Taking a Shower – The Dramaturgy
Being a long-distance runner is only one of the reasons I think highly of showers, and like many others I know numerous shower stories from everyday life, work or holidays (e.g. when there was a water cut at midnight in Cajamarca).
Last weekend I watched four films and each contained a scene where a woman took a shower. Only women, no men. This may be a coincidence of course. But moving on from there, what is it with showers and films, is a character taking a shower a stylistic device, a dramaturgical trick? Is taking a shower for a film today what cigarettes or alcoholic drinks used to be in former years? Are shower scenes about showing nakedness, cleanliness, vulnerability? Or about erotics? Are showers extremely challenging film locations or extremely appealing and exciting settings?
There is a short film about THE SHOWERS IN FILMS by Luc Lagier, currently available in the arte media library. (Edit 14.3.19 not any more). We see murders being committed under a shower, soldier men taking a shower after a battle, sports men taking a shower after a match. Women and men or men on their own are having sex under a shower, and men taking their regular shower in the morning. Women who are neither having sex nor being attacked under a shower seem to be less common.
Showers in Comedies? Three rather old funny shower scenes come to mind: Cary Grant took a shower completely dressed and with a waterproof watch in CHARADE, Marty Feldman, Mel Brooks and Dom DeLuise tried to win over Burt Reynolds for their film project in SILENT MOVIE, and Steve Martin‘s shower in L.A. STORIES had a slomo-switch. I don‘t really remember any shower scenes with women and humour (but maybe they do exist?).
In a way a shower cubicle looks a bit like a telephone booth, doesn‘t it. However, in the digital age of mobile phones they only play a minor role in today‘s films. On the other hand shower cubicles, as a confined space where people are on their own or in twos, will still be around for a while, in real life and in films.
These are the four questions I put to ‘my‘ shower scenes today:
- Does the shower scene help advance the story?
- Do we learn something new about the character?
- Does the shower scene and how it is shot amplify the mood of a scene?
- Is the scene funny or original?
Any scene that answers all four questions with a NO is running the risk of objectifying the person under the shower, at worst, in a voyeuristic way. Of course there are shower scenes, scenes were someone is being watched or desired, that help advance a story or that provide additional information on characters, especially about the people observing – which would make it more interesting to put them in the camera focus and not the objects of their desire. I could make a similar case where the depiction of rape or murder in film and on tv. When people are assaulted we often see them from the perspective of the attackers (at least in German film and tv). We see, often unbearably long and close, their agony, their horror, their tears, – and this might just be where the attacker might geht an extra kick and his feeling of power from. But that is a topic for another day.
The shower scenes I am talking about today are from these productions:
- BEAU SÉJOUR (en: HOTEL BEAU SÉJOUR). TV Series, Belgium 2017. Series 1, Episode 1
- BROADCHURCH. TV Series, UK 2017. Series 3, Episode 1
- DIE SCHWALBE (en: THE SWALLOW). Film. Switzerland 2016
- THE GOOD KARMA HOSPITAL. TV Series, UK 2017. Series 1, Episode 4
Taking a Shower: Kato Hoeven (Lynn Van Royen)
BEAU SÉJOUR is a (highly recommendable!) ten-part TV fantasy series from Belgium. It is about Kato, a young woman, who was murdered, wakes from the dead and begins to investigate her own case.
Beau Sejour (literally: beautiful stay) is a common name for hotels in French speaking countries. And the series is about Kato‘s prolonged stay on earth after her death, until her murderer is found. A handful of people are able to see her, touch her, talk to her. For the rest she is invisible and not audible.
The first episodes starts with Kato, lying dead in a bathtup in room 108 of the hotel Beau Séjour, waking up. After a while she goes home (where her mother can‘t see or hear her), she takes a shower and changes her clothes. That makes sense, since she has a bloody head wound, but how is that filmed? At first we see her feet under the shower, and we see bloody water running down her legs. The camera then slowly moves upwards, along Kato‘s naked body, we see her from behind, her legs, her bottom, her back, until the picture stops at her head. Why this camera journey, what‘s the point for the scene? A short voyeuristic flash, Oh, a naked young woman with a sexy arse? Whose perspective is that supposed to be? Equally strange is an image in the opening titles, where we see Kato‘s dead body lying on the river bank, – actually we only see a part of her body, not the head, just her upper body in a wet, dirty and tight undershirt.
