(click image below to view zine)
As we get ever closer to the release of Twilight saga movie number 4, and as more films are remade barely after their initial release (‘Let The Right One In’ (2008), ‘Let Me In’ (2010)) to unsurprisingly disappointed receptions, there is clearly a lot of competition out there for the worst film ever.
When I was a kid I remember seeing ‘Bean’ (1997) and it was the first time I had actually wanted to walk out. But as my BFF reminded me last night after seeing ‘Contagion’ (2011) “it’s better to be slightly bored than traumatized” – so while ‘Contagion’ was completely uninteresting, there was nothing highly offensive or upsetting about it. The same cannot be said for ‘Taken’ (2008). Three years ago I wrote the following review and I am yet to see it beaten to the title:
It doesn’t happen often that I find nothing at all redeeming about a movie. But last night my sister, brother-in-law and I all agreed that ‘Taken’ was the worst film we had ever seen. And we have really different tastes in movies.
The only film I have ever actually walked out of was ‘Don’t Move’ (‘Non ti muovere’, 2004) – a love/rape story that I simply couldn’t bare at the time. I walked out after 30mins, post the first (of many) totally sexualised rape scene. When I finally watched the entire film in 2006, I did appreciate it. It is a really wonderful film, but the complexity involved in its greatness was beyond me at the time. And it is utterly painful to watch.
The last film I nearly walked out of was ‘The Dead Girl’ (2006), which I think may be the best competition for ‘Taken’.
The reason I went to see ‘The Dead Girl’ was because I had heard an interview with the (female) director where she explained that the film gave a voice to someone otherwise just seen as ‘the dead girl’, which actually is total bullshit. The film does exactly not that. The ‘dead girl’ only appears at the end. And the film plays into super boring lesbian/drug addict/prostitute/’she was asking for it’ narratives without challenging them.
Here are my criteria for judging a film:
1-does it reinforce stereotypes/cliched narratives?
2-does it depict women as victims/helpless/mindless consumers?
3-does it reinforce racist, sexist, homophobic assumptions/stereotypes?
4-does it contain rape (as threat, allusion, or graphic image)?
5-does it play well as a film (that is, have good cinematography), or does it rely more on just a story?
6-does it contain some pathetic love story, where things work out in the end?
7-does someone hot make up for it?
8- does it glorify something repulsive like patriarchy/war?
9-is it critical of oppressive social structures?
10-is the main message of the film super
SO. This is why ‘Taken’ is the worst film ever:
Ex-Army Liam Neeson retires to live closer to his estranged daughter. She wants to go to Paris with her friend and needs him to sign a form because she is 17. He says she can go only if she calls him twice a day. She doesn’t call. He calls her and while they are on the phone guys break into their apartment and kidnap the friend and then her. Neeson tracks down every person involved and kills them all, rescuing the daughter.
‘Taken’ rates as follows:
Oh my god Yes. It is a super boring ‘action’ movie. Badly written (so many bad one liners by Liam Neeson in the style of ‘this time it’s personal’). Terribly weak narrative (Neeson’s daughter goes to Paris on a trip and he is worried about her going alone and then lo and behold she is kidnapped on her first day).
Absolutely. We never see the daughter’s story (for ‘narrative effect’, we are supposed to identify with Neeson ‘not knowing where she is’), thus she is depicted as completely useless/helpless to do anything herself. The (female) friend is found dead and she is just never brought up again.
There is also this thing about her being a virgin, which is so terrible: like she’s a virgin so instead of getting used in a brothel she gets sold off as a virgin, and then it is implied that she is still a virgin when he saves her (and therefore still ‘pure’), which I find super unlikely.
Classic America takes on evil ‘Others’. The guys who kidnap, traffick and pimp the girls are Albanian, one is black. The story takes place in France and the French government is implicated as supporting the ‘trade’. When the girls are auctioned off, the buyers are of Asian appearance, or with dark skin. The final super bad guy (who purchasers the daughter) is West Asian Muslim.
Yes. The girls kidnapped are given heroin and put to work in warehouse brothels. The threat that the daughter will be raped is the basis of the suspense of the film.
No. but it is an action movie, so that’s to be expected.
