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Category: Editorials

Read the latest editorials and opinion pieces from Big Picture Film Club.

Editorials, How Film Changed Me

How Film Changed Me: On Kathryn Hahn

March 7, 2021

If you’re alive, you know Kathryn Hahn. You might not realise it, but believe me, you do. To look at her IMDb page is to finally understand the word “versatile” in relation to actors; stints on well-loved sitcoms, supporting roles in charming indies, blockbuster comedies, star-filled ensemble dramas, HBO dramedies about sex and marriage, Oscar-nominated weepies, and so much more. 

I fell in love with Hahn as an actor through her role as Rabbi Raquel Fein in Amazon Prime’s queer family comedy Transparent. The level of complexity she brought to the show as its moral centre was fascinating and, as Emily Brennan wrote in the New York Times, was as wonderful as “Mallomars and beech trees and Jesmyn Ward books.” Now, with the end of lockdown in sight, I’m entering a Hahn-induced halcyon to see me through, and I’m not the only one. 

WandaVision -
WandaVision // Credit: Disney+

Two days ago, Marvel’s WandaVison came to an end. The show, which was supposed to be the studio’s grand experiment, became more generic and risk-averse with each passing episode. But its opening three – which featured near-perfect recreations of The Dick Van Dyke ShowBewitched, and The Brady Bunch – was something that excited even me, a Marvel-sceptic. As the “nosy neighbour” Agnes, Hahn’s role in these episodes only extended the range of her talents. Alongside Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany, Hahn fit perfectly into each recreation. Her mannerisms and tone of voice, right down to the style of her delivery, were eerily accurate. Even as the show broadened its scope and moved into typical superhero fare, Hahn still managed to bewitch and captivate – even up until the non-reveal of her character’s actual identity

After the show’s first three episodes premiered on Disney+ in mid-January, Hahn began trending on Twitter. One user noted that people seemed to be “rediscovering” Hahn, whilst another described Hahn as the only actor working today who “tonally gets the frequency and the vibe of every movie/show she’s in.” It seemed that, like those other actresses of her ilk (Laura Dern, Nicole Kidman, Marisa Tomei etc.), Hahn was due a twitter-induced “renaissance”. 

Mrs Fletcher - Katherine Hahn
Mrs Fletcher // CREDIT: HBO

These Twitter comebacks usually are that in name only; the actor in question has typically been doing good work for years, but the mainstream is finally catching up. In Hahn’s case, her work on shows such as Transparent and I Love Dick was exceptional. Her performance in 2019’s Mrs Fletcher was similarly transcendent. As a middle-aged woman exploring her sexual desire through pornography, Hahn created pathos and urgency for an idea that is too often ignored. Now, poised to retain her role in the MCU, Hahn appears to be unstoppable.

As someone who loves Hahn, this is good to see. Yet it also seems to point to the cultural perception of middle-aged women and how we assess their value. In a recent Tinder conversation, a man told me that he was “here for every second” of Laura Dern’s “renaissance”. How can you have a renaissance – defined as “cultural revival” and “renewed interest” in something – if you’ve always been doing avant-garde and risky work? To whom does it appear as though interest as waned? In Hahn’s case, it seems to have only been building. 

I can’t help but feel that this idea of a career renaissance is a gendered one that ultimately puts a particular person’s attention at its centre. I can only think of a single male actor who has been talked about in this way: Matthew McConaughey. In the eyes of the mainstream, he went from doing romantic comedies – a genre typically maligned for its connection to female-centred storytelling – and into serious, often masculine, projects like True Detective and Interstellar. That his career is back on track now because he is appealing to a certain kind of viewer speaks to where our assessment of value comes from. 

I love Dick - Kathryn Hahn
I Love Dick // CREDIT: Amazon Prime Video

The fact that Hahn, who has spent the past few years telling stories that centre around female desire, lust, and complexity, is only now considered “revived” because the Marvel Fan Boys have given her a seal of approval feels reductive. Of course, this has always been the case for those that choose to tell stories outside of the hegemony. For example, an adaption of Chris Kraus’ complicated feminist novel (even if it was, bizarrely, for Amazon) was never going to bring in Spider-Man level numbers. Still, it rubs me the wrong way when people now say that because Hahn has worked within the superhero machine she’s made it. 

It’s hard to make this sound like it isn’t just some variation of the “I liked them before they were cool” argument. Maybe now I understand those coked-up indie boys at house parties who told me the Arctic Monkeys have sold out or that the Kings of Leon were so much better before ‘Use Somebody’ came out. So maybe, when this pandemic is over, you’ll find me in the corner of a bar or a club, explaining to an unwilling audience that Hahn was always a star and that Marvel didn’t make her one. 

Also Read: How Film Changed Me: On Rewatching

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Editorials

What Is The Maximum Screen Resolution Detectable By The Human Eye?

March 6, 2021

It seems like it’s impossible to have the latest technology, whether it be a phone, TV, or some other device. It’s almost like as soon as you upgrade, a newer model is out. In the world of TV’s, the biggest leap in recent years has been the move to 4K resolution. As 4k starts to become the new standard, the next upgrade already looks to be in sight, with Sony having developed a 16K TV. But not everyone has made the jump to 4K yet, and do we really need 16K?

What even is Screen Resolution?

Common Screen Resolution Sizes

Screen Resolution is the number of pixels on a screen. Counting both horizontally and vertically across. As an example, a resolution of “1024 x 768” would be 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 vertically. The resolution of a screen is not always connected to the size. If comparing to screens with the same size but different resolutions, the higher resolution will likely show more and have a sharper image.

The other phrases that get used a lot are OLED, LED and LCD. The most common type is an LED (Light Emitting Diode) although it is sometimes confused with LCD (Liquid Crystal Display). There isn’t really much of a difference between the two, and they are often used together when comparing against OLED. OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) is often found in premium phones or devices. The main difference is that LED/LCD produce a backlight, whilst OLED produces it’s own. This mainly affects brightness and dark colours on a screen, with both having pros and cons

Why is 4K a big deal?

Blade Runner 2049
Films like Blade Runner 2049 really shine in 4K // Credit: Warner Brothers, 2017

4K (or 2160p if you prefer) is the standard for most new TV’s and monitors available now, provided they are large enough. One of the cool things about these is that they can “upscale” lower resolution content into 4K. For example, something that was filmed in HD can be upscaled to 4K, so that it looks normal when viewing on a 4K TV, however, some models do this better than others.