As far as the scene, its mood and the character are concerned, the shower scene is a bit wasted. How about a different approach, for example starting at the feet and then – without the moving camera – cutting directly to Kato‘s head and face, so we can see her sadness, her disbelief, her despair. Just before the shower scene – she hadn‘t fully grasped her dead state yet – she stood next to her mother, leaning against her and talking to her, but her mother did not notice her. Now Kato is standing under a hot shower.
By the way, in this or the other nine episodes of BEAU SÉJOUR there is no other situation where a person is being looked at in this way, neither from toes to head nor the other way around, neither naked nor in clothes.
There was a similar and at the same time quite different shower scene with the victim of a violent crime in another series, in BROADCHURCH.
Taking a Shower: Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondhalgh)
BROADCHURCH aired its third and final season this year this year, the plot takes place three years after the second series which I found rather disappointing, not least because of the Fifty Shades of Claire subplot. The drama series is once again set in the fictional Dorset seaside resort, and DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Coleman) and DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant) are called to investigate a serious sexual assault.
50-year-old Trish Winterman who‘d been attacked is taking a shower after a first, brief questioning by the police and the first part of the medical investigation at the designatated SARC Sexual Assault Regional Centre. The camera captures the scene from a downward angle, we see the shower, running water, a hand from the right checks the water temperature. Trish steps under the shower. Her head in a profile view is picture-filling, then cut to her dirty feet, back to her face with closed eyes. She sighs deeply. This is a powerful moment, the first time that we see Trish on her own, not through the eyes of or in interaction with the police, who were with her all the time, or with Anna (Andrea Hall), a crisis worker from SARC. In contrast to films like the quite annoying DER BRAND (directed by Brigitte Maria Bertele, script by Johanna Stuttmann) this episode shows authentically how a woman reporting a rape crime is being treated in a professional and emphatic way and how she finds help. The film doesn‘t dwell on showing the violent crime but on the effects on the attacked. Johanna Schneller writes in Broadchurch Season 3 shows crucial sex aussault aftermath: “This scene should be mandatory viewing not only for all cops, but also for all TV writers’ rooms.“ In the last episode of the series, after the case is solved, there are some flashbacks during the interrogation of the murderer and other suspects. The crime is not shown, but even without it the episode may be upsetting and moving, not only for those affected. As quite common with British tv films, there was a warning ahead of each episode: “Strong emotions and scenes viewers may find distressing.“ and after it ended: “And if you have been affected by issues raised in tonight‘s episode please visit itv.com/advice“ linking to a variety of aid organizations.
Of course BROADCHURCH is not the only British tv series which issues warnings and gives references, and does not show acts of violence explicitly. In CALL THE MIDWIFE there is a fade out the moment that sister Cynthia sees her attacker, and in DOWNTON ABBEY maid Anna is raped in an adjoining room while the camera stays in the kitchen while the sounds of the attack can be heard. Both series in their plots pay attention to the Aftermath, the effects on the women. Despite this there have been a considerable number of audience complaints in reference to the rape in DOWNTON ABBEY (see John Plunkett in The Guardian: Downton Abbey rape scene will not face investigation despite complaints from 4.11.13). I don‘t know of any similar reactions here in Germany – is the audience tougher, more insensitve or simply used to drastic displays of violence in fictional programmes? I‘m sometimes under the impression that the tv stations are trying to outdo one another regarding this in their crime dramas. Some years ago tv magazine frau tv (woman tv) reported on a study which had analyzed numerous tv crime fiction shows that started with a violent attack on or murder of a woman and then continue with her dead body on the table of a coroner. Of course this has nothing to do with the shower scene any more, so let‘s move on to the next film:
Taking a Shower: Mira (Manon Pfrunder)
In DIE SCHWALBE / THE SWALLOW young Swiss Mira travels to Iraq looking for her kurdish father who had vanished from Switzerland before her birth. allegedly to fight in the resistance. She is accompanied by her new acquaintance, German speaking Kurdish Ramo who pursues his own plans. In the end Mira does find her father who hadn‘t been fight againt the regime but rather had been an informer and profiteer (and Ramo had actually been instructed to follow her so that they could assassinate him). After their meeting we see Mira crying under the shower, a long shot from her shoulders upwards.
