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Film 299 Post

F299: Research Update #12

Below are my notes for Chapters 2 and 3 of Violent Women in Contemporary Cinema by Janice Loreck.

CHAPTER 2: Science, sensation and the Female Monster: Trouble Every Day

  • Animal-women, bestial aliens and wild human-hybrids are among the most enduring types of violent women in cinema. 
  • people affected by a mysterious illness that compels them to viciously attack their sexual partners, resulting in several gruesome scenes that the film shows in intimate detail 
  • Their stories centre on scientific voyeurism: in Splice (Vincenzo Natali, 2009), for example, the animal-woman is an experiment in genetic engineering; in Species, she is an alien-human hybrid raised in a lab; in Cat People, she is treated as a neurotic and hypochondriac; in Captive Wild Woman, she is once again a scientific experiment, this time in the human endocrine system. 

The monster as ‘curiosity’

  • She is therefore a feminine object of a masculine scientific drive for knowledge. 
  • However, whereas the Woman regularly describes and reflects upon her own experiences during therapy (and therefore has agency in her own treatment) Coré’s affliction renders her virtually mute and helpless. 
  • Coré is an object to be ‘aggressively revealed, unmasked, discovered’ by the investigators in the story, and, by extension, the spectator 
  • This figure is a female monster, either artificially created or naturally occurring, whose anoma- lousness positions her as both a terrifying antagonist and an epistemo- logically arousing object of enquiry.  
  •  The scientist typically has two responsibilities that are in direct conflict with one another. 
    • Firstly, his own desire for knowledge compels him to study the female curiosity. Usually, the woman possesses physical attributes that make her a tantalising object of enquiry.  
    • Secondly, the scientist must also contain the woman, a task that is usually incompatible with his desire to unlock her secrets. 
  • Her very subjectivity is antagonistic; in her unknowability, she challenges the scientist’s persona as a possessor of knowledge. 
  • On one hand, the female monster’s death and the destruction of her body can be interpreted as an ideological manoeuvre. By removing the threat that she poses to masculine scientific knowledge, the film reinstates patriarchal authority. 

Vision and Sensation

  • the film seems to intrude on the personal space of the spectator 
  • earlier representations of female ‘freaks’ and oddities by reversing the way that subjectivity and monstrousness are engendered by more distanced, voyeuristic modes of spectatorship 
  • Mise-en-scène and narrative invite an epistemophilic mode of looking in relation to the female monster as a curiosity, either by literally objec- tifying the woman in the diegesis or by positioning the onlooker in terms of his or her remoteness to the female specimen. 
  • These scientific horror films also enforce distance between the monster and the scientist (and spectator) through the use of props and sets. 
    • Sometimes the female monster will quite literally be kept in a cage or vessel within a labora- tory, surrounded by the paraphernalia of remote scientific observation such as microscopes and computer monitors. 
  • In her study of the monstrous-feminine in cinema, Barbara Creed argues that cuts to a black screen like this one represent an abyss: ‘the cannibalizing black hole from which all life comes and to which all life returns’ (1993: 25). 
    • These brief moments where the films’ aesthetic conveys the collapsing of distance between the female monster and her victim tend to be a catastrophic consequence of the scientists’ failure to control the violent female; 
    • however, they tend to be fleeting moments, with the film quickly restoring a distanced, monocular perspective
  • aesthetic of abjection 
    • Defined literally as that which is ‘cast off’, abjection involves an experience of the pre-Symbolic: the things that have been culturally and psy- chically rejected in order to accede to subjectivity. 
    • According to Creed, the ‘images of abjection’ that are frequently found in horror cinema include blood and viscera, corpses, saliva, sweat and tears (1993: 10); substances that exemplify the abject or ‘not me’
  • “work of abjection” or “abjection at work”’ 
    • Representations of the abject onscreen can inspire a sense of defilement in the spectator; to illustrate this, Creed cites the colloquial expressions for a particularly frightening horror film such as ‘it “made me sick” or “scared the shit out of me” 
  • This tactile, abject visuality influences the film’s inscription of violent female subjectivity at the same time as it breaks with generic expectations of it as a ‘restrained’ art film.  
  • The film positions the spectator into an experience of ontological encounter with the transgressive woman. 
  • Rather than differentiation, this produces an equivalence between the subject and the Other that is facilitated through the processes of spectatorship initiated in the film. 

Sound, space and monstrous encounters

  • troubles the spectator’s orientation by generating a sense of bodily invasion. 
  • This contrasts with the way that the classic horror discovery plot engenders monstrous female Otherness; instead of enabling a unified and separate voyeuristic gaze, tactile sound in Trouble Every Day enacts contact between the spectator and the violent woman. 
  • sounds evoke a sense of contact
    • This haptic sound positions the listener in terms of his or her proximity to the monster herself, as well as a sympathetic experi- ence of the onscreen events. 
  • Sound here suggests an encounter – a collapsing of clinical observation – that positions the listener not as a discrete, masterful subjectivity but in terms of his or her fluid proximity to Coré. 
  • horror films frequently use cinematographic techniques, such as zooms and tracking shots, to implicate the spectator’s body in encounters with the monster onscreen
  • Some films figure the monster as literally repulsive – their victims flinch, look away or shield themselves upon encountering the terrifying creature – whereas other horror films convey the monster’s attraction or pull.  
  • smooth space is immersive and undifferentiated, whereas striated space is ‘in principle infinite, open, and unlimited in every direction; it has neither top nor bottom nor cen- tre; it does not assign fixed and mobile elements but rather distributes a continuous variation’ 
  • This abyss, she writes, represents the archaic mother figure that is explicitly associated with the maternal body
  • ‘boundaries, designed to keep the abject at bay, threaten to disintegrate, collapse’, explains Creed (1993: 29),
    •  whereas Marks suggests that smooth space ‘does something to dissolve the boundaries between the beholder and the thing beheld’ (2004: 80). 
    • For Marks, smooth space is also evocative of haptic sensation; because smooth space is immersive, it is ‘felt’ on the spectator’s body. 
  • The film’s depiction of smooth space positions the spectator into a contaminating closeness with Coré as the violent female monster. 
  • As Marks explains, this embodied immersion in space dismantles the rigid construction of distance between the self and other that is called into place by the scopic regimes of classical narrative cinema, producing a sensation of being closer to the object, even ‘the possibility of one becoming the other’ 
  • Trouble Every Day enacts an encounter with the violent female Other, insisting that she is not an entity to be quarantined and controlled by patriarchal power, but an otherness that can trouble the very metaphysical foundations upon which masculine subjectivity is conceptualised as a discrete and sovereign wholeness. 

Conclusion

  • Both are wary of the kind of scientific, hierarchical, masculine knowledge that erects divisions between subjects and simultaneously creates the female enigma.  
  • Whereas von Trier’s film engenders the violent woman by manipulating spectators’ expectations of the film’s art cinema genericity, Denis’s text interrogates the categories of human personhood by provoking an embodied, sensory horror reaction in the spectator. 
  • As such, the world of Trouble Every Day is one where violent men and aggressive women possess an ontological contiguity. 
    • To express this, the film creates a viewing experience that promotes closeness and, at least for the film’s running time, breaks down barriers between the violent woman and the onlooker. 
  • Trouble Every Day is therefore best described as a filmic thought- experiment that queries the nature of selfhood, mobilising the violent woman to destabilise gender, humanity, violence and monstrosity.
  • Trouble Every Day answers the desire to know the violent woman by challenging fixed notions of subjectivity and otherness altogether. 

CHAPTER 3: Sex and Self-Expression: Fatal Women in Baise-moi

  • One of the most enduring images of female violence in the Western cultural tradition is that of the dangerous seductress. 
  • This continuing association between female eroticism and malicious intent has led Alice Myers and Sarah Wight to declare that all women’s violence is framed in terms of gender difference and sexuality: 
    • ‘[W]hen a woman commits an act of criminal violence,’ they write, ‘her sex is the lens through which all of her actions are seen and understood’ (1996: xi). 
    • Laura Sjoberg and Caron E. Gentry go further, arguing that ‘a woman’s violence is a sexual event’ (2007: 46) (original emphasis).  
  • A cursory survey of cinematic representation since the 1940s shows that films frame a woman’s aggression as contiguous with her sexuality in a variety of different ways. 
    • Some films represent women’s allure as both a means of obfuscating her nature and as a weapon to be wielded against men.
    • Other films equate feminine sexuality with a more ontological danger; for example, the abject female monsters of Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) and Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976) horrify because they expose ‘the fragility’ of the symbolic order that governs masculine subjectivity (Creed 1986: 48). 
    • Other films position a violent woman’s sexuality as evidence of her all-encompassing corruption 
  • women’s violence see these murder- esses as ‘motivated by their overwhelming perversion 

Reframing sex in Baise-moi

  • Sexually explicit sex acts are once again appearing in esthetically ambitious films depicting complex and explicit sexual relations that are neither the whole point of the film (as in pornography) nor tacked on gratuitously (as in soft-core ‘exploitation’). 
  • Instead, sex has an expressive function in Baise-moi insofar as it shows Nadine and Manu’s subjectivity as marginalised women. 
    • Put another way: whereas a woman’s sexuality is often used as a point of occlusion – or, conversely, of visual objectification – Baise-moi is an exploration of Nadine and Manu’s experiences as subjects of a particular milieu.  
  • the film is about ‘wounded women, abused by and used by men, by women, by the world’ and is therefore an ‘exploration of two women of the underclass’. 
  • Hetero-erotic spectacle in Baise-moi therefore operates as an expressive strategy that represents Nadine and Manu’s experience – their boredom, their social and cultural milieu, and their identities as violent women. 
  • Critics link the film’s hetero-erotic spectacle with a filmic milieu that possesses particular creative goals: specifically, the representation of human experience. 