The main love story is the father/daughter, so that’s pretty cool (although obviously
lame conservative and unoriginal in other ways), there is no main het love theme. But the father/daughter love story, esp. ending is pretty pretty bad:
When the story begins, Neeson is estranged from his family because of his long absences due to active army service, and he is trying to build a relationship with his daughter. He works for one night on security at a concert and saves the singer’s life. In return she says he can bring his daughter to meet/learn from her (the daughter wants to be a singer). Guess how it ends.
Only if you’re into Liam Neeson, but the acting is so so bad in anyone. Even Neeson is terrible.
Yes. Patriarchy: father saves all. The film also has super dubious morals: it condones the use of torture (pretty standard these days but still), Neeson also kills so many people without caring, often unnecessarily, including women at a brothel, and he shoots a guy he’s after’s wife – all in order to save the daughter. He only ‘rescues’ one other girl from a brothel because she has his daughter’s jacket, but he doesn’t seem to give a shit about ‘anyone else’s daughter’.
Neeson is also a trained soldier. He is able to save the daughter because of the skills he gained in the army (the army is really great like that).
It is critical of America’s ‘bad guys’: Eastern Europe, France, Muslims. They appear to suck while white, manly America is there to save the day (world).
Yes. Women who travel alone will be kidnapped, sold into prostitution and become drug addicts. their only possible escape is if their father (some man) rescues them.
It’s also SO unbelievable. And I understand the classic ‘bad guys can’t shoot straight but good guys always do’ scenario, but this is RIDICULOUS. Neeson must be like 60 (and the character is supposed to retired, ie out of practice or at least fitness), he repeatedly beats off 2, 3, 5, 7 (younger) guys without getting injured at all, mostly he is unarmed while they are armed. At one stage a guy shoots a machine gun at him at close range and still completely misses. At another he is handcuffed to a drain pipe against 5 guys with weapons. He is also pursued by the French government and then for no reason they give up, and he is able to leave the country.
Which movie do you think deserves the title WORST FILM EVER?
 Here are some of our favourite films:
Me: Charlie Kaufman’s ‘Adaptation’ (2002), ‘I Heart Huckabees’ (2004), Penelope Cruz in Pedro Almodovar’s ‘Volver’ (2006)
My sister: ‘The Usual Suspects’ (1995), Al Pacino in Oliver Stone’s ‘Scarface’ (1983), Neil Gaiman’s ‘Stardust’ (2007)
My brother in law: Jim Carrey in ‘Ace Ventura’ (1994), Chuck Palaniuk’s ‘Fight Club’ (1999), Oliver Stone’s ‘Platoon’ (1986)
On Vampirism Part 2, On Daddy Power Part 3
In the opening scene of the third Twilight film (Eclipse), vampire Edward is trying to convince human Bella to marry him:
“Marry me,” he says.
“Change me,” she replies.
“Hmm, I’ll change you…if you marry me. It’s called a…compromise.”
“That’s called coercion,” she astutely responds. Kissing him, they smile at each other.
Coercion here appears to be set up at odds with “love.” That is, because these two people love each other, even the possibility of coercion makes no sense: it’s a lark. But a closer reading of the text reveals that really love (or the façade of such) figures as precisely the basis on which sexual coercion takes place, and takes place repeatedly with almost all of characters and most of their relationships.
Even the title “Eclipse” can be seen as a veiled reference to coercion; meaning figuratively ‘loss of power or significance’ or, as a verb, ‘to deprive.’ This idea of deprivation makes little sense to the plot: the conflict surrounding Bella’s transformation into a vampire (being deprived of her human life) is deferred to the following installment (Breaking Dawn), and the deprivation that makes up Edward and Bella’s sex life is a constant theme in the entire series.
Rather, the main plot thrust of Eclipse is a territorial one: Victoria vs the Forks community/ Bella, the werevolves vs the vampires and, of course, Edward vs werewolf Jacob. The focus is very much on possessiveness and control, aspects of relationships which are at best unseemly, and at worst abusive.
In this way, the idea of ‘deprivation’ can be read as a comment on power and the interplay of the ways in which persuasion moves to coercion, and the differences between pressure, coercion, harassment and abuse.
Throughout Eclipse, all three of the main characters: Edward, Bella and Jacob exert force – whether physical or emotional – over each other in ways which are coercive. That is,
Jacob to Bella: The most obvious example of Jacob’s use of coercion takes place after he discovers Bella’s engagement to Edward: he threatens her with his own life (that he will endanger himself unless she “gives him a reason to stay”) and none of her pleas that she loves him and doesn’t want to lose him suffice. He wants her physically, and clearly cares more about getting what he wants then the fact that it’s not what she wants.
