To begin: a very, very obvious point: film is a visual medium. Okay, now that’s out of the way, hopefully what follows will be a bit more in depth. Still, any film studies course worth the money will teach its students that, when it comes to making their films, they should “show, don’t tell”, or else something very similar. Visual medium, and all that.
That isn’t to say that sound design isn’t important. Of course it’s very important, especially at a time when even big budget film and television shows are routinely criticised for poor sound and muffled dialogue. However, the main language of film is, of course, visual. Therefore, the way that filmmakers convey meaning will be, primarily, through images. For example, a director could have his or her lead character convey their feelings of isolation by launching into a heartfelt monologue about loneliness. Or, the director could show the character’s loneliness by framing him/her sitting alone, using a wide angle lens, possibly at a distance, for example, or by carefully framing and blocking the scene.
So whether it’s lens choice or something as potentially simple as where the cast are placed in any scene, a director can suggest things like emotions, themes and major plot points without a line of dialogue. This is because, as important as words are, images are just as important in showing and conveying meaning, even unintentionally.
I’ve been thinking about this ever since I saw the main poster for the new instalment in the Terminator franchise, ‘Terminator: Genisys.’ The poster features two of the film’s lead actors, Emilia Clarke (Sarah Connor) and, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger (T-800.) Nothing unusual there. Both are brandishing some pretty fearsome looking guns (again, nothing unusual there), while Clarke is holding the severed head of a Terminator.
However, it’s the way that Clarke is positioned that is worth noting. Before I make this point, I’m aware that I might be accused of reading things into the image that aren’t intended. That being said, I think it’s fairly obvious from looking at the way that she’s standing, side on, that, (to put it carefully) a certain part of her body is being emphasised.
In case that might be dismissed as a coincidence, another promotional poster for the film, this time with just Emilia Clarke, has her positioned with her back to the camera. Coincidence? Some might suggest so. To the rest of us, it just looks like the marketing team have decided that Emilia Clarke’s bottom should be a major selling point for ‘Terminator: Genisys.”
It looks like the latest in a long line of examples where blockbusters have seemingly been content to play to the lowest common denominator when it comes to making money. At this point, some may object by claiming that, as these films often have a majority male audience, it’s simply giving the guys what they want. It is the film business, after all.
True enough. It isn’t called the film business for nothing. However, market principles and morality shouldn’t have to be mutually exclusive. It’s especially important when we consider that many of these films will have a large teenage audience. For example, the recent ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service”, is pretty much a teenage version of James Bond. For one of its main promo posters, there is a clear focus on star Sofia Boutella’s behind.
Another coincidence? I don’t think so. It’s not as if the debate on sexualised female images in and around films is a new issue, even this year. ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ has been criticised for the portrayal of its lead female characters, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), especially in their costume design, This is a similar charge levelled at ‘San Andreas’ and the role played by Alexandra Daddario, whose character seems to be facing the possible destruction of California in jeans and a tiny vest. Then, of course, we could write many volumes chronicling the teenage boy-friendly ‘Transformers’ series, and especially its treatment of Megan Fox.
Even as an aspiring filmmaker, I recognise how the way a script is filmed and how individual scenes are shot can either enhance or detract from the material. It’s also important to remember how film has a visual language all of its own, where certain types of shots and camera moves have certain connotations. It’s why a continuing knowledge of camera techniques is vital for any filmmaker, as without it, we may unintentionally be depicting our actors and actresses in ways that suggest things no one ever intended.
Of course, the examples given above look intentional, which is a different matter entirely. As is the solution, which is far harder to come by, raising as it does questions of how much control actors have over how they are depicted in the final cut and in the promotional material for their work. Until an answer is found, however, it is likely that the trend of using an actress’ body, rather than her acting talent, as a way to sell tickets will continue.