The Bechdel Test

A black and white comic strip featuring two female characters going to see a film

A black and white comic strip featuring two female characters going to see a film

The Bechdel test aims determine whether works of fiction are gender biased. To pass the test, the work must feature at least two named female characters, who talk to each other about something besides a male character.

The concept is simple and you’re probably thinking, ‘that’s silly, I’m sure that most films pass that test’, which is what I thought when I was first introduced to the concept. Then I tried to think of any film I’d seen which would pass the test. I couldn’t.

The test originated from Alison Bechdel’s comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, in a strip from 1985 called The Rule, a female character states that she will only watch a film if it can satisfy the three requirements. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘Mo Movie Test’ after the female character but that isn’t correct as the character ‘Mo’ doesn’t appear in the strips until two years after The Rule was published. Bechdel has also said that she cannot take credit for the rules as she stole the idea from Liz Wallace whose name appears in the strip.

Half of the population consists of women who surely want to be represented on the big screen. And it would be offensive to assume that men wouldn’t want to watch women in film talking to each other, as if they speak some kind of elusive language that men don’t understand. So why is it that so few films manage to pass the simple test?

It’s hard to define why, Jennifer Kesler a film student raises some interesting points in her article on females in film. The frequent argument is that people don’t want to see them. Kesler mentions an industry pro once telling her “The audience doesn’t want to listen to a bunch of women talking about whatever it is women talk about.” But can that really be accurate?

As Cate Blanchett highlighted in her Oscar acceptance speech, “female films with women at the centre are [not] niche experiences” and “Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.” In fact two of 2013s highest grossing films were The Huger Games Catching Fire (5th highest grossing film) and Frozen (2nd highest grossing). Both of which pass the Bechdel test and more importantly, feature strong female characters. It is undeniable that people will pay, literally millions to see films where women feature prominently.

The Bechdel test simply looks at the cast of films and whether it provides valuable female characters. It is possible for a film to fail but still present a strong female character, Mako Mori in Pacific Rim is a good example. It is also possible for the test to pass and provide no strong female characters. But it is an important starting point, it helps to illuminate the lack of female characters in film, and hopefully as the film industry advances and grows, it will not be necessary.

Behind the Best Costume Design Academy Awards

Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan looks into the distance wearing a stunning crystal Prada dress and Tiffany & Co headpiece
Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan looks into the distance wearing a stunning crystal Prada dress and Tiffany & Co headpiece

Carey Mulligan as daisy Buchanan wearing the crystal dress from Prada and a Tiffany & Co headpiece

This year there were some outstanding nominees for the Best Costume Design Academy Award. We take a look at the sparkling dresses, period pieces and flapper fashion in the films.

Firstly, this year’s winner was Catherine Martin for The Great Gatsby. The adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgeralds 1920s novel was always going to be visually impressive, directed by Baz Luhrmann, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan and featuring pieces from the archives of Prada and Miu Miu.

Martin has said that she thinks there were up to 1000 costumes in total used in the film and 1,400 metres of French lace. While the costumes were certainly in the 1920s flapper style, they weren’t ‘old fashioned’. Baz Luhrmann said from the beginning ‘I want it to feel as viscerally alive and sexy as New York felt to Fitzgerald back in the Twenties’, not a sepia toned New-York.

Catherine Martin worked closely with Miuccia Prada on the wardrobe producing pieces that that were slightly modernised styles of fashions from the 1920s and sometimes the 1930s. Martin selected forty dresses from the Prada and Miu Miu archives that were adapted and worn in the film by various actresses including the Carey Mulligan as protagonist Daisy Buchanan.

The stunning crystal dress worn by Mulligan when Daisy finally attends one of Gatsby’s infamous parties was adapted from a Spring Summer 2010 Prada dress. Martin also partnered with Brooks Brothers for the men’s suits and Tiffany & Co for the spectacular jewellery. Tiffany & Co are now selling a range of jewellery inspired by the pieces in the film, the Jazz Age Glamour collection.

Michael Wilkinson was the designer behind the American Hustle wardrobe. Set decades after The Great Gatsby, the costume in the seventies film is equally striking.