This is exacerbated by the narrative cornerstone that Bella loves both Edward and Jacob (but Edward more), and that Jacob knows she loves him, while she ‘refuses to admit it.’ This works to reaffirm the adage that women don’t know what they want (which in itself suggests that when women say no they mean yes).
Sexual ‘misconduct’ is hinted at when he kisses her after she has told him explicitly to “stop.” This occurrence problematically attempts to differentiate “actual sexual assault” (visible and unacceptable) from “sexual coercion” (invisible and acceptable); while their first kiss is “wrong,” their second kiss is somehow less so.
Edward to Bella: As the opening of this article – and the film – suggests, Edward’s proposal to Bella is, at least in part, coercive. Throughout the film, and even after she agrees to marry him, it is implied that he will still refuse to turn her into a vampire.
Furthermore, Edward’s stalking is a fairly classic way of exerting control over another, and one which much has been said about.
That this way of behaving is diagetically justified further represents control and coercion as acceptable. His stalking results in his “saving her” twice (Twilight) from situations in which we are lead to believe she would not have been able to protect herself (from a car crash and a group of young men).
Bella to Edward: Bella’s initial pitch to Edward as to why they should have sex seems an argument in persuasion rather than coercion: she reminds him that after she becomes a vampire she’ll want blood more than him. Perhaps because we are so used to seeing teenage boys pressuring teenage girls into sex, it seems as though the reverse is impossible. But Edward makes it clear that he doesn’t want to have sex with Bella, and that doesn’t stop her from trying to coerce him into it.
Various minor characters, too, work to focus the narrative on possibilities of sexual coercion: Jasper’s origin story reveals that he was turned into a vampire after being deceptively sexually enticed; Rosalie’s flashback depicts the exertion of social pressure by her fiancé, which quickly turns to rape and murder; and Riley is clearly sexually coerced by Victoria into creating and organizing her army through promises of her love.
As I said in my last post, the way in which vampire violence is justified comments on how we think about power (and its abuse). The depiction of coercion (a type of violence though it fails to be portrayed as such) in Eclipse is troubling because it is well and truly tolerated, justified and, rather straightforwardly, accepted.
Suffice to say, sexual coercion should really not be a part of the way we relate and communicate with each other, and especially not with people we love.
Extended version available at The Scavenger/Sexual-coercion-abounds-in-Twilight
A Femme Alliance
Probably the most obvious, and unfortunate, commonality between women and trans people is that we know what it’s like to be abused, and for the threat of abuse and [sexual] violence to be constant. But I do think the shared experience of brutality can be used to shape us into a wilful force of resistance; to defend each other and let ourselves be defended.
I used to be quick-witted when harassed on the streets or in bars. Two to seven words were usually enough; shouted out before an open car window could be wound back up. The men would just snigger in reply but there was something satisfying in fighting back. It took the edge off the humiliation of objectification. But somehow, somewhere, my ability (or desire) to defend myself was worn out.
I just want a break.
When you stand by and watch someone being abused – verbally, physically or (in a longer term sense) emotionally – I do think you’re complicit in it. I think we all have a responsibility to defend each other. And it’s not without risk. I’ve watched so many men and women get high and mighty about their feminist cred; thinking they have all the knowledge (and/or ontological right) to put other people in their place without interrogating the ways they themselves are fucking people over. There are political implications to acting as though someone can’t protect or defend themselves, or that you can do it better. [If you plan on doing it, ask first if that’s what someone wants].
For a long time I thought independence meant self-sufficiency. But the stockpiling of abuse I have taken taught me that having people around to stand up for me was not only a valid survival technique (and what a privilege it was to have ever thought I could persist alone), but a complete pleasure.
Watching my femme friends or lovers verbally rip apart the guys that hassle me is a freakin dream. It’s so unexpected. She’s sharp and witty and seethingly mad and he’s so taken aback and confused he’s stunned into a retreatful silence. Violence always escalates. When I push some guy off a friend, it’s not so unlikely he’ll turn around and punch me in the face. On the contrary, the political – gendered and subversive – (and practical) power of a femme offensive like that shows up the deficiencies of any other kind of recourse. But I do what I can. And this is something we can ask each other for.
It’s not that we can’t defend ourselves, but what a relief to (even occasionally) not have to.