STUDIO and New Empress: Film Magazines for Women?

Studio New Empress film magazine

With half of the Mild Concern team being female and the other half currently studying how to be a woman, we were curious about all the buzz surrounding new film publications, STUDIO and New Empress. Both are being touted as “for women” with the former claiming to be the “first and only of its kind”, while the latter just tries to convince you that it’s “not quite as pretentious as it might sound”.

Launched earlier this month, STUDIO is digital only and marketed as “the UK’s first film magazine for women”, leading us to conclude that it must be modern and forward-facing. So let’s check out how STUDIO describes itself.

Packed with witty editorial and Hollywood news, plus all the latest movie reviews…

Sounding pretty standard so far.

STUDIO stands out from other film magazines with…

Yes? yes?

…its distinctive pages dedicated to the hottest film-inspired fashion, proving to be the one-stop source for female film and entertainment enthusiasts.

What?

You are kidding me. The single thing that “Britain’s first women’s film magazine” picks out as what it has to offer us over and above the offerings of Sight & Sound or Little White Lies is HOT FASHION?

Just take a look at that cover.

Studio film magazine

Then browse the covers of a few of this month’s women’s lifestyle glossies?

womens magazines september

STUDIO says that it’s:

More than a women’s magazine

With news, reviews and features on Hollywood’s best movies, STUDIO provides women with an insiders guide to their favourite films and entertainment in a fun and irreverent style.

Marie Claire Anne HathawayBut what precisely is different? Marie Claire even has the same leading woman this month.

But all right, it’s not enough to judge a magazine by its digital cover, so I delved in, although not until I’d been charged VAT without warning on top of the advertised price – note to our UK readership, STUDIO is £3, not £2.50.

When I wrote the first draft of this post, there were three very angry paragraphs about the pain of trying to read the magazine on a laptop. I have deleted them all to just say, don’t bother. It’s a torturous experience and induced such technological rage that I eventually gave up and had to go ask the one person I know with an iPad to borrow it.

Using a tablet for browsing is a much more soothing experience than a standard computer and Editor, Louise Robina Happé, writes that she “readily [takes] pleasure in flicking through glossy pages of edgy fashion photography”, which STUDIO has tried to replicate in digital form. However, the photos are low-resolution and the text fuzzy and the magazine could have done with some tighter copyediting – the final article, “The Hit List”, makes very little sense without independent research. All of this detracts from the image of the stylish woman’s glossy.

Despite being released mid-August, the launch edition seemed to have been intended for an earlier publication date. All but one of the film reviews are for July releases and three of the five suggested dates for the diary had already passed.

It feels like it takes a while to get to the actual film content of the magazine, with obligatory editorial and letters sections up first followed by a travel memoir. It’s patronising gap year stuff and its inclusion appears to be justified by a tenuous link to Into the Wild. This is followed up with miscellaneous Hollywood gossip: highlights for me include the shocking news that 14 year-old Hailee Steinfeld won’t be nude in a film and that Michael Caine is not allowed to talk about Batman.

As was already evident, Anne Hathaway is the subject of the main feature, in which she “talks love, life and living large”. Are we to expect a different approach to interviews than in Vogue covering how she went “from personal heartbreak to professional triumph”? Or InStyle when she talked “about style, dating & the Fame Game”? Or Elle‘s discussion of Love and Other Drugs, which was *gasp* A Film.

Actually, it was pretty painful to read. Let’s return briefly to the editorial: “I feel like I’ve read every possible article on Jennifer Aniston and Brangelina’s lives, but their work? Not a sausage” complains STUDIO‘s Reviews Writer. Yet in the interview the nods to One Day seem to only serve as segue ways into asking questions about her views on relationships. Also prevalent are remarks on her physical appearance and some confusing gossip about punching someone. The interviewer even seems to offend Hathaway by making assumptions about her life, what the “Hollywood world” involves and suggesting her working relationships are superficial. There’s a sense of relief when she gets to talk about her charity work for a bit, although that may have just been me.

Also, if STUDIO is so insistent that they’re more interested in film than “features on various shades of lipstick”, then what was the thinking behind choosing Rosie Huntley-Whiteley for the “Steal that style” feature? A model who, just in case you weren’t paying attention, has a single acting credit to her name as the replacement for Megan Fox in the third Transformers movie.

The feature, “Geek Chic: The rise of Hollywood Nerd Girls”, encapsulates my main problems with the magazine. Firstly, it is evident just how narrow STUDIO‘s definition of a woman is. The article is written from an outsider perspective, the whole tone being ‘whoa! Where did these girls come from who like science fiction, play computer games and read comic books? Rosario Dawson says she’s a geek! Does this mean we’re allowed to go watch Thor?’ The article itself quotes its interviewee, Jennifer Stuller, as saying “…the voice of the female geek needs to be heard, and not just in a weekly column, or whenever specifically gendered news comes up. Geek women don’t just exist when we’re reacting to things we find offensive, or when the more famous of us are featured in an article.” This on the single page article devoted to explaining that girl geeks are more common than you might think.

