Size Matters: A Contemporary Reading of ‘Attack of the 50ft Woman’

Everyone knows that size equals power. Raw, unhinged power. The type of power to destroy or control, just because you physically can. Attack of the 50ft Woman (Nathan Juran, 1958), and all it entails, definitely stimulates some sort of dialogue about power dynamics between men and women – and not just because of the size of the protagonist.

For a B movie made in 50s, marketed at the pulp-sci-fi crowd, Attack of the 50ft Woman is not the most obvious place to spot feminism. And reasonably, it’s not what we would call a feminist film by today’s standards. However, it does do a very interesting job of reflecting attitudes about hysteria, power, sexism and marriage in the 1950s. It’s also unique in that (due to its narrative) actually visually depicts the power struggle between men and women.

In the midst of ‘satellites’ (alien spacecraft) sightings across the world, Nancy (Allison Hughes) and Harry’s (William Hudson) marriage is falling apart. After a short spell in a rehabilitation centre, Nancy has returned to town determined that her marriage to Harry will succeed. Harry has other ideas – namely getting his wife committed so that he can make off with her fortune (Nancy is pretty damn wealthy) with his new squeeze Honey (Yvette Vickers). Nancy knows Harry is a no good two-timing bastard, but her fatal flaw is that she loves him anyway.

Harry’s plan comes close to fruition as he plots to inject Nancy with a lethal dose of medicine, but is caught red handed. Just as he plans his escape from town with Honey, he is stopped by the town’s Sheriff and warned not to leave town. We then learn that, after a bizarre encounter with one of the satellites, Nancy has been transformed from a regular sized human to  (you guessed it) 50ft tall.

With her new physical power, she seeks out Harry at the local bar where he’s cavorting around. Angry and upset by Harry’s infidelity, Nancy destroys the bar (and a couple of other buildings along with it) and ends up with Harry (quite literally) in the palm of her hand. Unfortunately, she is then shot down by the Sheriff, killing both Nancy and and Harry.

Yes, it’s zaney, and there some very questionable ideas about women but there’s also some vein running through Attack of the 50ft Woman that I could get on board with.

Nancy is an incredibly wealthy woman, who is also treated terribly by both the townspeople and Harry. Her mental health is alluded to by the Sheriff, but only insofar as to say that she is basically crazy. She is written off as a wealthy but ‘troubled’ woman who has a drinking problem – one of the Sheriff’s department even saying that she is crazy, but she pays all of their bills so he does what she tells him to. Nancy is described to us in this way before we are properly introduced to her – and when we are it’s quite clear that Nancy isn’t a ‘mad woman’ at all.

Nancy’s main frustration stems from Harry’s inability to stay faithful to her. She is heartbroken, but this is read as hysterical by the men in the town. Attack of the 50ft Woman actually introduces the idea of gaslighting – Harry purposefully makes Nancy think that she is crazy, in order to have her sectioned and take her money. Knowing Harry’s plan, we can empathise much more with Nancy’s apparent paranoia, because she is right! Harry is having an affair, and she shouldn’t trust him at all! Gaslighting is a useful term – generally applied within relationships when one partner attempts to undermine the opinions or ideas of the other. Harry tells Nancy that she is paranoid (both about the alien satellite and his cheating), convincing her that she saw neither event and is simply imagining it. We know, and Nancy does too, that this is simply not true.

So how can Nancy rectify her anger, broken heart and lack of power in a man’s world? How can Nancy escape and get even with her gas lighting toad of a husband? Well, physically she overpowers him. She gets really, really big. One the one hand, Attack of the 50ft Woman is a pulpy sci-fi which features a giant woman in her lingerie, but in another very different reading it’s actually about how little power women can have within society.

Nancy is a white woman with a lot of money. A lot. Her diamonds are almost constantly talked about by herself, Harry, the Sheriff – pretty much everyone. When she is “attacked” by the alien, she tells Harry that it seemed to reach for her diamond necklace. It seems unlikely that an alien would have any interest in jewellery, but Nancy’s paranoia of losing her jewellery underlines her fragile position within society. She has very little power, but what she does have is solely down to her financial status. If she loses that, then there is nothing else she can lean on to be respected or treated as a human (even if this respect is fake anyway).

