Movie Review and Film Criticism


The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog, a Jane Campion film, 2021, is an adaptation of the novel by Thomas Savage. The film follows a mother and her son as they get involved with a wealthy pair of ranchers, set in Montana, 1925. Power of the Dog comes from Psalm 22 Plea for Deliverance from Suffering and Hostility Psalm 20:1 My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 20:2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. 20:22 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.

 

A film that explores masculine vulnerability, toxic masculinity, and the denial of self. Campions masterfully explore the subconscious and conscious through the lens of masculine vulnerabilities, hidden secrets, how they are hidden and leaked. Campion’s interpretation of the denial of self is spot on in the character’s expression. Phil’s hyper-masculinity and abusive language are a cover-up for his sexual orientation and his misplacement of life when we learn he has a higher education from Yale in the arts. His genuine desire is slowly revealed in a few ways, his lack of interest in the saloon girls, his reminiscing of Bronco Henry and their relationship, looking at magazines of Bronco Henry, and his ability to see in the landscape the silhouette of the barking dog. Campion trickles clues throughout the film about Phil’s true sexual desires, but in true Campion form, she lays the clues out subtly, requiring a cerebral engagement of the audience. Phil’s jealousy and longing for his lost love, upon George and Rose’s wedding night, the film cuts to Phil taking out Bronco Henry saddle, caressing and polishing it. 

When life’s purpose is lost, the psyche needs something to do. As Rose’s financial needs are satisfied, her purpose for caring for her son and her property in Beach, North Dakota, is removed, she self-medicates with alcohol. Phil’s expression of denial of self is through rage and hypermasculinity. Through his silence, George Burbank, the keeper of the secrets, enables the abuse around him. Peter is the closest representation of authenticity, being true to oneself, and in many points, in the narrative, she admits his unawareness in terms of his naiveté. Phil takes the initiative to teach Peter to ride horses and the other skills needed on the ranch. Once Peter learns to ride a horse, he has access beyond the ranch. 

Campion utilizes the Kuleshov Effect in the final chapter when Peter dissects the diseased cow in the mountains. Phil dies of Anthrax, but at his time of death, the coroner and George discuss Phil’s standards of handling animals and the cause of his death. These elements tell us that Peter was a carrier of the disease and passed it onto Phil when they were alone in the mountains. We can conclude they had a sexual encounter.   

The Power of The Dog is nominated for an Oscars in the following categories: Best Picture, Best Directing, Cinematography, Actor in a Leading Role (Benedict Cumberbatch), Actor in a Supporting Role (Jess Plemons), Actress in a Supporting Role (Kirsten Dunst), Best Film Editing, Music (Original Score), Production Design, Sound, and Writing (Adapted Screenplay). I think I will win Best Picture, Best Directing, Actor in a Leading Role (Benedict Cumberbatch), Writing (Adapted Screenplay), Actor in a Supporting Role (Jess Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee), Sound and Production Design. 


Picture A Scientist

Picture A Scientist, 2021 by Filmmakers Sharon Shattuck and Ian Cheney, chronicles the groundswell of researchers who are writing a new chapter for women scientists. Biologist Nancy Hopkins, Chemist Raychelle Burks, and Geologist Jane Willenbring lead viewers on a journey deep into their own experience in the sciences, ranging from brutal harassment to years of sublet slights. Along the way, from cramped laboratories to spectacular field stations, we encounter scientific luminaries – including social scientists, neuroscientists, and psychologists – who provide new perspectives on how to make science itself more diverse, equitable, and open to all.  

Picture a Scientist explores sexual discrimination better than any other conversation about it. It is the sublet slights that are systemic in society. This film focuses on the scientific community. A world I know from working on my geology undergraduate degree and interning at the Naval Research Laboratory. Unless you have a champion in the workplace, then you are fresh meat for the wolves that are out to feed upon you.

I. Tip of the Iceberg (3:57)

The film opens with Dr. Nancy Hopkins in the lab at MIT, showing the audience the fish in her research and photos of her fish in her first research. The segment follows with the sexual harassment at Radcliff. She began working as an undergrad in Jim Watson’s lab, and Francis Crick visited the lab. Francis flies into the lab and grabs her breast, and asks “what she is working on?” As culture had taught her not to make a fuss and preserve their privilege, she brushes it off and goes on as if nothing had happened.  

Geologist, Dr. Jane Willenbring narrates her decision to study geology and work on her master’s at Boston University in 1999. Her trajectory was to focus on the east glaciers in Antarctica. Dr. Willenbring details the abuse she has endured and how it would affect her young daughter’s future. Then addresses the biases of the image of what a woman scientist is like as opposed to a male scientist.

When asking a population, “Draw a picture of a scientist.” It used the be all men. Biologist Nancy Hopkins answers, “We were trying to be a scientist. We didn’t want to be seen as trouble makers or activists.” The graphics follow detailing how women are extraordinarily underrepresented in science. In 2017, 71% male to 29% females were employed as sciences or engineers. “The message is you somehow don’t belong here. There is a playbook, and men wrote it, and the men pick up on it, they know what the plays are, and I always felt like I didn’t have the playbook. I was feeling my way through this game.” – A Collection of Female Scientist.

The film successfully dispels the myth that has grown out of the sexual harassment culture and the stories created about sexual discrimination. The false belief that sexual harassment is limited to unwanted come-ons. It shows the absolute truth: working under these biases, women’s resources in terms of emotions, time is squandered, and being driven down numerous rabbit holes created solely by the toxic masculinity in these environments. Women as a whole and women’s work are discarded and dismissed. The film addresses biases in all people, how deeply entrenched society is to what is female and how it can be dismissed and what is male, and how it is preserved. The whiter and more heterosexual male, the more he is protected.

