I think a huge limitation in Kurosawa and Peckinpah’s (and to a lesser extent John Ford) film’s is their inability to portray truly three dimensional female characters. Apart from that, as good as these guys with the scenery and technial aspects of filmmaking, I doubt these guys understood the meaning of “subtlety” too well.
Kurosawa’s world and themes are incredibly basic…like they were intended for third graders. Peckinpah likewise is much the same way, except he tries to cover everything in blood and violence. I know one of Peckinpah’s strongest themes involves the aging of the old west and the introduction of newer and superior technology, but in the Wild Bunch besides a few lines uttered by William Holden’s character (i.e. these days are dying, we need to think beyond our guns) his films are no different from any western except way more violent.
There are two distinct sides which comprise film-making: The Physical, and The Intellectual. Kurosawa and Peckinpah succeed immensely with the former but fail miserably in the latter. Their reputation are based solely on their ability to craft a great exterior for the movie, but the interior spiritual and intellectual aspects are quite lacking, and frankly they don’t do anything for me. That, and coupled with their complete dismissal of the female spiritual crisis – I would have to rank them a tier below the true greats – Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, Kenji Mizoguchi, Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, Robert Bresson and Billy Wilder.
Kurosawa, Peckinpah, Kubrick, Spielberg, Buster Keaton, John Ford and Scorsese as much as I like them all have certain limitations which would put them on a lower tier.
I think a huge limitation in Kurosawa and Peckinpah’s (and to a lesser extent John Ford) film’s is their inability to portray truly three dimensional female characters.
I don’t know if they lacked the ability to portray three-dimensional female characters, but the women generally aren’t prominent characters in their films (at leas off the top of my head, and of the films I’ve seen). Still, does that make them sexist? I don’t think that’s necessarily the case (although it could be). Peckinpah’s primary interest seems to men and a man’s world. That doesn’t make him a sexist—just as if a filmmaker focused more on women and their world would make that filmmaker sexist.
What about if a filmmaker ignores minority characters? Does that make them racist? I don’t think so.
As for whether their films lack “interior spiritual and intellectual aspects,” I think it depends on what you mean. I don’t think I would have much problem lumping the two with the director’s you mentioned.
A male director who makes films about men is called sexist; a female director who makes films about women is a called a feminist. Just sayin’.
“A male director who makes films about men is called sexist; a female director who makes films about women is a called a feminist. Just sayin’.”
Kurosawa didn’t just make films about men. The Most Beautiful, No Regrets for Our Youth, and to a lesser extent One Wonderful Sunday, The Lower Depths, Ran and Rhapsody in August all present very major female characters. I think in each of those films there is rounder, fuller presentation of women. Especially the presentation of strength, female strength outweighing all male characters, in Ran and Rhapsody in August.
Part of this is a misunderstanding of what Kurosawa is speaking of. His world is not for third graders. Seven Samurai is a film complex enough to both mourn a thousand year old history and tear it down in a single sentence, “we have lost again.” Joan Mellen says in her Voices from the Japanese Cinema that Kurosawa, in his best jidaigeki films, is able to track the entire feudal history of Japan.
Really the only other filmmaker ever able to track a nation’s entire history in a single film was Ford. And Ford was working with 175 years of history, Kurosawa is working with over 2000.
Yeah, I have to agree with Jazz here. Just because their films are centered on the male, just because the women may not be three dimensional, that doesn’t mean they’re sexist. Do all movies have to have everything?
And btw- the women in Nora Ephron movies aren’t three dimensional either – is she a sexist (don’t answer that)?
As for the “physical and intellectual” stuff, that’s a different argument from the sexism argument. I won’t get into this as my familiarity with all three of these directors is pretty lacking (although I have seen and loved some of Peckinpah’s films).
And yes, Matt is stating the obvious.
Sam Peckinpah, sexist? How that idea got into your head is beyond me.
Max Ophuls only made films about women, specifically women who experience tremendous suffering. Does that make him sexist? Any person of intelligence knows the opposite is the case.
. . . and of course Ford made plenty of films that were strongly concerned with women—the mother at the center of Four Sons (1928), for example, Ellen McHugh from the partially-lost Mother Machree (1928), 7 Women (1966), Jane Darwell’s Ma Joad is very powerful counterpoint to Tom in The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and has the last word in the film, Hepburn’s embattled queen in Mary of Scotland (1936) is a very strong character, and Henrietta Crosman’s Hannah Jessop is certainly the center of Pilgrimage (1933).
That’s because the majority of female directors make films with male lead characters (the result of growing up in a misogynistic society where most stories are about men) so for a woman to break away from that, in most cases implies an awareness of this discrepancy and a willingness to make a film about women as opposed to just making a film.
And didn’t John Wayne care about Natalie Wood in The Searchers? That pretty much proves Ford liked women.
He cared enough to threaten to kill her if she changed at all from the girl he knew.