Visual Culture and Identity

  • the film itself also frames its sex scenes as expressions of the protagonists’ identity 
  • Baise-moi shows Nadine and Manu’s sexual encounters using an aesthetic that Linda Williams calls ‘maximum visibility’: the defining characteristic of mainstream pornography. Williams observes that the principle of maximum visibility can manifest in a variety of different stylistic regimes; however, its enduring goal is to make the sex act as visible as possible. Common aesthetics include ‘close-ups of body parts’, the lighting of ‘easily obscured genitals’, the use of ‘sexual positions that show the most of bodies and organs’ and, very importantly, the image of ejaculation 
  • Rather than adding these scenes to sate an objectifying male gaze, Baise-moi uses maximum visibility to communicate the classed and gendered conditions of the protagonists’ experience. Specifically, the aesthetic produces them as women whose lives are shaped by the sex industry and saturated with pornographic imagery; where sex is frank, utilitarian and brief. 
  • Maximum visibility becomes a way of conveying Nadine and Manu’s position as subjects of a particular marginalised economic, sexual and cultural milieu. 
  • ‘framed by various realist modalities . . . to reveal the emotional, experiential and social realities of sex and sexuality’ (2006: 43).
    • The way that Baise-moi establishes this sense of authenticity contrasts with one of the classical femme fatale’s deadliest characteristics: her ability to falsify sexual interest.
  • Sex scenes in pornography therefore attempt to ‘force’ women into similarly observable displays of sexual pleasure. 
    • This explains the prevalence of coercive sex in pornography where a woman is ‘made’ to experience pleasure through forced intercourse.  
  • Williams argues that the logic of maximum visibility cannot represent female pleasure, partly because women’s orgasms are an internal physiological response that have no parallel with the male ‘standard of evidence’ (1989: 49–50). 
    • The logic of maximum visibility therefore coerces female sexuality into phallocentric schema of meaning. 
  • Baise-moi frames these scenes as an expression of Nadine and Manu’s sexual experience and enjoyment, comprising the very aesthetic that pervades the protagonists’ world. 

Maximum Visibility and Emotion

  • exposing the inner emotional experience of its two protagonists 
  • ‘the wobbling flesh is all too tragically human’ 
  • ‘There’s a joyousness and abandon here that hints at another, more pleasurable world . . . beyond the brutality’ (2001: n.p.). 
    • Instead of arguing that the erotic sequences are base and emotionless, these critics suggest that such moments contribute to the personal expressivity of Baise-moi. 
  • Bainbridge suggests that cinema can therefore represent sub- jectivity by externalising the subject’s internal life, with emotions acting as both evidence and an affirmation of personal experience  

Returning the Gaze

  • I have argued that hetero-erotic spectacle takes up a special role in Baise-moi, wherein it operates to signify the violent woman’s subjectivity. However, I have not countered the argument, made by several researchers, that cinema objectifies the violent woman. 
  • Christine Holmlund argues that beautiful, violent heroines ‘are not nec- essarily a cause for feminist jubilation’ because their subversiveness is limited by their eroticised presentation. 
    • They are almost always ‘white, lithe and lovely’ and do not necessarily represent the far less glamorous personas of real women who kill  
  • classical cinema produces women in terms of their ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’, indicating that a structuring, scopophilic masculinity engenders their representation. 
  • O’Day posits that the action heroine’s beauty ‘allays’ the transgression that her violence makes to normative gender categories 
  • Whereas ‘traditional’ spectatorship theory (or, more specifically, the psychoanalytic model that hypothesises the possibility of voyeuristic pleasure) presumes a unidirectional gaze between the spectator and the screen, the filmic strategy of ‘looking back’ brings the spectator into an awareness of his or her subjectivity in relation to the depictions onscreen. 
  • Maximum visibility and other forms of erotic spectacle can change how subject positions are inscribed in the cinematic apparatus. 
    • This mode of spectatorship has implications for how the woman is represented, chiefly because it inscribes her as another subject rather than an objectified Other to a masculine gaze. 
  • Baise-moi uses maximum visibility to ‘look back’ at the spectator. Whereas most films introduce their ‘fatal women’ or ‘babe heroines’ in ways that quickly establish their ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’, maximally vis- ible scenes in Baise-moi acknowledge the spectator in ways that disrupt voyeuristic visual pleasure. 
  • Instead of titillating the onlooker, however, the combination of sexual violence and maximum visibility in the rape scene ‘looks back’ at spectators 
  • However, the rapists’ aggression haunts the scene as a potential point of identification for the spectator. Viewers can imagine a sadistic response to the sequence (even if they, themselves, do not expe- rience such a reaction) and may strongly wish not to identify with the attackers. 
  • The possibility of pleasure in the men’s violence thus exists as a hypothetical response to the rape scene. It operates as a fantasy, a negative way of relating to the film, in the mind of the spectator. 
  • Triadic identification occurs when a spectator momentarily identifies with an imagined (and usually policing) societal gaze: a ‘third’ look that intervenes in the relationship between text and spectator. 
    • In particular, when a spectator suddenly becomes aware that he or she is watching material that the broader society might deem inappropriate, he or she may experience intense feelings of shame and self-awareness. 
    • As Laine explains, this occurs because spectators internalise societal norms that operate as an imag- ined look – ‘the “panoptic” look of the larger social structures’ 
  • the voyeur can only feel shame once he or she conceptualises the Other as a subject and identifies with the Other’s gaze. With the realisation that oneself exists as an object for the Other, the Other therefore becomes a subject, an individual, in the mind of the voyeur. 

Conclusion

  • When women kill in cinema, sex very often precedes, follows or precipitates their violence. 
    • As Sjoberg and Gentry observe, ‘women’s involvement in sexual activity is somehow always closely linked to women’s violence’ 
  • Popular genres that link female violence and sex emphasise the woman’s hetero-erotic appeal in ways that betray an organising voyeuristic subjectivity inscribed in the text. 
  • Drawing on the aesthetic of maximum visibility, the film positions the onlooker in a relationship of anti-voyeurism to the text 
  • It is a film that wants to avoid the coercion – or the ‘magic trick’ – of forcing violent women to speak about their intimate sexual subjectiv- ity. Instead, Nadine and Manu unmask themselves using the very por- nographic idiom that they are familiar with (and, controversially, that objectifies them as women).  
  • Indeed, the sex scenes between the Man and Woman, which are often bitter and violent, underscore the lack of communication between the two. 
    • At one point, the Woman demands that the Man slap her across the face while the two are intimate together; later, she attacks him at a vulnerable moment during intercourse. 
  • Baise-Moi is a film about violent ‘lower class’ women, made by supposedly marginal women. The mainstream doesn’t want to hear about people with nothing, the disenfranchised, the margin- als, taking up arms and killing people for fun and money. It hap- pens, of course, but we’re not allowed to acknowledge it. 
  • As these comments suggest, Baise-moi is a film that uncompromisingly relates the violent woman’s experience to the spectator, even if this process involves exposing audiences to aspects of Nadine and Manu’s lives that they may not wish to confront. 
    • To know the violent woman in Baise-moi is to witness all parts of her experience: her hedonistic pleasures, her sexual victimisation and her brutality. 
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Film 299 Post

F299: Research Update #11

Below are my notes for the Introduction and Chapter 1 of Violent Women in Contemporary Cinema by Janice Loreck.

INTRODUCTION

  • Although a man’s violence might be represented as heroic or villainous, rarely is his capacity for physical aggression depicted as problematic in and of itself. When a woman commits an act of violence, her behaviour – indeed, her very existence – causes profound unease and questioning. 
  • The past century has seen a range of violent women appear on cinema screens, such as the femmes fatales of 1930s and 1940s film noir, the female freaks and monsters of 1950s horror films, the vigilante heroines of 1970s blaxploitation, and the beautiful warriors of late 1990s and early 2000s action cinema. Popular cinema of the past decade has showcased dozens of such character types. Athletic protagonists feature in Lucy (Luc Besson, 2014) and Haywire (Steven Soderbergh, 2011); violent girls appear in Kick-Ass (Matthew Vaughn, 2010) and Sucker Punch (Zack Snyder, 2011); female avengers populate Kill Bill Vols 1 & 2 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003; 2004) and The Brave One (Neil Jordan, 2007); and psychotic murderesses star in Excision (Richard Bates, Jr, 2012) and Nurse 3D (Doug Aarniokoski, 2013). 
  • These texts indicate that the violent woman’s transgressive subjectivity is under negotiation within multiple milieus of film culture. 
  • they also initiate a discussion about female violence, an act that signals their consequence in the broader culture’s exploration of gendered identities. 
  • In History of Animals, Aristotle describes females as ‘more compassionate than man, more easily moved to tears . . . more shrinking, more difficult to rouse to action’. Although the origins of this concept are millennia old, the idea of female non-aggression continues to manifest in all manner of contemporary discourses (even those that are seen as ideologically opposed to one another). As Laura Sjoberg and Caron E. Gentry write, ‘A conservative interpretation [of gender] sees women as peaceful and apolitical, a liberal view understands women as a pacifying influence on politics, and feminists who study global politics often critique the masculine violence of interstate relations’     
  • At the same time, however, madwomen, female monsters and killers are ubiquitous in global narrative traditions in ways that suggest that women have an innate capacity for vindictive cruelty; that they are, so to speak, ‘more deadly than the male’. 
  • ‘Women’s violence falls outside of . . . ideal-typical understanding of what it means to be a woman’ because ‘women are not supposed to be violent’ (2007: 2) (original emphasis). Moreover, as observed by Hilary Neroni, the violent woman is a disruptive figure who overturns ‘the ideological structures (most especially those involving gender) that regulate our experiences’ (2005: x). Whether they are depicted as heroines, villainesses or morally ambiguous characters, women who harm other people are challenging, ‘difficult’ subjects who undermine some of the most entrenched gender norms of Western culture. 

