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Difference, Identity and Representation: Communication and Spectatorship Anneka Smelik "Feminist Film Theory” Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative.

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Presentation on theme: "Difference, Identity and Representation: Communication and Spectatorship Anneka Smelik "Feminist Film Theory” Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative."— Presentation transcript:

1 Difference, Identity and Representation: Communication and Spectatorship Anneka Smelik "Feminist Film Theory” Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Movies and Methods vol. II, 1985, pp bell hooks, “The Oppositional Gaze,” Black Looks, 1992, pp

2 Gender and Media What do we mean by gender? Do films construct or reflect gender? Early Feminist Critiques Early criticism focused on stereotypes of women and their negative impact on female spectators Advocated for corrective positive images of women.

3 Structural Theory and Psychoanalysis The early 1970s Claire Johnston was one of the first to draw on semiotics and Lacanian psychoanalysis suggesting: Cinema provides a male myth of “woman” Woman in classical cinema serve as an “empty sign” exchanged by men; the object rather than the subject of desire. Johnston was critical of Hollywood cinema, but also saw it as an important site for study and intervention. She called for an alternative narrative cinema.

4 Structural Theory and Psychoanalysis Together these two frameworks provide film theorists with ways for thinking about how the viewer as a subject participates in the meaning of the film. Semiotics--theory of signs. A tool for analyzing how meaning is produced through language and ideology. Psychoanalytic theory. A theory of the subject as constituted through sexual difference.

5 Laura Mulvey Film Theorist, Media Scholar, Filmmaker Great Britain ( ) Feminist Film Studies "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” Psychoanalysis, Semiotics Sustained dialog on how sexual difference is reproduced in the act of watching classical cinema - 30s, 40s, 50s… Fascination of cinema She argues women have been placed in a specific, powerless position in cinema. How does the cinematic system actively, and passively, make this so? Rear Window (1954), Alfred Hitchcock

6 Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock, 1958 Alfred Hitchcock , The “Master of Suspense”, Rear Window (1954), and Psycho (1960) Mulvey’s key example: Alfred Hitchcock

7 Representation of women as an aspect of visual pleasure Cinema reproduces gendered subjects Men = active | Women= passive You are positioned as spectator when you identify with the characters Positioning of camera, lightning, the roles, all decisions set up positions: you thought about yourself as the one looking and not being looked at.

8 Psychoanalytic theory as it is related to film culture; this is not about psychoanalyzing characters, but mechanisms of viewing, this is, spectatorship. –More than the act of looking, the gaze is a viewing relationship, characteristic of a particular set of social circumstances Even if it was wrong, it influenced a body of work that was very influential Hypothesis: psychoanalysis + semiotics = understanding film Analysis does not have to always be tied up to economy or class Jimmy Stewart as Jeffries in Rear Window Vetigo

9 Psychoanalysis - Freud Conscious / Pre-Conscious / Unconscious Repression Id / Ego / Superego Interrelation of Individual/Society/Biology Talking Cure: Bring into the consciousness what is making the patient suffer Sigmund Freud Model of Psychosexual development Individual - Civilization Libido: develops by changing its object: Sublimation Stages - Oedipus complex

10 Key theoretical figures she is in dialogue with Louis Althusser - Sigmund Freud - Jacques Lacan The State apparatus as a set of cultural institutions Althusser: the “ideal spectator,”; the text and interpellation; it demands a particular type of spectator. There is no true subject: you are always product of social relations - there is always the possibility of psychosis. Louis Althusser

11 Feminist theorists present Freud’s model of the unconscious and sexuality as accurate description of the place of women in the phallogocentric culture--not as a necessary or natural condition, but one specific to contemporary society. The unconscious shapes cinematic practices Male pleasure, dominant pleasure Male ambivalence toward the female figure: leads toward extreme positions - to devalue, punish, save her, or to make a pedestal figure, a fetish out of her.

