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"the Bechdel Test is total and complete bullshit."

(53 Posts)
BelfastBloke Wed 12-Jun-13 20:12:40

I am not posting this because I believe it. I'm posting this because I had never really thought about this angle on the Bechdel test, which I enjoy applying to many Hollywood films.

A correspondent to Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish blog writes:

"As I think I?ve written to you before, the Bechdel Test is total and complete bullshit. I?m a Hollywood screenwriter, so let me drop a little knowledge on this one. The only way a film is going to pass the Bechdel Test is if the protagonist is female, or it?s an ensemble cast with a bunch of different storylines. Anything else is bad screenwriting. Here?s why: Movies do not suffer digressions well. To be good, they have to stay on their main storyline. This is one of the structural realities that separates them from novels.

That means, in a non-ensemble movie, If two characters are talking, and neither of them is the protagonist, then those two characters have to be talking about the protagonist. If you have a scene where two non-protagonist characters are talking about something unrelated to the protagonist (and thus, to the main storyline), any writer or executive worth her salt is going to cut that scene. It?ll drag the entire movie down and make people reach for their popcorn. Thus, if the protagonist is a man, then if he?s not on screen, any characters who are on screen are going to be talking about him. It?s just good writing.

Do I wish there were more movies with a strong female protagonist? Hell yeah, I do. I?m actually returning to writing one as soon as I finish this email. But the Bechdel Test is utter hooey. It?s using a metric that fails to understand the basic principles of the thing it?s purporting to measure.

TheDoctrineOfAllan Thu 13-Jun-13 09:36:58

So, for example, "Elizabeth". Are the only conversations between the various lords and dukes and what have you only ever about Elizabeth?

(can't remember, it's been years since I saw it.)

TheDoctrineOfAllan Thu 13-Jun-13 09:41:37

Exactly Chub, exactly.

"Amelie" might fail the reverse Bechdel but then Amelie is on screen pretty much all the time, I think.

MarshaBrady Thu 13-Jun-13 09:44:55

Loads of movies work well with storyline digressions.

Robert Altman he does it doesn't he, lots of different conversations and scenes to make up a whole. One of his movies is based on Raymond Carver's stories anyway. But he's up there with some of the best.

In your average run of the mill female lead movie they all talk about the main female protagonist. I saw one the other day with Meryl Streep, every single comment was aimed at her or about her, as if non of the other characters had ever spoken to each other.

Chubfuddler Thu 13-Jun-13 09:45:27

In Elizabeth they are ostensibly about her but really about her as vessel for playing out male power struggles by way of who she will marry, or plans to kill her. Not really a great feminist story.

MarshaBrady Thu 13-Jun-13 09:47:13

Meryl Streep is great in The Devil Wears Prada, a great central female role.

TheDoctrineOfAllan Thu 13-Jun-13 09:48:23

Marsha, really?

I'm struggling to think of many female protagonist movies, TBH. Which one did you have in mind?

Trills Thu 13-Jun-13 09:49:13

That statement is on a par with "BMI is bullshit because <insert rugby player here> would be classed as obese"

It's not a test for whether an individual film is "good" or "feminist". The relevance is when you apply it to the population.

One film may be very feminist and fail the Bechdel test. One man may have a BMI of 35 and yet be very healthy. But when you look at hundreds and thousands of people/films, the fact that most films fail, and that fact that half of the adults in the country are overweight - that's not a one-off freak. That's a pattern.

MarshaBrady Thu 13-Jun-13 09:51:37

I saw a Meryl Streep one the other day, it wasn't great. About her love life of course, but it was centred around her. All her friends sat at the dinner table ignored each other and every conversation was about her.

Hmm what was it It's Complicated. It was pretty crap, but don't 'chick flicks' do this, make it all about the lead female?

I like the scene in TDWP where Meryl talks about what the press will say about her divorce. It is centred around her and shows how much the media will twist it.

MarshaBrady Thu 13-Jun-13 09:53:45

Is it ok if it's about general sex life not romance and attachment with one guy? I assume talking about work is ok.

Have forgotten the rules.