Secondly, for a UK magazine, it seems like it’s aimed at an American audience. The article lists two events for the diary: San Diego Comic Con, which was in July so don’t bother rushing out to book flights, and Geek Girl Con, which will be held in Seattle. Because of course there are no similar events in our own country. Except there is: Glasgow Collectormania is being held over the August Bank Holiday and London Comic Con/MCM Expo is on in October. Or if there’s a particular reason for recommending events that have already passed, London Film and Comic Con was back in July.

It isn’t all bad: the piece examining strong female characters of horror films is snappy and fun, even if describing them as “kick-ass scream queens” and “sassy vixens” makes my teeth ache, and there’s a nice article on the life and work of the current darling of the film publication world, Pedro Almodóvar. Also, I was genuinely interested in both of the interviews with Noureen DeWulf, who stars in The Taqwacores, and Sarah Linden, who leads the American remake of much-lauded Danish series, The Killing.

Ultimately, STUDIO is a victim of its own publicity. It arrived in a blaze of glory with design that wouldn’t be out of place on the newsagents’ “women’s” shelf (if it had a physical existence) and an interview with a true Hollywood star. But it’s too small to compete with Empire on studio news, its reviews section is no more in-depth than a newspaper supplement and there isn’t a style page in any common-or-garden woman’s magazine that doesn’t look to Hollywood for inspiration. As such, it’s hard to see what STUDIO is offering that’s distinct. Slapping a “let’s go girls!” tone on top of shallow copy just isn’t enough.

Phew! Still with me? I hope so because I’d be doing the second magazine in this review a disservice if I’d driven you away already.

Marie Claire Anne HathawayDespite picking up a reputation as a feminist magazine, New Empress doesn’t bill itself as intended for women. However, it does describe itself as a magazine “not just about film but about cinema”. And that’s what it is, cover to cover. Art deco styling and printed on a dying medium, that is only the beginning of differences with STUDIO. Having now read them both, linking the two based on a supposed female slant seems completely superficial.

New Empress is onto its second edition, which takes as its focus the 40th anniversary of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It also looks set for a third. The issue seems to drop back in time, with three general sections that begin with reviews, “Questions, comments” – seemingly essays on whatever filmic knowledge interests its writers – and finishing with “Flashback”, broadly aspects of cinematic history.

Like STUDIO, the reviews section suffers for covering films that have long since left the cinema screens although special mention goes to Patrick Kershaw’s coverage of Something Borrowed, which says almost all you need to know about the Hollywood approach to women:

We’re dragged into an amoral and tedious ménage-a-trois that suggests all relationships between women boil down to nothing more than a man-stealing competition.

And:

… what galled me the most [was] a distinct lack of female camaraderie. If I were a young girl and saw My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), Bride Wars (2009) or Something Borrowed I’d constantly be expecting my best friend to drive an affair-shaped knife into my back.

It would be fair to say that its features section is a smidge off the wall. It boasts no huge cover star – New Empress‘ big interview is with Julie Dawn Cole, the original Veruca Salt who is now a psychotherapist. It almost entirely focuses on the experience of making Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Other topics include whether superhero films are modern day myths, the death of the double feature, what makes a British film British and a comparison between the characters of Carrie and Matilda. Coincidentally, it does have an Anne Hathaway feature, but it’s a flippant guide to conducting your own Hathaway-style career.

In Flashback, there’s a controversial decision on which was the better trilogy, Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings, from someone who hadn’t seen either previously, a history of the now empty Carlton Cinema, and retrospectives on apparently randomly chosen films such as Labyrinth and Don’t Look Now.

Where STUDIO tries to understand who on earth these female geeks are, New Empress speaks their language. It’s serious about and fascinated with film but conveys its enthusiasm with tongue frequently and firmly in cheek – something it apologises for far too often. Anyone who’ll appreciate speculation on a Marxist reading of Toy Story does not need to be told when sarcasm is being employed. And while I’m being picky, dating every film title mentioned is very distracting. Plus it could do with a diligent sub-editor. Amongst other errors, a significant portion of the Thor review was incomprehensible due to what I’m guessing was some errant copy and pasting.

Overall though, New Empress is just so darn likeable. I find its low-key nature and palpable enthusiasm for everything to do with film appealing, but it isn’t for everyone and that’s okay. It won’t interest some while it’ll absolutely delight others – regardless of gender. On the other hand, STUDIO claims it’s “for women” but it definitely isn’t for me. Or many of my friends. Or anyone without an iPad.