One Room With A View

You may have noticed I’ve gone a bit quiet recently. And it’s because of a very exciting thing.

I’ve started writing for the fabulous https://oneroomwithaview.com/ which you should definitely definitely check out.

I did a piece about Despicable Me here.

And a review of The Overnight here.

Keep your eyes peeled over there for more exciting film writing, and keep your eyes peeled here for some Edinburgh recommendations next month, in between my flyering on the Royal Mile.

Peace out kids

It’s all go!

International Women’s Day

To commemorate International Women’s Day I contributed to this piece for Bechdel Test Fest about the best female characters on film. The other volunteers answers are wonderful, and today is such a great opportunity to recognise the great female characters out there, and think about how much more we can do with film to create real and recognisable female characters on screen. So much of my life has been made up of film watching experiences, so to have role models on screen for young girls is so important – currently there is only one female on screen to every 2.24 females, whilst we still make up 50% of the population.

Other great female characters on film can be found in this piece I wrote with Briony a while back, and you can find what I said about the first Bechdel Test Fest event here.

Bechdel Test Fest presents: Reclaim the Rom-com

I was lucky enough to get free tickets for the launching of the Bechdel Test Fest, hosted at the wonderful Genesis Cinema in Whitechapel by Corrina Antrobus. In the first of what looks like a great schedule coming up we examined the merits and pitfalls of romantic comedies as a genre, and questioned: can rom-coms ever be feminist? There is, inherent in the genre of rom-coms, feminist potential. A group of women go to the cinema together, to see these films, share these stories. Why then, can they not manage, on the whole, to match up to the real lives of the women going to see the films?

First up, a love note to Genesis Cinema.

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I believe that the kind of cinema you watch a film in has an impact on how you view a film; the customer service you receive, the environment inside, the price of a ticket. Genesis cinema has the feel of a cinema that truly loves film, with wonderful posters everywhere, coffee in abundance and a great bar area upstairs – where we were seated, ready and waiting to reclaim the rom-com.

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We started with Obvious Child, starring Jenny Slate as recently dumped stand-up comedian Donna, who finds herself pregnant after a one night stand with Max (Jake Lacy). It’s a very frank and open story of pregnancy and abortion, and feels like the most real film about abortion to come out of the world of cinema. But I hope that’s not the only thing that anyone viewing this film takes from it, because it shouldn’t just be defined by its wonderful depiction of abortion. As well as that, it’s genuinely laugh out loud funny with a great script, as well as having genuinely heartfelt moments. Jenny Slate is amazing and, fun fact, she really was a gigging stand-up when she was approached to star in the film. The film also manages to depict how a comic’s life affects their routine, and what baring your soul on stage in the name of comedy can do. Obvious Child is a love story, yes, but it’s also about learning to love yourself and allowing yourself to be loved at difficult times in your life, whether that be by your friends, lovers or parents.

It seems to subvert many rom-com tropes; Donna is the character who needs to grow up, prepare for commitment or love, whilst Max, the male love interest, is the one who seems to have his life together and is the character who pushes for more of a romantic relationship. Plus, post watching the film I have been listening to Paul Simon on repeat non-stop and dancing around in the endless hope I will become Jenny Slate.

Following the film was a discussion from a panel featuring film academics and journalists; Corrina Antrobus was joined by Chloe Angyal, Alice Guilluy and Simran Hans.

In case you’re unaware, the Bechdel Test was developed by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, as a joke about how the test for if movies ‘pass’ should be if they have two named female characters who have a conversation that isn’t about a man. It was created 30 years ago, and has, especially in recent years, become feminist film critic’s calling card. However the panel, whom I quite agree with, were keen to point out that the test is merely a starting point. It doesn’t mean a film is feminist and there are many feminist films which wouldn’t pass, like Gravity and 10 Things I Hate About You, that could still be considered feminist. It is, in the grand scheme of all things that go on in film making, a low bar to try and pass, and when films fail it highlights more than anything just how few female characters there are in movies.

Interestingly, it was pointed out that romantic comedies in general are some of the most belittled films in popular culture – because they are designed for women. Because of this they’re seen as low culture or ‘guilty pleasures’. This discrediting of culture for women is a sad trend, but films like Obvious Child suggest that genuinely great and funny movies can be made, not just for women, but about women. It seems it is thought that films about women are for women only, and men couldn’t possibly enjoy them, whilst all other films should be endured by men and women alike. It’s also a trope that you find in comedy, with female comics getting turned down for gigs because there’s already a woman on the bill, or being thought of as just funny to women – as though gender has an impact on what you find funny or not.

But, in 2015, we still have a sexist pop culture. This, the panel argued, means that the perfect feminist piece of film could not exist, because sexism is inherent in the film industry. A part of this problem of there not being one ‘perfect’ feminist rom com is that there is no one feminist. Not all women are the same is very much the point of feminism, but feminists get grouped together under one umbrella of set opinions, despite being composed of different women with different views, experiences, and opinions. What one woman might consider to be a piece of feminist cinema might be another’s worst nightmare. We are all human and taste is subjective; this is still true if you happen to believe that men and women should be equal.

And when we do get rom-coms that don’t appear to tick our feminist film boxes it seems to be more of an issue than when it happens with big blockbusters or action movies, as though only rom-coms should be put under the microscope; as to why this might be I’m afraid I have no answers. Perhaps because rom-coms are the one genre that focus more on women’s stories it shows all the more when these female characters are unbelievable, two dimensional or forever repeating the same blueprint.  