Ford cared about women, but Wayne didn’t in that film.
“Ford cared about women, but Wayne didn’t in that film.”
Aside from Ethan being in love with his brother’s wife, you mean? He cares about Debbie, too, but he has a pathological hatred of Comanches, so when Debbie is essentially forced to “become Comanche,” it becomes a matter of which will trump which.
“the majority of female directors make films with male lead characters . . .most stories are about men”
We’re all aware of the cultural dynamics at play, I would hope, so let’s not toss out anymore impossibly broad statements that are impossible to support with specifics (what counts as “most stories”? . . .many, many of the novels commonly regarded as greatest ever written are about women, for example). The point of what I said is this: one can not deduce the ideological content of a work going solely on the gender of its protagonist.
“The point of what I said is this: one can not deduce the ideological content of a work going solely on the gender of its protagonist”
Agreed — or going solely on the gender of its author/director.
That’s the other side of that equation, yes.
That’s a really great sentiment Matt and something that this site needs more of desperately.
They’re not sexist, their genres are.
I don’t think Kurosawa’s films are all weak on the intellectual side. Maybe a little simplistic in portraying them and the conclusions they come to, but films like Rashomon and Ikiru (Not to mention Dreams) are very intellectual. Just not particularly subtle.
It’s not that Kurosawa is intellectually weak, or even that he lacks subtlety. His seamless melding of more than one Shakespearean play into Japanese mythology, without betraying either, is proof enough of that. Not to mention he did that with other forms of western art, high and low. ;)
His issue is sympathy, which makes it seem as if he simplifies situations when he doesn’t. From Voice from the Japanese Cinema:
Mellen: Yet you also show so much sympathy in the film toward the kidnapper.
Kurosawa: It is very funny, but I just I cannot help it. I always think even the worst criminal should have his say. I tried to avoid these sympathetic feelings, but this much slipped from my hand.
And yet Kurosawa is still able to present a world, in High and Low, where one can justify the actions of criminals, brutal police officers and victims, or reject the actions of any one. Even if it makes his ideas seem more clear cut, in reality, it’s his ability to sympathize with multiple perspectives that adds the complexity in his work that makes them interesting.
My lack of subtlety comment was more directed at Ikiru. But also, in Rashomon he also has a character make a speech at the end about how awful everything is. Everything Kurosawa wants to express he puts directly in the dialog.
The ending of Rashomon is, personally, the only thing I have a problem with in that film. No defense.
But Ikiru, too, is relatively subtle if one understands the historical underpinnings of the “salary-man.” They, and the merchant class in general, are blamed in Japan for bringing in the end of the Samurai class of the Tokugawa era and thus for a long time they were treated with utter disdain.
So, even in a modern film Kurosawa is able to express almost mournful feelings of Japan’s feudal past, mixed with the modernizing post-war western bureaucracy and still find sympathy in a man dying a useless death in an ungrateful world.
Ford’s portrayal of three dimensional female characters is unassailable. Peckinpah’s portrayal was absolute. Only Kurosawa wanted it both ways.
It’s amazing how many men are willing to argue that sexism isn’t at large in cinema!
Try being a woman and you’ll see how differently you perceive the way gender is (re)presented.
Can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten into a really awesome movie only to see how shapeless, half-baked female characters function only to bolster the complexities of the male protagonist (yeah, Kurosawa included).
Edit: that last part came off a little strong. But the idea that a woman can make a film about women and be feminist whereas the male tendency to focus on men is considered sexist is not the result of hypocrisy. Women are half the world, yet only like 10% of cinema, so yeah, it is sexist to leave them out.
I think it’s more or less pretty undeniable that film culture at large is predominantly about male characters and tends to paint its male characters in more complex shades than its female characters. But if you were trying to make the argument here that what’s sexism for a male director is feminism for a female director, I’m curious for you to elaborate on how exactly that isn’t hypocrisy.
A Dangerous Method and Mental Illness in Movies
Wu said, Even if it makes his ideas seem more clear cut, in reality, it’s his ability to sympathize with multiple perspectives that adds the complexity in his work that makes them interesting.
I think High and Low is a terrific film, but the overall “message”—about the way capitalist values corrupt society and even contributes to crimes committed by the lower classes—seems a bit simplistic. To me, this is the most disappointing part of the film, but I still love it.
Imo, Kurosawa’s expressions of humanism, spirituality and social critique lack a bit of depth, imo. I’m not saying he’s superficial, but I do think there is an oversimplification about issues, specifically in terms of human nature. In many ways I think of Kurosawa in a similar way that I do John Steinbeck. Both great storytellers, but both having a more simplistic view of moral/spiritual issues. In terms of their understanding of human nature and spiritual/psychological matters, they’re not on par with Russians novelists, for example (although that’s not entirely fair comparison).
