Innovative Cultural, Material, and Performance Studies Scholarship

Winter 2021

Vol. 21 no. 1

Bryan Bove’s comprehensive research on methods used by Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, together with his comparative analysis of responses to Birds of Prey (Cathy Yan, 2020) offered by fans, critics, and the review-aggregation websites, offer valuable contributions to gender and reception studies. Riddhima Sharma’s wide-ranging inquiry into the cultural and legal complications surrounding the Netflix series Sacred Games (2018-2019), the streaming service’s first attempt in Indian programming, illuminates both the certification complexities created by digital offerings and the dynamics of cultural censorship in twenty-first century India. Frank P. Tomasulo’s article revisits Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Red Desert (1964) to shed new light on ways that Monica Vitti’s telling but understated gestures and expressions combine with the film’s precisely calculated framing and mise-en-scéne selections to convey her character’s inner experience and the unspoken discontent of women belonging to the character’s cultural milieu. Nicholas Forster’s concluding essay illustrates the communicative power of subtle performance choices in its perceptive analysis of a scene featuring Donald Sutherland in the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice

                       --Cynthia Baron, Editor

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Birds of Prey and Its Not-So-Fantabulous Sexist Reception: What Aggregated Data on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic Reveal about DCEU Fan Culture and the Action Genre

by Bryan Bove

This essay discusses the methods employed by review-aggregation websites to collect data for their film scoring systems, and explores the discrepancies in information representation when the websites are collecting and using data from the same sources. Drawing from a specific matched sample set consisting of reviews compiled by both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic for the 2020 film Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), it examines the ways in which review-aggregate websites regulate the narrative of a film’s reception by critics and fans. It also considers the gender biases that exist within the action genre, as revealed by the aggregated information presented for Birds of Prey, as well as the ways in which the aggregated scores assigned to movies on these sites tends to skew male because of inequities within the film review industry, with the result that they do not always present the most accurate scores, particularly when it comes to action films with female leads.

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State Censorship, Self-Regulation, and the Politics of “Hurt” Sentiments in the Age of Digital Streaming: The Case of Sacred Games in India

by Riddhima Sharma

This article examines the controversy in India surrounding the release of the Netflix original series Sacred Games in 2019. It seeks to critically locate attempts to censor the series through both legal and extralegal means within India’s legal-institutional film certification apparatus, and the peculiar practice of extralegal/informal censorship of films in India by political, cultural, and religious groups or individuals on the grounds of “hurt” sentiments. It also explores the (un)certainties surrounding the future of digital streaming content regulation in India by piecing together key discursive events from media reports and briefly discussing potential future possibilities for digital streaming content regulation in India.

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Revisiting Classical Theories of Screen Acting: Béla Balázs on Monica Vitti

by Frank P. Tomasulo

The cinema of Michelangelo Antonioni has produced a voluminous scholarly literature. Most of that erudition has focused on the director’s recurring themes (modern alienation, gender relations, fear of nuclear war, the state of the Italian bourgeoisie, Nature vs. Civilization, etc.) and innovative film style (loose narrative structure, long takes, modernist montages, stylized yet realistic mise-en-scene, poetic and painterly use of color, prominence of landscapes, etc.). Few of these director studies address the question of acting in the filmmaker’s oeuvre, a lack that has been common for most academic writings on cinema until fairly recently (and still is to a certain extent). This article analyzes the performance of Monica Vitti in Antonioni's Red Desert in order to examine the ways in which external performance tropes, as molded by the film's director, convey the internal pathology of the psyche of Vitti's character. 

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Donald Sutherland's Gated Tears in Pride and Prejudice (2005):
What It Means To Process a Necessary and Joyful Loss

by Nicholas Forster

This article provides a close analysis of the performance of Donald Sutherland in a single scene from Joe Wright's 2005 film adaption of Pride and Prejudice. It argues that his performance as Mr. Bennet showcases his ability to stand in contradictions, visualizing what it is for a father to process his daughter’s declared love alongside a concern that another faux pas, another misstep in the social decorum that dictates life, has visited itself upon the Bennets.

(This article was originally published in the author's online newsletter, Looking at the Floor, in April 2020 and is linked here with the author's permission.)