Violent Women in Cinema

  • observe that ‘a rich and diverse literature’ surrounds women who commit acts of violence onscreen 
  • ‘film-as-cultural-symptom’ hypothesis – sees the violent woman as a product of changing cultural attitudes about gender. Researchers such as Frank Krutnik have linked the femmes fatales of the original film noir cycle to the upheavals in the workforce and family during the 1940s post-war period (1991: 63); Stephane Dunn and Yvonne D. Sims associate blaxploitation vigilantes with second- wave feminism and the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s (Dunn 2008: 126; Sims 2006: 26); Lisa Coulthard and Rebecca Stringer connect popular action heroines to the post-feminist and neoliberalist eras of the 1990s (Coulthard 2007: 154–5; Stringer 2011: 269). Such research conceptualises the violent woman as a textual manifestation of an anxiety, trauma or ambivalence about gender that is characteristic of a particular historical moment. 
  • The other most common critical means of assessing the violent woman in popular cinema has been to investigate her as a trope of a specific genre, such as horror, film noir, action, slasher film, rape- revenge or exploitation.  
  • more recent work by Sherrie A. Inness (2004) and Marc O’Day (2004) on the action cin- emas of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, Jacinda Read (2000) and Barbara Creed (1993) on the rape-revenge cycle, and Dunn (2008) and Sims (2006) on 1970s blaxploitation. In most cases, these studies’ primary goal is to give an account of how the violent woman integrates with the tropes, pleasures or functioning of a chosen genre. For instance, the work of O’Day, Inness and Dunn singles out narra- tive agency and display of corporeal utility as key traits of the violent woman in action and blaxploitation; such traits are essential to ensur- ing the forward momentum of these genres’ plots. Similarly, according to Creed’s analysis of horror cinema, the female monster complements the genre’s raison d’être: that is, she horrifies audiences with her abjec- tion (1993: 7). Another example is Mary Ann Doane’s analysis of the femme fatale, in which she states that the fatal woman’s deviousness integrates with the investigative, ‘hermeneutic drive’ of the hard-boiled noir film 
  • These scholars conceptualise women’s violence as indicative of a mode of existence that arises from living as a woman in a phallocentric, patriarchal society. Violence has a metaphoric function, gesturing towards the specificity of women’s experience in a culture that elides female subjectivity. 

Women’s violence and filmic taste-categories

  • A survey of the violent woman in cinema shows that she appears prolifically in ‘low’ cultural forms such as exploitation cinema 
  • all of the films considered in this book present the violent woman as a complicated individual, making her available for scrutiny and contemplation. 

The violent woman as an enigma

  • observe that female murderers are ‘othered’ as a means of dealing with the challenge they make to gender norms. 
  • contemporary cultural discourses ‘have fully othered the vio- lent woman’ by constructing them as biological or psychological oddi- ties: such women ‘are not women at all, but singular mistakes and freak accidents’ (2007: 13). In her examination of legal discourses, Morrissey argues that prosecutors do not allow for the possibility of female violence, instead characterising women who kill as victims of circumstance rather than possessing a capacity for aggression. For Morrissey, this reveals ‘the exclusionary operation of discursive identity formation’ which cannot conceive of women as anything other than passive victims of violence (2003: 3). In such conceptions, the notions of the ‘subject’ and the ‘Other’ that these scholars use refer to personhood as an effect of structure; that is to say, the subject (and by implication the violent woman) is not an essential being but is produced by the systems and actions of language known as discourse. Such systems and actions, for Sjoberg, Gentry and Morrissey, disallow female violence, framing it as an unnatural phenomenon. 
  • Such reports represent the violent woman as an inscrutable or shape-shifting figure who is defined by mystery and elusiveness. 
  • the paradigmatic expression of this in film culture is the figure of the duplicitous femme fatale, a female character who is unpredictable and ‘never what she appears to be’ 
  • Julie Grossman notes that the conceptualisation of the femme fatale as unknowable overlooks the oft-complex representations of women in the genre: ‘the opaque powerful woman persists in objectifying female experience,’ she writes, because ‘the “femme fatale” is a symbol of fears about absolute female power, not a representation of complex female experience . . . which is often present in connection with film noir’s women’ (2009: 5). In addition, violent men are also occasionally presented as enigmatic or Other. 
  • That said, the association between femininity and mystery is culturally pervasive to the point where it becomes a dominant framework or reference point for women’s violence. Indeed, while Grossman criticises the insistent figuring of the femme fatale as an enigma, the fact that this has been a historically prevalent way of thinking about women in film noir indicates that the enigma has a powerful cultural existence as a concept. 
  • A key issue at stake in films that depict the homicidal woman is therefore how they respond to her construction as ‘an epistemological trauma’ or mystery. The characterisation of the violent woman as a problem in need of resolution meshes with the expectation that art and ‘quality’ cinema will explore the intricacies of human personhood for the spectator’s pleasure. 
  • This book therefore examines how each film attempts to make women’s violent personhood intelligible or, at the very least, interrogate how her mystery has been formed. 

Violent women in contemporary cinema

  • As Neroni writes, present-day culture is marked by an inabil- ity ‘to comprehend the complexities of femininity as an identity that includes violence’ (2005: 161). I argue that the films examined in this book not only encourage the spectator to consciously engage with such complexities; they also present this engagement as a central viewing pleasure for the spectator. 

CHAPTER 1: Horror, Hysteria and Female Malaise: Antichrist

  • The depiction of a violent, psychologically disturbed woman in Antichrist recalls the diagnosis of hysteria, a pre- dominantly feminine disease of both the mind and body 
  • The term originates from the Greek ‘hystera’ meaning ‘uterus’, and one of the earliest accounts of a hysteria-like illness is found in Plato’s Timaeus, in which he describes the disorder as the consequence of a distressed, ‘unfruitful’ uterus that moves around the body, obstructing respiration (2014: 132). Antichrist similarly links the female protago- nist’s aggression to her reproductive capacity insofar as her symptoms arise after the death of her only child. 
  • violent woman’s cultural construction as an enigma. Filmic narratives frequently betray a specifically epistemological anxiety about the violent woman’s subjectivity, positioning her as a ‘problem’ that must be solved: by foregrounding the Woman’s debilitating grief and anxiety, Antichrist certainly constructs a scenario that positions her as a mysterious entity

A mutual misunderstanding

  • As she arches her body, her chest rises and falls rapidly, mimicking the ‘hysterical seizure’ or ‘grande hystérie’, a full-body episode that supposedly resembles both childbirth and orgasm 
  • Antichrist in fact engages in a critique of the subjectify- ing medical power that the Man wields over the Woman. Although the film rearticulates a ‘mad’ or ‘bad’ cultural narrative of female violence – a formulation that imagines women’s aggression as a product of either her intrinsic evil or insanity (Morrissey 2003: 33) – it is also highly concerned with problematising masculine authority.  
  • Confused and enraged, the Man strangles the Woman to death, thereby perma- nently eliminating the threat she poses to his life and his authority as an analyst. 
  • Antichrist uses the figure of the feminine hysteric to foreground the oppressiveness, and limits, of masculine knowledge (rather than, for example, femininity’s horror). 
  • In ending so violently and with few conclusions about the ‘true’ cause of the woman’s illness, Antichrist could be accused of ulti- mately representing the violent, hysterical woman as an unsolvable enigma – an unresolved conundrum with which to undermine mas- culine authority. 
  • stripped of their individuality, these women seem to symbolise a supernatural or possibly even malevolent force of femininity, just as the Woman claimed. However, the image of the Man standing mystified as the women swarm around him foregrounds his ignorance. Male mis- understanding, rather than the horror of femininity, is the point that concludes Antichrist. 

Horror, drama, and generic provocation

  • Antichrist also undertakes several formal manoeuvres that position violent femininity as an expressive tool for critiquing male power. 
  • this boils down to the film’s evasive uncertainty about whether to represent [the female protagonist] as a case of psychological trauma or an incarnation of mythic evil. 
  • After Nic falls to his death, the Woman’s deep depres- sion becomes a plot event that requires resolution; it is the puzzle that organises the narrative. The spectacle and narrative fact of her grief encourage spectators to scrutinise her symptoms for clues regarding the nature of her malaise and to participate in her diagnosis, casting the Woman in the role of hysteric and the onlooker as analyst. A series of intense physical spectacles in the early parts of Antichrist reinforce this positioning: the Woman suffers panic attacks, hyperventilates, and, in one scene, beats her head against the edge of a porcelain toilet bowl. The Woman – her emotions and her subjectivity – becomes the enigma that initiates the narrative and positions the viewers in a state of non- knowledge about the woman onscreen. Moreover, the dialogue in these scenes invokes the discourse of psychology as a basis for understanding her behaviour. The Man insists that the Woman’s grief is ‘not a disease’ but ‘a natural, healthy reaction’ and encourages her to explore her emotions. The Man is clearly overconfident in his approach; he super- ciliously brandishes his wife’s medication and insists that she return home from hospital. 
  • Rather than maintaining a characterisation of the Woman’s violence as having its aetiology solely in psychological distress, the plot events of Antichrist pose a second possibility: that her behaviour is attributable to her inherent and supernatural feminine evil. The mysterious events that occur midway through Antichrist enact a generic shift away from psychological realism towards a regime of verisimilitude more appropriate to horror cinema. 
  • In its transformation from a meditation on the effects of grief on a woman’s mental state to a fatal spousal conflict with supernatural overtones, Antichrist can be understood as a psychodramatic art film that becomes a horror film 
  • This shift sees the film dispense with a clear psychological rationale for the Woman’s hysteria and instead insinuate that her behaviour is attribut- able to intrinsic evil. The tacit suggestion that supernatural entities are implicated in her actions is consistent with the popular horror genre’s regimes of verisimilitude: witches, demons and evil entities surface repeatedly in horror films 
  • In its depiction of a disordered doctor-patient relationship, the film instead entertains an extremely provocative (and, for many, ideologically unacceptable) explanation for the Woman’s violence: namely, that it stems from her inherent feminine evil. This deliberate generic frustration amounts to a formal subversion of the spectator’s gaze; the film invites, and then denies, the spectator’s drive to reveal, uncover and unmask the woman. 
  • the plot particulars of Antichrist also characterise the drive for knowledge as an explicitly masculine mode of looking. In the context of the film, psychology is a male discourse that superciliously acts upon the Woman via her husband. By char- acterising femininity as mysterious and possibly even evil, Antichrist allows its female protagonist to evade the Man’s – and the spectator’s – subjectifying desire to account for her illness. 
  • Critiquing the spectator by invoking an extremely misogynistic (not to mention archaic) rationale for female violence is undoubtedly a problematic manoeuvre that con- tributed to the audience’s outrage after the film’s premiere at Cannes. 

