At the time, I was interested in the relationship between the image of woman on the screen and the "masculinization" of the spectator position, regardless of the actual sex or possible deviance of any real live movie-goer. In-built patterns of pleasure and identification impose masculinity as "point of view," a point of view which is also manifest in the general use of the masculine third person. However, the persistent question "what about the women in the audience? I still stand by my "Visual Pleasure" argument, but would now like to pursue the other two lines of thought. First the "women in the audience" issue , whether the female spectator is carried along, as it were by the scruff of the text, or whether her pleasure can be more deep-rooted and complex.

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At the time, I was interested in the relationship between the image of woman on the screen and the "masculinization" of the spectator position, regardless of the actual sex or possible deviance of any real live movie-goer. In-built patterns of pleasure and identification impose masculinity as "point of view," a point of view which is also manifest in the general use of the masculine third person.

However, the persistent question "what about the women in the audience? I still stand by my "Visual Pleasure" argument, but would now like to pursue the other two lines of thought. First the "women in the audience" issue , whether the female spectator is carried along, as it were by the scruff of the text, or whether her pleasure can be more deep-rooted and complex.

Second the "melodrama" issue , how the text and its attendant identifications are affected by a female character occupying the center of the narrative arena. So far as the first issue is concerned, it is always possible that the female spectator may find herself so out of key with the pleasure on offer, with its "masculinization," that the spell of fascination is broken.

On the other hand, she may not. She may find herself secretly, unconsciously almost, enjoying the freedom of action and control over the diegetic world that identification with a hero provides. It is this female spectator that I want to consider here.

So far as the second issue is concerned, I want to limit the area under consideration in a similar manner. Rather than discussing melodrama in general, I am concentrating on films in which a woman central protagonist is shown to be unable to achieve a stable sexual identity, torn between the deep blue sea of passive femininity and the devil of regressive masculinity.

There is an overlap between the two areas, between the unacknowledged dilemma faced in the auditorium and the dramatic double-bind up there on the screen. Generally it is dangerous to elide these two separate worlds. In this case, the emotions of those women accepting "masculinization" while watching action movies with a male hero are illuminated by the emotions of a heroine of a melodrama whose resistance to a "correct" feminine position is the crucial issue at stake.

The terms he uses to conceive of femininity are the same as those he has mapped out for the male, causing certain problems of language and boundaries to expression. These problems reflect, very accurately, the actual position of women in patriarchal society suppressed, for instance, under the generalized male third person singular.

One term gives rise to a second as its complementary opposite, the male to the female, in that order. Some quotations: In females, too, the striving to be masculine is ego syntonic at a certain period namely in the phallic phase, before the development of femininity sets in. I will only emphasize here that the development of femininity remains exposed to disturbances by the residual phenomena of the early masculine period.

It would not be surprising if it were to turn out that each sexuality had its own special libido appropriated to it, so that one sort of libido would pursue the aims of a masculine sexual life and another sort those of a feminine one. But nothing of the kind is true. There is only one libido, which serves both the masculine and the feminine functions. To it itself we cannot assign any sex; if, following the conventional equation of activity and masculinity, we are inclined to describe it as masculine, we must not forget that it also covers trends with a passive aim.

Nevertheless, the juxtaposition "feminine libido" is without any justification. There are two problems here: Freud introduces the use of the word masculine as "conventional," apparently simply following an established social-linguistic practice but which, once again, confirms the masculuv "point of view" ; however, secondly, and constituting a greater intellectual stumbling block, the feminine cannot be conceptualized as different, but rather only as opposition passivity in an antinomic sense, or as similarity the phallic phase.

This shifting process, this definition in terms of opposition or similarity, leaves women also shifting between the metaphoric opposition "active" and "passive. In this sense Hollywood genre films structured around masculine pleasure, offering an identification with the active point of view, allow a woman spectator to rediscover that lost aspect of her sexual identity, the never fully repressed bedrock of feminine neurosis.

Andromeda stays tied to the rock, a victim, in danger, until Perseus slays the monster and saves her. It is not my aim, here, to debate on the rights and wrongs of this narrative division of labour or to demand positive heroines, but rather to point out that the "grammar" of the story places the reader, listener or spectator with the hero. The woman spectator in the cinema can make use of an age-old cultural tradition adapting her to this convention, which eases a transition out of her own sex into another.