Glaciologist David Marchant, Ph.D., brutalizes the female graduate students when they are the most vulnerable on the glacier, named after him, in Antarctica. They are remote and limited witnesses who consist of his brother, himself, a female student, and a male graduate student. Timestamp 10:27 geologist Jane Willenbring narrates her first experience with the brutalization that began with pursuing her master’s degree at Boston University and the dream study with David Marchant, Ph.D. in Antarctica. Many dreams come true, and experiences become a woman’s nightmare when she brutalizes a man and his toxic masculinity. Men have a little understanding of what it is like to be a woman and the constant violation of our human rights. His disdain for her existence and his power to eradicate her from a career and her livelihood is pervasive. Women live with physical trauma, psychological trauma, career trauma, and setbacks over their lifetimes.   

In 2018, the National Academies of Science, Medicine, & Engineering released a report of sexual harassment in STEM fields. 50% of women faculty & staff in Academia experience sexual harassment in the workplace, and those numbers have not changed over time. The issue is the system is built on dependence. Trainees, i.e., medical students, undergraduates, and graduates, depending on the facility for their funding and future. That sets up a highly problematic dynamic. It creates an environment in which harassment can occur. The rarest form of sexual harassment is come-ons. They don’t happen often. Typical conditions are in the form of putdowns. The film goes into detail about the structure of sexual harassment: they use the iceberg as a metaphor for how we believe the frequent form of sexual harassment occurs and how it occurs. The public eye is unwanted sexual attention, coercion, and assault.  

II. The Underneath (19:08)

Chemist Dr. Rachelle Burks narrates her experience as a black female scientist who works at St. Edwards University, Austin, Texas. Subtle exclusions make up 90% of sexual harassment. Such as being left off an email, not being invited to collaboration when you are the clear expert, vulgar name-calling, obscene gesture, hostility, passed over for promotion, relentless pressure for dates, remarks about bodies, sabotaging equipment. These little moments that make a woman feel like she doesn’t belong are shared experiences. Findings have revealed that consistent gender harassment has the same impact as a single episode of unwanted sexual attention or coercion.  

The scientists in the film, biologist Nancy Hopkins, chemist Raychelle Burks, and geologist Jane Willenbring all are smiling or have stoic expressions on their faces. Raychelle Burks, smiling through the narration of her abuse and the statistics on women of color. 

Raychelle is especially poignant when she discusses professionalism. As she describes professionalism, I have been told that and wondered what the point is.

My questions have been:

  • Do you want me to say that you are great while abusing me?
  • Do you want me to lie to you when you steal from me?
  • Do you want me to smile your abuse away so you can feel comfortable with yourself?
  • What part do you want me to stuff, so you don’t have to be accountable for your actions?
  • Those are the questions I ask myself when someone tells the group or me to be professional.

It’s bizarre.

  • Does it mean you can do whatever you want to, and I MUST stoke your ego, as fragile as it is?
  • Is professionalism code for taking my abuse and not getting angry at you for destroying my life?

Chemist Raychelle Burks narrates about growing up in Los Angeles, the representation of females, much fewer women of color, didn’t exist. She explains the size of the classrooms and the lack of championing sciences or the encouragement of pursuing science as a career—she chose a Ph.D. in chemistry to expand her options. In 2016, Ph.D. was in STEM Fields Awarded in U.S. Citizens, are 47.9% white men, 25.7% white women, 2.2% black women. In Academia, as a woman of color, the abuses, roadblocks, and biases she has to overcome and the roles she plays are exposed. Such as assuming she is the custodian or has the right to park in the academic parking lot. Invisibility is an element of sexual harassment when being ignored in meetings. When a white man says it suddenly, the best idea is presented. Critical emails that are wildly inappropriate.

The social chains in place restrict her from responding; how dare you put her at risk of being seen as the angry black woman trope. Forces her to exhaust emotional resources when crafting a response that minimizes the email’s inappropriateness. The answer is a short amount of time; multiplied, it amounts to a fantastic amount of her resources. When managing the abuse, the sidelined elements of her job are writing grants, writing papers, networking with peers, and doing research with her students—instead, forced to navigate these oppressive systems that people who are not in the marginalized communities do not have to. Dr. Burks highlights that the people who are not in the marginalized communities do not have to use their resources addressing it; they don’t even register it or think about it much. Through her voice breaking and holding back the tears, Dr. Burks explains the resources in time and emotions the oppressive systems impact her work and her productivity what she loves, science.   

Dr. Nancy Hopkins explains that starting in science is like getting an airplane off the ground. Make enough discoveries that you become known. She encountered, as a professor, biases with the post-docs assuming she was a technician. The post-docs would pilfer her equipment and disrupt her experiments when she was young. The culture avoided an outspoken woman and held people accountable for their actions. She encountered people discrediting her discoveries. She kept it to herself because no one would believe her, so she kept her nose to the grind-stone she got tenure. She was consistently questioned about her abilities when her research needed more space, 200 square feet, for her zebrafish study. After the lab space administrators denied her claims, she measured the area, mapped out all lab space, and allocated it after hours. The men were assigned 2,936 square feet to the women 1,974 square feet. Then she returned her findings to the people administering the space, and he refused to look at them. Against her wishes, she was radicalized and became an activist.

III Data-Driven (28:34)

Geologist Dr. Jane Willenbring explains she expected science to be working hard at something. The struggle of fieldwork was expected and enjoyed, but the gratuitous sexual harassment is unnecessary. In a flashback, she recaps Dr. Marchant’s message that she is stupid and will never have a career in science. She explains how those messages got under her skin, and she questioned her competency and her abilities as a scientist. She completed her Ph.D. and did a post-doc. She explains how she procrastinated reporting Dr. Marchant’s sexual harassment in the Antarctica field. It is her dedication to the field of science, and she wants it to be a welcoming environment for her daughter. She wrote the Title IX complaint seventeen years later. Both Dr. Willenbring and Dr. Hopkins waited until they had tenure. She contacts Adam Lewis and invites him to write his experiences that field season, expecting him to respond with not wanting any part of it, but he agreed to support her and stand with her and has regretted his silence that field season. Boston University officials considered her Title IX complaint behind closed doors.  

