Visual Pleasure And Narrative Cinema


23 Mar 2015 15 May 2017

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In this paper we are going to discuss the position of Laura Malvey in her work "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema". The psychoanalytic interpretation of the position of women viewers gets back to the famous essay by Laura Mulvey "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", the original thesis of which was that the film form is structured by the unconscious of the patriarchal society and that woman as a spectator is always imposed the rules of a "foreign" game - getting of the male type of pleasure - for example, inherently scopophilic pleasure from the examination of the female body.

But the issue in this work is not only and not so much about the pleasure itself, but about more serious things - how the "vision" is the instance of identification formation of the subject through the visual practices and how the power is incorporated into the play - that is, the question is raised in the work about the ideological effects of the basic cinematic apparatus.

Mulvey argued that ideology is involved in forming the subjectivity of the individual at the level of the unconscious - and that is how a female spectator, through borrowing the male gaze, takes the ideology of a patriarchal society, which is imposed.

Laura Mulvey (1975) in "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" explains how the traditional Hollywood film claims the scopophilic view: "In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female form which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness." The woman, demonstrated as a sexual object, acts as a leitmotif of erotic spectacle.

The formulated problem in this context may be solved through a strong deconstruction of the vision machine, which constitutes a woman as an image, and a man as an owner of the sight. Mulvey proposes to destroy the voayeristic-scopophilic opinion, consistently destroying cinematic codes that postulate such view.

Will this be the solution of the problem? Mulvey's emphasis on the analysis of the specific of the cinematographic system, with all its radical and provocative judgements, seems to be legitimate. The real is the question of the discursive mediation properties. However, in general, the psychoanalytic criticism of visual representations may also have a profound methodologic effect.

As we have alreqady stated, the main ideas of Mulvey's research approach are formulated by her in the work "Visual pleasure and narrative cinema." The impact of this approach extended not only to the tudy of movies but also to television, advertising and other forms of visual culture. The researcher begins her studies with the basic ideas of psychoanalysis - a postulation of sexual differences as the axis of meaning and the center of the "oedipal drama".

Mulvey (1975) made the psychoanalytic theory as the basis for interpretation of the "mystery" of movie: "The fascination of film is reinforced by pre-existing patterns of fascination already at work within the individual subject and the social formations that have moulded him."

According to the researcher, the movie does not only stimulates and trains scopophilic bents (the pleasure of spying), but also satisfies the repressed desire to "show off", the exhibitionism. Even so the movie does not only quenche the scopophilic thirst, but also brings it to the narcissism, satisfying the human need of identification with others, in this case with anyone or anything on the screen.

On the one hand, the film is designed for the fact that the audience identifies itself with a particular character, his logic, so that for the audience everything could be clear. On the other hand, the viewer tends to present himself in a strange role. Just in time for psychodynamics occurring between these two processes, the phenomenon of narrative cinema, about which Laura Mulvey writes, is built. In this vein, it is appropriate to recall the ideas that the cinema performance actualizes and intensifies the processes of an affective internal projection-identification in the viewer, who has the ability to act and move. At the same time Laura Mulvey is developing a theory of the "male look" under which a woman appears as an image, and a man - as the bearer of the look. That is, according to the researcher, in the movies women simultaneously function as erotic objects for the male audience, that gets a scopophilic pleasure from their presence, and as erotic objects for the male characters, with whom the male audience may identify itself. The third and decisive spectator, in addition to the male protagonist and the male audience, is a camera, which by means of choosing a particular angle, and a sequence of frames represents an opportunity to double the pleasure of scopophilia and identification.

The researcher firmly binds the audience view with the function of the cinema in general. Hall (2003) stated that cinema is capable to control our mind, to make us identify with its images. It was originally created for the visual experience and for the viewers' empathy. Therefore, the point of the location of view, its place and its direction, according to Mitchell (1995), are incredibly important and determine the film industry as such. Such a perfect ability to focus the mind distinguishes cinema from other "shows".