Of course, this analysis and identification with Nancy requires the film to read in a certain way. We, as a modern audience, recognise the sexism directed at Nancy straightaway. She’s considered hysterical (because she’s a woman), she isn’t taken seriously (because she’s a woman) and the men in the town are all top happy to cover for Harry when he is lying to her. I get the distinct impression that when Attack of the 50ft Woman came out, audiences would not have identified with Nancy at all. Now, though, we can see this film for what it is. A woman being gas lighted, lied to and emotionally abused whose only glimmer of hope to regain some of the power in her relationship is to quite literally overpower him.

Broadchurch Series 3: A Lesson in Rape Culture

One of my colleagues was recently discussing Series 3 of Broadchurch, and they mentioned that they disliked the way that each suspect turned out to be a red herring. It’s true that, since it’s creation, Broadchurch has been masterful at leading us down the garden path only to find the end has been walled up and paved over. Series 3, which focuses on the rape of a local woman rather than a murder investigation like previous series, is a bit different however. These ‘red herrings’ are not simply misleading subplots, but are part of a much bigger comment on the sexism and rape culture which prevails within our society.

To recap – DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Coleman) head up pretty much most of the police force in the small fictional beachside town of Broadchurch. In series 1, the two investigate the murder of Danny Latimer, a young boy known to many people in the town. A roller-coaster of accusations, motivations and suspicions, series 1 leads us to all manner of dark places. In a devastating turn of events, it is revealed that Ellie Miller’s husband Joe (Matthew Gravelle) was embarking on an wildly inappropriate relationship with Danny, which resulted in Danny’s murder. Series 2 focused primarily on the trial of Joe Miller, interspersed with some backstory on Hardy’s life. Series 3 took a new approach and opened with a new case for Miller and Hardy to solve.

Miller and Hardy meet Trish, late at night, on the steps of the police station. She’s visibly shaken. She explains to them that she has been raped.

Trish is taken into the station, and the three of them go over the events of the night. It becomes clear that the attack happened two days previously, and not the same night as was assumed. Hardy becomes agitated, frustrated that they have now lost two days in their investigation. Trish is clearly still in shock, but she asks Hardy and Miller, ‘Do you believe me?’.

Trish starts out as the ‘perfect’ victim. We assume she has come straight from the attack, that it happened only hours ago. There is no mention of alcohol, or sexual history to begin with. Trish is in shock and we (like Hardy and Miller) feel for her. Over the course of the series, Trish’s ‘perfect’ victim facade falls away. She had been at a party, she had been drinking…she’d had sex the morning of the attack, with her best friend’s husband.

Now, I don’t have to link you to the innumerable articles (mostly because that would mean linking to the Daily Mail/The Sun) which paint rape victims as responsible for their own attacks. I don’t need to tell you how unlikely it is that a rapist will be prosecuted if the victim was wearing a short skirt, drinking or has any sort of sexual history. It is actually very unlikely, regardless of the above, that the defendant will be convicted anyway.  The justice system wants victims to be ‘perfect’ to even have chance at conviction. There have been countless discussions by lawmakers and politicians discussing what counts as a ‘real’ rape, and what is just ‘bad manners’. 

It could have been easy to fixate on Trish as the imperfect victim and fall prey to the ‘what was she wearing’ rhetoric,but Broadchurch is far cleverer than that. Hardy and Miller never falter in their belief of Trish, and neither do we. The crime is a fact and is not up for debate. What is up for debate is who did it.

There were roughly 56 men at the party, all of whom are now suspects as far as Hardy and Miller are considered. These include Trish’s boss, ex-husband, lover, friends and various associates. Hardy demands all of these men are investigated and DNA evidence taken from them – with all of their whereabouts and motivations listed. It turns out that the men of Broadchurch are all hiding something.

Ed, Trish’s boss, has been stalking her (under the guise of wanting to protect her) and reveals he has been obsessively in love with her for many years. Whilst he see’s his behaviour as caring, we can see the threatening nature of his obsession and his history of domestic violence doesn’t help. The local taxi driver/serial cheater Clive Lucas, who went on a date with Trish, has her photo on a keyring in his garage. Jim, Trish’s one time lover, comes across as aggressive and threatening – claiming that if he had wanted to have sex with Trish, he could have. He wouldn’t need to rape her. Ian, Trish’s estranged husband, previously installed spyware onto her laptop in order to watch her if and when he desired. The spyware in question, was put there by Leo Humphries, a student of Ians. Leo is also revealed to be the perpetrator behind the attack but not quite in the way we expect.