ParsingFancy Thu 13-Jun-13 09:58:01

Everything Joan said at 20:29:38.

But also completely agree that a reverse Bechdel test will demonstrate whether this bloke's argument is even true.

Would it be useful to add a reverse test to the Bechdel test website, I wonder? Might be interesting what it would show.

ParsingFancy Thu 13-Jun-13 09:59:36

Bechdel Test

TheDoctrineOfAllan Thu 13-Jun-13 10:00:49

Thanks Marsha, haven't seen that one but I read the book. is the film from the POV of Anne Hathaway? If there are two or more female leads (like Charlie's Angels or SATC) I can imagine it's easier to fail the reverse Bechdel.

The Silence of the Lambs might fail - there's a conversation between Clarice's boss and the local police chief but I think it's about Clarice.

ParsingFancy Thu 13-Jun-13 10:02:53


Bechdel Test:
1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

dreamingbohemian Thu 13-Jun-13 10:05:12

Yeah, I'd say he's totally missing the point.

Btw was just re-watching the last season of West Wing and it's great for passing Bechdel... you've got a female chief of staff and female national security adviser talking about how to respond to war and genocide, women on presidential campaign staffs arguing about strategies, etc.

MarshaBrady Thu 13-Jun-13 10:06:20

They're pretty much all female in TDWP. Meryl Streep as the editor, Anne Hathaway as assistant, and her work friends. A couple of males as fashion editor, boyfriend and designer. Mostly from AH's point of view, but lots of interaction between the two lead roles MS and AH, not about men.

How about when females talk about sex with each other? Does that count as being about a man, if it's kept very general then it is about what the woman wants. There's quite a bit of that lately post-Sex in the City, but can get rather cringey.

I see that it has to be two named characters. It's Difficult just has lots of unnamed friends hanging around talking about sex so might not count.

UptoapointLordCopper Thu 13-Jun-13 10:17:27

Haven't read the whole thread so perhaps someone has made this point already: you lot are just not getting it - conversations between women are just not interesting. People want to hear men talking because they have something worthwhile to say, whereas women, well! They only talk about fluffy things and shopping, spending their men's money, or about their children which no one else cares about. Not very interesting, really, to people, ie men. hmm grin

ParsingFancy Thu 13-Jun-13 10:37:00

Your nickname passes the reverse Bechdel, Copper!grin

DonDrapersAltrEgoBigglesDraper Thu 13-Jun-13 10:43:45

The thing is, every single movie ever made passes the male Bechdel Test.

Why is it suddenly SO difficult - nay, impossible! - to make films which pass the female Bechdel Test?!


UptoapointLordCopper Thu 13-Jun-13 11:27:16

ParsingFancy I've never tried to analyse Evelyn Waugh's novels from a feminist point of view. I suspect it's not for the fainthearted! grin

HullMum Thu 13-Jun-13 21:46:28

Just remembered a friend of mine made the point that lesbian porn always passes the bechdel test hmm grin

Not sure what that means for the test really!

joanofarchitrave Thu 13-Jun-13 22:06:40

Perhaps the Bechdel test redux should include:

4. The two female characters keep all their clothes on for 95% of the screen time.

Quangle Thu 13-Jun-13 22:20:18

Random sample. I'm watching Billy Elliot. It's passing the reverse Bechdel test in virtually every scene. There's only really one woman in it and nobody talks about her much. Current scene - two men on a bus talk about London. All films pass the reverse test pretty much.

He totally misses the point. And mansplains. And suggests that conversations that aren't about men (who are of course naturally the main protagonists) are digressions. hmm

samandi Thu 20-Jun-13 12:31:01

What absolute rubbish. Has this man even watched any films lately?

LeGavrOrf Thu 20-Jun-13 12:38:16

I would have thought as a screenwriter he would use that novel concept of subplots.

Unless he doesn't write nuanced scripts and sticks to Transformer like films.

LurcioLovesFrankie Thu 20-Jun-13 12:56:22

Assuming this is the same guy, I see not much evidence to think he has had a stellar screen-writing career. Appears to be more of a right-wing shock-jock to me.

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