Critical Research Example


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Critical Research Example

  1. 1. Example of a good Critical Research answer 1. Give an account, with examples, of the research you undertook for this topic. I chose to study ‘Women and Film’ and decided to take on the issue of how female directors portrayed women in their films, and what female audiences thought of female representations. Originally I had planned to study male interpretations of female representations but decided that this was slightly irrelevant to the topic. I began by searching the Internet to find similar research but found that I simply could not find anything closely related to what I wanted to find out. Search engines such and were helpful but I soon discovered that typing in ‘women in film’ or ‘female representations in film’ wasn’t narrow enough to get what I wanted. I ended up with results of web pages that simply contained the word ‘film’ or ‘women’ in their title but not both words so these were not very helpful regarding my topic. When I tried to narrow down my search to something like ‘representations of females in female-directed films’, few links came up so this wasn’t very useful either. In the end, the majority of my Internet research came from using very broad film websites such as which is simply a database of films and filmmakers. This was helpful for finding out about female directors such as Nora Ephron and also for getting synopses of films. On the website, I found a list of films for sale, all of which were directed by females. From this, I managed to compile a very useful list of ten films which were directed by females. Through these websites, I derived much of my secondary research as I found the Internet extremely useful once I had found a way to use its full potential. I also managed to find information on the making of the films with very detailed information about almost any production. This included all cast and crew names, most with a link to another page where their other work was described, lists of films of similar genres and short quotes from the films. I was particularly interested in the female-directed films, Clueless (dir. Amy Heckerling, 1995), You’ve Got Mail (dir. Nora Ephron, 1999) and Sleepless In Seattle (dir Nora Ephron, 1993). I decided to focus on Sleepless In Seattle as there was a copy available to me making it convenient and possible to watch and analyse several times. I used the website to get lots of information on this film. As well as full cast and crew lists with information about all the actors, I also managed to find viewers comments on the film which proved very useful. Finding these comments was also helpful as it gave me ideas for my primary research. I thought it would be a good idea to question my target audience, so decided to try and obtain some helpful and interesting comments from female film viewers. I managed to find a website with the whole script of Sleepless In Seattle ( This made it very helpful when picking out important quotes from the film, much more useful than watching the film endlessly. After concentrating on this film, I thought it would be sensible to focus on its director and her work. A useful website I found was which contained information about her career from writer to filmmaker as well as a very interesting university site, This was the transcript of a speech Nora Ephron made in 1996 to the graduating class of her old college, Wellesley Girls College. It contained some very interesting information about her views on femininity which, I noticed, are reflected in her film work. As well as the Internet, there was a multitude of other resources available to me to help with my research. The ‘Media and Film’ section of the college library proved very useful as well as some film indexes I already had at home. The 1996 British Film Index proved extremely useful, providing me with detailed information on my chosen films, as well as information on the directors, their other films and a thorough analysis of the genre and film. I found this source very easy to use as the index was set out in two ways, one by title, alphabetical and one by director’s name. This was useful when researching films by a certain director. Another helpful book was The Variety Movie Guide, (1999) by Derek Elley, with film stills and descriptions of films. These were helpful as the stills helped me to further analyse the central female character from Sleepless In Seattle, Annie Reed, in different scenes. The reference page which was helpful for further reading as it contained similar books and film guides, as well as other places to get information on Sleepless In Seattle. Also helpful was The Sixth Virgin Film Guide, Cinebooks, which included articles on every international film since the 1930s involving detailed plot breakdowns, cast and crew credits and also lists of Oscar nominations and winners which was very interesting.