Additionally, Leo had also been supplying pornography to two young boys in the town – Michael and Tom (Ellie Miller’s son). Miller is furious on discovering the graphic pornography on Tom’s phone, and this is prevalent sub-plot throughout the series. The young boys seem to be obsessed by it. Hardy’s daughter Daisy is also targeted by the boys, who steal her phone and share private photos of her around the school.

Perhaps each incident alone would go unnoticed. Perhaps we could (and we do) pass them off as ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘it’s just a bit of fun’. They may be tiny micro-aggressions individually, but once added up (and on a daily basis) they start to paint a very disturbing picture of the kind of culture we are living in. Specifically, a culture of disrespect and abuse of women. A culture where rape is just something that happens. Broadchurch has done a phenomenal job of outlining where these attitudes begin, and how quickly they become ingrained. The sexism which is so prevalent within our society often feels like the norm, because it happens every day.

It begins with degrading pornography (porn itself is a complex issue for another post), leaked private photos, or watching a parent behaving in a sexist or abusive manner.  It teaches young people that women’s bodies are there to be commodified, to be objectified. To be taken if you want them.

Broadchurch also makes a point of exploring how men expect other men to stick with them on issues of sexism. Whilst interviewing potential suspects, namely Jim, Hardy seems revolted by the things he says. Jim expresses that Hardy would have done the same thing in his situation (in reference to having sex with a young waitress at his wife’s birthday party). Hardy, in his role as a DI but also as another man, rebukes this statement. Unlike the other men in the series, who all cover for each other’s secrets and indiscretions in some way, Hardy makes it clear he doesn’t condone these actions. It is telling, however, that he seems to understand the horror of Jim’s words through having a daughter. It is not through personal empathy, Hardy perceives these words through the eyes of his daughter, a young girl who he is has some sort of ownership of. It is not at dissimilar to the ‘what if it was your daughter’ adverts which sprung up a few years ago. 

It serves as a reminder that, even though Hardy is a ‘decent man’ in comparison to the potential attackers, he is not above the endemic sexism within society and that even he can’t break away fully from the idea of ownership over the women in his life.

The ending of the series has caused controversy, which is pretty justified. In the final episode we learn the identity of the rapist, and it’s more complex than we ever imagined. Leo had essentially groomed Michael, a young school-aged boy. Looking to Leo as a mentor, Michael had his first taste of alcohol, his first sexually experience and his first ideas of ‘freedom’ through Leo. The attack on Trish was instigated by Leo, claiming that it was a sort of gift for Michael.

There is a certain expectation that we should sympathise with Michael. He has been subjected to the most toxic of masculine expectations and stereotypes, and his perspectives on women are formed by the things which Leo has said and done. Leo treats women as objects, mostly for fucking. At one point, he offers his girlfriend to Michael, telling him ‘she does what I tell her to’. He’s a terrifying character. Michael, on the other hand, seems to be given some slack. He was coerced into raping Trish and he understood (on some level) what Leo was doing was wrong. Is this a reminder that men who grow up within a patriarchal society are also deeply harmed by the values that men like Leo hold? That is to say, the idea of ‘being a man’ or ‘grow some balls’, or any of the other delightful sayings completely negate men as emotional beings too.

On the other hand, it seems like a certain cop out. Broadchurch doesn’t ‘blame’ Michael, but appears to blame the culture he has bought up into. Whilst this is certainly a huge factor, the rape has a perpetrator and that perpetrator is Michael. However coerced (or forced even) he felt, he could have walked away. Perhaps it is a sign that toxic masculinity is so ingrained within our society that Michael felt he had no choice but to rape Trish – lest he feel the wrath of Leo himself.

Perhaps the biggest failure in the ending is Hardy’s comment to Miller that Leo is ‘not what men are, he is an aberration’. Calling Leo abnormal ensures that we don’t investigate the toxic culture which has created him. He is not an aberration, he is the product of sexism and rape culture – and Hardy denying it feels like Broadchurch came so close to a real breakthrough, yet missed the point by miles.

Finally, I think it’s also important to mention how Broadchurch depicted Trish and the attack. Unlike most TV shows depicting rape (yes Game of Thrones I am looking at you), we never see the attack. Trish is a three dimensional character, whose story we follow from beginning to end. We see how hard it is for her to come to terms with what happened to her. We see Beth (Jodie Whittaker) working with her and other victims to try and get justice for them. There is a terrible onus on the victims (including Trish) to put themselves in the firing line in court, to prevent their rapist from attacking again. We see Trish work through the feelings of guilt, of responsibility. She is never just a body. Although it sounds like a very small thing, it’s something that we don’t see often.