However, while there may be simplistic and didactic aspects of Kurosawa’s films, that doesn’t mean his films aren’t complex, rich or nuanced, either. I just think some of the humanistic elements don’t always come across in very profound or nuanced ways.
FWIW, I’m not making that argument. I think cinema, at large, is sexist. But are Kurosawa and Peckinpah sexist? Specifically, is any filmmaker sexist if they don’t have complex female characters or primarily focus on men and the male world? That seems to be going too far. The same thing applies to race, imo. A director who doesn’t feature minority characters and their worlds aren’t necessarily racist, right?
I believe Dogmeat is referring to sexism as the system rather than simply saying or doing something sexist. If I’m correct in that interpretation, I am in agreement with her.
I could get nit picky and say that I didn’t like Ozu because he was unwilling to portray sexuality in a more apparent manner. I’ve never been particularly pleased with how young people were treated in his films either. But that doesn’t mean that Ozu disliked sex and hated young people.
I think what we should take away from this is that while they had their flaws Kurosawa, Peckinpah and Ford were great directors.
You mean, the film industry—versus Kurosawa, Peckinpah, or Ford—is sexist? I wouldn’t argue with that much. Btw, I’m open to the possibility that the three directors are sexist. However, not featuring complex female characters or focusing exclusively on the male world doesn’t automatically make them sexist, imo.
You don’t like the way Ozu portrayed young people or you didn’t like what happened to them in his films? Personally, the performances by the child actors are some of the best in film, at least from what I’ve seen.
I don’t think there’s ever an excuse to ignore female characters is all I’m saying. Using female characters as a springboard for the subjectivity of male characters, I believe, is sexist. I think every director who makes a film that includes female characters, or minority characters, but doesn’t develop them or invest in their subjectivity in some way, is doing a disservice to cinema in general. Sex and race-blinders play a huge role in this: if you don’t desire to get an understanding about different forms of identity in the cinema, then you are obviously not going to notice or care when they are absent.
So again, each director that makes a film by and about and for men contributes to the larger schema of a white-male dominated cinema. I obviously can’t claim that Kurosawa or Peckinpah are themselves sexist. But in several of their films they neglect to flesh out a whole other aspect of humanity, so yes, I would say that is structurally sexist (different from misogynistic, mind you). I would point out here that many of my favorite films are by and about men, so I’m not holding an extreme grudge, it would just be more refreshing to see a larger percentage of films exploring female subjectivity (not solely in relation to MEN).
And one more thing I should answer:
@ My Name Is Bruce: “But if you were trying to make the argument here that what’s sexism for a male director is feminism for a female director, I’m curious for you to elaborate on how exactly that isn’t hypocrisy.”
I appreciate your logocentrism, but should men’s preoccupation with representing men be called “masculism?” I call it sexism because it’s based on exclusion or neglect…Feminist films are not neglecting men’s existence as subjective beings, but showing that women, too, can be subjective beings…
I never liked the way they seemed to be treated by both the director and his characters. I think it’s more my issue than it Ozu’s. I have always preferred the New Wave hell-raisers and their outspokenness to the more laid back Ozu generation.
It’s frustrating but I really think it’s my problem.
‘I think High and Low is a terrific film, but the overall “message”—about the way capitalist values corrupt society and even contributes to crimes committed by the lower classes—seems a bit simplistic.’
Or else it’s Dostoyevsky, this time from the perspective of the victim and the police, rather than Raskolnikov.
‘Everything Kurosawa wants to express he puts directly in the dialog.’
Oh man, where to begin? I think Kurosawa repeatedly does the opposite. For instance, at the end of Stray Dog, Watanabe says something along the lines that in time this will become just another case for Murakami. But even as he respectfully agrees the expression on Mifune’s face says something different . And we know there is an essential difference between the two – the younger man has served in the war, and for all his inexperience as a policeman he has seen something of human behaviour, and knows something about himself, that the older man never will, and it cannot be brushed side. Everything that happens in the film flatly contradicts Watanabe, giving this sympathetic and capable character the lie, rather than the last word.
This idea of reducing a film to a ‘message’ , and judging the director’s intellect thereby, is a parlour game for dullards.
“It’s amazing how many men are willing to argue that sexism isn’t at large in cinema!”
No one said that it wasn’t. Of course there is sexism in cinema. Again the point was not that it is not, but that one can make a film primarily interested in men that not sexist and a one could make a film primarily interested in women that’s not necessarily feminist.
“Women are half the world, yet only like 10% of cinema, so yeah, it is sexist to leave them out.”
OK, seriously folks—where are we getting these percentages from? Griffith took his portrayals of women very seriously, as did Feuillade, as did Dreyer, as did Lubitsch, Stroheim, Ozu, Mizoguchi, Naruse, Cuckor, Sirk, Rossellini, Ophuls, Bergman, Antonioni, Victor Fleming, Altman, and literally hundreds of other directors we could name.