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Film 299 Post

F299: Research Update #10

Below are my notes for Afterthoughts on “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” inspired by Duel in the Sun by Laura Mulvey.

  • 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. 
    • 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. 
  • Second (the “melodrama” issue), how the text and its attendant identifica- tions are affected by a female character occupying the center of the narrative arena. 
    • 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
  • The emotions of those women accepting “masculinization” while watch- ing 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. 
    • Her oscillation, her inability to achieve stable sexual identity, is echoed by the woman spectator’s masculine “point of view.” 

The female spectator’s pleasure: Freud and Femininity

  • For Freud, femininity is complicated by the fact that it emerges out of a crucial period of parallel development between the sexes; a period he sees as mascu- line, or phallic, for both boys and girls 
    • “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. But it then succumbs to the momentous process of repression, as so often has been shown, that determines the fortunes of a woman’s femininity.”
    • On Femininity:
      • We have called the motive force of sexual life “the libido.” Sexual life is dominated by the polarity of masculine-feminine; 
      • 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. 
      • the accomplishment of the aim of biology has been entrusted to the aggressiveness of men and has been made to some extent independent of women’s consent. 
  • Freud introduces the use of the word masculine as “conventional,” apparently simply following an established social-linguistic practice 
  • 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 is not to suggest that a hidden, as yet undiscovered femininity exists but that its structural relationship to masculinity under patriarchy cannot be defined or determined within the terms offered. 
    • The correct road, femininity, leads to increasing repression of “the active” {the “phallic phase” in Freud’s terms). 
      • 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 bed-rock of feminine neurosis. 
  • On Narrative Grammar and trans-sex identification
    • 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.  
    • For a girl, on the other hand, the cultural and social overlap is more confusing. Freud’s argument that a young girl’s day-dreams concentrate on the erotic ignores his own position on her early masculinity and the active day-dreams necessarily associated with this phase. 
      • In fact, all too often, the erotic function of the woman is represented by the passive, the waiting {Andromeda again), acting above all as a formal closure to the narrative structure. 
    • Three elements can thus be drawn together: 
      • Freud’s concept of “masculinity” in women, 
      • the identification triggered by the logic of a narrative grammar, 
      • and the ego’s desire to phantasize itself in a cenain, active, manner. 
      • 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 clot 
  • The heroine causes a generic shift
    • 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 
    • the development of the story acquires a complication. The issue at stake is no longer how the villain will be defeated, but how the villain’s defeat will be inscribed into history, whether the upholder of law as a symbolic system (Ranse) will be seen to be victorious or the personfication of law in a more primitive mani- festation (Tom), closer to the good or the right 
  • 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. 

Woman as signifier of sexuality

  • the symbolic equation, woman equals sexuality, still persists, but now rather than being an image or a narrative function, the equation opens out a narrative area previously suppressed or repressed. She is no longer the signifier of sexuality (function “marriage”) 
  • 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 . . . “) to ask “what next?” and to focus on the figure of the princess, waiting in the wings for her one moment of importance, to ask “what does she want?” 
    • Here we find the generic terrain for melodrama, in its woman- oriented strand. The second question (“what does she want?”) takes on greater significance when the hero function is split 
  • the narrative drama dooms the phallic, regressive resistance to the symbolic. Lewt, Pearl’s masculine side, drops out of the social order. Pearl’s masculinity gives her the “wherewithal” to achieve heroism and kill the villain. 
    • The lovers shoot each other and die in each other’s arms. 
    • 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. 
  • 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.
  • The masculine identification, in its phallic aspect, reactivates for her a phantasy of “action” that correct femininity demands should be repressed. 
    • The phantasy “action” finds expression through a metaphor of masculinity. Both in the language used by Freud and in the male personifications of desire flanking the female protagonist in the melodrama, this metaphor acts as a straitjacket, becoming itself an indicator, a litmus paper, of the problem inevitably activated by any attempt to represent the feminine in patriarchal society. 
    • The memory of the “masculine” phase has its own romantic attraction, a last-ditch resistance, in which the power of masculinity can be used as postponement against the power of patriarchy. 
  • Her “tomboy” pleasures, her` sexuality, are not accepted by Lewt, except in death. So, too, is the female spectator’s phantasy of masculinization at cross-purposes with itself, restless in its transvestite clothes. 

By alaineee

- Course: MA Media Studies (Film)
- Favorite book/novel: "Without Seeing the Dawn" by Stevan Javellana because it is a very disturbing and realistic depiction of the resilience of a Filipino.
- Favorite film: "Sophie's Choice", because of the marvelous storytelling and exemplary acting from the cast
- Favorite media practitioner: Julie Andrews because, as a child, she sparked my interest in both music and film and she continues to inspire me up to this day.
- Favorite song: "Blessings" by Laura Story because it is about maintaining one's strength and faith amidst difficulties
- Favorite internet site: Twitter (a social media platform where your thoughts, opinions, news, and overall freedom of speech are limited to 280 characters only)
- Hobbies: Singing, Traveling, Doing 3D puzzles

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