Film director Nina Menkes' documentary is an angry, urgent, meticulously researched piece of agitprop designed to alert the casual cinemagoer to the prevalence of the misogynistic male gaze in mainstream and arthouse cinema. So far, so expected. But Menkes goes further, marshalling in excess of 200 film clips from a century to a year ago to show how that male gaze has not changed, even when the director is a woman, or in the wake of the Me Too movement. Instead, as one of her academic interviewees posits, cinema merely hoovers up whatever is toxic in pop-culture and gives it back to us, amplifying it in the process. Finally, Menkes argues that by normalising sexual objectification and sexual violence, cinema actually creates an industry in which women are radically under-represented AND serially exploited, whether in front of or behind the lens. The statistics are horrendous and show no signs of amelioration.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film as a kind of illustrated lecture. Its central thesis is well argued even if I didn't go all the way with it. Sometimes a scene has to be shot a certain way to get the point across - I thought the criticism of Bombshell, for example, was misplaced. But even if one isn't entirely signed up to the more extreme arguments, there's a real pleasure in seeing someone with such a deep command of cinematic history marshalling clips and analysing lighting, camera angles and framing to give us the meta-narrative. In that respect, it reminded me of Mark Cousin's superb Story of Film series.
BRAINWASHED: SEX-CAMERA-POWER has a running time of 107 minutes. The film played Berlin and Sundance 2022 and will play the BFI London Film Festival 2022. Tickets can be purchased here.