12 The conflict is resolved through one of two ways: Sadistic narrative: woman must be punished (usually death or marriage) Fetishism: woman serves as polished phallic object (denial) — the ideal of perfect beauty. Female: lure and a threat of castration - she lacks a penis - Lacan

13 Lacan: mirror stage Formative of the “I” Permanent structure of subjectivity Paradigm of the imaginary order Dual relationship Body - Ego Imaginary - Real Fragmentation - Wholeness IDENTIFICATION with the image Jacques Lacan Entering into the symbolic: language Real / Symbolic / Imaginary

14 In cinema, the spectator is made to identify with the male look because the camera films from the optical, as well as libidinal, pint of view of the male character. “Three Looks” The characters in the film look at each other The viewer looks at the screen The camera looks at the event being filmed. Mulvey aims to disrupt pleasure Analysis / New Cinema Grace Kelly as Lisa Hitchcock--as voyeur

15 Pleasure functions in two ways: Scopophilia: pleasure in looking at objects (voyeuristic gaze) Narcissism: identification with on screen (male) protagonist as a controlling figure. Within the patriarchal order, women are the “other”: the empty object through which identity is constructed. This becomes problematic for women’s identity. This is where the idea of the women becoming an object in the film arises.

16 Mulvey advocates for an alternative Cinema. One that doesn’t adhere to narrative representational conventions. Feminist filmmaking - must deconstruct and destroy the gaze Destroy the satisfaction, pleasure and privilege. Employs techniques of distanciation (limiting identification). Why not just have active female protagonists? (The gaze is masculine within patriarchal logic.) A Feminist Counter-Cinema

17 Why not just have active female protagonists? The gaze is not essentially male, 'but to own and activate the gaze, given our language and the structure of the unconscious, is to be in the "masculine" position' The gaze is masculine within the terms of patriarchal culture. A Feminist Counter-Cinema

18 Challenges and critiques Is her argument complicit with normative heterosexual order? Other forms of spectatorship? How can she deny forms of female spectatorial pleasure in cinema? Do men see women as representing their castrated selves? What other psychoanalytic models are available? Does the emphasis on psychoanalysis overemphasize the binary of gender? How do we reconcile other forms of identity and difference?

19 Mary Anne Doane and others began to consider the female spectator in relation to “the Woman’s Film” (during the 1940s there were many films that featured female protagonists targeting female audiences). A Letter to Three Wives, Joseph Mankiewicz, 1949 Gentleman Prefer Blondes, Howard Hawks, 1953 Films with women protagonists

20 bell hooks Theorist, activists, feminist Substance of the books, not the “I” ( ) “Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism”

21 “The Oppositional Gaze” Political dimension of the “Gaze” Power: Stuart Hall - Hegemony Agency: awareness / looking to resist Television - negation of Black representation Manthia Diawara: “Rupture” Critical Discussion Manthia Diawara Lena Horne

22 Looking “too deep” hurt - Black women and cinema Mulvey: “woman as image, man as bearer of the look” Mainstream feminist film criticism ignores Black women “Women”: effaces differences in specific socio-historical contexts 1986

23 “Connection between the realm of representation in mass media and the capacity of black women to construct ourselves as subjects in daily life” (p. 127) Is there a black female gaze? Essentialist notion Trinh T. Minh-ha: “subjectivity does not merely consist in talking about oneself… be this talking indulgent or critical” Not offering diverse representations, but imagining transgressive possibilities for the formulation of identity Trinh T. Minh-ha Sankofa Passion of Remembrance 1986

24 Female spectatorship and masquerade Gender as performed Gender is problematic / wonderful / complex Oppositional Viewing Psychoanalytic theory becomes less monolithic as discussions move beyond the binary of masculine/feminine gender and address other aspects of identity (race, age, ability, etc) After the 1980s: an increase in films by women directors and with complex representations of gender and sexuality An Angel at My Table, Jane Campion, 1989 Things You Can Tell by Just Looking at Her, Rodrigo Garcia, 2000 Recent Feminist Film Theory


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