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Why women are getting a bum deal on film posters

Film posters are addicted to showing a faceless woman from behind, with her legs framing the real hero.

Don’t panic, ladies and gentlemen. Colin Firth hasn’t shrunk. His latest film is not about a tiny besuited man and his struggle to survive in a world terrorised by gargantuan women. If you look closely you’ll see that our old friend perspective is at work, and that Firth has been pushed to the back of the picture so that in the foreground a shapely female arse and pair of legs can frame him.

In a conscious aping of the poster for the 1981 Bond film For Your Eyes Only (complete with gun held downward in right hand), the publicity department for Kingsman have solidified the towering wall of posters using this curiously popular trope: man looks on at faceless woman’s legs in tight outfit; audience is lured into cinema by promise of pert buttocks; woman straddles and opens herself up to the real hero of the film.

In one trailer, Sofia Boutella, who is the woman in question and plays a character called Gazelle, has no lines. In another she has one line. You could be forgiven for thinking her character is not crucial to the film. You could also be forgiven for thinking that a poster in which Firth faced down the film’s actual villain – Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) – with Jackson’s arse similarly photoshopped, would not have drawn in quite as many teenage males. Proving exactly this, and that the technique is one of cynical cosmetics, there is another poster in which Jackson replaces Firth and looks menacingly at Boutella’s crotch. But their characters are in allegiance; she has no need to threaten him with a gun. The publicity department seem to have written “lady’s arse in tight trousers” on a whiteboard, and decided that, once they went ahead with that, nothing else would need to make much sense.

In a great deal of posters guilty of the same cynical tactics, the woman is not only cut off at the waist but is also wearing virtually nothing. To give Kingsman’s publicity department minimal credit, they have kept Boutella comparatively covered; but, realising that doing so probably wasn’t sufficiently arousing, they have made her trousers almost obscenely tight. Marvel at the effort that has gone into artificially enhancing the curvature of Boutella’s buttocks. That is someone’s job. Someone was paid to do that.

A famously dependable way of sniffing out sexism is simply to test whether or not a situation is as applicable to one sex as it is to the other. When was the last time, in other words, you saw a film poster on which the legs and shapely arse of a faceless man loomed over the heroine of the story? Answers on the back of a postcard, please. On the rare occasions that the technique is approximately reversed, something interesting happens: rather than being relative equals, both holding guns, it is the man who wields the power – generally with a phallic weapon – over terrified, scantily-clad women.

And, when a roughly comparable film like Tomb Raider comes along, a film in which the lead character is a no-nonsense action heroine, is Angelina Jolie a serious figure in the distance, framed by a titillatingly tight male tush? No. Her breasts are artificially pronounced and she is wearing tiny shorts. If you want an action film, in other words, you’d better just get on board with the fact that women’s bodies are its currency.

Especially in light of the paucity of women in the Oscar nominations this year, it is difficult to shrug the feeling that cinema caters primarily to heterosexual men. Posters like this reinforce the impression, however accurate it may be, and give women increasing reason to think that they are better off turning their back on the industry.

BBC/Chris Christodoulou
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Proms 2016: Violinist Ray Chen was the star of a varied show

The orchestra soaked up his energy in Bruch's first violin concerto to end on a triumphal note. 

Music matters, but so does its execution. This was the lesson of a BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus programme which combined both a premiere of a composition and a young violinist’s first performance at the Proms. 

The concert, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, opened with Tchaikovsky’s symphonic fantasy The Tempest, a lesser-known sibling to his Romeo and Juliet overture. The orchestra got off to a fidgety start, with some delayed entries, but fell into line in time for the frenetic chromatic runs that drive the piece. The end, a muted pizzicato, was suitably dramatic. 

Another nature-inspired piece followed – Anthony Payne’s composition for chorus and orchestra, Of Land, Sea and Sky. Payne drew on his memory of watching of white horses appearing to run across water, as well as other visual illusions. At the world premiere, the piece began promisingly. The chorus rolled back and forth slowly over scurrying strings with an eerie singing of “horses”. But the piece seemed to sink in the middle, and not even the curiosity of spoken word verse was enough to get the sinister mood back. 

No doubt much of the audience were drawn to this programme by the promise of Bruch violin concerto no. 1, but it was Ray Chen’s playing that proved to be most magnetic. The young Taiwanese-Australian soloist steered clear of melodrama in favour of a clean and animated sound. More subtle was his attention to the orchestra. The performance moved from furious cadenza to swelling sound, as if all players shared the same chain of thought. Between movements, someone coughed. I hated them. 

Ray Chen in performance. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Chen’s playing had many audience members on their feet, and only an encore appeased them. It was his first time at the Proms, but he'll be back. 

The orchestra seemed to retain some of his energy for Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Region. Composed between 1904 and 1906, this is a setting of lines by the US poet Walt Whitman on death, and the idea of rebirth.

The orchestra and chorus blended beautifully in the delicate, dark opening. By the end, this had transformed into a triumphal arc of sound, in keeping with the joyful optimism of Whitman’s final verse: “We float/In Time and Space.” 

This movement from hesitancy to confident march seemed in many ways to capture the spirit of the concert. The programme had something for everyone. But it was Chen’s commanding performance that defined it.