5 Films For the Upcoming Apocalypse: A Guide

I’ve tried to put a funny spin on this because at this point if we don’t laugh, we are going to continually cry.

This could have been a list of informative and useless films to help us combat life under white supremacy. It isn’t. Instead, this is a list of films that I think accurately predict the dystopia we are now on the verge of living in. It’s not heart warming, and it won’t make you feel better about what is happening and for that, I am truly sorry. Try watching Mamma Mia if you want to feel happy for an hour and a half (though we all know Meryl Streep is totally overrated, right Donald?). If you want to wallow in the misery of the next four years and beyond – then come with me on a journey of apocalyptic doom and watch the following.

 

Mad Max: Fury Road

Fury Road makes the list for a number of reasons, not least because Donald Trump and Immortan Joe share the same hairdresser. Both of their ruling ideologies are rooted quite firmly in toxic masculinity and are clearly destructive to all who live under them. Immorten Joe thrives off his power over the water supply, and the crowds who gather beneath him when he finally lets them have a drink. Bet those crowds aren’t as big as Trump’s inauguration though…

It’s Immortan Joe’s treatment of women that is suspiciously similar to Trump’s opinions too. They are commodities, there to be objectified, sexualised or pumped for breast milk. Trump also treats women like commodities – I am sure we are all very familiar with the grabbing quote by now. It just shows how much he dehumanises women and feels we only exist to be fodder for powerful men like him. WE ARE NOT THINGS.

Also, as we have seen with the Trump’s persistence regarding going ahead with the Dakota Access Pipeline, Trump really fucking loves oil. Like Joe, he’ll do pretty much anything (including sacrificing human life) to get at it. In Fury Road, Australia has been turned into a dystopian wasteland because of the pollution and carnage to the planet. America will surely follow suit under Immorten Trump’s leadership.

 

Children of Men

I don’t think that Brexit or Trump have set off a chain reaction of infertility across the world – though there’s definitely a joke in there somewhere. Children of Men though, paints a fantastic portrait of what happens when the government decides to close of its borders and treat refugees and immigrants as if they are subhuman.

We have seen the beginnings of this. During the Brexit campaign, Nigel Farage once stood in front of a billboard depicting displaced young men coming from war torn countries having experienced horrifying events, the likes of which most of us could never imagine. The caption? ‘Breaking Point’. No, he didn’t mean breaking point for the thousands of people dying in Syria – he meant it was breaking point for the UK. This is a small snippet, a tiny glimpse into how the leave campaign used immigration as their main talking point, encouraging xenophobia and Islamophobia in the process.

This is what happens in Children of Men. A whole country turns a blind eye to the mistreatment, executions and torture of refugees at the hands of the government. The last scene, as Kee and Theo arrive at Bexhill-on-Sea, we see how those in the camp are treated. It’s stomach churning. The scariest part is that we aren’t worlds away from this now – detention centres like Yarls Wood are notorious for their lack of abuse and dehumanisation of its residents. With Brexit pushing racial hate crimes up by over 41%, attitudes in the UK are shifting very dangerously towards Children of Men’s depiction of humanity.

Most recently, with Trump’s ‘not-a-Muslim-ban’, we are closer to a Children of Men attitude towards refugees than ever before. Fortunately, the executive order has been halted for now, but it hasn’t done anything to relieve stigmas towards immigration and refugees.

 

Look Who’s Back

This indie film has made a few waves, and not only because it features Hitler time travelling to 2014 and instigating the reprisal of fascism in Germany. The strength of Look Who’s Back lies in it’s ability to make you laugh along with Hitler (yes, a phrase I never thought I would say) and then pull the rug very firmly out from underneath you when the realisation hits. You, like the characters in the film, have been normalising Hitler the whole time by laughing along.  

