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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

The Trouble with Defining the Chick Flick as “Stupid”

Are most Hollywood movies made for women “stupid,” or do Hollywood studios in general tend to make movies for both men and women that aren’t aiming for a high intellectual watermark?

I was perusing Entertainment Weekly, reading about the upcoming film Eat, Pray, Love when I came across a sub-story about how movies made for or about women are maligned.  The theme of the story, entitled “If Women Like It, It Must Be Stupid,” is that 1) there aren’t a lot of films made for women and 2) when there is a film made for women, it is derided by men as something frivolous and dumb.

I don’t often get riled up by a story I read in Entertainment Weekly, but I was really perturbed by this one and I had to take a few minutes – and a few re-reads – to figure out exactly what I found so bothersome.

I guess I could start with the title of the piece — which is in quotes but not attributed to anyone. I assume the quote must be something the editor figured was a general statement about what men think about movies geared for women.  But, what’s annoying about that title is that I could very easy replace the word “Women” with “Men.”  Don’t most women – and most men, I hope – find the loud spectacles that litter the megaplexes every summer, um, you know, stupid?

Writing an article like this, with a title like that, suggests several dichotomies and because there is a bias — the author, Karen Valby, is a woman — then it sets up the author’s point that one is better than the other.  In other words, by saying that most men find the films that women enjoy stupid, it’s suggesting that men are stupid.  I find that a tricky stance to argue from.

Here’s the thing: most films in general are stupid.  Films that are geared towards men or women are just as stupid as the rest of them.  There are good films geared towards each gender, but mostly they’re bad.  That’s just the way it goes.  So, yes, if a lot of women like a particular film, I’ll probably think that film is stupid.  Just like Transformers is still a dumb movie despite the fact that millions upon millions of men love that particular flick.  It doesn’t matter which gender buys more tickets, most people don’t like films that are incisive and contemplative because they just want to be entertained and turn their brains off for a few hours.

Eat, Pray, Love director Ryan Murphy is quoted at one point in the article as saying, “There are so many rites-of-passage movies for men.  Not a lot for women.”  Then Valby follows this up with, “Not unless you count a kiss, or a ring, or a baby as the only possible rites.”  Well, if we’re talking about men’s rite of passage movies, wouldn’t we be primarily talking about losing your virginity and, uh, yeah that’s what they’re about 90% of the time.  Again, it goes back to all movies being unoriginal, not just ones targeted at a certain gender.  There are formulas that work in terms of getting women into the theater, just as there are formulas that get men into theaters.

For men, explosions and sexy young girls seem to do the trick and for women, it seems to be clothes and shirtless hunks.  I wish I could argue that filmgoers as a whole are smarter than that, that it really is story that matters most, but the evidence (box office figures) would show that the executives are correct in their assessments.

Now, is it possible that a lot of women could like something that is actually good?  Of course it is.  I’m actually excited to see Eat, Pray, Love because it looks like more than the average cookie-cutter chick flick.  I happen to love globe-trotting films that shoot on location in beautiful locales and I like the idea that this is a film about a woman in a spiritual and emotional crisis.  It’s not just rare for films about women to engage audiences on that level; I’m struggling to come up with very many films about men that explore such terrain.

I’m not really sure what Karen Valby is arguing for in her article. Is she arguing that there should be more movies made specifically for women?  Because, it seems to me that there are plenty of those.  Look at the calendar for any year and there will be at a large number of films made specifically for women.  Sure, maybe there aren’t as many movies aimed at women as there are aimed at men, but I don’t think the numbers would be that far off.  And I think the largest portion of films made at all are trying to, you know, appeal to both genders.

The men get the big, dumb The Expendables on the same day Eat, Pray, Love opens and then the geeky men and women get Scott Pilgrim.  Perhaps Valby is arguing that movies about women should be better?  I would agree with that, but I would argue that movies in general should aim higher than they do.

At one point Valby says, “There are countless stories about men on quests.”  She doesn’t name specific films, but I would say that almost every movie ever made is about a person on a quest.  Sometimes the quest involves driving a motorcycle around South America and sometimes it’s to have the perfect Greek wedding, so I don’t really understand that line of thinking.  Being on a quest is not gender-specific and there are probably less films titled “Groom Wars” because there are less men who would pay to see a film like that.  But, now that I mention it, I kind of want to see that movie.

But then that brings me to another problem I have with the article.  So much of the press surrounding Eat, Pray, Love has to do with the gender issue, making it seems like a film that only women will understand or enjoy.  Well, out of the three films opening on August 13th, I’m not ashamed to admit that I want to see Eat, Pray, Love.  However, every article about the film keeps trying to tell me that I, as a man, shouldn’t waste my time, that I somehow won’t get it.  Maybe I want to see Julia Roberts eat food in Italy and fall in love in Bali, is that okay?  Am I allowed to do that?

If a woman wants to go see The A-Team, nobody will accuse her afterwards of not understanding the film specifically because she’s a woman.  But, if I don’t enjoy Eat, Pray, Love, I’m fairly confident that I will be told by every woman I know that I couldn’t possibly understand.

There definitely is an inequity between men and women, especially when it comes to movies.  And you know where it lies?  Behind the camera.  Not withstanding Kathryn Bigelow’s win at the Oscars this year, there is a paucity of female filmmakers.  More than that, there’s a dearth of female filmmakers that studios would hand the reins of a tentpole movie to.  I’m much more concerned by the fact that there are very few women filmmakers who are entrusted with big-budget films than I am with the fact that women tend to favor certain types of films.

If you look at the box office charts from this year listing the top twenty highest-grossing films, you’ll notice that not a single one of them was directed by a woman.  I would think that if films like Salt, Toy Story 3, or The Karate Kid were directed by women, they’d still be successful because they were given high shooting budgets and even higher advertising budgets.

One of those films with a high budget was The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.  You’ll remember that the first Twilight film – the one with the tiny budget – was directed by a woman, Catherine Hardwicke. That film makes a surprising amount of money and then the rest of the films get higher budgets and male directors.  So, there are plenty of films aimed at women, but not a whole lot of them are directed by women.  And just because Bigelow won an Oscar doesn’t right that injustice, just as Obama being President doesn’t eliminate racism.

I’m not saying that studios should just fork over millions of dollars to the nearest woman and ask her to direct a film, but there are lots of talented female filmmakers out there — Rebecca Miller, Allison Anders, Susanne Bier, Sarah Polley, Miranda July – who are worthy of their money and effort.  How long can we hold Ishtar against Elaine May and the rest of her gender?

The point is that a majority of the working women directors are seldom given the chance to direct a film that spans the globe or requires working with a major movie star or costs more than fifty million dollars.  You know, a movie like Eat, Pray, Love.

Note: Karen Valby has a book out now that I’m planning to pick up this week, entitled Welcome to Utopia.  It sounds pretty interesting … to men and women alike.

Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon