“Brainwashed”: Why film is a sexist world language

“Brainwashed”: Why film is a sexist world language
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Image: ORF

If you look at cinema as a hub for socially important issues, the documentary “Brainwashed” contains a lot of explosives.
The work of the Californian Nina Menkes explains in an impressively approachable, comprehensible and argumentative way how a world language shapes the perception, more precisely the reification and degradation of women: that of the moving image. The 59-year-old is not concerned with dialogue, duration of presence and content, but purely with the composition of the images, the visual language, which is so dangerous because it is supposed to make you forget and absorb everything in the best sense of the word.

Using exemplary scenes, Menkes opens one’s eyes to automated staging decisions that need to be questioned. For example, female sexiness is often negotiated with mute women soaping themselves in the shower as if for a commercial, and with close-ups that zoom out on body parts (breasts, buttocks, lips).

They move alone lasciviously with no plot relevance (like Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut, 1999). We see events from their perspective far less often than his (as with Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly in The Courtyard Window, 1954). Bodies are sexualized, with women appearing in slow motion (like Halle Berry in Die Another Day, 2002), while male nudity is equated with power, like Brad Pitt’s topless in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019 ).

If film criticism is taught to question images of women in such a way that one would also show a man in this way, Menkes’ work boils down to a more important question: Is a person staged fairly, coherently? “Brainwashed” also explains how Hollywood power structures were able to develop this outdated visual language, which constantly seeps into teachings and masterpieces worldwide – into those of men and women. You have to turn off this tap.

“Brainwashed”: USA 2022, 107 min., Director: N. Menkes
OÖN rating: five out of six stars
Now in cinemas

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