The visible and the knowable

  • Since Laura Mulvey’s treatise on visual pleasure provided a foundational account of the way that cinema positions women in relation to the psychic needs of the masculine spectator, the role of vision in the production of female subjectivity has been of interest to feminist scholars. Yet such regimes can also be described as driven by pleasure in knowledge. 
  • Film representation must therefore establish a direct correlation between the observable and truth. 
  • Niche cinema forms place exclusionary requirements upon their audience, demand- ing high levels of cultural competency in order to foster a pleasure in interpretation or reading 
  • ‘the visible’ does indeed equal ‘the knowable’. The early scenes of the film establish two cinematographic styles that visually signify the Woman’s objective and subjective experience, thereby suggesting the possibility of interpreting the Woman’s malaise and providing a kind of pleasure in knowledge associated with art cinema modes of spectatorship.  
  • hand-held style to signify diegetic reality and high-speed footage to represent subjective reality, with the hand-held camera showing events occurring in real time and space and the high-speed camera depicting the Woman’s fantasies or imaginings 
  • the hand-held camera gives the spectator a powerful omniscience, allowing her or him to see the Woman’s private, anguished moments 
  • In contrast, the high-speed sequences represent events occurring in the characters’ imaginations. These images are steady, vividly colourised and extremely still. 
  • Both of these camera styles make the Woman available for the spectator’s scrutiny: the hand-held enables an unfettered access, whereas the visualisation sequences render the Woman’s psyche ‘observable’, thus empowering the spectator to inspect her mind as well as her body. Precisely because of their dreamlike, fantastical qual- ity, these images reaffirm vision’s positivist value. 

Examining the patient

  • figuration of female subjectivity through the representation of the face. Faces are a key point of feminist interest 
  • As Doane remarks, the face is figured as ‘the instance of subjectivity’ and ‘the mark of individuality’ 
  • faces are a focal point for the epistemophilic gaze – the face is ‘the most readable space of the body’, the most immediate signifier of emotion and unique identity, as well as a site that requires special interpretation on the part of the onlooker 
  • In keeping with Doane’s descriptions, the intense focus on the face in the early scenes of Antichrist elevates the Woman – particularly her emotions – to the status of a narrative enigma to be solved. 
  • The intense focus on the face in the early scenes of Antichrist is part of the film’s elevation of the Woman and her subjectivity to the status of a narrative enigma to be solved. Faces in close-up function as surfaces where emotion, character psychology and motivation manifest. 
  • If, as David Bordwell suggests, characters in art cinema search for the aetiologies of their emotions (1979: 58), spec- tators at the start of Antichrist are implicated in a process of connecting the expressions that manifest on the Woman’s face with her interior psychic state. Although the face is a surface, it has also been described as having a special profundity linked to the subject’s essential personhood; for instance, being described as ‘a mirror of the soul’ 
  • The visual representation of the Woman’s face in Antichrist sug- gests that it possesses a profundity of meaning – a subjectivity – avail- able only to those who can decipher it.  
  • (Veiling) This intensifies the hermeneutic drive of the gaze by aesthetically representing the face as a mystery. 
  • By becoming a surface that shows only the lack of an interior, the Woman’s face is unavailable to be read or scrutinised. Instead, the face becomes what I call a visage: an objectified likeness that indicates the terrifying absence of the soul rather than a hidden profundity. 
  • By morphing the face to represent the horrifying lack of an interior rather than a profound per- sonhood, the film inhibits the spectator’s ability to decode the Woman. 
  • all see a female heroine paradoxically evade patriarchal power precisely through her victimisation and, in some cases, violent death 

Spectacles of Violence

  • Popular and academic discourses often imply that film violence should have an identifiable meaning or utility; for instance, as a function of artistic expression or social comment  
  • On one hand, the film’s representation of violence recalls the real and continuing acts of misogyny perpetrated against women in the historical world. 
  • Antichrist largely withholds the means to make sense of the Woman’s violence as rooted in a psychological malaise or demonic monstrosity. The image of her self-mutilation may show, as Linda Badley suggests, that the Woman has ‘internalized’ misogynistic violence, or it may simply be misogy- nistic discourse articulated in visual form (2010: 149). Like the Woman herself, violence in Antichrist is an inscrutable symptom: a spectacle with ambivalent meaning. 

Conclusion

  • Antichrist frustrates the aggressive impulse to unmask the woman that appears in cultural narratives about women’s violence.    
  • the film refuses to fully explain the origins of the woman’s murderous behaviour, offering incomplete or risible explanations designed to pro- duce frustration in the onlooker 
  • Antichrist is therefore best described as a sympathetic retelling of the ‘woman as enigma’ narrative insofar as it characterises the Woman as a misunderstood figure rather than a threatening entity. Although she brutally injures the Man, the Woman is positioned at all times as a victim of her husband’s corrosive attentions, and she pays for his therapeutic failures with her life. This strategy notably departs from earlier representations of hysterical women in horror and thriller texts 
  • Certainly, the Woman of Antichrist meets the same deadly fate as these other violent women. Instead of straightforwardly portraying femininity as frightening and mysterious, however, Antichrist condemns male misunderstanding of femininity. 
  • While Antichrist is critical of masculine power, it is important to note that this does not necessarily entail it engaging in feminist film practice
  • some reviewers who comment on the film’s gender politics take the opposing view, arguing that Antichrist disseminates a misogynistic representation of the female protagonist under the guise of an artistic right to provocation 
  • When the Man asks his wife if she wants to kill him, she replies: ‘not yet.’ Her response indicates that, like the horror film villainesses that precede her, the Woman threatens the male protagonist’s survival and is thus ‘responsible’ for her fate.
Categories
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. 
Categories
Film 299 Post

F299: Research Update #9

Below are my notes for And the Mirror Cracked – Feminist Cinema and Film Theory by Anneke Smelik.

  • “Feminist film theory has yet to explore and work through anger, which for women continues to be, as it has been historically, the most unacceptable of all emotions.” -Tania Modleski

Introduction

  • It is understood that a critical analysis of violence against women can yield insight into the sources of misogyny in masculinist society. 
  • The portrayal of violence in films is not always centred around women’s victimization; women’s resistance can become violent too. 
  • The question is why murderous women feature in feminist films. What connects all the murderesses in their differences is the desire to take their lives into their own hands, to liberate themselves from victim roles and to win the struggle for survival. 
  • This points to another characteristic that films on female violence share: violence committed by women is never gratuitous but always a form of resistance against injustice, abuse of power or sexual violence. The films seek to find representations for an experience of anger and frustration 
  • Images of female violence, then, are a very specific attempt on the part of feminist filmmakers ‘to construct the female subject from that political and intellectual rage’, to quote de Lauretis 
  • The theme of female killers may be taken not only as provocation but also as a metaphor, as a cinematic figure representing women’s experience. Many feminist filmmakers have used metaphorical representations of violence for their exposure of masculinism. 

Moving Metaphors

  • A Question of Silence presents the western world as a prison for women; Broken Mirrors shows this world as a brothel and in The Last Island a potential paradise turns into a worldly hell. Each film is situated in a separate world set apart from normal society; within the microcosm of these enclaves power relations between the sexes explode into violence. In this way the prison, the brothel and the desert island become metaphors for a male-dominated society in which women are subjected to the position of ‘the second sex’. 
  • The political impact of Gorris’ film, then, must be sought in the interplay between realism and metaphorism. The importance lies in the simultaneity of the two; neglect of either would make the film much less effective. Spectators can choose to deny or ignore one of those levels in the text, thus undermining a potential feminist interpretation. 
  • Keeping the balance between the realist and the metaphorical is not a problem only for the spectator, but also for the filmmaker. The use of metaphors can be misfired by neglecting the realist level of the film. 
  • The careful construction of a cinematic metaphor, then, one that allows for a continuous interplay between literal and figural meanings, is of the utmost importance for the feminist filmmaker who wants both to move and convince her audience.  

The Question of Gender

  • In a closely knit narrative structure Silence gradually reveals that the women have no motive in the conventional sense, but that the murder is the indirect outcome of years of humiliation and objectification. 
    • The murder being an expression of their unspoken anger, it metaphorically stands for women’s outrage at and resistance to masculinist society. 
  • In featuring stereotyped characters from different classes, ages, and race, the film represents the position of women as an oppressed gender in male-dominated culture. 
  • By establishing contiguity among a number of women in the text, the film indicates that the story of the murder is a cover-up to the other story: that of bonding in a community of women akin in positionality and politics, different in race and class’ 
  • From the narrative and visual perspective of these individual women it becomes clear that each of them feels she has no right to exist outside her function for men and therefore cannot develop her own identity. 
    • Because the female characters consistently are the subject in narrative terms (focalization) and on the visual level (ocularization), the acquire a subjectivity for the spectator which is time and again denied to them within the diegesis of the film. 
    • The women, and through identification the female spectator too, find themselves in the situation of ‘Woman’, that Simone de Beauvoir describes as follows:
      • Now, what peculiarly signalizes the situation of woman is that she — a free and autonomous being like all human creatures — nevertheless finds herself living in a world where men compel her to assume the status of the Other. … The drama of woman lies in this conflict between the fundamental aspirations of every subject (ego) — who always regards the self as the essential — and the compulsions of a situation in which she is the inessential.
  • Silence exhibits the drama of women who experience themselves as subjects in a society that does not allow for female subjectivity.  
  • Silence further represents the oppression of women in metaphors of silence. In various ways the film shows that the female voice has no right of speech and that, not being heard, women are enveloped in silence. 
  • When the psychiatrist asks her why they have killed the man, Christine draws simple figures on a white sheet: a man, a woman and a child enclosed in a house, obsessively repeating the drawing of the same figures over and over again. Her drawings indicate her feelings of suffocation in the nuclear family. 
  • A metaphor is a figure of condensation which creates paradigmatic relations in a film, and a metonymy is a figure of displacement which creates syntagmatic relations. 
    • Metz is, however, quick to point out that these characteristics never occur in a ‘pure’ binary state, but spill over one into the other. 
  • A metaphor is a figure that refers to the referent by way of similarity. It derives its force and meaning from a continuous movement back and forth between the figural and the literal. 
  • The process of figuration works quite differently in cinema, because a metaphor can be visualized directly and without words into an image. 
    • The relation of similarity (or contiguity in case of metonymy) is established through montage to another image, the referent to which it is compared. In other words, a cinematic metaphor, in its being always already visualized, works through literalization. 
  • Indexical similarities establish a common ground for the metaphorical comparison between home and prison; such as the camera movement within the cramped space of the rooms at home or the prison cells, and the cross-cutting from home to prison. 
    • The juxtaposition of the images through montage, discursive contiguity in Metz’ terms, brings an element of metonymy into the metaphor. Hence, the metaphor feeds back into the image: the prison feels as much like home for the women as home feels like a prison. 
  • The metaphor of the home as prison sets off a process in which a more abstract idea shapes itself: that gender can be considered as imprisoning women in a certain role from which they need to liberate themselves. 
  • In Silence the metaphorization of the prison changes the context of imprisonment into its opposite: where usually the prison indicates an order in which a committed offence is punished by deprivation of freedom, in the film the prison becomes a potential safe place which protects women from a masculinist society that is both offensive to women and deprives them of their freedom.  

