filmmaker. She will explain how to tell a story that will interest, inform and excite your audience, illustrated with a wide range of examples from documentary film, and the games industry.

Professor Kerstin Stutterheim joined Bournemouth University in 2015, where she teaches a range of subjects, including film studies, directing of documentary and fiction films. She is currently involved in a research project exploring the cultural legacy of the Paralympics, as well as undertaking research into the storytelling of HBO hit TV show – Game of Thrones.

Bournemouth University’s inaugural lecture series aims to celebrate new professorial appointments and the depth and breadth of research produced by the university. For further information on the inaugural lecture series, please visit www.bournemouth.ac.uk/public-lecture-series

https://research.bournemouth.ac.uk/2017/03/inaugural-lecture-secrets-of-storytelling-in-documentaries-movies-and-games/

Game of Thrones sehen – Fink Verlag

Handbuch Angewandter Dramaturgie

 

quotation of the month: kitsch and death

Every frisson is a response to surprise, to an unexpected comparison or the revelation of a hitherto unnoticed reality. Here, it is the meeting of kitsch and death.

Kitsch, that >pinnacle of good taste in the absence of taste, of art in ugliness—a branch of mistletoe under the lamp in a railway waiting room, nickeled plate glass in a public place, artificial flowers gone astray in Whitechapel, a lunch box decorated with Vosges fir—everyday ‚Gemütlichkeit‘, art adapted to life where the function of the adaptation exceeds that of innovation. All this is kitsch, the hidden, tender, and sweet vice—and who can live without vices? And this is where its insinuating power and universality begin…<[1] (…)

It is the juxtaposition of the kitsch aesthetic and of the themes of death that creates the surprise, that special frisson so characteristic not only for the new discourse but also, it appears, of Nazism itself.

Is it necessary to see in this the will to reconstitute an atmosphere or a fascination? Both, no doubt. Beneath today’s reflection, one catches a glimpse of certain fundamental components of yesterday’s Nazi hold on the imagination.

There is a kitsch of death. (…) The death of heroes, too (…). There is even a kitsch of the apocalypse: the livid sky slashed by immense purple reflections, flames surging from cities, flocks and men fleeing toward the glowing horizon, and far, very far away, four horsemen. And yet this kitsch of death, of destruction, of apocalypse is a special kitsch, a representation of reality that does not integrate into the vision of ordinary kitsch. (…)

roughe-one1

As I have just mentioned, whatever the kitsch images are surrounding one, death creates an authentic feeling of loneliness and dread. Basically, at the level of individual experience, kitsch and death remain incompatible. The juxtaposition of these two contradictory elements represents the foundation of a certain religious aesthetic, and, in my opinion, the bedrock of Nazi aesthetics as well as the new evocation of Nazism. (p. 25-26 )

star-wars-rogue-one-28

Now, this fusion is only the expression of a kind of malaise in civilisation, linked to the acceptance of civilization, but also to its fundamental rejection. Modern society and the bourgeois order are perceived both as an accomplishment and as an unbearable yoke. Hence this constant coming and going between the need for submission and the reveries of total destruction, between love of harmony and the phantasms of apocalypse, between the enchantment of Good Friday and the twilight of the gods. Submission nourishes fury, fury clears its conscience in the submission. To these opposing needs, Nazism—in the constant duality of its representations—offers an outlet; in fact, Nazism found itself to be the expression of these opposing needs. Today these aspirations are still there, and their reflections in the imaginary as well. (…)

rogue-one-star-wars

Neither liberalism nor Marxism responds to man’s archaic fear of the transgression of some limits of knowledge and power (you shall not eat the fruit…), thus hiding what remains the fundamental temptation: the aspiration for total power, which, by definition, is the supreme transgression, the ultimate challenge, the superhuman combat that can be settled only by death. (pp. 135-136)

In: Saul Friedländer: Reflections of Nazism. An Essay on Kitsch & Death. New York, 1984.

[1] Abraham Moles. Psychology of Kitsch. The Art of Happiness. Paris: Denoel, 1971, pp.19-20

 

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.