The Official Blog for ENGL 41416.

Archive for April 2, 2012

visual pleasure and narrative cinema

Jackie Torres

The article Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema by Laura Mulvey describes what she calls the “magic” of modern cinema which challenges theories of the past cinema but still practicing the theory today. The psychoanalytic theory which is an unconscious patriarchal structured way of filming.  In films there is the phallocentric structure which the woman must be a part of.  There is no phallus without a woman because she is a part of the male character’s control and dominance. His dominance over her and the main plot is what makes him the hero of the story.  Mulvey incorporates Freud’s theory into her theory.  The female character is weak and insecure because of her castration.  Mulvey says, “She first symbolizes the castration threat by her real absence of a penis and second thereby raises her child into the symbolic”. According to Mulvey, there are generally two types of women in films. There is the young beautiful woman who is insecure and unaware of her beauty and desperately seeks affection from a male. When she finally obtains this and is a mother her character is no longer relevant. Her goals have been met which is to find the male affection and love she has longed for.  Then there is the overtly sexy woman, who is the complete opposite from the other female character. She seems to be independent, glamorous, and captures the attention of all males. However, because of all these factors she is rarely imagined as a mother figure.  Once she captures the attention of the male protagonist she is no longer glamorous, her beauty has faded in the background and she is now revolving herself around the male protagonist’s productions.

Mulvey also focuses on the change of modern films with those of the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s. The focus on women appearing physically appealing has always been something that is of major importance to films. However, Mulvey feels that the idea of beauty in women over the years has increased.  There is the skill of making actresses fulfill their role yet, main idea is to provide visual pleasure.  Mulvey states the purpose of her article, “this article will discuss the interweaving of that erotic pleasure in film, its meaning, and in particular the central place of the image of woman”.  One of the main points Mulvey mentions in her article is the idea of scopophilia, which is obtaining pleasure by viewing the human body and the pleasure a person, feels while submitting the vision to the viewer.  Films in which woman must be seen nude are not seen as a way of providing pleasure for the viewer, and the tricks of lighting and forms all create a safe environment for the actress to feel more comfortable within her exposure. Yet, she is still creating a sense of pleasure to the outside viewer whom she does not know but is providing an intimate relationship unconsciously and subconsciously and is a tool to the idea of male pleasure. Mulvey says, “Thus, in film terms, one implies a separation of the erotic identity of the subject from the object on the screen (active scopophilia), the other demands identification of the ego with the object on the screen through the spectator’s fascination with and recognition of his like.”


Women in Cinema: Through the Looking Glass

After analyzing several of our past theory readings, it’s a wonder that men manages to look at women at all without turning into gorgon-cursed stone. Woman, who is defined by her lack of a phallus, stimulates a fear in men of their own castration. How do they ever render woman safe enough to become the focus of their erotic and sexual desires? Laura Mulvey, in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, analyzes how men get pleasure from looking at woman represented in cinema through a psychoanalytic lens.

Mulvey discusses scopophilia, which is achieving pleasure through the act of looking itself. However, “looking” in this situation is not as passive as it would appear. In cinema, a person on screen is rendered  an object that the audience “subjects…to a controlling and curious gaze.” Film as a media for this erotic stimulation is particularly effective because of the way it is presented to an audience. As Mulvey writes, “The extreme contrast between the darkness in the auditorium (which also isolates the spectators from one another) and the brilliance of the shifting patterns of light…helps promote the illusion of voyeuristic separation.” Add this environment to the manner woman are presented on screen (as displayed objects to be looked at) and a nonthreatening and  controlled erotic image of woman is produced to satisfy the male desire and pleasure.

Mulvey also focuses on how cinema has transformed throughout its history and the transference of the direct male gaze of the audience to an onscreen representation of the male ego. In the early years of film, the erotic woman object was unsubtly presented to the audience in awkward and plot-interrupting sequences. For a visual analogy, if no film text references come to mind, picture a waiter interrupting your dinner conversation to present you with your meal. This awkward plot-block was surmounted by having women function as “erotic objects for the characters within the screen story.” The man on screen not only has the role of being the active force driving the plot (while woman are passively dragged along if not condemned to ruin the flow of the story all together) but also has the power “as bearer of the look of the spectator.” The audience no longer needs to have the responsibility of controlling their own gaze and shaping of woman as an erotic object. The male audience can now project themselves on to the heroic movie star whose perfect and idealized qualities are not object of the erotic gaze (as the idealized woman is) but “those of the more perfect, more complete, more powerful ideal ego conceived in the original moment of  recognition in front of the mirror.” Through the representation of swaggering movie heroes, men can live out their fantasy of themselves. And what is the idealized man as represented by popular cinema? One that is not threatened by woman and reduces her to the object of his gaze. Not only can the audience safely gaze upon woman through the dark distance of the movie screen, but they can further arm themselves in a body suit of a male character.