Laura Mulvey concludes that the codes involved in the movie and having a direct relation to the external structures (social and economic conditions), must be learnt for their transformation, for creation of other movies and critics of the effects and characteristics of visual pleasure, which is provided by the traditional movie plot. The attempt of L. Mulvey to show using psychoanalytic theory , how "unconscious in a patriarchal society forms the film" had a very important and significant impact on the further development of the feminist film criticism.

Further, the theories of "the female look in art" are also actively appearing and developing As for the contemporary cultural and feminist theory, its main subject is an everyday life, where there is a specific articulation of social structures. Today there is a fundamental shift in the feminist studies in general. According to Evans and Hall (2005) we see that this is the transition from the deterministic explanations of women's subordination to the media to the analysis of the processes of symbolization and representation. In other words, the problem of studies of mass media moved from the determining of the reasons of situation for women's subordination in culture and society to the review of symbolic aspects of the functioning of cultural products and tools of mass communication in general.

The advantage of the research approach Mulvey is that she is one of the first to articulate the existence of a gender specificity of modern movies, to draw attention to the presence of the third spectator which was not previously noticed - a camera, on the position of "sight" of which further specifics of the construction and interaction of the images in the film depends. Her ideas had a strong influence on the avant-garde trend in the cinema. At the same time Mulvey was interested in the universal mechanisms of constructing a plot of the film, as well as the mechanism of influence of specific film image to the audience through the identification process.

Laura Mulvey, the author of the article "Visual pleasure and narrative cinema", says that in the movie the traditional division of labor is used: a woman serves as a subject for a look, a man serves as an examining person. The camera - a cinema eye - inherits the role of a man, who looks through the lens of cultural cliches. The product of this view is an active authoritativeness of the erotic gaze directed at the female body, and narrative patterns of the melodramatic cinema. An endless variety of genre roles for the calibration of all the shades of seduction, desire, flirting or classical coldness are available to the actresses.

It goes without saying that the text of the work, with today's perspective, seems to be too radical, too provocative, tapering to limit the sex differences, abounding in "bold" (for the uninitiated in the mysteries of psychoanalysis) terminology and may be somewhat alien to our consciousness, but at the same time this is the most representative and the most authoritative work, which gives quite a clear idea about the specifics of feminist psychoanalytic cinema theory. In addition, this work is an explicit demonstration of how the feminist critique has expropriated and used the psychoanalytic discourse to overcome traditional psychoanalysis negativism against women dating back to Freud, with his own means.

In our work we have to give two examples from visual culture and discuss how Mulvey's thesis may be convincing in one instance but tested to its limitations in another.

For this discussion I propose to take two films: "Rare Window" by Alfred Hitchcock and "Juno" by Jason Reitman.

The film "Rare Window" by Alfred Hitchcock is convincing the thesis of Laura Malvey that Man is the bearer of the look while Woman connotes to-be-looked-at-ness. The main character of this film is put in such conditions that he has to be scopophilic. A photographer Jeffries has broken his leg and now he has to watch everything going outside through the window. The film reveals to us one of the main needs of men - peep through the keyhole, figuratively speaking. It is really impossible to keep away from such a forbidden fruit. And the blame of everything is curiosity, namely it moves the main mechanisms in a man, allowing to forget about other equally important needs (food, rest, sex) and exciting the imagination at a time. In this film everything is concentrated around the man, Jeffries, women are just a phone here.

As to the film that is tested to the limitations of Malvey's thesis it should be noticed it is very hard to find such because such films began to appear not so long time ago. These are the films with a strong woman in the main role. For example I would like to propose the film "Juno" by Jason Reitman. The main heroine of this film is a young girl who is pregnant and who gets perfectly well with her problems. All the actions in the film are concentrated around this young lady - Juno and in difference to the films in which everything is made "for men", this film limits the thesis of Laura Malvey that Man is the bearer of the look while Woman connotes to-be-looked-at-ness by our vision of the main heroine.


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