Dr. Burks addresses professionalism, fitting, being in the marginalized community. She highlights professionalism and how the marginalized are supposed to behave respectfully civil under the definition of professionalism while the privileged can be inappropriate. Fewer than 1 in 4 speakers at chemistry conferences is a woman, and fewer than 1 in 25 is a woman of color. In major research universities, 7% of deans and fewer the 3% of provosts are women of color. In her university’s school of natural sciences, Dr. Burks is the only black tenure-track professor.    

Dr. Nancy Hopkins addresses her steps in activism for lab space, began after measuring the lab space, and then wrote a letter to MIT’s president detailing the systemic and invisible discrimination against women. She shared it with Mary-Lou Pardue, Ph.D., a faculty member Dr. Hopkins had admired for coherence. It began to spread to a cohort of women tenured faculty members. The initial meeting was held privately to establish safety and trust. Their activism exposed the discrimination of women in terms of numbers, 1994. Fifteen tenured women in 6 departments of science at MIT and 197 tenured men. The cohort of women was high-profile scientists in the National Academy of Science. They discussed the stigma around family leave how it impacted tenure. Dr. Hopkins, this cohort of women was going to be listened to instead of the environment they are combating. Together they go to the dean’s office. The prevailing feelings Dr. Hopkins narrates of not belonging. They request for a committee to document the problem and examine the data. The dean has granted them a committee because of the deeply entrenched biases among male scientists who are dominant in science; he had little hope for change. The future of scientists was in the balance for Dr. Hopkins and others.  

IV Nature of the Beast (45:14)

From 1900 to 1990, women in STEM began at 0.63% 1900, 9.33% 1930, 4.75 1960, 23% 1990, 29% 2017. The leaky pipeline was highlighted through attrition issues. In 2018, Women in Science and Engineering Bachelor’s degrees awarded 50%, master’s degrees awarded 44%, Ph.D.’s awarded 41%, Post Docs 36%, Employed 29%. Despite the effort to fill the pipeline for getting girls and women to study STEM, sexual harassment has created leaks in the pipeline.  

Leaving science in part is the culture. Social science has uncovered the culture of sexual harassment and is no longer a mystery. Social Psychologist Corinne Moss-Racusin, Ph.D., had conducted the first experiment addressing sexual harassment. Her question was, “what is the experimental evidence of whether or not there’s gender bias among the scientific community.  

They describe a student applying for a lab manager position. They distributed two resumes with equal qualifications, and the only difference was gender. They sought to find STEM facilities from around the country (USA). They spread half the male applicant and half the female applicant. They said this one had applied to be a lab manager somewhere in the country the prior year. For this new mentoring program, they needed their candid assessments of the student. When Dr. Moss-Racusin was looking at her first pass of data analysis, initially, she thought she had miss coded her findings. The data revealed gender bias. The female student is rated inferior to the male student on every dimension we assessed. She is ranked as less competent, less likely to be hired, less likely to be mentored by a faculty member, and beginning with a lower starting salary ($30,212 to $26,104). This study quantifies gender bias. Gender biases target Women of color in more complex, insidious, and familiar ways.

Consciously, I could say I have zero bias. To me, men and women who perform the same are equal. But I think we’re in those very early moments in the science where we’re able to actually get snapshots of what’s inside our mind of which we don’t know.

– Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, Social Psychologist

In her class, she performs the IAT test. She explains the IAT has a simple idea that underlies it. The idea is that if two things have something in common, we’ll be more easily able to put them together. And sometimes, this just happens in our experience. Salt and Pepper go together. Their opposites in one sense, but they go together because we combine them. Surprisingly, the biases come from standard cognitive processing mechanisms. Meaning well-intended folks display these very pervasive biases. The IAT Implicate Associating Test. The IAT works in the same manner as the Kuleshov Effect. In the IAT, if two things have something in common, we’ll be more easily able to put them together. Sometimes this happens based on our experience. If two things come to be associated, if stated repeatedly in our experience, we will be faster to put them together regardless of our awareness. The words king and queen go together. Easy to imagine, and so, we use this idea to argue that if two things have come to be associated over and over again, in our experience, whether we know it or not, we will be faster to put them together. Nobody has any trouble understanding why this might be. The test revealed how we are programmed to associate women with domestic life and men with careers, especially in STEM. It is much more work to do the reverse, associate women with STEM careers and men with domestic life. The pacing of the test is 700 milliseconds per word association. 

In discussion with Dr. Hopkins and Dr. Banaji, they discussed the email Dr. Hopkins received from another colleague regarding a male colleague denying this bias and sexual harassment. The conclusion is that today, 2019, the discrimination is data-driven and has moved beyond opinion. 

V. The Eyes to See (58:15)

Dr. Burks narrates before her middle school years. She had no representation of a woman scientist and was extremely hard-pressed to name a woman scientist of color. Dr. Burks has a YouTube channel to fill that need for today’s women scientists and girls of color who aspire to be scientists. She is on other media outlets as well. Not trying to fit into a scientist’s look (white male with straight hair), she opens the door to girls of color to dream of being in a role like hers, a scientist.  

Dr. Jane Willenbring travels to meet with Adam Lewis at his home in Calgary, Ca. The discussion begins with an antidotal conversation about the wind, freezing body parts, like noses and tuchus. The conversation moves to Dr. Willenbring writing her Title IX complaint and Adam’s take during the field season. He admits his lack of awareness of Jane’s experience and his compliancy for not stepping in and helping her.  

The gem in this segment is when Adam tells the story of when he witnesses sexual harassment at a European glacial conference. Adam is impressed by the women blowing off the sexual advancements of a senior glaciologist, and Jane explains the scenario where no matter what a woman does in a social setting at that conference, she is limited to being viewed as a sexual object. Jane explains the actions needed to break through the old biases that women have to be nice. Required others to call out the old glaciologist. Women with a voice are kicked out of science when they call out unwanted sexual advancements—and not blown off his advancements, even though the men in the room are violating her rights and boundaries. Jane explains how a reputation is built based on a male colleague’s bias and the stories he is making up about her to discredit her actual accomplishes, based on real work and not sexual acts to get her up the ladder of success.  

