Battlepanda: An issue of character


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

An issue of character

Amanda over at the Pandagon ponders the paucity of well-rounded female characters in movies and asks readers to come up with a list of their favorite well-rounded female characters. What she says is true. It is quite appalling how few movies pass the Mo Movie Measure. I just want to add that there are two dimensions we're really talking about when we say that a character is well-rounded. Firstly we look at how well the character is rendered. Then we look at whether that character falls too squarely and predictably into a stereotype. In my opinion, Holly Golightly from Breakfast At Tiffany's is a character that is portrayed with quite a lot of verisimiltitude, but her character conform so strictly to the hackneyed "jaded innocent" template that I don't really consider her a convincing character at all in the same way a Thomas Kinkaid cottage is utterly unconvincing despite the competent way forms are rendered in it. Also, just because a movie does not feature realistically depicted female characters does not automatically make it deficient -- many movies rely on quite stylistic treatments for their characters, male and female, and are none the worse for it. What is really insulting is finding female characters that are barely scratched out among male characters portrayed with real depth and understanding, a pattern that is all too common.

Here's an off-the-top-of-my-head sampling of movies with truly compelling female characters:

Monster (Aileen Wuornos)
Everybody talks about how ugly Charlize Theron managed to make herself, but what is much more shocking to me is seeing such an raw and honest portrayal of a female character onscreen. A much underrated film.

Ghostworld (Enid)
A friend once described this film as the 'truest' she has seen for a while. At the time I gave her a hard time for what I thought was slightly pretentious film-speak. But upon reflection she's absolutely right. Ghostworld contained the truest depictions of female adolescent angst, tag sales, what it's like to be the less-pretty friend, what a girl's bedroom looks like and what dreadful art classes are like yet committed to celluloid.

Shop around the Corner (Klara Novak)
Well-rounded women characters are not always the result of enlightened politics. It is just as often due to great writing and great filmmaking. Many screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s had fine protrayals of their female leads. Oh, and James Stewart is obviously hotter than either Clark Gable or Cary Grant.

Sabrina (Sabrina Fairchild)
Since I dissed Breakfast at Tiffany's, I felt compelled to include Sabrina as a counterpoint. The plot to Sabrina is also as stock as they come, but the treatment of Audrey Hepburn's character is so much more human in Sabrina. She isn't just presented as a lovely mystery at every turn. Her character is not static. Sabrina lives and grows instead of inhabiting her proscribed role.

Chinatown (Evelyn Cross Mulray)
A first-class movie on every count, to be sure. But what really humanized the character of Evelyn Cross Mulray is Faye Dunaway's performance. I would answer "yes" to Majikthise's general question. It is possible for an incredible performance to elevate the character to well-roundedness even if the role as written is not particularly well-rounded. Whether Diane Keaton managed to overcome the monumental liability that was the way Kaye's character was written is an open question.

Battlestar Galactica (Starbuck)
Shakespeare's Sister talked about how sci-fi and fantasy often provided the kind of strong female characters that mainstream fare lacked. Starbuck from the remake of the series Battlestar Galactica is a fine example. What's really interesting is that the original Starbuck is a male character. I think the gambit of basing a female character on an established male character really allowed the writers to create a convincing female character who ran so totally against type. Just one of the reasons why BSG is the best drama on TV today.