In addition to TV’s, many films are now being re-released in 4K or Ultra HD. These have been very common with older films, restored from the original negatives, rather than a digital copy. While most have been positively received, some titles are more of a mixed bag, with unintended side effects in the colours or audio mix, or unintentional dating some special effects. The remaster of T2: Judgement Day is an infamous culprit. While it’s sometimes it’s hard to notice until a side by side comparison is made, it’s hard to go back from 4K. This format is catching on enough that some streaming sites offer their content in 4K, such as Disney+.

So what about 8K?

You might have to rethink your viewing position to make the most of 8K

As the name implies, 8K is double the resolution of 4K, with around 4 times as many pixels. While recording in 8K will lead to an incredible picture, it is unlikely to be noticed by the average household. This is partly because 4K was designed for cinema screens, so unless your TV is massive or you sit very close, there is little difference.

Where 8K will likely see an audience is in large or curved screens, such as museums, planetariums, and cinemas. Shooting footage in 8K will allow for more options with editing and cropping, especially into 4K, but it is unlikely it will catch on outside of this. 8K cameras are being marketed more towards shooting raw footage than anything else. 8K cameras haven’t really caught on in Hollywood yet. What’s the point in having an 8K TV if nothing is shown in 8K?

Unless you have a huge TV or plan on sitting very close to it, it’s unlikely you’ll truly notice much of a difference with 8K. Anything higher also seems pointless, as 8K is probably the clearest the human eye is able to process. If you haven’t upgraded to 4K yet, maybe it’s time to start thinking about it, but 8K likely won’t make much of a difference unless you’re in the cinema.

Also Read: Did High End TV Replace The Mid-Budget Indie Film

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Editorials

Some of the Worst Ideas In Cinema History

March 4, 2021
Oceans 12

Sometimes, despite millions of dollars, a selection of Oscar-winning actors, an endless stream of talented writers and crew, filmmakers have terrible ideas. As the first sentence explains this article will not be about films that have bad ideas and are small films rather films that have every possible advantage and still get it wrong. Whether it’s putting aliens in Indiana Jones or making your prequel trilogy start off with people arguing taxation sometimes the best filmmakers make mistakes.

Spoiler Warning – Spoilers for Ocean’s 12, the Alien films and X-Men: First Class

The Worst Idea Ever

Ocean’s 11 is an enjoyably silly heist film, George Clooney is his charming self, Don Cheadle has a ridiculous Cockney accent and they even had filmmaking legend, Carl Reiner, in it. Ocean’s 12, however, did the worst thing any film has ever done. This is not worst in terms of morality but worst in terms of the worst idea anyone has ever had for a film. This takes some beating. After all, there have been nine films in the Fast & Furious franchise with two more planned, so that’s nine bad ideas in a row, with each idea getting exponentially worse. However, these films are just bad and ultimately that is a matter of opinion and I know that many people love these films. Ocean’s 12 though cannot be countenanced.

Ocean's 12 - Warner Bros
Ocean’s 12 // Credit: Warner Bros.

Ocean’s 12 starts in a typical heist film fashion with the team being brought together, in this one the person they stole from last time is out for revenge and demands they do a job for him. Fairly standard heist stuff. And then it goes off the rails. There is an artistic idea of “the willing suspension of disbelief” meaning that we put aside our parts of our critical thinking to simply enjoy a piece of art. Ocean’s 12 is determined to push this suspension to breaking point. One of the lynchpins of the heist is that Tess, played by Julia Roberts, looks quite like Julia Roberts, so she can pose as Julia Roberts. When watching Ocean’s 12, and indeed any film, we understand that these are actors portraying these characters. Whether that actor “exists” in the world of that film isn’t important as no one thinks that character looks like that actor, otherwise every film would constantly be full of people saying, “You know, you really look like Michael Caine.” So this insulting plan is put into action only for – and get this – Bruce Willis to show up! The real Bruce Willis who is of course friends with Julia Roberts! Oh, the shenanigans that ensue.

Perhaps the worst thing about this is the filmmakers seem convinced this is the Greatest Idea of All Time! Like the “why don’t they make restaurants that look like food” idea for architects, this has occurred to every filmmaker and quickly is dismissed. There are films that play with similar “meta” ideas in good ways – in A Cock and Bull Story Steve Coogan plays both Tristram Shandy and a version of himself making a film about Tristram Shandy. The Last Action Hero plays with many of the little inconsistencies that make films work, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Pleasantville, Wandavision all play with these ideas but the difference being that is the point of those films – that is what they’re exploring.

Ruining What Came Before

Alient 3
Alien 3 // Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

As I’ve written about before I am a huge fan of the film Aliens, and believe it does the near-impossible challenge of adding a young child to a film who not only isn’t annoying but improves the film. Ripley’s relationship with Newt makes that film. So why on Earth in Alien 3 is Newt killed at the start? And even worse – she is not killed in service to the story, she is killed in a sentence or two about problems with the ship. Imagine if in The Lost World: Jurassic Park we learned the children from the first film had died off-screen? Alien 3 famously had something of a development hell, with numerous scripts being written and tossed out but even so, it’s hard to imagine how they settled on this script.

X-Men First Class // Credit: Twentieth Century Fox
X-Men First Class // Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

Magneto might be the most interesting character in the X-men films and probably the one who would have the most interesting origins film. So naturally what was meant to be the Magneto Origins film became X-Men: First Class. This is a film in which a survivor of the Holocaust literally rips the fillings out of a person’s teeth and it was thought that was what needed was the hijinks of young people. X-Men: First Class is half of a great film – a powerful mutant seeking revenge across the world caught up in the tumultuous events of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The scene in Argentina where Magneto confronts Nazis is astounding (although the choice for the final line to be delivered in English is bizarre) and the decision made by both Russian and American governments to kill the mutants who just saved the world goes further to explain the Magneto we know from the earlier films. He is a man haunted not just be what happened to his family at the hands of Nazis but even when he saved the world humans still wanted to kill him. But this incredibly dark storyline is combined with something far more light-hearted and neither storyline is served well by this combination.

So a brief look at some of the worst ideas and decisions in films and I’m sure there will be a lot more in the future.

Also Read: From Blockbuster to Mockbuster: Big Films and Their Copies

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Editorials

Great Dance Moments In Non-Musical Films

March 2, 2021

People dance a lot in films. In some films, it’s practically all they do, but this article isn’t really about musicals or films where dancing is very much the point of the film. Often what I’m writing about isn’t even good dancing and it’s more about what dancing, perhaps even especially bad dancing, represents. This list will comprise of films made after 2000 – not because they are in any way superior but only a great deal has already been said about these older films – we’ve had great dancing like the iconic scene in Ex Machina, the impromptu and surprising musical number in 500 Days of Summer and The Artist celebrating the old Hollywood musicals.

