Sunday, July 12, 2015

Empire: Where are all the ladies?


The British-based Empire Magazine is hands-down my favorite periodical about the film industry. With few adverts, a comprehensive look at British cinema, US blockbusters & art house indies, they always deliver to the sweet spot of my interests. Also the editorial crackles with a wry & smart sense of humor though unconventional interviews, in-depth looks at projects in production, and helpful reviews. There is also a palpable, unapologetic penchant for Tom Hiddleston. He's somewhere in every issue. Seriously.

Before, I'd only ever seen the magazine in London when I went to school there in the mid-90's. Then a few years ago, I discovered Pike Place Market Newsstand here in Seattle carried Empire so I would make the trek down there when I could to pick one up. But now as luck would have it, I was recently gifted a subscription so I can save myself some trips downtown.

The latest August edition features a compilation of the "100 Greatest Movie Characters" voted on by over 10,000 readers. I know I shouldn't put too much stock into these kinds of things. I know it shouldn't matter...but as I read through all 100 characters, and good number of which I agree with, I noticed how few female characters made the cut. Only 10 out of 100 in the history of all films. That's kinda sad, because there absolutely has to be more worthy female characters out there. Has to. One of my absolute favorite characters, Ellen Ripley of the Alien franchise, is in the top 5--as she should be. But it's a long walk to the next female character in the 20's. When I checked the list (twice even), I noticed some glaring omissions.

Princess Leia: Wow, in a list that includes Luke Skywalker #50, Darth Vader #9, Obi-Wan #51 and Han Solo #3 (& Yoda #38!) to leave out the one person who gets sh** done in the original three movies? Shameful.

Scarlett O'Hara: One of the most dynamic heroines from an era when women weren't supposed to do anything without their father's or husband's permission. Scarlett embodied a larger-than-life personality in a larger-than-life film production. Short memories, people!

Hermione Granger: So Harry Potter #67 makes it but not the person who continually saves everyone's skin every single time because she did the homework? Brits, this is one of your own. How could you let this happen?

Elinor Dashwood: Okay, this could be a little niche given that it's a Jane Austen character but this movie rates as one of my all-time top favorite movies for it's writing and acting. Everything about this character is impactful and Elinor embodies such restraint and loyalty--Gah! Pass the tissue.

Bridget Jones: A modern, funny, poignant, flawed British woman played expertly by a Texan--and she nailed it. It makes up for all the British dudes honing their American accents for roles over here.

Mulan: A truly kick-ass, non-princess female Disney character. She's a warrior in an epic tale about self-sacrifice for one's family and one's country. If you're going to include animated characters like Optimus Prime #98, Woody #82, Edna Mode #100 or even Gromit #88, Mulan has got to rate in there too.

So maybe there is a great undervaluing of work women have already done in film by Empire readers or maybe there aren't enough 'greatest-movie-character' caliber parts available to women. But if you look at it, this list is really male and really white so it probably has more to do with who answered this poll than anything else.

But these lists influence what people watch, especially when it comes to building cinematic foundations and back catalog. In future, Empire should reveal it's polling demographic data or aim for a 50/50 target representation of participants in future polls to make things really interesting.

Monday, July 06, 2015

On Writing

My New Year's Resolution this year was to read a book that had nothing to do with parenting. Just one was the goal. Mission accomplished and it only took 7 months!

I was once an avid reader, especially when I was in school--it also didn't hurt that I was an English minor with an emphasis in literary criticism. But since becoming a parent, I have found my time highly fractured and overcommitted.  The anguish of trying to read a novel or long-form story with that constant pressure, outweighed any perceived benefit. To fill the void, I consumed the snack food of the literary world: magazines, graphic novels, comics and fan fiction (some of the best-worst stuff ever written, btw). Of course, many of the moms I interact with participate in book clubs and I marvel at their ability to finish 'real' books. That should have been my first (and continuing) clue that I was making excuses. Also, I just need to step away from the Facebook, hours upon hours get sucked down that insatiable black hole.

Anyway, I set my expectations low on purpose because I didn't want to fail. But during our recent LA vacation, I read Stephen King's writing memoir On Writing. I discovered this book when I briefly considered signing up for an online class about writing adult fiction--a genre I have no experience writing. Well, that's not entirely true: there were earnest (though misguided) attempts in college where overwrought self-awareness and a profound lack imagination combined into a cringe-worthy mess. But while reading reviews about the online writing course offered by a prolific fiction writer (not Stephen King), many people instead praised King's memoir as being a superior, highly instructive awas a much cheaper alternative to the class.  By coincidence, my mom, who is writing children's fiction, credited the tools and advice in his book for helping her break though to a major revision and advancement of a story she's been working on for years. And after reading her energized and imaginative revision, I was all "I'll-have-what-she's-having." With enough mental reserves to appreciate King's solid advice, our kid-free, care-free LA trip proved to be a perfect time and place to read On Writing.


In high school, I devoured a sampling of King's work like It, Tommyknockers, Misery, The Dark Tower, The Stand and one of his short story collections. The accessibility of his writing was something I always admired even if the subject matter was unsettling. A few weeks ago when I was only half done with On Writing, we lunched in Santa Monica with a college friend who is a writer. I recommended this book to him in an "I've-discovered-something-new" way.  He assured me he'd read it 3 times since it came out 15 years ago. Oops, late to the party again. But the book still stands up, no question, which explains why I was #14 deep in Seattle Public Library's hold queue for it. 

One thing I always disliked about "writers" as opposed to actual writers, is that "writers" were people who debated, agonized and over-analyzed writing (I'm very aware that I'm toeing that line right now.) But the people who just sit down everyday and put in the time are the shit. Even if it's drivel. The output won't often be inspired and it's not guaranteed to be good but like anything else, you have to put in the time to practice. 

I think at this point, the audacity of writing a fiction novel is like deciding to run a marathon just because you bought new shoes. I haven't trained a lick but, by gawd, I have the shoes. Still there's something so plucky and fresh in that. Another thing King said, and I'm not spoiling anything here, is that a good writer reads. I think my English teacher in high school, Maggie Bates, mentioned that too. Seeing how others make ideas flow, develop characters and tell a story is the other half of "marathon" training. 

One main thing King emphatically championed was a writing space with a door to shut out the world. After a few years of envying everyone else's retreat space in this house, I finally commandeered part of our guest bedroom, which will continue to pull double duty but at least it's something. We'll see what comes of it. No excuses.