The second film shown was The Philadelphia Story, re-released in cinemas this week and starring the indomitable Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord, a woman caught in a love triangle in the run up to her second wedding. Also featuring Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, the film was based on the Broadway musical of the same name and was released in 1940, at the height of the screwball comedy trend. It has great female characters who never stop matching the men in their wit or charm, such as the wise-cracking younger sister of Tracy played by Mary Nash, and the photographer working on a piece about the wedding, played by Ruth Hussey. These are all well developed and realistic female characters that you leave the film feeling like you know in a way that I don’t think you get from a lot of female characters in contemporary film.

The Bechdel Test Fest is going to go on and host more events, celebrating women on film and they’ve got some great events coming up. It’s a wonderful platform and I’m so pleased this is something that’s being discussed in a fun and entertaining way. Check out their Facebook and website.

The Bechdel Test asks that films have more than one named female character. All I ask from films is that they show me real women, in real situations, having real conversations. I want to see something recognisable on screen.

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Get Santa

Santa has ended up in prison, his reindeers have fled and it looks like Christmas is going to be cancelled, unless he can rely on the help of young Tom (Kit Connor) and his dad, the recently released from prison Steve (Rafe Spall). Wanting only a Christmas with his son, who he has been apart from whilst locked away for two years, Steve finds himself going to extreme lengths to help save festive cheer, not only for his son but soon for everyone else that relies on Santa too.

Christmas family films often use Christmas time as a barometer for life – in It’s a Wonderful Life George’s bad Christmas is an example of just how bad his life is and in Get Santa it takes saving Christmas for the entire planet to properly reunite Steve and his son. This sentiment is one of the best things the film has going for it, and could play well with the parents taking their kids to see a film like this. However it’s let down by the poor character writing, and the odd choice of casting Rafe Spall as an ex-convict and getaway driver – it’s so unbelievable even in a kids film – with no real character development. Although the father son dynamic is good and Spall’s performance is certainly not a bad one, the characters just don’t feel real or relatable, in particular the disappointingly underwritten role of the mother. Although this is a film about a father son relationship Jodie Whittaker’s acting abilities exhibited in Broadchurch earlier in the year are not made use of.

Add to this the lack of jokes and you end up with an oddly muted film. The barrage of fart jokes land terribly and even the plethora of British comedy actors who crop up, from Joanna Scanlan to Warwick Davis, don’t help lift the unfunny script. Jim Broadbent is pretty fun as Santa, and his time in prison, attempting to create a hard man image, aided by the Barber (Stephen Graham) might raise a smile. But overall it all falls rather flat.

There are some nice looking scenes at the North Pole though, and the more magical segments of the film with northern lights and flying sleighs do momentarily lift the film. But if you’re looking for family fun at the cinema, I’d suggest Paddington instead, or if you want Christmas cheer as December begins then revisit Nativity! from 2009.

Get Santa is in cinemas Friday 5 December 

Sian’s radio recommendation of the week: James Acaster’s Findings

Hello! I am still here and still obsessively listening to radio comedy I promise. This week I’d like to point you in the direction of first episode of James Acaster’s new show on Radio 4, where he details all of his findings about life. This week he looks at wood, aided by Nathaniel Metcalfe and Bryony Hannah, and tells the world what he has found out about it, from clogs to touching wood. It’s wickedly funny and I can’t wait for the rest of the series.

You have four weeks left to listen to it here!

Venus in Fur at Whirled Cinema

The way you watch a film often has an impact on the viewing experience. If people are talking through a film you’re watching or if you’re on your phone then you’re going to enjoy it infinitely less than if you can give it your whole attention. If you’re in a location that matches the film, the world you’re being transported to will feel all the more real – for instance if you see Breakfast at Tiffany’s at an outdoor cinema in the pouring rain then the end scene will leap off the screen.

A few weeks ago I went to go and check out Whirled Cinema in Loughborough Junction (I can do that because I live in London now which is no big deal whatsoever). Situated under the railway arches of the train station and tucked away next to a gym, Whirled Cinema uses its unique location to offer the cinemagoer something different. With a bar, balcony, and pizzas ordered if you get there before eight, it not only shows the very best art house films from the past few months but does so in a way that shows a true dedication to the art of cinema. As the trains whizz over, full of commuters heading home or people starting their nights out, the rattling noise becomes a part of the atmosphere in the room, punctuating the scenes taking place in front of the audience’s eyes. Occasionally the picture wobbles, and it feels as if the whole room is shaking with the importance of the on screen story.

The film I was lucky enough to get to see whilst there was Venus in Fur from 2013, based on the play by David Ives and directed by Roman Polanski. It follows the audition of Vanda for director and writer Thomas, for his adaptation of the book by Leopold van Sacher-Masoch. Soon the relationship between them and the barriers between audition and reality begin to blur, until what is performance and what is not becomes not only unintelligible but also an unnecessary distinction to make.

When I watch a film what I’m after most of all is to be taken completely out of my own head and to be transported. Venus in Fur not only did this in an interesting way, but where I saw the film also allowed me to venture further into the escapism. Watching a film with an engaged audience that truly connects with a film changes the whole cinema going experience, and at Whirled Cinema it’s clear that, first and foremost, the film’s the thing.