  2. 2. From the ‘Film Theory and Analysis’ section of the college library, I found two extremely helpful books, Film Theory: An Introduction by Robert Lapsley and The Dictionary Of Film Terms and Analysis by Frank Eugene Beaver. I had originally expected to encounter a lot of problems trying to find theories that linked to, and supported my research, and to some extent, I did; but it was much easier than I had expected. I looked at many books which were just endless theories including feminist theories but many of these simply didn’t link to film in any way. However, the two books I did use provided me with many interesting theories to study and consider. I thought that it was important to look at many theories, in order to be objective. I wanted to get all opinions, not just one which would make my conclusions too narrow. Although the two books I did use were very helpful, I felt that they were too similar and between them didn’t cover a broad enough area of study. To compensate for this I decided to search the Internet for theories. As before, narrowing down my research was both time consuming and difficult. Eventually I found the best results from going to and searching for ‘feminist film theories’. This provided me with many interesting theories which I was able to link to my work on the films. Some helpful websites I found were: These websites tended to contain very long articles analysing the representation of females in films in general, as well as linking films to known theories by feminist theorists such as Laura Mulvey and Gillian Swanson. A website entitled, ‘Women In Cinema’ ( womFilm.html) was useful as it contained bibliographies and anthologies of useful books, as well reviews and filmographies which were useful in locating films and finding out their year of release. One particularly helpful website I found was a site entitled ‘Women’s Studies’. This was extremely relevant to my research. One section in particular that I found the most useful was a section of film reviews. It literally listed almost every slightly successful film made in the last thirty years. At first, I was under the impression that the films reviewed were all very strongly feminist, relatively unheard of films, but I was delighted to discover that all three of the films I ended up focusing on were reviewed. The best thing about these reviews is that they were all by women. This meant that I could extend my audience research further. As I was limited to researching only people around me, I wasn’t able to obtain a large sample or able to question women around the world who are exposed to film, which would have made it possible to draw conclusions about a larger population. Finding this website meant that I had written up, extensive, female views on the films I wanted to focus on. This not only extended my audience research further than the people I questioned and the few comments I found on the site, but it put the research I achieved into context, making me able to make statements of similarities and differences in female opinion. As well as giving valuable and honest opinions, these reviews were also very factual in their approach providing me with information about the directors as well as the film itself. My primary research was probably the most valuable in obtaining the most valid research, as I could see and interpret results for myself, both independently and objectively. This research consisted of the viewing of a short extract from Sleepless In Seattle and subsequently, a questionnaire regarding opinions on the film and its central character, Annie Reed, as well as comments on female directors and their films in general. When creating this questionnaire, I had to take care not to include any leading questions where participants may feel that they have to answer in a certain way to avoid ‘spoiling’ my research. An example of a leading question may be something like, ‘why do you think Annie is dependent on men?’ This gives participants an opinion, and they are unlikely to challenge it, as they are trying to be helpful. As well as this I had to avoid any clips of the film that would appear strongly biased one way or another to certain opinions, and try to pick a clip that portrayed Annie from all angles so that participants would give their own honest opinions. My questionnaire consisted of eleven questions, some simply ticking boxes and some requiring more detailed answers. I was careful to ensure that I covered a wide range of ages in my sample audience, so as not to get a biased sample, giving biased results. To ensure this, I made a point of asking people of certain ages to take part in my research, and included spaces at the beginning for people to indicate their age. In conclusion, my research consisted of a range of research methods and materials, some more helpful than others, but all interesting and beneficial. 2. What has your research revealed about the topic of women and film? Give evidence from your research to support your answer.