Spoiler Warning for The Men Who Stare At Goats, The Shape of Water, Jojo Rabbit and Good Omens

You Can Dance…Just Someone Told You Not To

These were the brilliant words of Jeff Bridges’ character Bill Django in The Men Who Stare At Goats, an uneven film that contains one of my favourite scenes of all-time. Django is an army officer who after the horrors of the Vietnam War searches for a new path for the US Army and essentially becomes a hippy. He recruits soldiers for a special unit who will learn to become “Jedi Knights” and the very first thing he asks this unit to do is dance. When one soldier, Lyn Cassady, insists he doesn’t like dancing, Django disagrees. A flashback to the soldier’s youth shows him happily dancing to The Beatles as a child until his father yells at him for dancing. Cassady starts dancing and this indeed frees him and brings him happiness. In 45 seconds this film summed up a huge amount of the unhappiness in the world – someone told you that you should feel bad about something that makes you happy.

He Sees Me For What I Am, As I Am

Teh Shape of Water
The Shape of Water // Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

One of the most surprising Best Picture Oscar-winning films ever is The Shape Of Water. This is not because it is not worthy, it is, but because it’s not the sort of film that normally wins Oscars. It is hard to overstate the importance of dancing in this film. Elisa is a janitor in a secret government facility, she is also mute, unable to speak due to a neck injury. She has a deep love of music, films and dancing and after they arrive at the secret facility a mysterious creature, listed in the credits as Amphibian Man, who also cannot speak. As neither can speak they communicate through other means – sign language and, well, dancing. There is a fantasy sequence in the film where they dance in a very Golden Era Hollywood musical performance, but for me, the more telling moments are the simpler examples of dancing. Dancing brings small moments of joy to unhappy people – Elisa, her neighbour Giles, and Amphibian Man. It is a method of communication that transcends the divide that exists between Elisa and Amphibian Man as well as showing it’s something all people – whether human or an amphibian man enjoy.

Dancing’s For People Who Are Free

Jojo Rabbit has a lot to say about dancing. Jojo is a young boy in Nazi Germany with something of an obsession with Hitler, indeed his imaginary friend is Hitler. It becomes apparent quickly that Jojo isn’t really a Nazi but drawn to the most famous person in the country. Nevertheless when he finds out that his mother is hiding Elsa, a Jewish girl a few years older than him, he is in a difficult position. Jojo’s instincts are to turn Elsa in, but then his mother will be in a lot of trouble. Jojo’s mother, Rosie, does not fit in in Nazi Germany. She is very much a free spirit and opposed to fascism and equates dancing to joy and love and freedom whereas Jojo has the narrow view that “dancing is for people who don’t have a job”. Again whilst living in Nazi Germany towards the end of the war (while it means hopefully things will change for the better, it also means soldiers fighting in your town) Rosie can find joy in something like dancing. Even more heartbreaking is Elsa’s answer to the question as to what she will do when she’s free – dance. Which is exactly what she does.

Angels Don’t Dance. It’s one of their defining characteristics

Aziraphale and Crowley - Good Omens
Aziraphale and Crowley – Good Omens // Credit: Amazon Studios

Perhaps the best moment of dancing in recent years is not from film at all but television. The tv show Good Omens is about the upcoming apocalypse…well what it’s really about is the wonder of being human – but the plot is about the apocalypse.  An angel, Aziraphale and a demon, Crowley, decide to work together to stop the apocalypse. These two have been Heaven and Hell’s agents on Earth for millennia and have grown quite attached to Earth and the people there (and against all odds, each other). Also, both have departed from the traditional views of their celestial brethren and this is shown in no better way than the fact that Aziraphale dances. The narrator, who is God, discusses the classic theological question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but starts by saying, well angels don’t dance, it is in fact, a defining characteristic. Aziraphale is the exception- defying his fellow angels, Heaven and God, just so he can dance. If you want to see the greatest portrayal of joy in the history of film and television watch Michael Sheen dancing in Good Omens.

Also Read: Did High-End TV Replace The Mid-Budget Indie Film?

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Editorials

Steampunk: The Origins, the Looks and the Films

February 26, 2021
Steampunk classic Castle in the Sky

Steampunk art has become very popular in recent decades. But what is it? Today we’re going to look at what the steampunk aesthetic consists of. As well as analysing the origins of the subgenre and some key films that are part of this movement. Let’s get steamy.

Steampunk’s Aesthetic

Steampunk is a retro-futuristic aesthetic. The genre largely focuses on the fashion and/or settings of the Victorian/American Wild West era. And juxtaposes this against intricate technology. Which is too advanced or fantastical for that time. Often it emphasises adventure stories and a sense of discovery.

“Instead of offering science-fictional interpretations of a future that leaves the past behind… steampunk fictions see both the past and future blended”.

Robbie McAllister in Steampunk Film: A Critical Introduction

But creators aren’t restricted to working in the specific time period mentioned above. Steampunk stories have been set in many periods between the industrial revolution and the Edwardian era. Some creators make science fantasy stories divorced from our world. Others tell of futuristic/post-apocalyptic scenarios where the world we know is replaced by continuations of the steampunk era. Meaning the genre’s aesthetics allow for a lot of possibilities.

Steampunk fancy dress
An example of steampunk fancy dress [Source: Arizona Daily Star]

Genre Origins

Author K.W. Jeter coined the name in a 1987 letter to Locus magazine. In this letter, he jokingly referred to a group of writers who like him were writing Victorian fantasy science fiction as “steampunks”.

The genre also has roots in the Victorian science fiction stories of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Works like The Time Machine and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea contributed a lot to the genre. And there are examples of steampunk works that predate the name such as The Wild Wild West TV show, books like Michael Moorcock’s The Warlord of the Air, and some of the manga of Osamu Tezuka. But how has cinema represented the genre?

Steampunk Precursor Movies

Arguably one of the earliest films to use elements that steampunk would later incorporate was Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (1902). Which features anachronistic technology, rocket ships landing on the moon, alongside characters from the Edwardian period. It was also influenced by Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and H.G. Wells’ First Men in the Moon.

Other titles that would influence steampunk include Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) and Karel Zeman’s The Deadly Invention (1958). Both are Jules Verne book adaptations. Both also feature advanced machinery and submarines in Victorianesque settings. George Pal’s The Time Machine (1960) and Nicholas Meyer’s Time After Time (1979), are also examples of early cinema steampunk. Both having Victorian heroes with retro-futuristic time travel devices.