Looking and Killing

  • the strong stereotypes of the female characters and the virtual lack of individualization of the male characters directs the film away from realism into social realism. This makes the film into a sustained critique of masculinist society rather than an attack on individual men.  
  • The particular iconical and indexical signifiers in the murder scenes encourage a metaphorical reading; it is a ritual rather than a ‘real act’. The absence of a corpse and the persistent focus on the women takes the attention away from the sacrificed man to female resistance against male domination and even more specifically to women’s bonding with each other. 
  • Being part of the scene, and watching silently, the spectator too becomes responsible for the murder.  
  • Ritual, as a symbolic act, is by definition (also) metaphorical. Morover, ritual depends for its effect and function on the presence of an audience. 
  • ‘By placing the conclusive instance of speech — the act of the murder — at the beginning of the narrative as retaliation against the attempt to silence the three women, the film propounds the thesis that women are not heard, not that they do not speak’ (1992: 60). 
    • For Lucy Fischer the murder is clearly not a real life event, but both a ‘silent ceremonial performance’ (1989: 293) and a ‘highly theatrical modernist drama’ (295) that purposefully puts the audience into a position of guilt. 

Looking and Laughing

  • the murder is not acknowledged as ‘sexual’ violence, in that the legal order denies the importance of sexual difference in the murder case. 
  • The masculinist discourse of the judge and the prosecutor proves unable to acknowledge the importance and implications of sexual difference; it denies the significant fact that in this case women have killed a man. 
    • In not recognizing the murder as ‘sexual’ violence, the judicial order cannot understand the motive. 
    • The narrative of the film has shown in meaningful details the paramount importance of the paradox that masculinist society is based on and constitutes the differential category of gender, while it at the same time refuses to see that women are different. 
    • This refusal rests on the tacit premise of taking the male gender as the norm and the female as the deviation; by giving men subjectivity while women remain non-subjects. 
    • Because of its inability to accept sexual difference as a meaningful category the legal discourse becomes violent: the prosecutor breaks off the dialogue, interrupts the speaker, refuses to listen, in short, he does not take women seriously and reduces them to silence. 
    • He represents the violence of a culture which strikes half of its members with muteness by its in-difference. 
  • The women’s laughter is a sign of their understanding of the events in the courtroom; they are aware of their predicament and the total inability of the court to connect cause to effect. 
  • It is a liberating laugh which binds the women together. 
    • With their laughter the women shut out those who do not share their insight and understanding. 
    • Therefore the laughter is placed outside the order of the dominant discourse; after all, speech is no longer possible. 
    • The laughter breaks through the silence that has surrounded the women for so long. 
    • It also thwarts all male authority, turning the court case into the farce it has been from the start. 
    • Hence the laughter becomes a symbolic sign for women’s resistance against the masculinist order.
    • Ordered to leave the courtroom the murderesses descend the stairs in the middle of the courtroom, still laughing, surrounded by the women who have witnessed the murder.  
  • The spectator, in identifying with the female characters, and having understood the pain of their subjection and hence the motive for the murder, is invited to take their position. With the murder they could only watch and silently witness, with great unease presumably; with the impeding judgment in the courtroom they can actually participate, joining in with the laughter of the female characters.  
  • In the end, laughter is the real ‘weapon’ against masculinist indifference and a unique way to break through the silence. 

Parallel Perspectives

  • the cinematic strategies represent the women three-dimensionally by filming them in time (there is only one cut in the whole take) and in space (the framing of the long shot is quite large in relation to the small and crowded room). This is another way of giving subjectivity to the women both narratively and visually. 
  • Spectatorial focalization, that is the intervention of the implied director, through the juxtaposition of these two scenes as well as through the camera work, framing and montage, create a contrast between the women as subjects in their own right and the women as objects of the male gaze. 
    • The scene thus exposes the effects of the male look upon women. 
    • These iconic and indexical signs turn the short sequence into a feminist point of view: the look as sign becomes a metaphor for ‘the male gaze’. 
  • Broken Mirrors engages the viewer emotionally with the women as subjects and then makes the spectator critically aware when the women function as objects for men. 
    • Thus, the spectator experiences almost physically the pain of woman’s continuous objectification: the pain when she is deprived of her voice, her body, and her freedom. 
    • In blocking the way to identification at the moment when the female characters are objectified, the spectator is invited to reflect critically on the objectification of women by men. 
    • These alternating positions involve the spectator in a viewing process that is alternately emotional and intellectual. 

Lethal Looks

  • Because the camera films the man without attaching itself to his look, the female character is never seen through his eyes. 
    • The narrator does not present the nameless woman voyeuristically to the spectator, but instead makes her the focalizer in some of the scenes in the thriller story. 
    • Her perspective is the same as the spectator’s: she does not understand what is happening and asks aloud the question that the spectator is worrying about all along: ‘Why?’ 
  • He pins the pictures methodically on the wall, adding them to the pictures of his previous three victims whom he photographed from the beginning of their captivity until their deaths. 
    • All the elements from feminist analyses of the male gaze can be found in this substitute: a man directs his gaze at a female body; it gives him pleasure to look; and his gaze objectifies, petrifies even, the woman in his power.  
  • Broken Mirrors metaphorically shows that looking is not a mere innocent act because it always takes place within a given pattern of dominance and submission. 
  • Mulvey has already pointed out the relation between voyeurism and sadism, observing that the ‘pleasure lies in ascertaining guilt … asserting control and subjugating the guilty person through punishment or forgiveness’ 
  • For Mulvey it is fear of castration, the fear that the sight of the ‘castrated’ woman instills in men, which motivates male sadism. 
    • In Broken Mirrors this is suggested in the metaphor of the camera as phallus; the murderer is ‘castrated’ in that he does not perform any sexual act other than the surrogate of photographing the female body. 
    • Still, there is something predatory in the act of taking a picture. To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as the camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a sublimated murder — a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time. (Sontag 1979: 14–15) 
  • silence is a female form of resistance when all hope is lost. It is only then that the murderer speaks, begging her to speak, calling her a whore. 
    • But the woman refuses to react any more; she remains silent, knowing that it is the male gaze and nothing else that sees her as a whore 
  • The spectator learns this also from the parallel story of the brothel. Men can own the women they look at, because they have the power and the money to act upon their gaze.  
  • Instead the film shows the pain and suffering caused by the male objectifying gaze. Thus, the cinematic strategy of suspense is turned into a feminist vision. Broken Mirrors shows in lucid images the answer to de Lauretis’ question ‘how did Medusa feel seeing herself in Perseus’ mirror just before being slain?’ (1984: 109). I would say miserable beyond words. 

Empty space

  • the feminine is traditionally represented in Hollywood cinema as something unknown, as the enigma creating a place in the narrative structure that remains void (Kuhn 1982: 32–42). 
    • This empty space functions as the locus for images, representations and metaphorizations of the feminine. 
  • The empty narrative space positions the female subject as a structural obstacle or boundary. 
  • Narrative is structured around this space: in the beginning of the story the hero makes it his aim to solve the mystery, in the middle he tries to get through to the enigma and in the end he has solved it. 
    • As many feminist critics have pointed out, the ‘solution’ of the mystery lies either in the destruction of the woman (death or prison) or in her incorporation into the symbolic order (marriage); 
    • these being the two conventional endings of Hollywood cinema  
  • the female characters in both films are shown as subjects in a historical and social context that militates against their subjectivity 
  • De Lauretis argues that women can only become subjects when they live through and represent the contradiction of being both ‘Woman’ and ‘women’; of being both an image of the feminine and a socio-historical subject.  
  • The reversal of dominant discourse (metaphorizing ‘man’ as the empty space) and representing female subjects as both Woman and women, creates a powerful feminist discourse that specifically addresses the female spectator (whether lesbian or not). 

And the mirror cracked

  • The moment the mystery is finally solved — the identity of the murderer — the structure of the film has already convinced the spectator that the identity of the man is completely beside the point; that he is anonymous ‘Man’. 
  • The metaphor is not the enigma but the solution of the enigma’ (1986: 426). Indeed, when the spectator understands that the murderer is a metaphorical expression of male violence in general, the enigma of his identity is solved. In accepting the reflexive relationship between the two narratives, the spectator understands both of them as a metaphorical expression of the violent power relations between the sexes. 
    • The fetters with which the serial killer ties his female victims to a bed is a metaphor of the bondage that keeps women chained to sexual submission. 
    • Because the treatment of the prostitutes in the brothel can in the same way be seen as a metaphorization of the sexual objectification and possession of women, the serial killer is clearly not an isolated psychopath but rather one step down on the ladder of sexual violence against women. 
  • The breaking of the mirrors is a ritualistic act of resistance against the male gaze, against cultural representations of femininity, against the objectifying look that make women into whores, against the distorted self-images of women — all of which she shoots to pieces in the symbol of the mirror. 

The Passion of Feminism

  • ‘Conflict lies at the basis of every art’, writes Eisenstein in his essay ‘Beyond the shot’ (1987: 145). For feminist filmmakers the basic social conflict is based on gender.  
  • Rather, the major conflict in both Silence and Broken Mirrors is expressed in the experience of women who are subjects in a culture that refuses them the status of subject. 
    • Gorris has chosen to represent the struggle between the sexes from the exclusive point of view of ‘the second sex’, which has found its cinematic expression in forms of ocularization and focalization, framing, camera work and montage.  
  • A string of metaphors creates for the spectator a feminist vision on masculinist society where women are imprisoned in the straitjacket of gender: the world is a prison (Silence); or where women are exploited and abused: the world is a brothel (Broken Mirrors) 
  • It is from the concrete iconic image that the metaphor of women’s oppression is transformed into a symbolic image. 
    • The metaphor is not an escape, but a liberation, from too literal a meaning, just as the level of realism is a liberation from ‘facile allegory’. 
    • Thus, the metaphors call for a certain mental effort to understand the object in which they are grounded. 
    • In mediating the spectator’s understanding of social reality from a female point of view, the metaphors produce their specific energetic interpretants. 
  • To view the films just realistically leads to absurd statements; that feminists are castrating bitches out to kill men (Silence) or that all men are whorehoppers and psychopaths out to victimize women (Broken Mirrors). 
  • To view the films only metaphorically, however, would mean to miss out on the important realization of the forms and issues of women’s real oppression and suffering in a male-dominated society.
  • The suffering of the individual female characters of the film is elevated to a universal level. André’s text refers to a visionary future, a utopian spring, in which ‘we’ will be transformed. 
    • The discrepancy with reality is too pronounced to offer the spectator a sprinkling of hope. Instead, it is a moment of stillness that evokes what should be but is not possible, before the spiral of violence explodes towards the end. 