  3. 3. My secondary research has revealed quite a bit about the topic of women and film and the relationship between the two components. A useful resource, as mentioned earlier was the website where I was able to read women’s comments and opinions on any of the films on the database. The women that commented on Sleepless In Seattle seemed to love it, and seemed to enjoy the stereotypical romantic comedy very much, for example: ‘It would be really great, if all the people you met by coincidence would really be the perfect partner. The story was very sweet and romantic’ ‘Sleepless in Seattle HAS to be one of my all-time favourite movies. It's a great combination of romance and comedy. Meg Ryan is wonderful, especially in an early scene in her car listening to the radio. Tom Hanks is HILARIOUS and also a really great actor. This movie is really unique in a way that the male and female leads don't meet until the end.’ These women are obviously succumbing to the typical romantic comedy but these comments show why it is still one of the most successful genres, it seems that women simply love it. However, I don’t think that this source can be taken too seriously, as it does lack validity. The people that would have taken the time to log on to the website are obviously big film fans and arguably more interested in films than the average film-watcher. Therefore, perhaps these women are not representative of the female film-watching population. I had many ideas of the findings I thought would emerge from my research into the relationship between women and film. I thought that my research would show that women were against the stereotype of themselves, i.e. dependent on men and striving to fall in love, rather than to be successful in a career. I thought that female viewers would prefer a film that was very feminist and portrayed women as independent and headstrong such as Charlie’s Angels and Erin Brockovich. Something that backed up this idea of mine was the transcript of the speech I found on the internet that Nora Ephron made to her old single-sex college in 1996. Ephron spoke at great length of the messages that were drummed into her and her classmates during her time at the college: My class went to college in the era when you got a masters degrees in teaching because it was ‘something to fall back on’ in the worst case scenario, the worst case scenario being that no one married you and you actually had to go to work. . . . We weren't meant to have futures, we were meant to marry them. We weren't meant to have politics, or careers that mattered, or opinions, or lives; we were meant to marry them. If you wanted to be an architect, you married an architect.’ This shows how dependent on men women were, and how they weren’t encouraged to pursue a career of their own at all, almost to simply live in the shadow of the man. Ephron shows how she was different and strayed from society’s norms: ‘My mother was a career women, and all of us, her four daughters, grew up understanding that the question, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ was as valid for girls as for boys’. Ephron was clearly very headstrong and independent, and felt that females and males should be equal so from this, I thought that her films would portray women in this way. However, some sources, such as the comments from the website didn’t suggest this at all, but suggested the opposite, that women very much enjoyed films that incorporated the female stereotype, such as the romantic comedies. I also thought that I would discover very few female-directed films and that there would be very few female directors about. Linking in with the quotes from Ephron’s speech, I was convinced that any female-directed films I did discover would be feminist and all approaching film in the same way. I certainly didn’t think that there would be any females directing any male-based films. Both my primary and secondary research proved quite the opposite to what I had predicted I would discover about the relationship between women and film. When conducting a case study into my chosen film, Sleepless in Seattle, (dir Nora Ephron, 1993), I discovered that the film was quite different to the views expressed by Ephron in her speech. ‘There was an article in the Harvard Crimson about the women's colleges, one of those stupid mean little articles full of stereotypes.’ I thought it was interesting how Ephron talks negatively of female stereotypes but both Sleepless In Seattle, and Ephron’s other film, You’ve Got Mail (1999) portray the main character’s aim as finding the right man and settling down. Although careers are apparent in both women, Annie and Kathleen (both played by Meg Ryan), men seem to be the driving force of the storyline in both films.
