Sunday, December 1, 2013

you've totaled it

I considered titling today's entry "hi" but that seemed too short. Since each entry gets a line from the movie as its title, there's a possibility I will run out of meaningful titles at some point before I have ended the blog. I'm not sure that's true. But, when I get down to titling an entry "hey," which is said by Nancy and by Ned, that will be the first sign of a shortage happening. Of course, I had a good reason to use "hi" as the title today, which I will explain below.

First, do you know the Bechdel Test? It's a simplistic way of measuring a film on a... well, you could say it's a feminist measure, but really it's more about gender inclusiveness than feminism. Anyway, the test comes from a comic strip called Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel back in 1985:

The Bechdel Test asks: "asks (1) are there at least two women in the film (2) who talk to each other (3) about something other than a man?" There are some flaws in this measure, obviously, because a) some films have perfectly good reasons to not have many females characters, war movies or prison movies for example b) this doesn't deal at all with the quality of the roles involved b) you can have fairly strong female characters and still not have them together (The Lord of the Rings series of films is an oft cited example of this) and d) you can have many female characters who converse often and about many things but still be arguably sexist and misogynist (Sucker Punch occurs to me here; my review accused the film of having "a tough time balancing between commenting on the exploitation of females and exploiting them itself").

(Interestingly, cinemas in Sweden have recently started issuing a grade based on passing or not passing the Bechdel Test.)

Anyway, I'd heard of the test long ago, but it recently came up again and I wanted to apply it to Groundhog Day. Turns out someone already did... though in a flawed fashion. See, "Neil" who posted Groundhog Day to the Bechdel Test website (which has no affiliation with Bechdel herself; hell, she only ever "used the test only as the set-up for a joke" according to Robbie Collins at The Telegraph) followed up the 2/3 score with a comment that suggests a 3/3 score:

neil said:
Rita talks to Nancy about Phil.
Message posted on 2008-07-31 22:33:31

I saw this and immediately had a problem with this because all Nancy and Rita say to each other is "hi." But, then I look and the only followup comment points that out:

EKatz disagreed with the rating and said:
Where does Rita talk to Nancy about Phil? Basically Larry introduces the two women, who say 'hi' simultaneously to each other, then Rita turns to Larry and asks him something about the party and if they should contact Phil. Nancy then jumps in and says, "Phil Connors? He's already at the party" And Rita says nothing. They move on. This isn't a conversation between two women.

I think this movie passes one of the three tests.
Message posted on 2013-07-19 13:53:35

Maybe Neil's original score was 3/3, and the score shown is the "corrected" one. EKatz's notion that the film only passes one is wrong though, because a) Rita and Debbie talk to each other and b) Rita and Mary talk to each other. Both of these conversations are about men, though. Rita speaks to Debbie about her ring, indirectly referencing her engagement to Fred, and this follows right after Phil has outed Debbie as having second thoughts about getting married. Mary and Rita exchange a couple lines about Phil as a piano player...

It's so little dialogue, I'm not sure why I'm not just including it...

Rita: Nice ring.
Debbie: Thanks

Mary: Isn't he good?
Rita: He's great.
Mary: He's my student.

I never said they were deep and meaningful (and lengthy) conversations. The Bechdel Test does not require depth or length. And, there is no definition given for "conversation." The Free Online Dictionary defines a conversation as "The spoken exchange of thoughts, opinions, and feelings." Merriam-Webster defines conversation as "an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people." defines conversation as the "informal interchange of thoughts, information, etc., by spoken words." No length requirement, so even the Rita/Debbie exchange qualifies as a conversation. But, at least indirectly, that conversation is about a man. And, Mary and Rita are talking directly about Phil.

So, I posted a response myself tonight--I can't see the exact post right now because it's being processed or some such thing, so I cannot quote it directly, but I said something like the following:

While the Rita/Nancy exchange certainly does not qualify, as EKatz already pointed out, the old ladies do have a conversation about their flat tire.

I just noticed that the Bechdel Test website has a slight variation on the usual test questions, though. They list not questions but statements, actually, as follows:

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

Note that bracketed "named." If we go by this standard, Groundhog Day actually doesn't pass because the old ladies have no names. Their conversation, by the way, for the record:

Passenger Seat: You've totaled it.
Back Seat: It's only a flat tire.
Passenger Seat: [something I can't quite make out, maybe "how are we going to make it to..."]
Driver: What are we going to do?
Back Seat: It's an earthquake!
Passenger Seat: Oh, it's not an earthquake... What is it?
Driver: Oh! Thank you, young man.
Phil: It's nothing, ma’am. I had the tire and the jack. Just be comfortable, all right. Be a minute.
Back Seat: Who is that?
Driver: Must be from the motor club.

I include the entire exchange to prove myself a bit wrong, I suppose. Four lines, though, before they get to referencing Phil indirectly--he is that "earthquake" or at least his actions are--so that does qualify as a conversation. But, the old ladies have more dialogue about or interacting with Phil than not. Plus, two of them return at the dance to talk about Phil all over again. Of course, if that line I can't make out involves say, making it to the Kleiser wedding...

Honestly, though the film may technically pass the Bechdel Test, all of the women in the film serve only as fodder for Phil's story. But, to be fair, so to do all the men. This movie has a very singular storyline. The only moments that don't fit that storyline are the morgue scene and Larry talking to Nancy at the bar. Everything else serves Phil's story.

Of course, Phil's quest is a feminine one, so balance that out as you like.

Anyway, today's reason to repeat a day forever: to pass the Bechdel Test... which may not make any sense since I am not a movie and contain no women at all. But, I will have a lot of time to get past those limitations.

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