The time machines of H.G. Wells in cinema // Credits: MGM (Left) & Warner Bros (Right)

Modern Steampunk Movies

1986 saw the release of Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky, considered one of the first true steampunk films. Then the 90s saw the release of the big-budget Hollywood adaptation of Wild Wild West (1999) and Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s wildly imaginative The City of Lost Children (1995). Which takes place in an undetermined time full of retro clothing, oil rigs, sea mines, and eyepieces that seem both advanced and simple.

However, steampunk cinema arguably became most popular in the 21st century. This time saw the big-screen adaptation of Alan Moore’s popular steampunk comic The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003). Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) employed retro-futurist technology alongside a magical fantasy world to showcase the wonders and atrocities that mankind is capable of. And short films like the Oscar-nominated The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello (2005) helped to showcase the genres growing popularity. Even films like Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011) showcased a fascination with the genre’s aesthetics. Despite being set after the steampunk era. Hugo’s world is full of steam trains, old-fashioned dress, and mechanical automatons. Eventually, the film even becomes a tribute to genre influencer Georges Méliès. And that’s only a few examples of steampunk cinema throughout this time.

Howcastle - Studio Ghibli
Howl’s fantastical mechanical moving castle // Credits: Studio Ghibli

Conclusion

Steampunk is a fascinating movement. Full of imaginative stories and worlds. And while it isn’t the biggest genre in terms of cinematic content its roots stretch back to the birth of cinema. And it has continued to grow in popularity over recent years. Not bad for a genre that got its name from a joke.

Also Read: From Blockbuster to Mockbuster: Big Films and Their Copies

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Editorials

Did High-End TV Replace The Mid-Budget Indie Film?

February 24, 2021

In recent years, TV has come to rival films, not only in scope but also in budgets. With blockbuster TV shows like Game of Thrones and The Mandalorian costing around $15 million an episode, a whole season of these can cost more than some blockbusters, never mind a low budget film.

But what about films that fall in the middle? After all, not every director can get hundreds of millions to make their film. When studios have to decide between one small film or a whole season of television, the series seems like much better value for that money. So could this be the end of mid-budget films?

The Mid Budget Movie

Seven - Morgan Freeman & Bradd Pitt
Fincher’s Seven is a perfect example of a successful mid-budget movie // Credit: New Line Cinema, 1995

A mid-budget film can often be hard to define. As things like inflation and marketing costs can make them hard to determine. While there is no hard rule for what counts as mid-budget, it’s usually something around $5 million to $50 million. The lower range of these tends to be debut indies, films like American Psycho, 28 Days Later, The Blair Witch Project and Christopher Nolan’s Memento all had budgets of under $10 million.

At the upper end of this scale, can be a whole range of things. Many low brow comedies and rom-coms are often hugely profitable. With most of the budget being spent on the cast and a few set pieces, such as The Hangover, Bridesmaids, Zombieland and 21 Jump Street.

Other films that made in this range are often thrillers, often with a big name attached or a simple hook, a lot of mid-budget sci-fi tends to do well at the box office, with films like Seven, Looper, District 9 and Limitless being good examples. There are also occasional adaptations of books, however, these tend not to be franchises. Some Oscar contenders and winners have been produced with less than $50 million, including The Help, Straight Outta Compton, American Hustle and Bridge of Spies.

The Rise of High-End TV

The Mandalorian
The Mandalorian costs around $15 million per episode // Credit: Lucasfilm, 2020

It’s a common complaint that most of the big films that come out are franchise films. Either a sequel, prequel, spin-off, or a reboot, it seems rare that a totally original film makes an impact. Because audiences are familiar with the Avengers or Fast and Furious franchises (Understandably so, they’re great), they are a safer bet for a studio. If they have the option of investing $30 million into a one-off thriller, like Seven, and making $80 million, or investing $200 million in the next Bond and making a billion, the latter usually wins.

At the same time, shows like Breaking Bad and The Sopranos have proven that viewers enjoy those types of stories. Not only is a season of a tv show cheaper (Breaking Bad cost around $3 million per episode at its peak), it also builds a larger audience the longer it goes. When a show is released weekly, like Game of Thrones or The Mandalorian it becomes a talking point every week.

For creators, writers often have much more say in TV, rather than film. Matthew Weiner had total freedom on Mad Men, and that story could not have been told in the span of one film. The Streaming Wars seem to be focused on series rather than films, with Netflix investing in shows such as The Crown, Stranger Things and The Witcher, for it’s biggest numbers. This in turn has left other studios trying to catch up. Disney recently announced that two of it’s biggest franchises, The MCU and Star Wars, were both going to be focused on TV for the foreseeable future.

Are Mid Budget Movies Dead?

Knives Out
Could Knives Out have renewed interest in this type of film? // Credit: Lionsgate

While it certainly seems that a lot of things are heading towards TV, it doesn’t seem like it’s over yet. Spielberg has relaunched Amblin Entertainment, which almost exclusively focuses on these types of films, and has found success. Recent films from established, indie directors that have found success often occupy this space, such as Taika Waiti with JoJo Rabbit.

Some of the genres mentioned previously simply don’t need a huge budget to be profitable, such as comedies, and films like the upcoming The Little Things are telling stories like True Detective on the big screen. Crime films especially seem to do exceptionally well in this range, with the recent Knives Out and Murder On The Orient Express proving surprise hits. Likewise, many Oscar contenders are often made for a more modest budget, so while the future might be changing, it doesn’t look like these mid-budget successes are going anywhere just quite yet.

Also Read: Fast & Furious: The Making of a Billion Dollar Franchise

Read More: The Mandalorian – A New Hope For Star Wars

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Editorials, How Film Changed Me

How Film Changed Me: On Rewatching

February 21, 2021

These days, at around 7pm, I face the same predicament: what to watch. This question is not exclusive to pandemic living, but it certainly feels heightened by it. There are, of course, fewer options. I am not wolfing down leftover Ragù so I can make it to the pub in time to meet friends, I’m not sitting down with a group to watch the latest instalment of our favourite show. Instead, I’m looking to fill my time after cooking my extravagant meal for one. I’m looking for something that fills hours; that can fill them over and over. 

So, I’ve started to rewatch a lot of TV. Texting with a friend recently, I remarked that movies, in this current climate, don’t do it for me. They’re too fleeting, too 90-minutes-and-done. A TV show, however, episode-upon-episode, has the potential to offer a week’s worth of entertainment, or maybe even more. It has familiar characters who can stand in as friends when my actual friends are separated from me by a two-metre distance. It offers romances when I can’t date, sex scenes when I can’t… well, you know. It can give me all that I’m craving without pushing me too far. At times, it felt like rewatching was all I could handle. I didn’t want any surprises, any twists, anything shocking. 

Derry Girls
Derry Girls // Credit: Channel 4.

