Episode 0.5 - Criteria
Well hello! Some of you may be familiar with my segment on the awesome and longest-running poly podcast: Polyamory Weekly, hosted by the fabulous Cunning Minx. I decided that the segment needed its own podcast. I will continue to submit segments to Poly Weekly, so this stand-alone podcast will be a tiny bit different.
For one thing, it'll be longer. Poly-ish Movie Reviews started out as a written column on my blog, joreth.dreamwidth.com. Minx started including shortened, edited audio versions of some of those reviews in the Poly Weekly podcast. Because the audio version was just a segment in a larger show, I limited myself to roughly 5 minutes per review. For this stand-alone podcast, I'll be doing the full, uncensored, unedited reviews without cutting for time. The length of each episode will vary, depending on the length of the review. Generally speaking, bad reviews tend to be longer because I don't want to give too many spoilers for good movies. So they'll all be as long as they need to be and I won't be setting a consistent time limit for the whole series.
For Poly Weekly, I also only included reviews for movies that did end up having some poly content and left out all the crap that had nothing to do with poly but gets included on "poly movie" lists anyway. Here, you'll get to hear all my bad movie reviews (and believe me, most of them are really, REALLY bad). These will likely include a lot of swearing, so you probably don't want to listen to this podcast at work without earbuds.
Things like movie reviews are highly subjective. Just because *I* like or don't like a movie, it doesn't necessarily mean that you will like or not like it. So I will be doing my best to separate my evaluation of the movies into two scales - one being how much poly-ish content there is which is a somewhat objective metric, and the other being what I personally enjoyed or didn't enjoy about it. If you don't agree with my taste in movies, hopefully you will be able to tell what parts are subjective and disregard them, and which parts are more factual about poly-ish content and heed those, so that even a podcast about subjective feelings will still have some value for you.
For this first episode, I won't be reviewing any movies. Instead, I'm turning my Poly-Ish Movie Criteria List into an episode, to set the foundation for my upcoming reviews. This criteria will explain how I'm reviewing each movie and why I make the choices that I do for determining which movies get classified as poly-ish and which don't. You'll notice that I keep saying "poly-ish", instead of "polyamorous". Since the term was only coined in 1990, and since it's still mostly a fringe "lifestyle", we don't exactly have a wealth of poly entertainment to choose from. Plus, as with all taxonomy, the borders of polyamory are kinda fuzzy.
So I extended my criteria to allow for a wider range of movies than strictly "polyamorous". Polyamory may be a distinct classification of non-monogamy, but it shares many values in common with other classifications. As long as the values expressed are values that are also integral or important to polyamory, then I might call something "poly-ish" and recommend the movie for having poly values.
So, onto the criteria. I'll be referencing several movies in the criteria because I originally wrote it after I had already reviewed those movies. If you haven't seen or heard of them yet, don't worry, those reviews will be in future episodes. Or, if you don't want to wait, you can read about them on my blog.
Movies That Do Go On The List
If the movie has a functional, happy relationship that includes more than two people, even if they are not main characters, it goes on the list.
If the movie has a relationship that includes more than two people, and may not appear to be "happy" or "functional" because of viewer's subjective definitions of "happy" and "functional" but still gives the characters a "happy" ending / implies that they are happy with their choices and is clearly a multi-partner family group (i.e. Café Au Lait & Rita, Sue & Bob Too), it will probably go on the list.
If the movie is a documentary or TV interview showing real people in consensual, honest, loving multi-partner relationships, even if the relationship ends poorly, it goes on the list (Three of Hearts & Cat Dancers).
If the movie has a poly or poly-ish relationship that ends due to outside pressure or personality conflicts, but seems to be an otherwise functional and happy relationship and it was not the polyamory that caused the breakup (i.e. Paint Your Wagons), it goes on the list.
If the movie shows positive and/or realistic scenarios of poly issues & situations, such as coming-out conversations, dealing with discrimination (i.e. Esmeralda Comes By Night), overcoming jealousy, reaching out to metamours, etc., it goes on the list.
If the movie shows a clear and unambiguous multi-adult intentional family, regardless of who is having sex with whom (The Wedding Banquet), it will probably go on the list.
Movies That Do Not Go On The List
If the movie has a dyad that tries a threesome, and it goes horribly wrong because someone is psychotic (i.e. Trois), it does NOT go on the list.