Adam’s inability to see Jane’s need for support in Antarctica was miss read by Jane’s stoic nature. Adam believed her stoicism was a part of Dr. Marchant’s intensifying his abuse in a quest to see her break.  

In November 2017, Boston University concluded their investigations into David Marchant’s behavior, finding: no “credible evidence” of direct physical attacks a “preponderance” of evidence of sex-based slurs and sexual comments. David Marchant stated that he has never engaged in any form of sexual harassment and appealed the findings to a faculty committee. The faculty committee at B.U. recommended that Marchant be placed on leave for three years and then be allowed to return.

Azeen Ghorayshi, an investigative reporter with Buzzfeed News, has reported sexual harassment in the sciences since 2015. Coming to a report to seek help and support for the problems they dealt with as graduate students resulted from many failures along the way. The frustration with inaction is why Buzzfeed sees this wave of women coming forward to publicize their stories. Ms. Ghorayshi reports that many of the women she has spoken to have left the field. The women have left the field either the experience itself or the process of trying to do anything about it that eventually made them throw up their hands and quiet.  

In shadow, a female scientist narrates her childhood dreams of being an astronaut, and the two paths are test pilot in the military or a Ph.D. As his first graduate student, Dr. David Marchant destroyed her dreams by sabotaging future funding for more polar work in Antarctica. The department was more interested in preserving Dr. Marchant’s white male privilege than the life-long dreams of a young woman scientist. She makes the point that the opportunity to pursue her dream of being an astronaut might not have happened, but she would have liked to have it end on her terms. That is happening to so many capable women’s life-long dreams are being shot down by toxic men. The trap is funding is dependent. To succeed, you had to apply for funding through the National Science Foundation Polar Programs. There aren’t alternative sources for funding if you want to do work there. Dr. Marchant’s authority was derived from his help deciding who got funding. In the field in Antarctica, he told her he had decided she would have no future in polar studies, and he would make sure she got no funding.

Awareness and recognition among male scientists are needed to understand how to begin to solve sexual harassment for women in the sciences. Without women in science, we have lost half the population that brings eyes to issues that men cannot, and the world of science and the world at large has lost unforeseen discoveries.

VI. the Scouts before the Troops (1:15:30)

The MIT five-year study found that salary inequities, lack of advancement, and laboratory space for women were significantly less than for men. MIT was losing female faculty hires because of the childcare issue. There was no childcare anywhere on the central campus. It became known as the MIT report. A Study of the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT: How a Committee of Women Faculty came to be established by the Dean of School of Science, what the Committee and the Dean Learned and accomplished, and recommendations for the future. The committee invited MIT President Charles Vest to comment on the report.  

It was a long time between the full report and then the decision. I would think it was almost months, definitely weeks. It was very complicated for the university. You have to, I think, but this whole thing is in the context of a university that prided itself on being a meritocracy. He struggled with exactly the criticism that I think everyone knew we would get.”  

— Robert A Brown, Ph.D.

MIT president Dr. Vest endorsed the report and is why the MIT Report became so well known. 

I have always believed that contemporary gender discrimination within universities is part reality and part perception, but I now understand that reality is by far the greater part of the balance.” He recognized publicly endorsed the report. It made them own the problem, and by taking responsibility for the gender bias, they acted to rectify it. The report was creditable because it was data-driven. Dr. Brown “There was a ripple, you could feel the resonance, and that’s because it was real.” It gave women in all the universities and take the report to their department head and their provosts and ask why we are not doing this. The ripple effect caused departments to resolve the gender biases on the local level. The MIT report led nine research universities to form an ongoing collaboration to address issues of gender equality. Construction began on a daycare center on campus, and the number of tenured women faculty doubled.  

Dr. Brown, “It was a turning point for me as a university administrator. I remember going to a meeting of provosts not long after that, getting browbeat by several provosts.” “It’s not in my institution!” Other Provosts. The implicit bias and explicit bias still exist. To truly combat these challenging societal problems, you can’t lose the energy because you won’t solve the problem unless you build in a systematic structural change that can keep working over a protracted timeframe.  

Dr. Willenbring reflects on the faculty decision on her Title IX complaint to let Dr. Marchant return to work and his regular activities after a certain period of time, which led her to disbelief. Fortunately, the president thought something differently. Dr. Brown moves to Boston University as president from his provost’s position at MIT. In 2019, Dr. Brown overturned the B.U. faculty panel’s recommendation. After a 13-month investigation, the board of trustees voted to terminate Dr. Marchant.  

The Science and Technology committee opened an inquiry. They were shocked that someone who’d been harassing women for decades had received millions of dollars in National Science Foundation funding. Barbara Comstock “The committee of Science, Space and Technology will come to order.” Dr. Clancy presents her testimony, “We scientists do this work because we want to give the best of ourselves to the advancement of science. Women keep trying to give us their best, and we blow ash in their faces and push them down mountains. The way we’ve tried to fix this problem isn’t working. We have decades of evidence to prove it. Let’s move away from a culture of compliance and towards a culture of change.

National Institutes of Health director calls for:

  • An end to all-male panels.
  •  NASA 1st all-female spacewalk.
  • Request a Woman Scientist: a new database of 8,000 women scientists.
  • Girls Who Code: group launches to close the gender gap in tech.
  • Draw-a-scientist: rise in female representation.
  • House: passes Building Blocks of STEM act.
  • National Academy of Sciences: vote to eject sexual harassers.
  • New NSF rules: requires awardees to report title IX findings.