The benefits of rewatching are twofold. Firstly, you know where you are. In these times which are ‘uncertain’ or ‘unprecedented’ (or however you allude to the current hellscape in your work emails), I don’t think I want the stress of something new. Instead, I want comfort, and I want security, but who can offer that these days? Well, Derry GirlsRu Paul’s Drag RaceThe OfficeParks and RecreationI May Destroy You, and many more – that’s who. These shows, some of which I know by heart, offer me what feels like normalcy on these long locked-down nights. 

That feeling of close-to-normal is the second major benefit. These shows are nostalgic and remind me of the days when I would choose to spend an entire evening watching the first series of Sex and the City in one sitting, as opposed to doing so because the government mandated that I must. Nostalgia, though, is a complicated thing to reckon with. The word’s origins – the Ancient Greek translating to something along the lines of “pain for a journey home” – highlights its darker uses: we feel pain for time passed, for places and people we can no longer return to. This isn’t just felt on a personal level, but it appears routinely in political rhetoric; returning to a simpler time, making a country “great” again. 

The media psychologist Pamala Rutledge said in an interview with NPR last year that “we actually are craving time with our friends, and so these [shows] become kind of a proxy for that experience.” This was in response to the news that Friends and The Office had been the most-watched shows during quarantine.

We’re basically exhausted all the time because we’re under the stress of uncertainty. So what do I want to watch that will give me some comfort and some rewards that’s easy, that doesn’t drain my energy but gives me some back? And that makes shows like “The Office” or “Friends” a very good choice.

Pamela Rutledge
Friends - Central Perk
Friends // Credit: NBC

This yearning for nostalgia and ease doesn’t feel specific to the pandemic, however. In recent years, nostalgia has been the driving force behind television. Show after show was brought back from the dead, most of them shocked into existence on streaming sites. Will and GracePrison BreakQueer EyeSaved by the BellTales of the City, Full HouseThe X-Files, and so many more came back to varying degrees of success. Even to the untrained eye, it was clear the past decade had brought on a soft spot for days-gone-by. Most recently, Sex and the City was announced as the latest to make a comeback (with a new name and sans Samantha) and it became one of around 30 rebooted shows currently in development. As a fan of the show, and its new diverse writing staff, I was excited. Yet, I did hear, somewhere deep inside me, a quiet ‘why’ when I read the news before I quickly silenced it and got excited for something that might upset me (can you tell I’m a Carrie?). 

It’s hard not to see the connection between my current rewatching craze and this wider cultural mode of production whose mantra seems to be in the vein of a 90’s era S Club 7 – ‘bring it all back’. In fact, it’s somewhat stunning. I had seen, in recent years, that political craving for nostalgia and had fought ardently against it; things were never great, and the only way is forward. 

During a year that has made comfort paramount, even more so than in previous years, was I more open to the return of familiar faces because, I’m hoping, I’ll soon be able to see my actual friends? As things open up and new shows premiere, I’ll have to apply that to what I’m watching too. I’ll have to shake it off, leave this hibernation, and walk once again amongst original and exciting things. I just hope I haven’t become too comfortable.

Also Read: How Film Changed Me: On It’s A Sin

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Editorials

From Blockbuster to Mockbuster: Big Films and Their Copies

February 20, 2021
Big films and their copies [Source: Digital Spy]

Have you ever been shopping and noticed a DVD/BluRay for a movie that looks like a recent release? E.g. The Little Panda Fighter or Guardians of the Tomb? The world is full of bad copies and rip-offs of popular movies. And today, we’re looking at some examples of films that fell flat on their faces (according to the scores available on Rotten Tomatoes,) trying to capitalise off bigger films.

Gamera copied Godzilla

Of course, rip-off/copy movies aren’t a new phenomenon, as this entry proves. Gamera was Daiei Studio’s answer to Godzilla and both movies have similar plots. Both are about giant monsters, awakened by atomic devices, attacking Japan while the government tries to find a solution to get rid of the monster. Gamera’s initial outing failed in comparison to Godzilla’s (Gamera (1965) has a critical rating of 20% and an audience score of 32% on Rotten Tomatoes. But Godzilla (1954) has a 93% critical rating and an 89% audience rating). Nonetheless, the giant fire breathing turtle has since found cult success with his own franchise.

Gamera V Godzilla
Gamera V Godzilla // Credits: Daiei Film (Left) & Toho Studios (Right)

Battle Beyond The Stars copied Star Wars and Seven Samurai

Produced by the low-budget film kingpin Roger Corman and written by future Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Sayles, Battle Beyond the Stars has a simple premise. Remake Seven Samurai with Star Wars’ sci-fi fantasy aesthetic. Despite BBTS’ cult following the general impression it left wasn’t favourable (Critics: 45% Audience: 41%) especially compared to the gargantuan success of Star Wars (Critics: 92% Audience: 96%) and Seven Samurai (Critics: 100% Audience: 97%).

Battle Beyond the Stars is Seven Samurai with a Star Wars skin
Battle Beyond the Stars is Seven Samurai with a Star Wars skin // Credits: New World Pictures (Left), 20th Century Fox (Top Right) & Toho (Bottom Right)

Contamination copied Alien

But copies and rip-offs are hardly exclusive to the American and Japanese market. The 1980s Italian film industry produced many films to capitalise on international hits. Contamination was one of several releases produced to capitalise on Ridley Scott’s Alien. Mostly through its use of alien eggs which wreak havoc on the human body.  Needless to say, Contamination was unfavourably received compared to Alien (Contamination- Critics: 40% Audience: 29%. Alien- Critics: 98% Audience: 94%). But Contamination attained its own legacy when it became part of the infamous video nasties list.

Alien eggs on Earth and on LV-426
Alien eggs on Earth and on LV-426 // Credits: Arrow Video (Left) & 20th Century Fox (Right)

Ator: The Fighting Eagle copied Conan the Barbarian

Speaking of Italian copies. Conan The Barbarian (1982) inspired many sword and sorcery films in the 80s and Ator: The Fighting Eagle is incredibly close to Conan in terms of story elements. Focusing on a musclebound sword-wielding hero’s quest for revenge against an animal-themed cult leader who killed his parents and kidnapped a young woman. Although Ator couldn’t copy Conan’s success with audiences (Conan has a 74% audience rating, Ator has 14%), Ator acquired 3 sequels. A lot more than the Conan series.  

Ator and Conan getting ready to fight
Ator and Conan getting ready to fight // Credits: Filmirage (Left) & 20th Century Fox (Right)

Mac and Me copied E.T.