This is an ok image of course, although I must say at that point I was getting a bit fed up with Mira‘s excessive cleanliness. Were they using the old Swiss stereotype, or trying to demonstrate some sort of contrast between the clean, innocent Swiss woman on one side and the dirty traitor father on the other, between Europe and Iraq? In the 100 minute film Mira takes two showers, she once bathes in a river (and comes out of the water in a wet, white, skin-tight undershirt), she brushes her teeth in nature and wears a different top on aveage every ten minutes, once she changes her clothes in a moving car next to the total stranger Ramo (Ismail Zagros) whom she hired as driver and translator. As mentioned, this is feeding the stereotype, but is there more to it? What‘s also a bit strange: at the end of the film she Mira to Ramo: „Here‘s your pay for the last three days“ (nine different outfits seem a bit much for that?) and also she only had a very small backpack with her, which makes it hard to imagine how she packed all these clothes and kept them ironed and uncreased as they always appeared.
Even in the moment of her deepest crisis, her disappointment at her newly found father and everything he was, became and said, she (or the director) can only think of having her take a shower? Nothing seems to upset her routine, and so we see her in the final scene entering the airport to return to Switzerland, shortly after the murder of Ramo by his own people as a traitor. She is wearing yet another different blouse, this time a red one, clean and impeccable as always.
In view of all her neatness and hygiene it is remarkable that we never see Mira using a toilet, – which brings us to the first episode of today‘s final series, ITV‘s THE GOOD KARMA HOSPITAL, and its shower scene in episode four:
Taking a Shower: Dr. Ruby Walker (Amrita Acharia)
At the beginning of this new ITV show junior doctor Ruby Walker is sitting on a staff toilet of an English hospital, there is no toilet paper so she reaches for a magazine lying on the floor, when her glance catches the advertisment of a fancy hospital: “Colleague! Do you wish to work in beautiful India?“. This could be the solution to all her problems, not least including a failed relationship, so she decides to go to India. To her suprise though she is not assigned to the fancy private clinic but to a run down cottage hospital, The Good Karma Hospital, run by resolute Englishwoman Dr. Lydia Fonseca (Amanda Redman). The shower scene occurs in episode four, it‘s actually two shower scenes which frame the plot.
The episode opens with an excerpt from an Indian soap opera, upside down, – we then see that Ruby is watching it on her tablet, completely immersed, from a chakrasana yoga position on a beach (officially to learn Hindi!). Next we see her in her garden – still with the tablet – in her outdoor shower cubicle, but it isn‘t working, no water. I was tempted to make a joke out of the soap-shower-combination but couldn‘t think of a good one).
So Ruby goes to the hospital unshowered, still watching her soap, and the first patient she meets, Vicky Martin (Sarah-Jane Potts), an English tourist, literally throws up in front of her. Then Ruby joins hospital director Lydia Fonseca:
- Ruby: Also the water is still not working, in my cottage…
- Lydia: I told them to see to it. Are you sure?
- Ruby: I showered in perfume. Again.
- Lydia: Is that really perfume? I thought it was vomit.
- Ruby: Only it‘s been a week now.
- Lydia: Fine, I‘ll discuss it with them. Although to be honest, it‘s like herding cats with attention deficit disorder.
- Ruby: it seems like a basic requirement.
- Lydia: Fine, complaint noted, I‘ll see to it. you‘ll be expecting wages next.