If the movie has a relationship with two or more people who cannot communicate, who are jealous, or who otherwise demonstrate or imply that open relationships are impossible and doomed to fail (i.e.Sleep With Me & Portrait of an Open Marriage), it does NOT go on the list.
If the movie makes any character choose one partner over another, and especially if it implies that choosing one makes the protagonist happy in spite of the jilted lover being a decent partner (i.e. Sweet Home Alabama), it does NOT go on the list.
If the movie shows one character in love with 2 or more others, and the only possible resolution is for the movie to kill one off to justify loving more than one (i.e. Pearl Harbor - it's OK for widows to love current & former partner) or make one totally unsuitable and therefore an obvious Bad Choice (i.e. Carolina & pretty much every romantic comedy), it does NOT go on the list
If the movie is a clear example of why we have the phrase Relationship Broken, Add More People, and why that is a sarcastic and derogatory phrase implying a recipe for disaster (i.e. Sex And Breakfast), it does NOT go on the list.
If the movie seems to be written with a tone that implies that open relationships cannot work, it does NOT go on the list.
i.e. the monogamous characters are the sympathetic protagonists / poly characters are the "bad guys" / antagonists
i.e. the poly characters' decisions only make sense in the context of a writer who doesn't understand polyamory
Cheating - movies about cheaters and cheating do not go on the list, but there are some circumstances that may exempt a cheating movie.
If the cheater(s) comes clean & they attempt to switch to an open and honest relationship (i.e. Summer Lovers), it might go on the list.
If the cheating involves more than sex and/or loving feelings for both the spouse & secret OSO, and there is some kind of social constriction, such as a historical era or a conservative culture, that prevents the characters from being honest and having a happy ending while still being realistic, the movie might go on the list if the tone is compassionate and sympathetic and not condemning (i.e. Same Time Next Year).
If the cheating includes justifications, selfishness, lack of empathy or concern, and those things last for the duration of the movie with no change in position or a refusal to acknowledge the hurt being caused, the movie does NOT go on the list
If the cheating includes a psychopath, like the cautionary threesome tales, the movie does NOT go on the list.
Other sorts of exemptions:
Open Relationship vs. Polyamory - movies that are all about lots of sex partners don't go on the list, but if a movie is particularly ambiguous or ambivalent about the presence of love among the partners such that it rides that fuzzy line between polyamory and other types of consensual non-monogamy, it might go on the list. If the lessons and morals of the story are particularly true or important for poly relationships, that might tip the scales in favor of the list, such as a movie about swingers that emphasizes honesty, communication, and compassion and/or that develops loving friendships between the extramarital partners (i.e. Swingtown).
Non-Sexual Intentional Families - it is usually assumed that "romantic" relationships have some element of sexuality in them to make them "different" from platonic friendships. There are some movies that may be exempted from that assumption. In the case where there are clearly more than 2 adults who are in a family that, for all intents and purposes, looks like a "romantic" family, even if some members are not having sex with each other, it might go on the list. If there are, for example, 3 people who choose to raise children together and live together, even if 1 member is not sexual with the other 2, as in The Wedding Banquet, if the "family" is emphasized strongly enough, it might make the list. Films from other eras or cultures that have a stronger taboo against non-marital sex may include a multi-adult family without sex and yet still have the tone and feel of a "romantic" family, such as Design For Living.
Breakups & Death - movies that have the relationship end with a breakup or death do not generally go on the list, but there are some circumstances that may exempt a movie with a sad or tragic ending.
If the breakup has nothing to do with the polyamory, but has to do with outside influences, such as the country going to war & separating people, or the pressure to conform to social standards is too great (usually due to the era), the movie might go on the list (i.e. Head In The Clouds & Paint Your Wagon).
If the movie has other valuable elements in it, such as examples of common and important conversations (coming out, discrimination, overcoming jealousy, etc.), or is a true story of an actual poly family, such as a documentary (i.e. Three of Hearts), then even a relationship that ends poorly may be added to the list.
Movies where characters die are not automatically excluded from the list - it depends on what role that death plays in the story. If the death is just a part of life in the story, and not the sole justification for someone loving more than one (i.e. Carrington), it might go on the list. But if one character is torn between two others, and the only way the character can justify loving them both is for the movie to kill one of them off (i.e. Pearl Harbor), it does NOT go on the list.
