Sunday, 29 May 2011

On the Feminism of Sucker Punch


I have a new article over at Alternate Takes about the much maligned and misunderstood Sucker Punch. I think that there have been few more fascinating Hollywood blockbusters, so I was very pleased to be able to delve into this movie - both its strategies, and its reception. An extract from the piece:


Sucker Punch seems to me to be one of the most widely misunderstood films of recent years. By this I don’t just mean that it’s underrated - though in my opinion it is also that. I mean that an alarming number of commentators (i.e.: almost all) somehow seem to have failed to grasp its basic aims, and thus haven’t been able to assess it appropriately.

Other than the many complaints about the lack of narrative tension and rounded characters (neither of which, as I suggested in my short review, need necessarily be seen as significant problems), the main objections to the film have, of course, tended to be made on the grounds of its sexual politics. I want to address this matter head-on, looking at some recurring complaints about the movie’s approach to gender, and argue that most of them stem from a fundamental misperception of what the film is trying to do. I should also say that I’m certainly not going to argue that the film is unimpeachable - only that it’s far more interesting than it has usually been given credit for. My point is essentially that, before we call a film a failure, we first need at least to be sure what exactly it is failing at.

The thing that seems to drive people crazy about Sucker Punch is that it appears to offer “faux feminism” but in fact constitutes a “fantasia of misogyny”. Yet I think that the film, far from offering something like lipstick feminism, does in fact genuinely strive to be a rather forceful and angry feminist film, and comes closer to earning the title than most have acknowledged. The thing is: its attempts at feminism aren’t to be found in the areas where people have generally been looking. Stated briefly, this film is primarily about itself - that is, it’s about the problems involved in trying to find positive images for women within the kind of popular culture which it itself embodies. Of course, given that this strategy naturally involves irony and flirting with having-your-cake-and-eating-it, this is a difficult and dangerous game to play - and one that Sucker Punch is perhaps only half-successful in. But it is frankly bizarre that so few people seem to have noticed that such a game is even afoot - preferring to say that the movie’s problems stem from stupidity rather than over-cleverness (which would be closer to the mark). But this is to get ahead of ourselves...

Read the rest of the article here. Hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Does the Hollywood Happy Ending Exist?


I am happy to be able to provide a link to a downloadable version of my first published piece on the Hollywood 'happy ending' - the subject which was the focus of my doctoral thesis. This essay, the opening chapter of an edited collection called Happy Endings and Films, offers an account of the invariably negative critical reputation that the 'happy ending' has acquired in film studies, arguing for the need to interrogate this reputation. Along the way we touch on David Bordwell, 'Screen theory', the 'self-consciously artificial' happy ending, and Sirk's Written on the Wind (1956).

A brief extract:

"We tend to assume we understand the ‘happy ending’ of Hollywood cinema – both that it exists, and what it is. This essay will question that assumption. [...] Although the term is used again and again in discussions of Hollywood, it is startling to realise that the cinematic ‘happy ending’ has received barely any sustained critical attention, nor has an adequate definition of it ever been agreed upon. [...] It is my belief that most film studies discussions of the ‘happy ending’ reflect less a wish to meaningfully discuss the feature than a widely-discernable desire to construct it as a critical ‘bad object’."

Many thanks to the editors for giving me permission to reprint the piece online.

MacDowell, James. 'Does the Hollywood Happy Ending Exist?' Happy Endings and Films. Eds. Armelle Parey, Isabelle Roblin & Dominque Sipière. Paris: Michel Houdiard, 2010. 15-27.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism - Issue 2


For anyone who may not have come across the news elsewhere, I'm very pleased to announce that Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, of whose editorial board I am a member, has published its second issue (available here).

One thing I find particularly exciting about this issue is the form of our tribute to the late Robin Wood: several rare pieces by Wood, including his first published article - on Psycho (from Cahiers du Cinema, published here both in its original French and in English) - as well as several pieces he wrote for the Times Educational Supplement during the 70s.

The contents of Issue 2 are below; I hope you enjoy it.



Susan Hayward in the 50s - by Edward Gallafent

Madame Bovary, C’est Moi – Signed, Vincente Minnelli - by Mark Rappaport

Fritz Lang Dossier, Part 1 - by the editorial board

Notes on Metropolis - by Michael Walker

M: Leading the Blind - by Douglas Pye & Iris Luppa

Das Testament des Dr Mabuse - by Michael Walker

Robin Wood: A Tribute - by the editorial board

Psychoanalyse de Psycho / Psychoanalysis of Psycho - Robin Wood

Attitudes in Advise and Consent - Robin Wood

In Memoriam Michael Reeves - Robin Wood

Sense of Dislocation - Robin Wood (about Last Tango in Paris)

Signs and Motifs - Robin Wood (about High Plains Drifter)

Moments of Release - Robin Wood (about Cries and Whispers)

Call Me Ishmael - Robin Wood (about Fanny and Alexander)