Reel Vulnerability by Sarah Hagelin (book review).

August 22, 2017 | By | Reply More

Now here’s an odd scenario. In her book, ‘Reel Vulnerability’, Sarah Hagelin’s opening examples are going to be pretty difficult to locate at a cheap price. I looked up the Barbara Stanwyck 1950 film ‘The Furies’ which is still a little pricy either side of the pond after a 2008 DVD release, let alone Marlon Brando’s ‘The Men’ (1950). Fortunately, later film examples are modern and you’ve probably seen, heard of or have them.

I should point out that the sub-title for this book is ‘Power, Pain And Gender In Contemporary Film And Television’ which covers a wide field but can see how they are linked. Although I can, to some extent, understand Hagelin’s desire to limit examples, it doesn’t necessarily follow that her selection is the best. If anything, it is rather too specific to eight films and four TV series than looking for examples across the generic board. It would have been interesting to have included examples where character vulnerability was badly written or gratuitous as comparison. It would also make me ask why such genres as horror and grindhouse which specialise in such things as torture aren’t covered. She’d probably have loved to have examined the torture episode from the series ‘Charlie Jade’ where all the answers were half-truths.

In case you’re wondering about any SF connection, there is a reference to ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ in the introduction and conclusion and an bigger section on the second version of ‘Battleship Galactica’ further in.

I’m not so sure if I agree with her about acting roles. All actors and even directors like to stretch themselves into unlikely work just to avoid typecasting as it gives their careers more opportunities.

I never watched ‘24’, simply because I thought they were stretching things literally by how much could be done in a single day without getting caught in traffic. Reading about the amount of torture committed by Bauer, looks like I’m glad I missed it.

The use of torture in any media for entertainment is always questionable, more so if the good side use it without repercussions or justifiable explanations. It hardly presents the right image to the susceptible for acceptable behaviour from characters who are supposed to represent the good side. Granted it might show what goes on in real life but, even so, it makes anyone vulnerable. Information under duress is also not likely to be admissible in court no matter the setting.

I have mixed feelings about this book. The concentration on scenes from these productions focuses primarily on the actor presentation and little or nothing on the scriptwriters who wrote them. The source is important after all. Are they writing scripts for the reality they’ve created, showing their own thoughts on the subject or just doing what their producers want them to do? None of this is helped by the number of additional and sometimes uncredited mixing pot of scriptwriters who come in and polish the draft. It could be all and other choices besides. How do we know? To rely solely on the screen performance doesn’t provide much.

Hagelin’s message gets hidden because of so much scene emphasis. She tells what goes on but doesn’t suggest other ways the writers could have gotten the same result. As a writer, I know the importance of buying into a reality but even I would ensure all other options are covered first. As torture comes up a lot in this book, the only thought it leaves me with is its being shown as the only option. For the American audience familiar with plea bargaining, offering a lot of leniency should at least have been offered although it doesn’t necessarily have to be carried out. To continually choose this kind of option becomes a lazy way to deal with a plot element and get taken for granted.

This doesn’t mean this book won’t make you think but I do think Hagelin could have put her message over better. You would certainly need to be worried about vulnerable characters and how much you accept when watching a film for its ‘normality’.

GF Willmetts

August 2017

(pub: Rutgers University Press. 211 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £66.50 (UK), $29.95 (US). ISBN: 978-0-8135-6104-2)

check out websites: www.rutgerspress.rutgers.edu and www.eurospanbookstore.com

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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