Women still grapple with these problems, despite the tremendous progress. In 2018, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names revoked The Marchant Glacier in Antarctica name and replaced it with the Matataus Glacier. Matataus is a Maori word meaning “a scout before the troops.”

Conclusion

I would like to see and be a part of the success of women who are not overcoming headwinds or brick walls of abuse. I have been a part of this world in an earlier chapter of my life when interning at the Naval Research Laboratory while working on my bachelor’s degree in geology. 

Graduation, I had a whirlwind surrounding me. The success of the most rebellious act of my life was to earn a science degree despite my upbringing. Upon graduation, the abrupt loss of my internship destabilized me, intensifying my whirlwind. I needed rest and support to discover my next step. It put me in a vulnerable place where methodical decisions were sacrificed. Family support had never been there and wasn’t available then. The door of support that opened and I would accept turned out to be like Dr. Marchant. 


A Jane Campion Film, 1993. Campion’s as an auteur filmmaker holds to the female gaze, as in her 1993 film The Piano. A period piece, set in 1851, a mute Scottish woman, Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter), arrives in colonial New Zealand for an arranged marriage, with her precious young daughter Flora McGrath (Anna Paquin) and beloved piano in tow. Her new husband, Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill), refuses to transport the piano to their home. George Baines (Harvey Keitel), his neighbor, offers a deal to take the piano off his hands. Baines agrees to move the piano in exchange for piano lessons. 

What does Ada have that the others want? At first, it seems like sensual desire, but it is more than that. It is a desire for intimacy that the men can only understand in sexual terms. Campion’s choice to strip away the spoken language from Ada allowed for all other forms of communication to take center stage. Ada’s communication is sensual intimacy with her piano and her daughter. 

“Silence affects everyone in the end.” The film opens with Ada looking through her hands in a voiceover, telling the audience she hasn’t spoken since she was six years of age, and went on to let us know about her arranged marriage to a man who doesn’t care if she can’t speak. The piano is her voice.  

Throughout Jane Campion’s work, we see this where she suppresses one element for the other parts of life while exploring the other elements. This technique creates an intimacy that we also see in Terrance Mallick’s films.  

Ada’s arrival at her new home is a bit tumultuous, and her husband undervalues her need for her piano. Her young daughter is her speaking voice and translator for the audience and the other characters in the film. A photograph replaces the wedding ceremony, and no vows are exchanged. She reveals her real passion when Ada runs to the window looking out, worrying about her piano and true love. 

Her husband lets her know he has to leave for a few days, and she and her daughter head out to find the piano. They arrive at George Baine’s house, asking him to take them to the beach where they landed. He refuses, based on the excuse he doesn’t have the time. 

He bends under their pressure, arriving at the beach where the piano sits. Ada plays until the sunset, and her daughter dances in a duet of passion, love, and intimacy. Baines watches and absorbs their passion and intimacy as an onlooker. An aerial shot shows the stage they built for the piano of shells and beach debris that day to celebrate the instrument.

A practical man, Alisdair questions Aunt Morag (Kerry Walker) about Ada’s sanity and mental condition when he sees her teaching Flora voice lessons. Upon the return of Ada’s husband, he finds her playing the kitchen table in a makeshift piano where she carved the keys into the wood. Flora singing as they work on her voice lessons. 

George Baines is listening just outside the open door in shadow. Clearly, Alisdair cannot understand the creation of art and the imagination at work due to his lack of imagination. Campion often explores paradoxes within her films. Creativity contrasts the practical black and white—the energy of the feminine vs. the masculine and fluidity vs. concrete is studied. 

Baines proposes a trade for the eighty-eight acres of land for the piano, to include lessons. Upon Alsidair’s acceptance of the deal, Baines brings the piano to his place, and Ada will teach Baines how to play. Ada and Flora return from the first “lesson. “Baines isn’t interested in lessons but reliving the time at the beach when she played. The sensual experience of her playing.  

The cold indifference between Alisdair and Ada contrasts with Ada’s deep intimate relationship with her daughter and her piano. This contrast continues throughout the film. Baines continues to use the piano to leverage getting physically closer to Ada. In her absence, he polishes the piano, naked. Timestamp 45:51 Baines begins undressing her with demands in exchange for the ownership of her piano. Prostituting her and exploiting her vulnerabilities is the oldest manipulation men have done to women since patriarchy began. How sick are we of it! I know I am! Campion displays this hierarchal society brilliantly. He manages to have her in bed with him and becomes his lover step by step. 

His seduction and pressure are successful, unlike her husband, who is aloof and indifferent. The piano is the vehicle for Baine’s success. Then Baines frees her from being chained to his demands for access to her piano. Ester Perel has noted that eroticism needs space to grow and, like fire, needs air to breathe. Baines frees her by returning her piano to her and telling her he wants her to desire him not to be obligated to him. When she is free to be at one with her piano and imagine being back in bed with Baines sparks her desire. It is through this freedom that Ada’s desire grows. The film concludes with Alisdair’s discovery of her affair with Baines, and in retaliation, he chops off one of her fingers. She is shipped home to Scotland. On the way home, they send her with her piano and daughter. The crescendo is her telling the crew on the boats to dump her piano. She slips her foot into the rope going overboard with it. In death and rebirth, underwater tied to her piano, she slips off her shoe to begin this new life.  


Jane Campion Filmmaker

The Auteur and Female Gaze

Jane Campion

Jane Campion, a New Zealand filmmaker, is exquisite. The experience of her films has a strong female gaze, as theorized by Jill Soloway at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.  