Now we get to one of the weirdest rip-offs on our list. This movie focuses on an alien that comes to Earth and befriends a child while a shadowy organisation pursues him (sound familiar?). What makes this title weird is that it was created to promote McDonald’s and its charities. Predictably this knock-off suffered poorly (Critics: 0% Audience: 38%) in the shadow of the classic movie it copied (Critics: 98% Audience: 72%).

Mac and Me copies E.T. [Credits: Orion Pictures (Left) & Universal Pictures (Right)]
Mac is a lot creepier than E.T. // Credits: Orion Pictures (Left) & Universal Pictures (Right)

Snakes on a Train copied Snakes on a Plane

Snakes on a Train is very emblematic of most of The Asylum film studio’s output. Their titles are made to lure people in by being as close as they can to other films. Both this and Snakes on a Plane concern snakes coming after people in confined spaces. Snakes on a Plane didn’t receive rave reviews (49% Audience Score on RT). Even so, Snakes on a Train was hated (18% Audience Score).

The posters for both movies // Credits: The Asylum (Left) & New Line Cinema (Right)

Ratatoing copied Ratatouille

Video Brinquedo was one of the most shameless modern mockbuster companies. Released to bank off the success of Pixar’s Ratatouille, both movies deal with a rodent obsessed with making food. However, Ratatouille won an Oscar and is loved by audiences (87%) and critics (96%). While everyone dislikes Ratatoing’s ugly style and cheap animation (27% on RT).

Ratatoing copies Ratatouille [Credits: Video Brinquedo (Left) & Buena Vista Pictures Distribution (Right)]
Can you spot the difference? // Credits: Video Brinquedo (Left) & Buena Vista Pictures Distribution (Right)

Thank you for joining me on this excursion into the land of copies and rip-offs. What rip-offs do you hate? Have you ever mistakenly bought any copycat titles? Conversely, are there any copycats that are better than their inspiration? Please let us know.

Also Read: Online Film Festivals Are Here To Stay

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Editorials

Oscar-Winning Directors Who Deserved Their Award For A Different Film

February 17, 2021
Oscar Awards

In my last article, I looked at actors who’ve won Oscars but perhaps for the wrong role but it is not only those in front of the camera where this mistake has been made with these filmmakers perhaps getting their Best Director Oscar for the wrong film.

Martin Scorsese

"I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh" Goodfellas
“I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh” Goodfellas // Credit: Warner Bros

What He Won For – When The Departed finally got Martin Scorsese his Best Director Oscar there was almost a universal declaration that is was for the wrong film. In fact, this is the film that inspired the whole article, the classic example of a the Academy rewarding a career of greatness rather than the particular film.

What He Should Have Won For – There are a lot of contenders but it is a crime for which someone should be arrested that he did not win for Goodfellas. This is one of the best films ever made and in my opinion, edges out even The Godfather as the definitive Mafia film. This is an epic story of crime, friendship and betrayal with some of the most memorable scenes in film history such as the long take entrance to the Copacabana, Joe Pesci asking if he is a clown and the stunning final scene wrapping up what has happened with Henry Hill’s narration. It is a practically perfect film.

Alfonso Cuaron

Children Of Men // Credit: Universal Pictures
Children Of Men // Credit: Universal Pictures

What He Won For – Cuaron has two Best Director, one for Roma and one for Gravity. As I have not seen Roma I cannot comment but I have seen Gravity. Again this is not a bad film, it’s a very good film but certainly feels more like a technical achievement than an artistic one. It is the only film I have seen where I thought it made sense to be in 3D, where the director actually did something worthwhile with that technology.

What He Should Have Won For – One of the great overlooked and underrated films of all time – Children of Men. This is one of the bleakest settings for a film ever yet ends up being hopeful. There are technically brilliant shots – such as two incredible long takes, one of a conversation and subsequent attack in a car which I’ve never been able to work out how it was filmed to the shot near the end of the film of Theo rushing through a warzone which is a contender for the best scene ever filmed. But there’s also a lot of emotion and caring, Theo’s relationship with Kee is very touching and Theo transforms from one of the most jaded and cynical people you can imagine to someone willing to die for someone else.

James Cameron

Game over, man, game over! - Aliens // Credit: Twentieth Century Fox
Game over, man, game over! – Aliens // Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

What He Won For – In my younger less cinema-literate days I assumed there were two directors named James Cameron – Cool James Cameron and Not Cool James Cameron, one made brilliant sci-fi and the other made Titanic, but indeed they are the same person and Cameron got his Oscar for Titanic. This is a bad film that relies on the romanticism of the real Titanic. Certainly it is a visual spectacle and the sinking of the ship is very well done but still – it is a bad film.

What He Should Have Won For – Cameron can lay claim to making two of the best sequels ever Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Aliens but I think the latter narrowly takes it. In Aliens Cameron does something which is nearly impossible in that he introduces a young child character that not only isn’t annoying but improves the film. Ripley’s relationship with Newt basically becomes the central part of the film and has a big emotional impact. As well as this emotional weight the film has some of the greatest action scenes ever and is incredibly enjoyable. The Academy has a long history of disdain to science-fiction and not recognising the brilliance of Aliens is another part of that history.

Ron Howard

Frost/Nixon // Credit: Universal Pictures
Frost/Nixon // Credit: Universal Pictures

What He Won For A Beautiful Mind won four Oscars, including one for Ron Howard as director. Certainly not a bad film but hardly the best example of Howard’s talents.

What He Should Have Won For – Howard has a number of great films but Frost/Nixon is an astonishing achievement. An adaptation of a play where most of the dramatic moments are literally one person interviewing another does not scream cinematic but it is gripping. Perhaps the most dramatic moment, however, is not part of the interview, with Nixon calling Frost in a rant about they were both from humble backgrounds, were always looked down upon by the upper class and were going “to make them choke on our success” is unforgettable.

Also Read: Oscar-Winning Actors Who Deserved Their Award For A Different Role

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Editorials

Why You Need To Watch The Queen’s Gambit Right Now

February 13, 2021
The Queen's Gambit - Anya Taylor-Joy

While Netflix started off as a streaming platform whose primary focus was on streaming film and series, its goals shifted to making original content and especially series. While we had top-rated series such as House of Cards, Stranger Things and The Crown, the most influential one was last year’s The Queen’s Gambit. The limited series about chess prodigy Beth Harmon didn’t only set some audience records but it also rose the popularity in chess. If you haven’t seen The Queen’s Gambit yet, then you better start watching the series. Here’s why!