  4. 4. However, reflecting on the validity Ephron’s speech as a source, it is quite possible that Ephron doesn’t hold these feminist opinions as much as she makes out in the speech. Perhaps, as she was speaking to a single-sex audience, she felt she had to come across as very pro-women, emphasising the need for independence. In order to try and prove or disprove my opinion of Sleepless In Seattle being the typical romantic comedy, far from feminist and independent portrayals of women, I collected findings from a sample audience. After the viewing of the extract from Sleepless In Seattle, and the filling in of the questionnaires, I gathered together my findings in order to draw conclusions and statistics from them. I was surprised to discover that my audience was quite ignorant as far as the topic of women in film went. Only 10% could name a female director and the same statistic was true for naming a film directed by a female. Where the representations of females were concerned, results were also very interesting. 40% of my sample audience said that they thought Annie was a good representation of modern women’s beliefs and desires, which does show that the representation to them was accurate and believable, although I had thought that the majority of the female audiences would find Annie too stereotypical and not feminist enough. However, only two people said that they could identify with Annie’s character but most of the reasons for the answer ‘no’ was a big difference in age, lifestyle and life experience. Results may have been more accurate if I had obtained a more representative sample. Similarly, I only questioned people in the UK. As Ephron’s characters all live in the US, perhaps American women would be able to identify with them better than my British sample audience. This is shown by the fact that the women who commented on the film on the website, who were American, seemed very positive about it, and as if they could identify. Of the ten women I questioned, nine ticked the box saying that they thought Annie’s main goal was to meet Sam and live happily ever after and only five thought that Annie was very headstrong and independent. This is interesting as ‘independent women’ seem to be what the director Nora Ephron tried so hard to portray in her films, especially after all the messages she received as a child. Either, she intended Sleepless In Seattle to be different, or my research cannot be believed or generalised. In her speech, Ephron discusses how her business is still male-dominated but how many wonderful females have directed wonderful films. ‘In my business, the movie business, there are many more women directors, but it's just as hard to make a movie about women as it ever was, and look at the parts the Oscar-nominated actresses played this year: hooker, hooker, hooker, hooker, and nun.’ This shows how Ephron believes women are still portrayed as either dependent on men (hooker) or completely rid of men (nun). I do think that my research isn’t quite valid enough, however, and it is quite possible that if it was replicated, different results would be found. The sample I took was very small and biased as it involved four people aged 16-20. Of all the people questioned, none said that they prefer a film with a female theme, or ‘girl power’ element such as Erin Brockovich, Legally Blonde, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Charlie’s Angels, Clueless or Thelma and Louise. This suggests that representations or female character don’t necessarily make a film popular, perhaps more the story line or maybe even the actors. To see if this was true my final question was, ‘When you’re choosing a film to watch, do you ever choose it by a male leading character you find attractive?’ 100% answered yes. So perhaps the theory that women are objects of masculine desire is wrong. My research suggests that it is the other way round. My findings don’t support the common view that all female viewers want to watch an ‘independent women take on the world’ type of film, and are particularly interested in female directors, but perhaps any film is good to watch as long as it portrays gender equally. My secondary research also provided me with some surprising information, quite different to what I had expected. I was shocked at the sheer number of female-directed films there actually were, and the genre of some of them. For example, I discovered that Wayne’sWorld (dir. Penelope Spheeris, 1992) had a female director. This surprised me, as the whole film is from a teenage male’s perspective which challenges the assumption that, stereotypically, females only direct romantic comedies or very feminist films. Also, breaking that mould was The Virgin Suicides (dir. Sofia Coppola, 1999) which is a thriller. The theories I looked at were interesting to tie to my conclusions that women aren’t only interested in films from a feminist point of view and that female directors don’t only direct very feminist films or romantic comedies. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema [Mulvey, 1975], was the feminist claim that ‘men and women are differentially positioned by cinema: men as subjects identifying with agents who drive the film's narrative forward, women as objects for masculine desire and fetishistic gazing.’ Although this is the opinion that I thought many females would have, both my audience research and my extended audience research from the wesbite showed the complete opposite so this theory does not support my conclusions. Early feminist criticism was directed at stereotypes of women, mostly in Hollywood films (Haskell 1973/1987, Rosen 1973):
  5. 5. Such fixed and endlessly repeated images of women were considered to be objectionable distortions which would have a negative impact on the female spectator. Hence, the call for positive images of women in cinema. This theory does link to my findings slightly better, as it ties to the comments Ephron made about trying to portray women accurately in films. It also links to my audience research as many said that they felt Annie in Sleepless In Seattle was an accurate, positive representation of women today, even if they couldn’t identify with her. There is definitely much more I could study in this area. The Internet showed me that there really was so much to find out, and so much information available to me. I would certainly continue with audience research as it proved the most interesting to me, being first hand information, where I could find out exactly what I wanted to know. I would definitely broaden my research here, and try to obtain a large enough sample to draw sound conclusions from in order to gain more knowledge about representations of women in film, how females interpret these and what female directors have in mind when making a film.