The female gaze is a subjective camera that intention is to capture the feeling of being seen. It attempts to get inside the protagonist’s interiority, mainly when the protagonist is not a cismale, meaning a male person who identifies with his male biological body. Utilized the frame to share and evoke feelings of being in feeling rather than looking at the character. It attempts to bring the audience in synergy with the character’s interiority and the director. Soloway will whisper in the ear of her cinematographer during a between takes. It helps her cinematographer embody his emotions, and his feelings take priority over the actions. The idea is to be subjective over objective. Gender reversal or a sexual display of the form is simply the third leg of the triangle. – Jill Soloway

The Campion films I have recently screened are Bright Star, 2009; the Power of the Dog, 2021; and The Piano, 1993. The first thing I experienced was the soft sounds. There is gentleness to her sound designs even when it invites the scene to be loud. Her films are not. It has the feel of being held, being nurtured. Brilliant! The gentle sound design allows the audience to settle into elements that make up her films, creating a deeper intimacy with her movies. The audience can become one with the film when the sound design isn’t competing with the film itself, along with her muted tones adding to the somber mood.

Bright Star is a period piece set in 1818. Drama details the passionate three-year romance between Romantic poet John Keats —- who died tragically at age 25 —- and his great love and muse, Fanny Brawne. Timestamp 42:00 uses the Kuleshov Effect when they move their beds to the shared wall. The scene cuts to the garden outside, where the bees pollinate the flowers. It is a tight equation of the birds and the bee’s cliché, where the loves can only imagine being that close to one another. This 1:59:00 film is a slow dance with the development of these two romantics. Keats died of Tuberculous, a bacteria disease that attacks the lungs. In our current Covid pandemic climate, I cringed with close proximity between Keats, Fanny, and his friends.  

Her current release, The Power of the Dog, 2021, is a film on masculine vulnerability and the denial of self. Her interpretation of the denial of self is spot on in the character’s expression. This film explores the subconscious and conscious. When life’s purpose is lost, the psyche needs something to do. As in Rose, she self-medicates with alcohol. Phil’s expression of denial of self is through rage and hypermasculinity. George Burbank through his enabling of all behaviors around him. Peter is the closet representation of authenticity, being true to oneself. We see the Kuleshov Effect in the final chapter when Peter dissects the diseased cow in the mountains. Once he learns to ride a horse, he has access beyond the ranch. Phil dies of Anthrax, but at his time of death, the coroner and George discuss Phil’s standards of handling animals and the cause of his death. These elements tell us that Peter was a carrier of the disease and passed it onto Phil when they were alone in the mountains. We can conclude they had a sexual encounter.  

Campion’s as an auteur filmmaker holds to the female gaze, as in her 1993 film The Piano. A period piece, set in 1851, a mute Scottish woman arrives in colonial New Zealand for an arranged marriage, with her precious young daughter and beloved piano in tow. Her new husband refuses to transport the piano to their home. He makes a deal with his neighbor, George Baines, to take the piano off his hands. George agrees to move the piano in exchange for piano lessons, the tension builds.  

What does Ada have that the others want? At first, it seems like sexual desire, but it is more than that. It is a desire for intimacy that the men can only understand in sexual terms. Campion’s choice to strip away the spoken language from Ada allowed for all other forms of communication to take center stage. Ada’s communication is sensual intimacy with her piano and her daughter.  

Campion’s films are consistently a mediation, exploring the human condition. Campion’s use of suppressing one element of life for the other aspects becomes the focus of her films to examine the subtler aspects of life. She is a master filmmaker with a solid female gaze voice.  


Persona

Ingmar Bergman, 1966 film Persona is about self and emotional contagions. The ease at which we can absorb others’ experiences and identity. Bergman films are minimalistic in form. Bergman uses photographic language to advance the narrative. Of course, Elisabet’s nurse has to be a nun.

Bergman dresses the women similarly once they arrive at the beach. In the cleaning of the mushrooms, both women are wearing plain tops, Elisabet a white turtleneck and Sister Alma a slightly darker button-down blouse. They both are in straw hats, Elisabet’s lighter in color. They are humming quietly together. Elisabet takes Sister Alma’s hand to inspect it closely when Sister Alma warns of the harm of comparing hands. This is the first indication that Bergman is suggesting they are becoming one. Even though Sister Alma is the voice for both women, their experiences interweave with each other. Sister Alma wants a family and has ended her pregnancy due to the circumstance she conceived the child. Elisabet was pressured to be a mother in order to be a full woman she must bear a child, according to social norms and expectations.

Bergman uses camera techniques to remind the audience this is a fantasy. His insertion of the camera, the internal elements of the projector, and the burning of the film halfway through is a reminder to the audience this is a film not reality.

Noël Carrol states in his article on Kraucauer that “What directs our attention the photographic elements of the film are its capacity to fulfill a contingently, historically situated function — the task of redeeming physical reality. The approved use of film to record and reveal physical reality in terms of the upstaged, the indeterminate, the fortuitous, and endlessness down not follow here from film’s putative status as essentially photographic, but from the fact that the primary role or value of film in our time is to function in a way that redeems physical reality.”

“The core of the historical/cultural argument goes like this:

  1. Due to the rise of science, modern society is alienated from the physical world and the experience of particularity.
  2. If modern society is alienated from the physical world and the experience of particularity, then, all things being equal, any medium that can relieve that alienation should be used in a way that will enable it to do so.”
  3. Film can relieve alienation from the physical world and the experience of particularity.
  4. If film is to relieve the alienation from the physical world and the experience of particularity, then it must be used in such a way that its photographic element and its affinities are emphasized.
  5. Therefore, film must emphasize its photographic element and its basic affinities (the unstaged, the fortuitous, the indeterminate, and endlessness.)”

“The argument can then be continued, arguing that the technical properties and narrative structures of film should be subordinated to the purpose of the photographic elements in order to fulfill the pressing social role of film—-the redemption of physical reality for people lost in scientific abstraction.” (Carroll, 297)

Bergman reminds us this is a film using the properties of technology to build this fantasy. The insertion of film technology confirms Kracauer’s theory on the alienation that technology plays in our lives. The narrative is an interweaving of both connections between the woman and the alienation of the self. He doesn’t state each side of the argument clearly, one side does not stand out above the other, and they are both present. Yet, Bergman’s overall purpose is to tell how we each have internal lives, public lives, and the lives we share with others. Through these relationships, we can become alienated from ourselves.