The shower-hygiene-motif recurs throughout the whole episode and is also connected to the subplot, which is about Ruby dealing with and getting closer to her father‘s country India (her mother is English, her father came from Mumbai and left the family shortly after Ruby was born. This is her first stay).
Vicky, the English patient mentioned earlier, had come to India to buy a kidney, after a short while there were complications, so she ended up in The Good Karma Hospital, at first keeping the origin of her new organ a secret. Vicky is furious, because she‘d paid for a “perfect organ match“, and generally speaking the disliked the country and the people in it, all being dirty and liars. Ruby tries to examine her:
- Vicky: Don‘t you dare put your disgusting hands on me!
- Ruby: I‘m sorry.
- Vicky: Don‘t either of you touch me!
Her Indian colleague Dr. Gabriel Varma (James Floyd) comments: “You apologized to her. She told you not to touch her and you apologized?“ Triggered through her encounter with Vicky, Ruby begins to deal with the racism in Britain she had suffered in silence for years and gets closer to India, which could become “her country“ now. At the end of the episode we see her back in the outdoor shower cubicle and yes! water pours out. She splashes about a bit and then happily gets under the water jet just as she is, starts removing her dress, showers in her underwear. Cut. Later she is sitting in her garden, comes out of Facebook and continues watching her soap opera. And she is not who she was in the morning any more.
The other day I wanted to buy shower gel at the chemist‘s. The 50 types for women were all caring, nurturing, relaxing or indulging. I was actually looking for something with active and energy and waking up in the morning or sports. But those only existed for men. Why do shower products need a gender?
The weekend I watched the four films and started writing this article goes back a few weeks. Most if not all these films and series are no longer available in the media centres / hubs any more, but have a look for their DVDs or streaming services.
TV series, series 1 episode 1 of 10, first broadcast in Belgium 1.1.2017, and on 2.3. in Germany
several prizes, i.a. Séries Mania Festival Audience Award
Production Comp.: De Mensen, Zaventem / Belgium for Chanel Eén, 2017
Directors: Nathalie Basteyns, Kaat Beels
Script: Bert Van Dael, Sanne Nuyens, Benjamin Sprengers, Kaat Beels, Nathalie Basteyns
Producers: Saskia Verboven, Marikjke Wouters, Pieter Van Huyck
Cast: Lynne Van Royen, Inge Paulussen, Jan Hammenecker, Kris Kuppens, Johan van Assche
Showering: Kato Hoeven (Lynne Van Royen)
Titelsong „Allien en verloaten“ by Mauro Pawlowski, an adaption of „Alone and Forsaken“ by Hank Williams
TV series, series 3 episode 1 of 6. first broadcast in UK 27.2.2017 ITV
Production Comp.: Kudos Film and Television in association with Shine America and Imaginary Friends for ITV. 2017
Director: Paul Andrew Williams
Script: Chris Chibnail
Producer: Dan Winch
Cast: David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Jodie Whittaker, Julie Hesmondhalgh
Showering: Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondhalgh)
Titelsong Ólafur Arnalds ft. Arnór Dan – Take My Leave of You
DIE SCHWALBE / THE SWALLOW
Film. Premiere 23.1.16 Solothurn Filmfestival, TV Premiere 3.3.17
Production Comp.: Frame Film GmbH, Bern / Schweiz 2016
Director: Mano Khalil
Script: Mano Khalil. Co: Daniela Baumgärtl, Daniel Casparis, Martina Klein, Michael Sauter
Producer: Mano Khalil
Cast: Manon Pfrunder, Ismail Zagros
Showering: Mira (Manon Pfrunder)
THE GOOD KARMA HOSPITAL
TV Series, Series 1 Episode 4 of 6. first broadcast in UK 26.2.2017
Production Comp.: Tiger Aspect Productions for ITV 2017
Director: Bill Eagles
Script: Vinay Patel. Created by Dan Sefton
Producers: Stephen Smallwood
Cast: Amanda Redman, Amrita Acharia, Neil Morrissey, Phyllis Logan, James Floyd, Darhsan Jariwalla, Sagar Radia
Showering: Ruby Walker (Amrita Acharia)