More than just a series about chess

The title of this series refers to one of the oldest chess openings you can use to start a chess game and The Queen’s Gambit itself is based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel with the same name. Chess is the main ingredient of The Queen’s Gambit, but that doesn’t mean the series only focusses on the game. There’s also a lot of focus on each character’s emotional arc, going after your passion, defining the odds, human relationships, etc. Even if you’re not into chess, you will connect with the characters because of these topics.

Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Benny Watts and Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in The Queen's Gambit
Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Benny Watts and Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit // Credit; Netflix

Anya Taylor-Joy as the stunning female lead

She already shone in movies such as Thoroughbreds and Split, but The Queen’s Gambit was the most impressive performance from Anya Taylor-Joy without a doubt. She portrays Beth with such flair, dignity and emotional depth and she takes this series to an entirely new level. During the chess games, she oozes cleverness, wittiness, and when she talks to her opponents, it becomes even better. Taylor-Joy is being surrounded by a superb supporting cast. First, there’s Isla Johnston as the young Beth. Her performance involves a lot of innocence, intelligence and sweetness, and she’s just a thrill to watch. Can’t wait to see Johnston in her upcoming short movie Unmourned and television series Ray James.

Another strong performance comes from Marielle Heller as Alma Wheatley, the woman who takes orphan Beth under her wings. Heller’s performance is hugely diverse. At first, she makes you feel uneasy about Wheatley, especially because you get the feeling that Wheatley’s intentions aren’t honest and sincere, but thanks to Heller her warm and emotional performance, you open up to Wheatley more and more throughout the series.

The male cast you know from somewhere else (but just can’t put your finger on from where)

There are also amazing performances by the male cast of The Queen’s Gambit. Thomas Brodie-Sangster (who hasn’t change a lot since his days in Love Actually) also gives a two folded performance. In the beginning, as the harsh, distant and relentless Chess champion Benny Watts but when the story of Benny continues, and more scenes involve Brodie-Sangster and Taylor-Joy, his performance becomes much more likeable, open and heart-warming.

There’s also Harry Melling (yes, Dudley Dursley from Harry Potter) as the state champion and Beth’s friends Harry Beltik and Melling certainly know how to portray both the competitive spirit as well as the poignant side of Beltik. Last but not least, there’s also Bill Camp as Mr. Shaibel, the withdrawn but caring custodian at the Methuen Home for Girls and Beth’s chess teacher. Camp brings much sweetness and emotions and the scenes between him, and the young Johnston are just so joyful.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon and Harry Melling as Harry Beltik in The Queen's Gambit
Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon and Harry Melling as Harry Beltik in The Queen’s Gambit // Credit: Netflix

The magical combination of stunning cinematography and astonishing editing

The excellent performances will draw you to the screen but the extraordinary cinematography from Steven Meizler and the impressive editing by Michelle Tesoro take this series to a whole new level. There are the many long takes used that show the audience the powerful and confident appearance of Beth. Think about Taylor-Joy entrance and walk through the Vegas hotel and Mexico City hotel. The most emotional and impressive long-shot is, without a doubt, the one right at the end of the series. The way Taylor-Joy walks amongst the other chess players while being filmed with a handheld camera brings so many emotions.

However, while the long shots are awe-inspiring, the most extraordinary scenes are certainly close up ones during the chess games. You can feel the tension, the pugnacity and the hunger for a victory from every player in a way and not only because of Meizler’s cinematography. No, also the editing of Tesoro’s heightens those emotions. The fewer chess pieces are on the board, and the higher the stakes become, the faster the editing becomes, and the more excited the audience feels! We’re pretty sure that you will get that thrilling feeling instantly when watching The Queen’s Gambit!

What’s next for The Queen’s Gambit?

So far there are no plans for a second series, but there’s “Creating: The Queen’s Gambit”, a documentary that gives you more insights into the making of this spectacular series. Watch it now and don’t forget to practice your chess moves, might come in handy at some point.

The Queen’s Gambit (Official Trailer)

Also Read: It’s time To Talk About Marielle Heller

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Editorials

Oscar-Winning Actors Who Deserved Their Award For A Different Role

February 10, 2021
Anne Hathaway

There are many great actors who’ve never won an Oscar – Ian Mckellan, Alan Rickman (who was never even nominated), Annette Benning, Toni Colette to name a few – but there are some actors who have won an Oscar but some people are left wondering if they got it for the right role.

Al Pacino

Al Pacino in The Godfather
Al Pacino in The Godfather // Credit: Paramount Pictures

What He Won For: One of the all-time greats of acting Al Pacino has any number of roles where he deserved an Oscar, but amazingly the role that got him that award was for Scent of a Woman playing Frank Slade. Pacino is an actor who will take things to 11 and this perhaps gets the better of him in this film.

What He Should Have Won For – Without a doubt Al Pacino deserved an Oscar for The Godfather even if it meant depriving Marlon Brando of it. Michael Corleone not only looks like a different person at the end of The Godfather to the beginning, he is a different person. The audience sees the change he goes through from noble war hero who wants no part of the Mafia to the blood soaked crime-boss who shuts out the woman he loves from his life.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street // Credit: Paramount Pictures
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street // Credit: Paramount Pictures

What He Won For – It certainly felt like Leonardo DiCaprio was owed an Oscar and eventually he got it for The Revenant. He plays Hugh Glass a fur trapper who suffers and it seemed like it was suffering that won the award. The Academy can be very impressed by the ordeal an actor goes through for their art and this was certainly the case.

What He Should Have Won For – A very different role to nineteenth century man mauled by bear DiCaprio was brilliant as depraved stock broker Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. To me Belfort is one of the most appalling characters seen in cinema who doesn’t actually murder anyone but the performance is stunning and it is very hard to play so unlikeable a character.

Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway in Colossal // Credit: Toy Fight Productions

What She Won For – Watching Les Miserables was one of the hardest cinema-going experiences I’ve ever had. Admittedly I’m no fan of musicals but Les Miserables managed to tick all the boxes of why that is. Hathaway was on screen for a total of fifteen minutes and perhaps other performances of hers may be more deserving.

What She Should Have Won For – This is very much a personal choice but Hathaway has never been better than Gloria in Colossal. This film deserves to be seen as one of the best of the 2010s but seems to have passed most people by. Hathaway is a sort-of writer with a drinking problem who finds her way back to her old home-town whilst on the other side of the world a giant monster is rampaging through South Korea. These events are not unconnected.

Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon in Election // Credit: Paramount Pictures

What She Won For – Witherspoon was very good as June Carter in a Johnny Cash biopic that has not really stood the test of time. Of course in this film it is Cash who is the central character and Witherspoon never gets the opportunity to really shine

What She Should Have Won For – Comedy is harder than drama and these and Witherspoon is a great comic actor and her role as Tracey Flick is in Election is unforgettable. Some aspects of the film have not aged well but it is undeniable that Witherspoon is great, giving a performance of someone who is sometimes on the verge of snapping.