Conclusion

  • Through metaphorization grounded in realism, Gorris has constructed a feminist rhetoric which cannot fail to leave the spectator unmoved, whether positively or negatively. 
  • What then is the ‘logical’, final, interpretant of the metaphors — the imprisonment, prostitution and abuse of women in masculinist society? 
  • Mental effort is required for understanding the complexities of the cinematic metaphors. 
    • The logical interpretant involves making sense of those feelings and mental efforts. And the only sense is a feminist one. 
    • The final interpretant thus results in a ‘habit-change’, a modification of consciousness, or in feminist terms: consciousness-raising. 
  • A feminist truth that denounces a hegemonic culture denigrating, denying, and violating female subjectivity. A Question of Silence and Broken Mirrors have succeeded in representing the passion of feminism and in getting women through the lethal looking glass. 
Categories
Film 299 Post

F299: Research Update #7

Below are my notes for Fashion and the Fleshy Body: Dress as Embodied Practice by Joanne Entwistle.

  • “There is an obvious and prominent fact about human beings,” notes Turner (1985: 1) at the start of The Body and Society, “they have bodies and they are bodies.” 
  • human bodies are dressed bodies. 
  • Dress is a basic fact of social life and this, according to anthropologists, is true of all human cultures that we know about: all cultures “dress” the body in some way, be it through clothing, tattooing, cosmetics or other forms of body painting 
  • Conventions of dress transform flesh into something recognizable and meaningful to a culture and are also the means by which bodies are made “decent,” appropriate and acceptable within specific contexts. 
  • Bodies that do not conform, bodies that flout the conventions of their culture and go without the appropriate clothes are subversive of the most basic social codes, and risk exclusion, scorn or ridicule.  
  • So fundamental is dress to the social presentation of the body and the social order that it governs even our ways of seeing the naked body. 
  • the nude is never naked, but “clothed” by contemporary conventions of dress 
  • dress cannot be understood without reference to the body and while the body has always and everywhere to be dressed 
  • I sketch out a theoretical framework that takes as its starting-point the idea that dress is an embodied practice, a situated bodily practice that is embedded within the social world and fundamental to microsocial order 
  • Dress as both a social and a personal experience is a discursive and practical phenomenon. 

Addressing the Literature

  • If nakedness is unruly and disruptive, this would seem to indicate that dress is a fundamental aspect of microsocial order. When we dress we do so to make our bodies acceptable to a social situation.  
  • According to Bell (1976), wearing the right clothes is so very important that even people not interested in their appearance will dress well enough to avoid social censure.  
  • Either the body is thought to be self- evidently dressed (and therefore beyond discussion) or the clothes are assumed to stand up on their own, possibly even speaking for themselves without the aid of the body. 
  • Our experience of the costume museum, along with our sadness when confronted with the clothes of dead relatives, points to the ways in which we “normally” experience dress as alive and “fleshy”: once removed from the body, dress lacks fullness and seems strange, almost alien, and all the more poignant to us if we can remember the person who once breathed life into the fabric.  
  • The body and dress operate dialectically: dress works on the body, imbuing it with social meaning, while the body is a dynamic field that gives life and fullness to dress 

Situating the dressed body in the social world

  • Dress lies at the margins of the body and marks the boundary between self and other, individual and society. 
    • This boundary is intimate and personal, since our dress forms the visible envelope of the self and, as Davis puts it, comes “to serve as a kind of visual metaphor for identity”; it is also social, since our dress is structured by social forces and subject to social and moral pressures. 
  • there are “two bodies”: the physical body and the social body. 
  • “the body is capable of furnishing a natural system of symbols” (1973: 12)
    • This means that the body is a highly restricted medium of expression, since it is heavily mediated by culture and expresses the social pressure brought to bear on it. 
    • Ex. the social situation determines the degree to which the body can laugh: the looser the social constraints, the more free the body is to laugh out loud
    • In this way, the body and its functions and boundaries symbolically articulate the concerns of the particular group in which it is found.  
  • Shaggy hair, once a symbol of rebellion, can be found among those professionals who are in a position to critique society, in particular, academics and artists. Smooth hair, however, is likely to be found among those who conform, such as lawyers and bankers. 
    • The degree to which the dressed body can express itself can therefore be symbolic of this location: for example, the more formal and conservative the occupation, the more constraints set around the body and thus on dress. 
  • They argue that the female body and its ways of being and adorning are the product of particular discourses of the body that are inherently gendered. 
  • Fashion has been linked to the operations of power, initially marking out class divisions, but more recently playing a crucial role in policing the boundaries of sexual difference 
  • Particular discourses of dress such as “smart” or “professional” dress, and particular strategies of dress such as the imposition of uniforms and dress codes at work, are utilized by corporations to exercise control over the bodies of the workers within. 
  • However, it would seem that by investing importance in the body, dress opens up the potential for women to use this for their own purposes and experience pleasures that are perhaps the “reverse” of dominant ones. 
  • If bodies are produced and manipulated by power, then this would seem to contradict Foucault’s concern to see power as force relations that are never simply oppressive. 
    • Such an account might lead to the discussion of fashion and dress as merely constraining social forces and thus neglect the way individuals can be active in their selective choices from fashion discourse in their everyday experience of dress. 
  • Further problems arise from Foucault’s rather ambivalent notion of the body: on the one hand, his bio-politics would appear to construct the body as a concrete, material entity, manipulated by institutions and practices; on the other hand, his focus on discourse seems to produce a notion of the body that has no materiality outside the representation. 
  • However, if the body has its own physical reality outside or beyond discourse, how can we theorize this experience? How can one begin to understand the experience of choosing and wearing clothes that forms so significant a part of our experience of our body/self? 
    • Csordas (1993, 1996) details the way forward for what he calls a “paradigm of embodiment,” which he poses as an alternative to the “paradigm of the body” 
    • This methodological shift “requires that the body be understood as the existential ground of culture—not an object that is ‘good to think with’ but as a subject that is ‘necessary to be’” (1993: 135). 
    • The body, in phenomenological terms, is the environment of the self, and therefore something acted upon as part of the experience of selfhood.
    • Culture is grounded in the human body
    • “sociology of the body” is concerned with “what is done to the body,” while “carnal sociology” examines “what the body does” 

Dress and Embodiment

  • Merleau-Ponty stresses the simple fact that the mind is situated in the body and comes to know the world through what he called “corporeal or postural schema”: 
    • in other words we grasp external space, relationships between objects and our relationship to them through our position in, and movement through, the world. 
  • Rather than being “an object in the world” the body forms our “point of view on the world”  
    • “Far from being merely an instrument or object in the world our bodies are what give us our expression in the world” (1976: 5). 
    • In other words, our body is not just the place from which we come to experience the world; it is through our bodies that we come to see and be seen in the world. 
  • acknowledge the way in which dress works on the body which in turn works on and mediates the experience of self 
  • Space is grasped, actively seized upon by individuals through their embodied encounter with it. Of course, space is a crucial aspect of our experience of the dressed body, since when we get dressed we do so with implicit understanding of the rules and norms of particular social spaces. 
  • Dress is always located spatially and tempor- ally: when getting dressed one orientates oneself/body to the situation, acting in particular ways upon the surfaces of the body in ways that are likely to fit within the established norms of that situation. 
    • Thus the dressed body is not a passive object, acted upon by social forces, but actively produced through particular, routine and mundane practices. 
    • Moreover, our experience of the body is not as inert object but as the envelope of our being, the site for our articulation of self.  
  • women are more likely to be identified with the body than men, and this may generate different experiences of embodiment. 
    • It could be argued that women are more likely to develop greater body consciousness and greater awareness of them- selves as embodied than men, whose identity is less situated in the body 

Dress and Embodied Subjectivity

  • In Goffman’s work, the body is the property of both the individual and the social world: it is the vehicle of identity, but this identity has to be “managed” in terms of the definitions of the social situation, which impose particular ways of being on the body. 
    • Thus individuals feel a social and moral imperative to perform their identity in particular ways, and this includes learning appropriate ways of dressing. 
  • Not only does dress form the key link between individual identity and the body, providing the means, or “raw material,” for performing identity; dress is fundamentally an inter-subjective and social phenomenon, it is an important link between individual identity and social belonging. 
  • In other words, not only is our dress the visible form of our intentions, but in everyday life dress is the insignia by which we are read and come to read others, however unstable and ambivalent these readings maybe (Campbell 1997). Dress works to “glue” identities in a world where they are uncertain. 
  • Most situations, even the most informal, have a code of dress, and these impose particular ways of being on bodies in such a way as to have a social and moral imperative to them.  
  • Thus, as Bell (1976: 19) puts it, “our clothes are too much a part of us for most of us to be entirely indifferent to their condition: it is as though the fabric were indeed a natural extension of the body, or even of the soul.” 
  • When we talk of someone’s “slip showing” we are, according to Wilson (1985: 8), speaking of something “more than slight sartorial sloppiness”; we are actually alluding to “the exposure of something much more profoundly ambig- uous and disturbing . . . the naked body underneath the clothes.” 
  • On the contrary, identity is managed through dress in rather more mundane and routine ways, because social pressure encourages us to stay within the bounds of what is defined in a situation as “normal” body and “appropriate” dress. 
    • This is not to say that dress has no “creative” or expressive qualities to it, but rather that too much attention and weight has been given to this and too little to the way in which strategies of dress have a strong social and moral dimension to them that serves to constrain the choices people make about what to wear. 
  • This acknowledgment of space can illuminate the situated nature of dress. If, as I have argued, dress forms part of the micro-social order of most social spaces, when we dress we attend to the norms of particular spatial situations: is there a code of dress we have to abide by? who are we likely to meet? what activities are we likely to perform? how visible do we want to be? 
  • Thus spaces impose different ways of being on gendered bodies: women may have to think more carefully about how they appear in public than men, at least in some situations, and the way they experience public spaces such as offices, boardrooms, or quiet streets at night, is likely to be different to the way men experience such spaces. 
  • In this respect, the spaces of the nightclub and the street impose their own structures on the individual and her sense of her body, and she may in turn employ strategies of dress aimed at managing her body in these spaces. 