There is a strong connection between the characters and their clothes in American Hustle and as they are conning and changing their game, their wardrobe fluctuates. “Each character has such a powerful and direct connection with their clothes and they’re really using them to reinvent themselves constantly as part of their hustle,” said Wilkinson in an interview with the Telegraph.

Amy Adams’ character Sydney is a strong female con artist (for the most part of the film) and her wardrobe reflects her demeanour; full of plunging necklines and powerful pieces. Most of Adams’ wardrobe was bespoke, created in the style of stars from the time (think Faye Dunaway and Jerry Hall). Several pieces were also sourced vintage from Gucci, Diane von Furstenberg and Valentino.

Jennifer Lawrence’s Rosalyn is a complete juxtaposition; she is chaotic, messy and over the top. Wilkin said of her character, “with her clothes she wasn’t quite getting it right, she was so in her own mixed-up, mental landscape that she was never quite sure what was appropriate to wear “. One of Lawrence’s most striking dresses was a very tight white piece worn later in the film in a pivotal scene.

Wilkinson also had fun designing the male characters wardrobe, “It was a rather expressive and exuberate time for clothes for men”. For Bradley Cooper’s FBI worker Ritchie Wilkinson chose ill-fitting polyester suits and ‘garish ties’ to match his (impressive) perm. But as he gets to know Sydney and Irv (Christian Bale) he begins to understand the effect that clothes have on other people. He wears silk shirts and three piece suits, exploring the power that his clothes can have on the people around him.

Other Oscar nominees for this year’s Best Costume Design Award were William Chang Suk Ping for The Grandmaster, Michael O’Connor for The Invisible Woman and Patricia Norris for 12 years a Slave. 

This week in history 24th February – 2nd March

This 1920's black and white image shows a middle aged man in tails looks apprehensively at a smiling young woman.

The Academy Awards on February 26, 1942 were a different affair. Following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour the previous December, the Academy wanted to show support for the war effort. The guests at the Biltmore Hotel that evening all paid to attend and proceeds went to the Red Cross.

Guests were also asked not to wear formal dress and the statuette that year (and all following until the end of the war) was made of plaster as the government needed all the metal for the war effort. The 14th Academy Award winner for Best picture that year was John Fords How Green Was My Valley, and the first award for a documentary was given to Churchill’s Island. 

In March 1926 Hitchcock’s The Pleasure Garden was shown to British Press. At the time, Alfred Hitchcock was a promising art director and writer. Critics were shocked by the film; journalist Cedric Belfrage who wrote for Picturegoer wrote that “Hitchcock has such a complete grasp of all the different branches of film technique that the is able to take far more control of his production than the average director of four times his experience”.

During shooting of The Pleasure Garden, cinematographer Gaetano di Ventimi hid the camera underneath Hitchcock’s bunk as they wanted to avoid Italian duties. When it was found the unexposed film was confiscated and the crew had to buy new film to shoot on location, increasing the films budget. The confiscated film was returned later. Hitchcock became engaged to Alma Reville while filming.

Events, offers and releases 17/02/14

In the foreground a couple embrace and kiss standing on rubble. behind them Pompeii burns and smoulders
In the foreground a couple embrace and kiss standing on rubble. behind them Pompeii burns and smoulders

Image via

The biggest release this week is Pompeii starring Game of Thrones Kit Harington as Milo a slave turned gladiator. Milo must save his true love Cassia who has been unwillingly betrothed to a corrupt Roman senator and save Pompeii before it is destroyed by the erupting Mount Vesuvius. Action, romance, and history – sort of, this is not based on a true story.

In Secret is also released this week starring Elizabeth Olsen as Thérèse Raquin, Oscar Issac as Laurent and Tom Felton as Camille. Set in 1860’s Paris Thérèse Raquin is a young woman in a loveless marriage with her cousin Camille. Raquin begins an affair with her husbands friend Laurent which leads to tragic consequences. Both films are relased this Friday the 21st.

This week also marks the beginning of the 10th Glasgow Film Festival. This year the festival will open with a premiere of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel and close with the Scottish premiere of Under the Skin.

The ten days are packed with events including a fancy dress gala screening of Young Frakenstein set amongst the Gothic spires of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, a mystery ‘cinematic descent’ set in a space never before open to the public below Glasgow Central Station and the opportunity to eat along to foodie classics, When Harry Met Sally, Rataouille and Goodfellas