Gary Oldman

Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy // Credit: Studio Canal
Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy // Credit: Studio Canal

What He Won For – Playing Winston Churchill is a classic Oscar role and something that will appeal to the Academy voters. Oldman’s performance in Darkest Hour was by no means bad but also nothing spectacular

What He Should Have Won For – A role without the fanfare of Winston Churchill but nonetheless a much better performance – George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Solider Spy. Smiley is emotionally restrained to the point of being stationary and I only remember one outburst from him in the film – but that just makes it more effective. Smiley is the sort of character rarely seen in film these days and Oldman plays it perfectly.

Benicio Del Toro

Benicio Del Toro in Sicario // Credit: Lionsgate
Benicio Del Toro in Sicario // Credit: Lionsgate

What He Won For – Del Toro won Best Supporting Actor for playing Mexican police officer Javier Rodriguez in 2000’s Traffic – a solid film but unmemorable.

What He Should Have Won For – Del Toro has a number of roles that would be contenders but his role as Alejandro in Sicario may be my favourite. Alejandro works alongside the Americans battling the drug cartels, his exact position is unclear but it is soon demonstrated that he has no restraint – showing no problems with torture or murder. The subdued anger of Del Toro is something to behold and he is genuinely terrifying.

Also Read: Oscar Worthy Characters [Part 1]: Vito Corleone

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Editorials, How Film Changed Me

How Film Changed Me: On It’s A Sin

February 7, 2021

I don’t remember learning about AIDS. When I started high school in 2005, it was frequently used as a homophobic insult or punch line – Gays give you AIDS – so I spent my teenage years denying any sense of difference for risk of being connected with it. Forced into submission by a post-Section 28 landscape, I didn’t want to be seen as one of “them”, as an “other”. 

This, something I’ve seen many queer people my age do, leads to a lot of denial and judgement. I still remember claiming I wasn’t interested in feminine boys because “I’m gay so I like men,” when really, it was about separating myself from visible queerness, propping up a structure that idealises masculinity, and internalising homophobia in the process. However, now, in my late twenties, I strive to be visibly queer and not to frame my desire or existence through a hetero lens. This came from an understanding of queer history and a grip on what it all meant politically.

The Normal Heart
The Normal Heart // Credit: HBO

In my early twenties, I began to uncover the history of AIDS within the queer community. The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s seminal play, was adapted into a film in 2014 (my second year at university) which created an entryway through which Angels in AmericaParting GlancesBuddiesLongtime Companion, and 120 Beats Per Minute walked. The latter introduced me to the global political group ACT UP, something I’d heard referenced on the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Rent (yes, I’m that kind of gaybut had never delved into. Documentaries followed this; How to Survive a PlagueWe Were Here, and United in Anger, to name a few.

Which brings us to It’s A Sin, Russell T. Davies’ latest drama currently airing on Channel 4 and available to stream, in full, on All4. The show follows a group of friends, mostly gay men, in 1980s London as they shed the skins of their small towns and dive head-first into the hedonism of queer life as it was at the time. Of course, slowly, a disease starts to emerge – referred to as a “gay cancer” – caught through having sex. Some of the characters reject this, seeing it as too perfect an illness when sex is what most homophobes linger on, but nonetheless, the reality becomes ever more apparent.

It's A Sin
It’s A Sin // Credit: Channel 4

Overall, my Twitter feed has been divided on the show. A lot have heaped praise onto it, calling it a “masterpiece”, “important”, and “vital”. People spoke of watching it with their husbands, or they reassured teens (watching, in the dark, with the volume down) that it would “get better” (though, whether this was necessary is up for debate). I saw friends talk about how educational the show was, how it filled the cavernous gaps school left, and they were beginning to understand how bad it had been. Others, admittedly a smaller group, voiced valid criticisms; where are the queer womxn? Trans people? Sex workers? Those who were crucial in the political fight against government ignorance and were also infected by the virus? For four years, as Sarah Schulman notes in her book The Gentrification of the Mind, AIDS was not considered a disease that affected womxn. As such, they couldn’t gain access to treatment, which at the time took the shape of experimental trials, because they were considered “unreliable” by pharmaceutical executives. People have also asked what about intravenous drug users, gay and straight, who were significantly affected by sharing needles? Are these stories not worthy of dramatization too?

It made me wonder about how queer history is told on screen, or, indeed, history at all. If I wanted to learn about other historical events, like the World Wars or 9/11, there is a lot that can be found. But the AIDS epidemic is so rarely dramatized that there are significantly fewer places to look. Of course, each time any new show or film comes out, there are inevitably those who like it and those who don’t. But LGBTQ+ content, which still feels few and far between, falls under a specific microscope. Whether that’s due to conversations about queerbaiting, sanitisation of experience, or too much consideration being given to a straight viewer, they have felt lacking and, almost always, overwhelmingly white, cis-gendered, and male-oriented. Yet because queer life and, more specifically, the widespread impact of the AIDS epidemic on various cultures and communities, is so varied, there is still so much left to look at. 

POSE // CREDIT: FX

In recent years, TV and film have made attempts to spotlight those areas left uncovered. For example, Pose examines the effect on the New York Ballroom scene, primarily frequented by black and brown, queer and trans folk, as well as sex-workers. While there has been growth, there has been significant backlash against the homogenisation of queerness too. The Prom faced backlash for James Corden’s performance, The Boys in The Band for being potentially outdated and too white, Happiest Season for being too middle-class and also too white. The question that so often arose was: who it was for? The answer: white gays and straights.

The idea that only dramas centred around cisgender (often, but not always, white) gay men and women are considered the history of queerness on film and TV leaves a lot to be desired. It simplifies the actual history. The boys of It’s a Sin, for example, are all likeable, young, attractive men, but history is more complicated than that. It feels like positioning experiences outside the white cultural experience (either gay or straight) as central is not an option. To air at primetime on a Friday night on terrestrial television you need straight people, and so it will always be watered down. 

I’m not advocating for queer folk to court the mainstream – in fact, I’d rather they didn’t. But it corrupts the narrative of queer history when a particular type of queer story is the only type of queer story that most people see. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy It’s A Sin. I did. I liked its performances, its emotion, and its representation of how people coped in the face of a crisis. It’s more that it is an example of what I’m trying to articulate. Just because it is a certain type of queer story, doesn’t mean it isn’t good or doesn’t have its merits. It just can’t be the only type of queer story. 

It’s A Sin is available now.

Also Read: Is Queer Autobiographical Cinema Subtly Political?

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