The Magnificent Ambersons

The Magnificent Ambersons, an Orson Wells film released in 1942, is relevant today, as it highlights living in excess and the impact technological advancement has on society. How technology impacted our environment, and a global pandemic halt of all activities gives the earth a chance to repair itself. Today in 2022, amid a pandemic that we have slowed down, we live with the lack of human touch and personal connections.  

Timestamp 40:00 at dinner is Major Amberson, Eugene Morgan, Isabel Amberson Minafer, Fanny Minafer, and George Amberson. The conversations moved to the new competition of automobile manufacturers in the countryside opening up and the streets widening. The automobile will become the primary mode of transportation and the impact that it will have on society. In a shot counter shot sequence, Major Amberson and Eugene Morgan contemplate the technological advancements of the automobile, consider the impact it will have on society. George Amberson makes a bold statement “Automobiles are a useless nuisance! Will never amount to anything but a nuisance and have no business being invented!” After some defense Major Amberson gives to Eugene Morgan, he agrees with George. 

“I’m not so sure George is wrong about automobiles with all their speed forward. They may be a step backward in civilization. Maybe they won’t add to the beauty of the world or the life of man’s souls. I’m not sure.  But automobiles have come. And almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They are going to alter war and they’re going to alter peace. And I think man’s minds are going to change in subtle ways because of automobiles. It may be that George is right. Maybe in ten or twenty years from now if we can see the inward change in men by that time…I shouldn’t be able to defend the gasoline engine but would have to agree with George.  That automobiles have no business being invented.” 

What is lost in them social contagions are associated with technological advances. Eugene’s concerns are speeding up we will lose the human connections. Today in 2022, it took a pandemic to slow us down enough to crave more meaning in our lives and how we are going to develop those relationships. The new technology advancement impacting society is the internet. It is providing access for dark souls feeding upon our young.  

The Magnificent Ambersons set in 1873 in Midland, the state not identified. Miss Isabel Ambersons, Major Ambersons daughter, married Wilbur Minafer. She couldn’t love Eugene Morgan, so her love would all go to her children. Mrs. Walter and the gossipy women forecast Isabel and Wilbur’s future children’s behavior as spoiled brats in the four-shot. Three women face the camera, and the fourth is seen frame in the sewing machine. The scene cuts to the street as Well’s narrates, correcting the detail of the number of children down to one child. The camera steadies the buildings framing left and right as the pony-carriage rides toward the camera in this street scene. Wells describes George Ambersons Minafer as a princely terror. The scene shows this pony carriage tearing through the streets with little regard for others. The townspeople had hoped to see the day when that boy would get his come-up-ins. In the spoiling of George, important structure to the film would eventually ruin them all. Later in life, his mother refused to stand up to her son. Claim her power and force George to create a career for himself when she could rekindle her relationship with Eugene. The impact would be their fortune is gone, and the elders in the family had died forces him to take a laborer job at a chemical factory toward the close of the film. None of the people who wanted to see George get his come-up-ins were alive or were no longer in town.  

The shot of George in the pony-carriage was a deep focus long shot, a cutaway to a low-angle two-shot of a couple of town’s people hoping to witness the come-up-ins. Later, we see the adults addressing George about the complaint from the neighbors in a medium low angle shot with George centered with Major Ambersons on the left and Isabel and Wilbur on the right addressing George about his fight. The mise-en-scene is elaborately detailed, especially in the costumes. The tension breaks at the side door when George remarks how to handle the kid, and Major Amberson breaks down in laughter at George acknowledging the class differences. “Lamorisse had had recourse either to the illusions of montage or, failing that, to process work. The film would then be a tale told image by image-as in the story, word by word-instead of what it is, namely the picture of a story or, if you prefer, an imaginary documentary. This expression seems to me once and for all to be the one that best defines what Lamorisse was attempting, namely something like, yet different from, the film that Cocteau created in Le Sand d’un Poète, that is to say, a documentary on the imagination, in other words, on the dream.… Essential cinema, seen for once in its pure state, on the contrary, is to be found in straightforward photographic respect for the unity of space.” (Bazin, 3)

The camera cuts back to the gossip than to a medium shot of three of the town’s men hoping school will do the trick. The narrative turns at the last great dance when George returns from his sophomore year at college. During this dance, George reveals his lack of ambition and disinterest in his education to Lucy Morgan in a close-up two-shot, setting the stage for the remainder of the narrative. Eugene Morgan’s daughter, Lucy, will not marry a man unwilling to create a career like her father. George will take control of his mother’s life without the wedding once Wilbur Minafer dies. He is blocking true love from them both and wealth from George. Instead, they spend the money. All the key players die, leaving George and his aunt Fanny Minafer to pool their little resources. George, in the end, gets his come-up-ins not at a chemical plan accident but in an automobile accident that breaks both his legs. The industry he detests and criticizes throughout the film. The editing choices were in line with Orson Wells’ style. Auteur theory is at play in Wells’ films. His choice in mise-en-scene, interest in extreme wealth, the impact on the family and the lives of family members, the gaining of wealth, and the loosing of wealth is a subject in this film and Citizen Kane. Camera angles and long shots in-focus depth of field is standard in both Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. “It is a montage, that abstract creator of meaning which preserves the state of unreality demanded by the spectacle. “(Bazin, 2). Along with the narrative, the Ambersons’ mansion images illustrate the decline of the Ambersons’ socio-economic status. The film ends with George finally working at a chemical plant, his come-up-ins. 

The question to consider is how are we all living with our come-up-ins? In Eugene Morgan’s words, “I’m not so sure George is wrong about automobiles with all their speed forward they may be a step backward maybe civilization. Maybe they won’t add to the beauty of the world or the life of man’s souls. I’m not sure.”  

How is the internet a nuisance to society and taking us a step back in civilization? What beauty of the world is it destroying, and the human’s souls?