So, hopefully that gives you an idea of what I'm looking for in a movie to classify it as poly or poly-ish. If you know of a movie plot that is questionable and you don't see a guideline for it here, let me know and I'll attempt to refine the guidelines.
Some people may wonder why I'm bothering to put so much effort into this. Why do I care about poly content in movies? Why do I take so much time out of my life to watch them and review them? Here's a little background on me. I have a passion for movies. I work in the entertainment field and have for 25 years. The first time I went to college, I took an acting for film and television class where I also ran the camera when I wasn't in that particular scene (we all took turns running the equipment). At the end of the first day of class, my professor insisted that I change my major from marriage & family counseling to broadcast and he offered me an internship at a TV studio right then and there. My second time in college, I majored in film. My goal was to go into cinematography, but, as they say, life is what happens to you while you're making other plans.
I currently work as a freelance camera operator for live events, but movies remain a passion. Like many pretentious film students, I spent all my disposable income at the movies and all my free time sitting around with my film buddies talking about and analyzing the films we saw. I actually used to cut one of my broadcast classes to go to the movies with one of my film buddies on a fairly regular basis. Much like my reading list, I've seen so many movies, that sometimes I can't even remember if I've seen that movie or not, until I start watching it again. I've probably forgotten more movies than many people will ever see in their lifetime, again, much like my reading list.
I've always been a story-teller, and from a very early age, I've been fascinated and drawn into the art of storytelling through technology like film and television, and to a lesser degree, photography (which I also do a little freelancing in). In middle school, I decided that I wanted to go into producing music videos because there was something so challenging and inspiring about the restrictions of a 3-minute video with no dialog that had to enhance someone else's "score" - the song we were making a video for. I never lost that dream, although I did briefly diverge from that path in the beginning of my college career due to my parents convincing me that there was no money in entertainment and to settle for my second love, the science of relationships.
So now I get to put those things together. I get to use my understanding of the science of relationships and my involvement with the poly community and the modern poly movement as an activist to evaluate and analyze lots and lots of movies. Even when the movie is bad, I still get a rush out of contributing something back to my community.
One of the things that fringe or alternative communities like ours has a problem with is a sense of culture to draw us all together. Those communities that build a rich and diverse culture, like the LGBTQ community or the kink community, tend to grow and thrive even in the face of adversity. Those communities that don't, like the nudist communities, tend to peak and then fade away, or at least remain mostly invisible. When our community is based on things like love and sex, the very topics that have been driving art for centuries, we can feel a little bereft when we don't have many examples of art to represent our community.
So I get to perform a small service by seeking out examples of one style of art and bringing them into our community to celebrate and participate in. Doing so has introduced me to some truly horrible time-wasters, but it has also introduced me to some real gems that our community can take pride in claiming as representative. And because I enjoy performing this service so much, I have been honored by the Kinsey Institute with the title of Chairman of Media Acquisitions for the Poly Collection. US Copyright law allows certain exemptions from copyright violations, among them is copying media for the purpose of education and archiving. Dr. Ken Haslam has been the curator for the Poly Collection at the Kinsey Institute from the early days before anyone else even thought we might want a record of our beginnings.
Dr. Haslam has been a near miracle worker in obtaining valuable references to polyamory from the days before everything was saved on the internet, like old letters found by grandchildren in attics of relatives who have passed away and such. But because of the technological and legal difficulties, there was a dearth of movies, songs, and like artwork in the collection. Given my background and my interests, I was in the right place at the right time to correct this. Since I had to watch each movie to confirm that it was, in fact, a poly film before it could go into the Collection at Kinsey, and since I had just started the movie review blog anyway because I was irritated at the giant lists I found online with all sorts of crap listed on them, Dr. Haslam asked me to contribute movies to the Poly Collection. I've provided so many movies now, that I was awarded the fancy title and I've made it my personal responsibility to build the largest collection of poly movies in the world for Kinsey, for future generations to look back on.
This podcast is one more contribution, one more little gift that I can give to Kinsey, to the poly community, and to our future. I hope you find some value in it.
Thanks for tuning in! If you want to see a list of movies that I have already viewed and confirmed for poly-ish content, or a much longer list of movies that I have not yet reviewed but plan to, you can visit the Poly-ish Movies link above. The next episode will be the first movie review. Until then, happy viewing!