This is something that can seen across the UK and America. Instead of treating Neo-Nazi’s as the scum they are,  during Brexit the BBC actually interviewed one of them on the 6 o’clock news – essentially giving the swastika-tattooed young man a platform to air his bigotry. Likewise, Jimmy Fallon invited Donald Trump onto his show and, instead of showing Trump for the bigot he is, Jimmy Fallon ruffled his hair and sent him on his way. Nigel Farage has spent the last year posing for photo ops in local pubs. Nazi’s, in the Western world, are now called the ‘Alt Right’ – as if they are just a different version of the right wing, not bigoted maniacs. There was even an outcry when self-confessed Nazi Richard Spencer was punched live on air. I’d recommend watching the remixes here – very satisfying stuff. 

In Look Who’s Back, we watch in shock and horror as Germans around the country salute to Hitler, take selfies with him and agree with him on foreign policy. The hard-right is alive and well in Europe, and one of the reasons why Brexit ended up quite how it did. The thing is, the first half of Look Who’s Back posits itself as a comedy. We laugh at Hitler (what’s he like!), until he decides that actually, someone needs to really take back control of the country. We all laughed at the idea of Trump becoming President, but this is where we are now. Too late.

 

Dr Strangelove

There’s two very important reasons for including Dr Strangelove. Firstly, the image of twenty or so white men sitting round a table, very incompetently discussing nuclear warfare is something I think we will be very familiar with in the Trump administration. Sure, they’ve already had a room of white men discussing abortion, and (I quote twitter) there are more black people in Beyonce right now than there are in his whole administration.  I can just see Mr Trump on the phone to Putin, apologising for the small misunderstanding regarding the nuclear warhead that is now heading directly towards them. Then, boom. We’re all dead.

Secondly, Dr Strangelove depicts the American military as people who will go along with orders without questions, regardless of the possible consequences. I don’t imagine this will change much with Trump in charge. Though we have seen certain members of the judiciary system speaking out against his executive orders, we have yet to hear anything from the military. We all know that the US Army and patriotism go hand in hand, and judging by Trump’s inauguration speech – that isn’t going to change much.

 

Snowpiercer

Last but not least, we come to the environment. There’s no doubt in any of our minds that global warming is going to get a whole lot worse (hotter) because Trump believes it’s a conspiracy from China, and without EU regulation, the UK doesn’t have to adhere to climate change reform. So we should all be buying factor 50 as soon as possible.

Snowpiercer actually depicts a world which has tried to combat global warming, but has failed with disastrous consequences. Having left it too late to reverse the effects naturally, scientists attempt to cool the earth down but the effect is to plunge the plant into an Ice Age, the only surviving inhabitants circumventing the globe on a never-stopping train. Of course, Snowpiercer also depicts a world where the poor are shunned, exploited and made to live in horrendous circumstances for the benefit of the rich – which doesn’t sound too dissimilar from our current situation where 62 people have the equivalent wealth of the rest of the world put together.

It is the harsh realities of making the planet uninhabitable though which makes Snowpiercer a film to add to this list. The frozen tundra rolls by the windows of train, reminding all the passengers that they are stuck in their locomotive world due to their own incompetence. The inability to save the planet. I don’t believe that we will end up on a train, circling the Earth. It might be a lot worse. Especially considering that London went over it’s yearly air pollution “allowance’ for the year, within the first five days of 2017. This is in addition the fact that Trump thinks that global warming is a Chinese conspiracy… 


 

The one silver lining we can possibly take from this list is that there is always a glimmer of hope for the protagonists. Also, the protagonists are (quite firmly) not racists, misogynists or Nazis. In fact, it’s the antagonists that encompass these charming values. And what do we know about films? They are always right, right?

Forget Sam Smith: There Are Bigger Things To Worry About in the James Bond Universe

I really want to have a conversation about the James Bond franchise. Specifically, the way the Bond franchise treats women. Currently, many people are losing their heads about Sam Smith’s new song, ‘Writings on the Wall’, because it isn’t good enough to be a ‘Bond song’. Continue reading “Forget Sam Smith: There Are Bigger Things To Worry About in the James Bond Universe”

Why I Love Skyler White (and you should too)

There’s a lot of Breaking Bad mania right now, mainly due to the premiere of ‘Better Call Saul’ which debuted on Netflix a few weeks ago. Getting nostalgic about BB, and my favourite character, Skyler White, I decided to do a quick google search for Skyler to see whether anyone else is missing her. Apparently not. I always knew that the hatred for Skyler was monumental (and unwarranted) but when the nicest article is IGN’s ‘Why Skyler White Isn’t Terrible’ then you have to wonder what on earth happened? Continue reading “Why I Love Skyler White (and you should too)”