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[Sundance ’22] ‘Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power’ review: Harsh “truth” of the camera eye

Where the power lies.

Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power will change the way people watch movies. Based on the cinematic talk by director Nina Menkes, the documentary looks at the gendered lens of Hollywood shot design. Using almost 200 clips from movie favorites and cult classics, the film shows how misogyny infiltrates movies and its larger effects on modern society in general.

The objectification of women in film is nothing new. As Brainwashed points out, even blockbusters like The Avengers shoot female characters in a way that welcomes the male gaze. Menkes is not out to prove film is inherently sexist; that has already been done; she is trying to break down how. The documentary does so by breaking down the parts of shot design. The relation between the subject and the object, framing, camera movement, lighting, and the narrative they all combine to tell are discussed. Each part is given its own deep dive with clips shown to highlight the point.

These segments are well done and great examples are used. Some of the sections seem to move faster than others. On some occasions, there seems like there is more Brainwashed can go into. It sometimes seems like it is just scratching the surface. This may be due to the film’s layout. It is basically one of Menkes’s talks put to film. There are interviews interspersed, but some of the clips shown are literally Menkes highlighting movie clips with her laser pointer. The information is always solid, but the presentation is sometimes lacking.

As Brainwashed progresses, it goes beyond just talking about the male point of view in camera shots. Film is a visual language that everyone can understand. There is a direct correlation between that visual language to gender discrimination and sexual assault. There are some powerful examples (a Yale fraternity’s disgusting chant is played), but the documentary only touches on these issues.

[Sundance '22] 'Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power' review: Harsh "truth" of the camera eye

That being said, there is no denying that the documentary will change the way people watch movies. Menkes lays out powerful points with incredible examples of how movies have a very specific point of view. It has always been there, but it is so integrated in cinema, it has become accepted. By the time, Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power shows how Mandango used the camera, it is clear that movies are all about who has the power.

The Sundance Film Festival is online January 20- January 30. Tickets can be purchased and a full lineup can be found here.

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