Dress and Habitus

  • As “a system of durable, transposable dispositions” that are produced by the particular conditions of a class grouping, the habitus enables the reproduction of class (and gender) through the active embodiment of individuals who are structured by it, as opposed to the passive inscription of power relations on to the body. 
  • The potential of the habitus as a concept for thinking through embodiment is that it provides a link between the individual and the social: the way we come to live in our bodies is structured by our social position in the world, but these structures are only reproduced through the embodied actions of individuals. Once acquired, the habitus enables the generation of practices that are constantly adaptable to the conditions it meets.
  • In terms of dress, the habitus predisposes individuals to particular ways of dressing: for example, the middle-class notion of ‘quality not quantity’ generally translates into a concern with quality fabrics such as cashmere, leather, silk, which, because of their cost, may mean buying fewer garments. 
    • However while social collectivities, class and gender for example, and social situations structure the codes of dress, these are relatively open to interpretation and are only realized through the embodied practice of dress itself. 
  • Thus dress is the result of a complex negotiation between the individual and the social and, while it is generally predictable, it cannot be known in advance of the game, since the struct- ures and rules of a situation only set the parameters of dress, but cannot entirely determine it. 
  • such an emphasis on free and creative expression glosses over the structural constraints of class, gender, location, and income that set material boundaries for young people, as well as the constraints at work in a variety of situations that serve to set parameters around dress choice. 
  • Dress in everyday life cannot be known in advance of practice by examination of the fashion industry or fashion texts. It is a practical negotiation between the fashion system as a structured system, the social conditions of everyday life, such as class, gender and the like, and in addition the “rules” or norms governing particular social situ- ations. 
    • Choices over dress are always defined within a particular context: the fashion system provides the “raw material” of our choices but these are adapted within the context of the lived experience of the woman, her class, race and ethnicity, age, occupation and so on. 
  • we find that the suit is the standard “masculine” dress; and, while women have adopted suits in recent years, theirs differ in many respects from men’s. Women have more choices in terms of dress, in that they can, in most workplaces, wear skirts or trousers with their jackets; they have wider choice in terms of color than the usual black, gray, or navy of most male suits for the conventional office, and can decorate them more elaborately with jewelry and other accessories 
  • However, in order to understand this field one must take account of the historical modes of being in the workplace, as well as the nature of the habitus of this particular field. 
    • Significantly, women’s adoption of tailored clothes has to do with the orientation of women’s bodies to the context of the male workplace and its habitus. 
    • In this field, sexuality is deemed inappropriate (it is distracting from production), and the suit, which covers all the male body except for the neck and hands, has become the standard style of dress for men. 
  • In other words, rendering “invisible” the male body, the suit hides sexed characteristics, but more importantly, as the standard of dress long estab- lished, “this body is normative within the public sphere, it has come to represent neutrality and disembodiment” 
    • Women’s movement into this sphere, as secretaries and later as pro- fessionals, required them to adopt a similar uniform to designate them as workers and thus as public as opposed to private figures.  
  • While her suit may work to cover her body and reduce its sexual associations (the jacket is the most crucial aspect of female professional dress, covering the most sexualized zone, the breasts, as was noted above), as I have argued (Entwistle 2000b) it can never entirely succeed, since a woman brings to her dress the baggage of sexual meanings that are entrenched within the culturally established definitions of “femininity.” 
  • In other words, men’s bodies are taken for granted or rendered invisible, in contrast to the attention paid to female bodies at work and in other public arenas. Thus, as he argues, men are embodied, but the experience of embodiment is often left out of accounts of masculinity. 
  • However, while the male suit can, at least superficially, efface the male body, it cannot obliterate the female body, which is always “feminine” and by association, “sexual.”  

Conclusion

  • Understanding dress in everyday life requires understanding not just how the body is represented within the fashion system and its discourses on dress, but also how the body is experienced and lived and the role dress plays in the presentation of the body/self. 
  • Dress involves practical actions directed by the body upon the body, which result in ways of being and ways of dressing, such as ways of walking to accommodate high heels, ways of breathing to accommodate a corset, ways of bending in a short skirt, and so on. 
  • A sociological account of dress as an embodied and situated practice needs to acknowledge the ways in which both the experience of the body and the various practices of dress are socially structured. 

Subjects to reflect on:

  • Reflections on the fashion worn by the Filipina protagonists (or antagonist) in PH Cinema
  • The clothed Filipina: a study on the evolution of female fashion in PH Cinema
Categories
Film 299 Post

F299: Research Update #6

Below are my notes on Woman as Body: Ancient and Contemporary Views by Elizabeth B. Spelman.

Note:

How a philosopher conceives of the distinction and relation between soul (or mind) and body has essential ties to how that philosopher talks about the nature of knowledge, the accessibility of reality, the possibility of freedom.

Plato’s Lessons about the Soul and Body

  • According to Plato, the body, with its deceptive senses, keeps us from real knowledge; it rivets us in a world of material things which is far removed from the world of reality; and it tempts us away from the virtuous life. 
  • It is in and through the soul, if at all, that we shall have knowledge, be in touch with reality, and lead a life of virtue. Only the soul can truly know, for only the soul can ascend to the real world, the world of the Forms or Ideas. 
  • when one is released from the body one finally can get down to the real business of life, for this real business of life is the business of the soul. 
  • Beauty has nothing essentially to do with the body or with the world of material things. Real beauty cannot “take the form of a face, or of hands, or of anything that is of the flesh.”  
    • Yes, there are beautiful things, but they only are entitled to be described that way because they “partake in” the form of Beauty, which itself is not found in the material world. 
  • Attraction to and appreciation for the beauty of another’s body is but a vulgar fixation unless one can use such appreciation as a stepping stone to understanding Beauty itself. 
  • The kind of love between people that is to be valued is not the attraction of one body for another, but the attraction of one soul for another. There is procreation of the spirit as well as of the flesh.
  • The rational part of the soul ought to rule the soul and ought to be attended by the spirited part in keeping watch over the unruly appetitive part; just so, there ought to be rulers of the state (the small minority in whom reason is dominant), who, with the aid of high-spirited guardians of order, watch over the multitudes (whose appetites need to be kept under control).
  • If the body gets the upper hand (!) over the soul, or if the irrational part of the soul overpowers the rational part, one can’t have know- ledge, one can’t see beauty, one will be far from the highest form of love, and the state will be in utter chaos. 

Plato’s view of the soul and body, and his attitude towards women

  • He wants to remind us of how unruly, how without direction, are the lives of those in whom the lower part of the soul holds sway over the higher part. 
  • Because he can’t point to an adul- teratedsoul, he points instead to those embodied beings whose lives are in such bad shape that we can be sure that their souls are adulterated. 
    • And whose lives exemplify the proper soul/body relationship gone haywire? The lives of women (or sometimes the lives of children, slaves, and brutes).
    • their emotions have overpowered their reason, and they can’t control themselves.
  • To have more concern for your body than your soul is to act just like a woman; 
  • Those men who are drawn by “vulgar” love, that is, love of body for body, “turn to women as the object of their love, and raise a family” (Symposium 208e); those men drawn by a more “heavenly” kind of love, that is, love of soul for soul, turn to other men. 
    • The problem with physical love between men, then, is that men are acting like women 
  • Plato also says, in a dialogue called the Meno, that it doesn’t make sense to talk about “women’s virtues” or “men’s virtues,” because virtue as virtue is the same, whether it happens to appear in the life of a woman, a man, or a child.  
  • [Counterargument]: If we are our souls, and our bodies are not essential to who we are, then it doesn’t make any difference, ultimately, whether we have a woman’s body or a man’s body. 
    • If the only difference between women and men is that they have different bodies, and if bodies are merely incidental attachments to what constitutes one’s real identity, then there is no important difference between men and women.
  • His misogyny, then, is part of his somatophobia: the body is seen as the source of all the undesirable traits a human being could have, and women’s lives are spent manifesting those traits 
  • a case of psychrophilic somatophobia

Feminism and Somatophobia

  • Slaves, free laborers,children,and animals are put in “their place” on almost the same grounds as women are 
  • It is important for feminists to see to what extent the images and arguments used to denigrate women are similar to those used to denigrate one group of men vis-a-vis another, children vis-a-vis adults, animals vis-a-vis humans, 
    • For to see this is part of understanding how the op- pression of women occurs in the context of, and is related to, other forms of oppression or exploitation.
  • Explicitly de Beauvoir tells us not to be the people men have dreamt us up to be; but implicitly, she tells us to be the people men have dreamt themselves up to be. 
  • Friedan remarks on the absence, in women’s lives, of “the world of thought and ideas, the life of the mind and spirit.”13 She wants women to be “culturally” as well as “biologically” creative  
    • Friedan thus seems to believe that men have done the more important things, the mental things; women have been relegated in the past to the less important human tasks involving bodily functions, and their liberation will come when they are allowed and encouraged to do the more important things in life.
    • Her solution to what she referred to as the “problem that has no name” is for women to leave (though not entirely) women’s sphere and “ascend” into man’s.  
    • Friedan could only have meant middle-class white women – seems to require woman’s dissociation and separation from those who will perform the bodily tasks which the liberated woman has left behind in pursuit of “higher,” mental activity. 
  • But is the way to avoid oppression to radically change the experience of childbirth through technology, as Firestone suggested, and insist that woman not be seen as connected to her body at all, that is, to insist that woman’s “essential self,” just as man’s, lies in her mind, and not in her body? 
  • The solution, or part of the solution, lies in realizing that whatever the differences there are between women and men, they should not be used to try to justify the unfair distribution of society’s goods. 
  • assumptions are that we must distinguish between soul and body, and that the physical part of our existence is to be devalued in comparison to the mental
    • Of course,these two assumptions alone don’t mean that women or other groups have to be degraded; it’s these two assumptions,along with the further assumption that woman is body, or is bound to her body, or is meant to take care of the bodily aspects of life, that have so deeply contributed to the degradation and oppression of women.  
  • It has seemed to feminists, she (Adrienne Rich) implies, that we must either accept that view of being female, which is, essentially, to be a body, or deny that view and insist that we are “disembodied spirits.”
    • But we don’t have to do that, Rich reminds us; we can appeal to the physical without denying what is called “mind.” We can come to regard our physicality as “resource, rather than a destiny”: 
Categories
Film 299 Post

F299: Research Update #4

ANALYSIS: Minsan lang kitang iibigin (1994)

Minsan lang kitang iibigin is a 1994 film directed by Chito S. Roño and written by Ricky Lee. It stars Maricel Soriano as Terry, who is a jealous wife to Dave, played by Gabby Concepcion. She is envious of her friend, Monique, played by ZsaZsa Padilla, because she and her husband seem to have everything they could ever possibly want in life. The plot thickens when Monique’s husband is murdered, and Dave begins to fall for Monique behind Terry’s back.