In "Visual Pleasure" my argument was axed around a desire to identify a pleasure that was specific to cinema, that is the eroticism and cultural conventions surrounding the look. Now, on the contrary, I would rather emphasize the way that popular cinema inherited traditions of story-telling that are common to other forms of folk and mass culture, with attendant fascinations other than those of the look. Freud points out that "masculinity" is, at one stage, ego-syntonic for a woman.

Leaving aside, for the moment, problems posed by his use of words, his general remarks on stories and day-dreams provide another angle of approach, this time giving a cultural rather than psychoanalytic insight into the dilemma. He emphasizes the relationship between the ego and the narrative concept of the hero: It is the true heroic feeling, which one of our best writers has expressed in the inimitable phrase, "Nothing can happen to me!

For a girl, on the other hand, the cultural and social overlap is more confusing. All three suggest that, as desire is given cultural materiality in a text, for women from childhood onwards trans-sex identification is a habit that very easily becomes second Nature. However, this Nature does not sit easily and shifts restlessly in its borrowed transvestite clothes. A heroine causes a generic shift The Western and Oedipal personifications Using a concept of character function based on V.

As I am interested primarily in character function and narrative pattern, not in genre definition, many issues about the Western as such are being summarily side-stepped.

For present purposes, the Western genre provides a crucial node in a series of transformations that comment on the function of "woman" as opposed to "man" as a narrative signifier and sexual difference as personification of "active" or "passive" elements in a story. In the Proppian tale, an important aspect of narrative closure is "marriage," a function characterized by "princess" or equivalent.

This is the only function that is sex-specific, and thus essentially relates to the sex of the hero and his marriageability. This function is very commonly reproduced in the Western, where, once again "marriage" makes a crucial contribution to narrative closure.

A hero can gain in stature by refusing the princess and remaining alone Randolph Scoct in the Ranown series of movies. As the resolution of the Proppian tale can bt seen to represent the resolution of the Oedipus complex integration into the symbolic , the rejection of marriage personifies a nostalgic celebration of phallic, narcissistic omnipotence.

The tension between two points of attraction, the symbolic social integration and marriage and nostalgic narcissism, generates a common splitting of the Western hero into two, something unknown in the Proppian tale. Here two functions emerge, one celebrating integration into society through marriage, the other celebrating resistance to social demands and responsibilities, above all those of marriage and the family, the sphere represented by woman.

A story such as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance juxtaposes these two points of attraction, and spectator phantasy can have its cake and eat it too. This particular tension between the doubled hero also brings out the underlying signficance of the drama, its relation to the symbolic, with unusual clarity.

A folk-tale story revolves around conflict between hero and villain. The flashback narration in Liberty Valance seems to follow these lines at first. The narrative is generated by an act of villainy Liberty rampages, dragon-like, around the countryside.

However, the development of the story acquires a complication. Liberty Valance, as it uses flashback structure, also brings out the poignancy of this tension. The "present-tense" story is precipitated by a funeral, so that the story is shot through with nostalgia and sense of loss.

Ranse Stoddart mourns Tom Doniphon. This narrative structure is based on an opposition between two irrecon-cilables. The two paths cannot cross. On one side there is an encapsulation of power, and phallic attributes, in an individual who has to bow himself out of the way of history. On the other, an individual impotence rewarded by political and financial power, which, in the long run, in fact becomes history.

Here the function "marriage" is as crucial as it is in the folk-tale. It plays the same part in creating narrative resolution, but it is even more important in that "marriage is an integral attribute of the upholder of the law.

Hallie equals princess equals Oedipal resolution rewarded, equals repression of narcissistic sexuality in marriage. Woman as signifier of sexuality In a Western working within these conventions, the function "marriage" sublimates the erotic into a final, closing, social ritual. This ritual is, of course, sex-specific, and the main rationale for any female presence in this strand of the genre. This neat narrative function restates the propensity for "woman" to signify "the erotic" already familiar from visual representation as, for instance, argued in "Visual Pleasure".

