I liked “The Queen’s Gambit” a lot. It reminded me of the movie 42 (which I also liked a lot) for a…

Friday, November 6th, 2020

I liked “The Queen’s Gambit” a lot. It reminded me of the movie 42 (which I also liked a lot) for a particular reason: In each case I had a strong positive response to the movie/show that I subsequently came to question due to my realizing the problematic nature of things I at first glossed over.

In the end I still liked it a lot, even loved it. But it’s a love colored by questions I have about the sources of my own appreciation.

Is my personal take on this something you’re actually interested in knowing more about? Read on after the cut!

Note: spoilers.

What I liked most about “The Queen’s Gambit”:

* The treatment of chess. They obviously cared deeply about getting it right, and went to obsessive lengths to do so. Most of their audience (including me) would have no real way to tell the difference without being at least decent chess players, but as far as I can tell (from the reactions of people way more into chess than I am) they met that standard. That kind of over-the-top attention to detail is something I care about. That the chess was (mostly) anatomically correct, down to the level of being based on actual grandmaster-level games that were reflected accurately in the characters’ emotions and actions was awesome. Idiot lectures were minimal. The depiction of tournaments was mostly accurate (albeit with some story-serving anomalies like players occasionally addressing each other directly). Besides that realism, the presentation of the games was really well done, in the sense that they didn’t repeat themselves stylistically. We saw lots of different perspectives on the games. There were medium shots of players and boards. Tight close-ups of the player’s hands, or their faces. The audience watching. Tournament staff repeating the moves on a big board. It was always interesting, even absorbing, and I’d blink and realize whoa; they’re actually showing a chess game. And it’s intense.

* The way Beth’s substance abuse was portrayed. There were points in the series where I grew concerned that we were going to trope-land, where the troubled genius spirals down into pills and alcohol, and it would have been boring. Trite/easy/exploitative. And then… they didn’t do that. When young Beth pulls off the big pill heist I was concerned that’s where we were going. And then the way they resolve that, with an over-the-top bravura climax to the whole young-Beth arc, it was breathtakingly good. The same with the latter parts of the series, as she deals with her addiction issues during the tournaments in Paris and Moscow. There was a trite version of that story, and they very much did not tell that version. Instead they gave us something that felt true, as Beth deals with her issues the best she can, with help from others at key moments. It was a positive story that nevertheless didn’t minimize the problem.

* The basic narrative structure, of the young orphan, the weird kid beaten down by the world, learning and growing and eventually triumphing, worked really well for me. I related to Beth, and especially as the show goes on it was exciting to see her become more capable and self-assured. In the scene with her adoptive father when he reneges on the house arrangement you realize that oh; Beth is approaching it as a chess match. She sees the board, is way ahead of her opponent, and is ruthless about pressing her advantage. The look her lawyer gives her at the end of that scene was great.  

* The deeper theme of her found family was beautifully realized, right up to the final scene in the park. Taylor-Joy sold all the key moments in that journey so well, and it made that conclusion completely satisfying and earned.

* There was more that I loved: The period details, the clothes, the cars. Though with the cars, there was a specific thing that was bugging me until I figured out what it was. I grew up watching period pieces from times before I was actually around. But this show, set in the U.S. of the late 1960s, is showing a place and time I actually lived in. So details matter. And with the cars, there was a subtle artifact of unreality: Everyone was driving cars that weren’t actually accurate depictions of what they would have been driving. Instead they were driving cars of that era lovingly restored (and beautifully shot), but still recognizably 21st-century cars. When Beth and Benny drive to New York in Benny’s car, it was the right car (a 1966 VW bug; actually the first car I owned). But it was a ‘66 bug as it looks today when restored by a collector. It wasn’t the version of a ‘66 bug that Benny would have been driving. It should have been scruffier (just like him and his apartment). That was a cheap car at the time, and the right car for his character to have, but it didn’t look like a cheap car. I guess it would be asking too much for them to have gone to the level of not just getting the right car, but of distressing it to look appropriate. I don’t know; as with Beth’s journey toward glamour the cars (and clothes) were treated as eye candy. And on some level I’m sure that was working for me, so maybe I shouldn’t complain.

But that brings me to the thing that I realize was problematic:

* The series at times was super male-gaze-y. The depiction of Beth’s relationships was good, and realistic to who she was. But at a certain point in a series created, written, and directed by a dude, the dude-specific viewpoint was bothersome. And I get that this was part of the story being told: Beth is operating in a world dominated by men, and her reactions to that were interesting. But is that really worthy of elevating as the default frame? The exceptions to that (her relationships with her friend Jolene, and with her adoptive mother) were good, but at times felt peripheral to the main focus, which was on the men dealing with/reacting to Beth. And that’s where it reminded me of 42, with its white-savior narrative that at times seems to focus more on the white characters around Jackie Robinson like Dodgers owner Branch Rickey and shortstop Pee Wee Reese than it does on Robinson himself. And I get that that’s probably a significant part of why the movie (and “The Queen’s Gambit”) worked so well for me in particular: I’m a straight, white, heterosexual dude. So I invest in the drama of the white people around Jackie Robinson, or of a male chess nerd staring slack-jawed at Beth Harmon dancing in her underwear. It works for me because it’s designed to appeal to my perspective. And in each case it’s also a good story with transcendent performances from Chadwick Boseman and Anya Taylor-Joy. What they (and the rest of the people who made these creations) are doing is great, and rises above the limitations of the framing. But I can’t stop myself from wondering: Is it really as good as it seems to me? Or does it just seem that good to me because of who I am?

Reposted from https://lies.tumblr.com/post/634079243850104832.

I’m looking forward to getting more backstory. It would have…

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

I’m looking forward to getting more backstory. It would have been even better if it featured the characters from the movie, rather than these cardboard cutouts from a male-gaze-y AU.

Reposted from http://ift.tt/1JSCsps.

Male Gaze, composition choices, and Mad Max’s ‘locker room’ eye

Sunday, June 14th, 2015


So there was this one reblog on that post where I discussed Center framing, Composition, and Male Gaze with this comment:


The comment continues in typical mansplaining manner but I want to address this first bit specifically. Because the assumption that the women are framed that way because it’s an action shot is wrong from a technical standpoint.

There is a difference between Wanda gesturing with her hands almost having no space for her head in a composition that highlighted her breasts …


…and the way Tony is given ‘headroom’ while gesturing with his hands (see: any Iron Man Trailer). He still has his face prominent at the sweet spot of the Golden Ratio (for more discussion on what/where this is scroll down to the diagrams), his hands are on the other sweet spot, and it’s a very dynamic pose with great use of diagonals both foreground and background.


There is also a difference between Natasha almost having to bend her head so that her face stays on the screen while her chest and hips land in the sweet spots…


And the headspace that is given Thor. Thor’s face lands on upper Third (Rule of Thirds). They are both holding/threatening with weapons. 


But wait! you say, what if we want to emphasize the weapons?

Yeah there’s a way to do that too, without sexualizing your character and smashing their head almost off the frame…

Keep reading

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