Saturday, September 18, 2010

Rare Eyes

I'm oddly proud of myself for actually managing to watch the first episode of a new television series last night, Genndy Tartakovsky's Sym-Bionic Titan. A really amazing, beautiful show. Great atmosphere, action sequences very well put together, and, most importantly, genuinely interesting characters who immediately make you interested in what decisions they're going to make based on what's happening.

It's a giant robot series, the idea being that the three main characters, aliens Ilana, Lance, and Octus, represent heart, body, and mind, respectively--"Heart, Body, Mind" is sort of the slogan of the Galalunan royal family, to which Princess Ilana is the sole heir. Lance is her bodyguard and potential love interest, and Octus is their robot servant. So far, it's easy to see how the writers have used the dichotomy as prompts for the characters--All of Ilana's decisions are based on defence and on concern for other, Lance hardly ever resists fighting someone, and, of course, the robot is the most rational of the three, not only supplying raw information, but quickly establishing himself at the beginning as someone who will interrupt the teenage drama between the other two to bring things back to the really pressing matters at hand ("This planet is called Earth, in case you were wondering").

I felt sort of obligated to watch the show because the video I posted of Genndy Tartakovsky discussing it at Comic-Con is by far my most viewed video on YouTube--apparently mine is the only footage of Tartakovsky at Comic-Con this year.

Tartakovsky also discussed the show having a strong female lead, in response to someone in the audience asking the other show creators for more strong, female characters. I got to thinking about that yesterday, and I started thinking about how few movies there are that are told from the point of view of a female character. And I don't mean necessarily movies about a female character. Breakfast at Tiffany's is really from the perspective of George Peppard's character. His relative lack of personality helps to make him a vessel by which we view Audrey Hepburn's character. I also wouldn't consider Amelie to be a movie from the perspective of a female character--the beginning of the film that gives us a miniature documentary on Amelie's family establishes such a strong omniscient third person presence that the movie has always felt to me like watching people in a beautiful diorama.

To give you an idea of what I mean, I've compiled a top ten list of movies told mainly from the perspectives of female characters. Bear in mind the order for me might change at any moment.

10. When a Woman Ascends the Stairs

A lot of the films of Mikio Naruse and Kenji Mizoguchi are about the difficulties women face in Japanese culture. When a Woman Ascends the Stairs features Hideko Takamine in every scene, much like many of Naruse's films, dealing with the many difficulties put before her in the most reasonable manner she can. In Floating Clouds, she's almost a martyred saint to the callousness of the men in her life. Here she's more of an ordinary woman in world that leaves her in various ways at the mercy of men and cutthroat business practices.

9. Heavenly Creatures

Peter Jackson's film about the real life Parker-Hulme murder is probably his best work and is told from the perspective of Pauline Parker, one of the murderers. Taking her point of view allows us to seamlessly explore the delirious and vibrant fantasy world she creates with her accomplice.

8. Suspiria

A lot of great horror movies are told from the perspective of a female character, as they have an extra, built in perceived vulnerability (though a chainsaw is a great equaliser) and it's more credible when other characters patronisingly dismiss their fully rational fears. Being told from the female character helps give the viewer the feeling of being trapped. Though in Suspiria several characters do believe her about the strange goings on at the dancing school where she's boarding, the screenplay, originally written for child characters, infantilises Harper's fellow female students, further establishing their vulnerability to the strange, authoritative menace.

7. The Lady Eve

Though there are scenes told from the perspective of Henry Fonda's character, the fact that Barbara Stanwyck here is the manipulator while Fonda's usually in the dark is a big part of the appeal of this film.

6. Suspicion

Much of what I said about Suspiria applies here, in respect to the vulnerability of a female character and the lack of respect her opinion is given by the other characters. Cary Grant here is wonderfully menacing, despite the happy ending the studio forced Hitchcock to give this film.

5. Cat People (1942)

This one takes the point of view of its female lead even though a lot of the movie is shot from the apparent perspective of the male lead and his mistress. This is because nearly all the characters are established as so vapid one can't help sympathising instead with Simone Simon's character, who's ostensibly the villain. A similar effect is achieved with Leave Her to Heaven, and both films thereby successfully make points about the unfair expectations applied to women in 1940s America.

4. Spirited Away

Hayao Miyazaki's films often feature strong female leads, though this is one of the few that's told totally from the perspective of one female character, Chihiro, who's in nearly every scene.

3. Mulholland Drive

You can't get much more embedded in a character's point of view than you do in this film.

2. Black Narcissus

Nearly everything is presented through Sister Clodagh and all the obstacles in the film relate back to her. The film switches briefly to Sister Ruth's point of view near the end, but this seems to work as she most brashly embodies the needs Clodagh has increasing difficulty repressing in this film.

1. Notorious

There are scenes definitely from the perspective of Cary Grant's character, but mostly this film is concerned with Ingrid Bergman's attempt to gain insight into the real heart of the aloof character Grant plays while other male characters, implacably judgemental and ready to exploit Bergman's character, act as obstacles and walls in a labyrinth Bergman must navigate.

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