Now I want to discuss the way in which introducing a woman as central to a story shifts its meanings, producing another kind of narrative discourse. Duel in the Sun provides the opportunity for this. While the film remains visibly a "Western," the generic space seems to shift. She is no longer the signifier of sexuality function "marriage" in the "Western" type of story.

Now the female presence as center allows the story to be actually, overtly, about sexuality: it becomes a melodrama. It is as though the narrational lens had zoomed in and opened up the neat function "marriage" "and they lived happily.

The second question "what does she want? Duel in the Sun opens up this question. In Duel in the Sun the iconographical attributes of the two male oppositional characters, Lewt and Jesse, conform very closely to those of Ranse and Tom in Liberty Valance.

But now the opposition between Ranse and Tom which represents an abstract and allegorical conflict over Law and history is given a completely different twist of meaning. As Pearl is at the center of the story, caught between the two men, their alternative attributes acquire meaning from her, and represent different sides of her desire and aspiration.

They personify the split in Pearl, not a split in the concept of hero, as argued previously for Liberty Valance. However, from a psychoanalytic point of view, a strikingly similar pattern emerges, Jesse attributes: book, dark suit, legal skills, love of learning and culture, destined to be Governor of the State, money, and so on signposts the "correct" path for Pearl, towards learning a passive sexuality, learning to "be a lady," above all sublimation into a concept of the feminine that is socially viable.

With Lewt, Pearl can be a tomboy riding, swimming, shooting. Thus the Oedipal dimension persists, but now illuminates the sexual ambivalence it represents for femininity. The film consists of a series of oscillations in her sexual identity, between alternative paths of development, between different desperations. Whereas the regressive phallic male hero Tom in Liberty Valance had a place albeit a doomed one that was stable and meaningful, Pearl is unable to settle or find a "femininity" in which she and the male world can meet.

Once again, however, the narrative drama dooms the phallic, regressive resistance to the symbolic. Perhaps, in Duel, the erotic relationship between Pearl and Lewt also exposes a dyadic interdependence between hero and villain in the primitive tale, now threatened by the splitting of the hero with the coming of the Law. Pearl recognizes her and her rights over Jesse, and sees that she represents the "correct" road. In an earlier film by King Vidor, Stella Dallas , narrative and iconographic structures similar to those outlined above make the dramatic meaning of the film although it is not a Western.

Stella, as central character, is flanked on each side by a male personification of her instability, her inability to accept correct, married "femininity" on the one hand, or find a place in a macho world on the other. Her husband, Stephen, demonstrates all the attributes associated with Jesse, with no problems of generic shift.

The fact that Stella is a mother, and that her relationship to her child constitutes the central drama, undermines a possible sexual relationship with Ed.

He does retain residual traces of Western iconography. His attributes are mapped through associations with horses and betting, the racing scene. However, more importantly, his relationship with Stella is regressive, based on "having fun," most explicitly in the episode in which they spread itching powder among the respectable occupants of a train carriage.

The Man who shot Liberty Valance John Ford, Stella Dallas King Vidor, I have been trying to suggest a series of transformations in narrative pattern that illuminate, but also show shifts in, Oedipal nostalgia. The "personifications" and their iconographical attributes do not relate to parental figures or reactivate an actual Oedipal moment. On the contrary, they represent an internal oscillation of desire, which lies dormant, waiting to be "pleasured" in stories of this kind. Perhaps the fascination of the classic Western, in particular, lies in its rather raw touching on this nerve.


Afterthoughts on "visual pleasure and narrative cinema"

Dour Nayar — — Hampton Press. Afetrthoughts Pleasure in Aesthetics. Laura Mulvey — — In Marc Furstenau ed. Request removal from index.


Laura Mulvey - Afterthoughts on Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema

Mulvey responds that she the female spectator should instead be seen as enjoying freedom of action and control over the diegetic world by identification with the hero. This is when Freud claims that humans learn the physical and gendered differences between male and female. Before this phase, a unisex bisexual in Freud model exists. During this period, repression and identification with the same-sex parent are used to relieve anxiety. Thus while the social integration represented by marriage is an essential aspect of the folk tale, in the Western it can be accepted… or not. All three films feature a love triangle between the female, a cowboy figure, and a lawyer figure.


Afterthoughts on ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema


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