The Heiress

A William Wyler film, released in 1949.  The central themes are women, money, power, and cultural progress.  Faithful to the male fantasy of post-World War II, the role of men rescuer and the women are passive, naïve, and in need of rescue.

Catherine Sloper is the protagonist, her father Dr. Sloper, Catherine’s suitor Morris Townsend, and Lavina Penniman, Dr. Sloper’s sister a childless widow at 33.

The film opens with Catherine as an awkward young woman, of marrying age.  In a confrontation with her father who questions her suitor, Morris Townsend’s, intentions.  Dr. Sloper was suspicious that Morris Townsend is only interested in Catherine because of her inheritance and not her love.  Speaks to the oldest conflict among fathers and daughters, how to father will let go of his daughter and allow her to become a fully functioning adult.  As an act of coercive control, gives her an ultimatum, her inheritance or Morris’ love.  She can’t have it all. Exploring the oldest form of intimate relationships is pure love worthy if there is no money attached to it. As Catherine emotionally matures into a woman she gains her voice, no longer seeking her father’s approval and endorsement.  Only succeeds when she accepts his lack of love for her.  Lavina is a contrasting character is positioned to illustrate the traditional role of women.  Valuing a man’s love over all other self-identifying values. Play’s matchmaker is desperate to marry Catherine off under any circumstance. 

Bazin argues, “The composition of his image is in no sense pictorial. It adds nothing to the reality. It does not deform, it, it forces it to reveal its structural depth, to bring out the preexisting relations which become constitutive of the drama.” (Braudy, Cohen, 45) We see throughout the film Catherine working on an embroidery sampler. She works on a single piece throughout the film, which serves as a motif of her maturing. As the narrative develops, so does the embroidery piece.

The camera cuts between Morris banging on the door to Catherine finishing her needlework. In the closing scene, she takes revenge by tricking Morris into believing she will marry him after heartache. It concludes with him knocking on the door and Catherine ordering the maid not to answer the door. 

Lavina convinces Catherine to answer the door and asks how cruel she can be. Catherine, in a high angle, closes up replies, “I learned from the masters.” Implying she learned from both her father and Morris. At the end of the scene, Catherine has completed her embroidery and promises not to work on another embroidery piece again and goes upstairs to bed while Morris is banging the door in desperation.

A coming-of-age feminist film where the passive woman becomes active in the decisions for her life upon her father’s death. 1949 audiences would only accept a narrative where all men in her life betrayed her. Men wouldn’t encourage women’s equality of socioeconomic power.


Scopophilia, The Objectification Theory

Alfred Hitchock, 1966 Rearview Mirror

As children, one of our parents would scold us for starting at a stranger. In film, we call that the gaze, the looking upon another person for long periods of time without a break. The gaze is intrusive and unnerving when not invited. This article will discuss the Male Gaze, theorized by Laura Mulvey, 1975, groundbreaking criticism Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, The Objectification Theory and Jill Soloway, 2020, Female Gaze she describes at Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF. First, we will identify the differences between the male gaze and the female gaze. Then we will explore the Objectification Theory, Towards Understanding Women’s Lived Experiences and Mental Health Risks. Finally, conclude why this is important in the amateur videos we make for our businesses and how knowing these theories will elevate them to a professional level.  

The Male Gaze, Laura Mulvey, 1975

The Male Gaze was coined in 1975 by Laura Mulvey in her groundbreaking theory Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. She intended to break the patriarchal culture and the placement of women within the order. She identified the male gaze from a cisgender heterosexual perspective.  

Women stand in the patriarchal culture of signifier for the male order, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his phantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of women still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning. (Mulvey)

Mulvey draws upon Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality as a baseline for her theories. Freud’s parts from his Darwinian predecessors’ perspective on sex as reproduction, arguing that sexuality originates in childhood and gains momentum in puberty after the sexual organs come to full maturation. From this perspective, which underscored the functionality of the human instincts, sexuality has its analogy in hunger as the expression of the need for ingestion in the service of self-preservation. (Van Haute) He proposed one primary drive differentiated into various domains and functions of which the sexual function is one. He addresses the question of the origin and nature of sexuality in a section on the autoerotic manifestations of infantile sexuality. He links it to the rhythmic oral activity of the infant and the pleasure of touch. Freud observed thumb sucking lead to sleep and tied it to orgasm. Freud’s main argument is that this pleasure is sexual because it is essentially autoerotic and non-functional. It has nothing to do with taking in nourishment and is not related to self-preservation.

In cinema, we talk about the male gaze as scopophilia, the love of looking and being looked at in terms of the object rather than subject.

In Mulvey’s essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, she identifies an obvious interest in this analysis for feminists, a beauty in its exact rendering of the frustration experienced under the phallocentric order. It gets us nearer to the roots of our obsession, and it brings an articulation of the problem closer. It faces us with the ultimate challenge: how to fight the unconscious structured like a language (formed critically at the moment of arrival of language) while still caught with the language of the patriarchy. There is no way to produce an alternative out of the blue. Still, we can begin to take a break by examining patriarchy with the tools it provides, of which psychoanalysis is not the only but an important one. A significant gap still separates us from important issues for the female unconscious, which is scarcely relevant to phallocentric theory: the sexing of the female infant and her relationship to the symbolic, the sexually mature woman as nonmother, maternity outside the signification of the phallus, the vagina. But, at this point, psychoanalysis theory as it now stands at least advances our understanding of the status quo, of the patriarchal order in which we are caught. (Mulvey)

Formed by the dominant order, cinema poses a question that attempts to unveil the unconscious of the structure of seeing and the pleasure of looking. Mulvey acknowledges the evolution of cinema from the monolithic system of the Hollywood 1930s, 1940, 1950s. With the advancement of technology, the economic conditions of cinematic production made alternative cinema possible. In this system of the patriarchal order, the male is active, and the female is passive. The male gaze is an objective camera that creates a bond between the person behind the camera, the character, and the audience.