Noteworthy, Sad, Struggle: BRAINWASHED SEX-CAMERA-POWER
BRAINWASHED SEX-CAMERA-POWER is highly and densely perceptive on the dominance of the male gaze hindering the cinematic orbit of the entertainment industry. Perpetrated from a historical context to the present day where the evidence is much in continuance as it is commonplace. It's so ingrained in the psyche of the zeitgeist, you generally have to evaluate how one assesses a film. BRAINWASHED is a documentary directed by filmmaker, Nina Menkes who draws from personal anecdotes, interviews, and evident observation over the film industry's history of eliciting gender disparity in contemporary cinema. This disparity is a glaring fact critically aimed at the power dynamics between men and women concurrently highlighting the sexual harassment and discrimination problem, that seems to be feeding into the problem. Menkes facilitates her thesis in lecture format, infiltrating the big screen with film clips revealing gendered shots where men are the subjects and women are the objects. This ideology is problematic absolutely but in context of the films she uses as evidence, Menkes needs to reassess specifically in regards to PHANTOM THREAD and TITANE. Ironically, both of these films emphasize how the lead female actually dominates the male character, which if the script were flipped I can see this being a prime example but it's not. She took it out of context. Also FYI, Menkes, Julia Ducournau won the Palme D'or for TITANE in 2021 as did Jane Campion in 1994 for THE PIANO, two amazing films directed by women. Why didn't you mention this?
Furthermore, Menkes presents five elements of filmmaking that are utilized consistently to demonstrate how we're being brainwashed in terms of the objectification of women. They are the subject/object, camera movement, framing, lighting, and the narrative position of power. An interesting example is the opening shot of Sofia Coppola's LOST IN TRANSLATION which reveals the fragmented framing of a woman's bottom. Artistically I can see it as perhaps a connotative composition and on the other hand I can see it as the objectification of a woman. Granted I have not seen the film, is this an example of a female filmmaker objectifying a woman? Is no one immune? Clearly the opening scene of De Palma's 1976, CARRIE significantly objectifies women's bodies in the locker room scene which feels more like an ode to a porno with emphasis of soft lighting and slow motion. Another example is in a scene Spike Lee's DO THE RIGHT THING where Rosie Perez's character says no to sex, while Spike Lee's character subtly manipulates the situation by serenading her with an ice cube all across the erogenous zones of her body. The scene ends with her submitting to sex. If this a way to get sex from women then I can see this being a complex causation for sexual abuse, across the board. At the start of the scene the woman says NO and is IGNORED. So why does the male character take it upon himself to convince her otherwise? Does the woman submit because she's turned on and changes her mind? How are we to understand this other than by assumption?
The power of representation can be problematic in storytelling no matter which way you look at it and I do appreciate Menkes addressing future storytellers to be aware of this when making their films, however people are human and they're going to do what they're going to do. Menkes also latches on quite vehemently to the usage of a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, "Perception is not whimsical, but fatal." Hmmm.... perception is experienced differently by everyone so how do you circumvent that? How do you measure one's perception of whimsicalness? Personally, my perception varies from film to film, tonally on the depiction of characterization, while also looking at it as an art form and drawing a divide between what one's reality is versus a depiction of reality. I have to mentally check myself that adjusting my personality to mirror a character may feel inspirational in a fleeting manifestation but is rarely ever permanent. For instance, if I wanted to behave like Beth Dutton from the hit series YELLOWSTONE, the reality of being headstrong, combative, while using my sexuality to undermine people on a daily basis would probably backfire. The characterization is a fantasy. And most Beth Duttons in the world would probably be in prison or dead, not belittling anyone who's come from a hard life.
I fiercely understand women struggling in establishing themselves in the film industry, and we need to support the ones who have come as far as they have. We need to analyze their work, and educate those unaware of their work alongside emphasizing the disparities between the hierarchy of men and women in a given segment of the workplace. The entertainment industry has a horrible reputation of allowing sexual harassment to be the antithesis for a woman's career to move forward. That absolutely needs to end now. The industry is enormous enough for everyone to equally have a creative vision among the major streaming services and remaining few studios out there. Something needs to change the imbalance and as long as industry titans consistently finance major pictures about superheroes, remakes, and biopics drowning out all the independent filmmakers who are striving to disrupt the status quo, will nonetheless continue to be an uphill battle.
This documentary is a decent start about pointing out the problem but offering very little in solution, if anything we're more consciously aware. But, I was really hoping for more on the progress women have made, while celebrating the work that's being done aside from Menkes own work. In fact her entire impetus is based on her sadness and her struggle as she states in the opening, which invites other women like Rosanna Arquette, to also share their stories. But I'm a little taken aback as there was zero mention of Anna Biller, a filmmaker who recontextualizes a particular aesthetic in her films, while invoking the female gaze. Her goal was to "create a cinema of visual pleasure for women" and she does just this in her magnetically brilliant film THE LOVE WITCH. This would have made the perfect subject matter of discourse, but not a single mention was made. Why? Why? Why?
BRAINWASHED is challenging to review. So much of me understands the struggle juxtaposed with critically assessing how films are made, and while its powerfully informative, something makes me cringe about its out of context bias. As a substitute, I'm going to highly recommend watching WOMEN MAKE FILM: A NEW ROAD MOVIE THROUGH CINEMA as an alternate. It's an 840 minute deep dive into forgotten films directed by women. 183 filmmakers and a 14 hour journey into a structured assessment with historical context that is a treasure and valuable resource. It's basically a mini deep dive presentation that will show you the lens of amazing artistry behind women's eyes.