In examining the feminist aspects of the film, I would like to highlight the following that are evident in the film’s portrayal of the violent female:

  • Women’s innate capacity for violence

From the beginning of the film, Terry was shown as already scheming and overly envious. She hates her husband because he is unable to meet her expectations in terms of career. She is very close friends with Monique, but she secretly hates that Monique always bests her in terms of luck. She hates that Monique’s husband is always one step ahead of her own husband, and she torments Dave because of this. There was not a single moment wherein she does not reprimand Dave for not being more ambitious in his career. She also refuses to give him any children because, according to her, he is not advanced enough in his career to give her and their future children luxurious lives. She also tries to advance her career through her connections with his boss without Dave knowing. This makes Dave all the more insecure because he knows that any favor he will be receiving is because of connections and not because of his talent at his job.

A form of violence not usually talked about is psychological violence. Terry psychologically manipulates her husband into feeling guilty and incompetent everyday. She makes sure to let him know that he is never enough. This does not, however, justify any form of infidelity from Dave, but it greatly contributed to Dave falling out of love with Terry and seeking comfort and love from Monique, who has always been kind to their family and is recently vulnerable because of the death of her husband. The film showed Terry as a psychologically abusive wife without reason apart from the fact that it is in her nature to be jealous and manipulative.

  • Femininity associated with mystery is the root of women’s violence

The film kept its audience in the dark regarding the root of Terry’s behavior and attitude towards life. It simply showed her nature as a mystery that may or may not be unravelled later on in the plot. The only clue it gave about Terry was a scar she had on her thighs, which Monique accidentally saw. Other than that, the film never talked about why she was troubled or envious in the first place.

When Terry found out about Dave and Monique’s affair, she fell into darkness as she paid Monique a visit. The film’s iconic line rests in Monique and Terry’s encounter when Monique tried to get her to calm down and Terry said,

“Huwag mo ‘kong ma-Terry-Terry! Iyong tanong ko ang sagutin mo! Are you fucking my husband?”

Monique admitted to the affair and also disclosed that she is pregnant with Dave’s child. Upon hearing this, Terry grabbed a knife and stabbed Monique multiple times until she bled on the floor. After the attempted murder, she dragged Monique’s bleeding body and hid it. Afterwards, she cleaned up all evidence of blood. However, since there were witnesses to her visit, Terry was arrested. She told Dave that she only did what she had done because she loved him. Monique, guilty after she survived, denied that Terry stabbed her and, instead, claimed it was a thief. She, however, cut Terry out of her life. 

Up until this point, and nearing the end of the film, the filmmakers kept the cause of Terry’s violence a mystery. It was only when Terry was released from prison and Dave tried to leave her that the film decided to finally address Terry’s nature. The writer chose to frame Terry’s possessiveness and jealousy to codependency. Terry uttered the line “Wala akong ibang mapupuntahan. Si Dave nalang ang lahat-lahat sa akin.” Here, she establishes that she was completely dependent on him for her survival and sanity, which is why she clung on to him so hard and tried to manipulate his life, because his life, she felt, was also hers. As to the reason for this codependency, it turns out that Terry was raped and physically abused as a teen.

This is where the film crosses the line. It chose to dive into such a sensitive issue, only to handle it recklessly. This past of Terry’s was not explored deeply at all. It was only mentioned in one or two scenes, thereby making her mental illness as a convenient excuse for the film to have any sort of “depth”. Therefore, the character of the violent female was not explored, rather, it was only used as a plot motivator.

  • The “femme fatale” as a symbol of fears about absolute female power, not a representation of complex female experience

According to the film, Dave cheated because Terry was possessive and manipulative. This is partly true, but the reason for the infidelity mostly lies in the fact that the woman in the relationship held the most power as compared to the male. Terry had all the power over Dave, and Dave felt like a weakling. As previously mentioned, the majority of the scenes showed Terry as the absolute female power. The film chose to keep highlighting this power so as to conveniently make it the tipping point of Dave’s character, who is driven to extreme insecurity. When he confesses and makes out with Monique, it was at the time wherein she was extremely devastated and lonely because of her husband’s murder. Dave hit her at her weakest moment, because that is how low of a character he is. In this case, the male, rendered absolutely powerless, and afraid of the dominance of the female, tried to exert any power he could to another female at her weakest. This guarantees that the female cannot fight back because she is more likely to allow herself to be dominated. This is as true with Monique as it is with Terry because after Terry committed the crime, she allowed herself to fall into Dave’s arms, desperately asking for his love and forgiveness and even offering to give him children and do anything for him. The male, striking with the little power he had left, chose to hurt the powerful female, and the film chooses to let the female fall into her stereotype of submissiveness instead of being constant with the strength of her character. To put a metaphor into the picture, it is extremely hard to accept that a lioness is easily brought down by the bite of a cub.

  • The violent female as a critique of male power

The film narrative also only highlights Terry’s dependency, but never tackles the faults of Dave, who is easily the most gullible and weakest character in the film. Dave is a much more sensitive person, and he recognizes all his conflicts, but he never addresses them. He just keeps all these inner emotions until he eventually lets himself break loose by cheating with the easiest and most vulnerable character at that moment. Dave was never held accountable for his actions, most especially for his infidelity. Being the main male character, he was victimized by the film, instead of also tackling why his character triggers Terry’s character to act the way she does. The film further avoids tackling the weakness of the male by attempting to humanize those involved in the infidelity. This happens at the scene wherein he supposedly “feels responsible” for Terry towards the end of the film. Here, the male was, once again, the protagonist, because he rose above all the torments thrown at him and chose to go back to his abusive wife because he feels that it is the right thing to do. Being humanized and atoned for his sins, the film absolved the male from any form of accountability and even puts him back on the pedestal of righteousness.

Conclusion

Overall, the film recklessly portrayed a violent female without diving into the root of her violence. She was used as a plot motivator, and even an element of the film’s thriller genre. The only attempt to humanize her was to briefly mention her trauma from a past sexual abuse. Other than that, all throughout the film, she was a monstrous feminine filled with a terrorizing absolute power that threatened the existence of the male. Even though she was as much a victim as she was an oppressor, the film never victimized her. Instead, she was held accountable for her past, her present, and even the lives of those who hurt her. According to the film, she was driven into darkness because of her innate violent nature, and it is her fault that she is unable to recover from her “insanity”. At the end of the day, her salvation only came in the arms of the same man who triggered her violence because he willingly chose to be with her to “help her” change for the better. The monstrous female was, once again, shown as hopeless in her misery and evil amidst everything, except at the face of a man—the only being who can make her “human” again.

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Film 270 Post

Week 11: Visual Transcendence

There was a brilliant 10-minute short film that went viral a couple of times in social media. It was made back in 2018 and is entitled “Leading Lady Parts”, written and directed by Jessica Swale, produced by Rebel Park Productions, starring a number of female celebrities including Catherine Tate, Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey, and Florence Pugh, to name a few. As the title implies, the film is set in an audition room where several actresses come in for a script read in front of the casting director and crew who, in turn, dictate what they want from each actress in terms of both emotion and physicality. In one of the earlier scenes where they ask an auditionee what they thought of the character, she replies with “I think she’s pretty”, to which the panel sighs in relief, but is eventually disappointed when the auditionee meant to say “pretty clever”. The panel responds, “Clever’s not really something we want or care about, at all, actually. You do realize this is the leading lady part?”. The film went on to show extremely unrealistic demands of the casting panel, such as in an instance when they were talking about making the character cry, to which they emphasized, “She could cry, but not like ugly cry. More like sensual sexy crying, like wet, in a shower of crying…and smiling.” Lastly, the panel also went to the extremes, discriminating auditionees of color, as well as those who are not of the “ideal” body type as dictated by the highly unrealistic standards of society. The most notable quote of the film from the panel is when they asked Florence Pugh to lose weight, saying:

“Could you just be a bit thinner? We really saw her as thin, like a twiglet. You know, feminine, vulnerable, delicate, thin, but with a great rack! Stick thin with boobs and hips, but not big hips not, you know, “baby bearing” hips…It’s not rocket science darling, we’re just asking you to be thin and curvy, sexy and innocent…Just you know, “leading lady”.”

– from Leading Lady Parts (Swale, 2018)
A screen caption from Leading Lady Parts (Swale, 2018)

The film ended with the panel ultimately casting Tom Hiddleston for the leading lady part, without even letting him read lines from the script. It was, overall, a brilliant criticism of the ridiculous expectations from women in the industry, as opposed to men who can just choose and get the parts that they want simply because they are men. It was a stab at the dominant sexism and racism towards women which, unfortunately, go beyond the boundaries of the film industry. In this discussion about the expectations from women, it is also important to tackle their public portrayal in film that is the root of these expectations. Throughout the history of cinema, they have been shown as many things, five of which I will highlight in the succeeding paragraphs.

“The determining male gaze projects its phantasy onto the female figure 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.”

(Mulvey, p.11, 1975)

First, and arguably the most common one, is that women are usually shown as objects of pleasure. They appear on screen for the sole purpose of being looked at. Everything, from their head to toe must be conventionally attractive because it is their job to attract, not only the leading men, but also the audience. Mainstream film has been structured to direct attention to the female human form. She is admired, fantasized on, examined and, as I would like to put it, visually stripped and harassed. The gaze towards her, no matter how innocently it begins, eventually turns erotic, as it is designed to be developed in that manner. Most especially in early cinema, the female character never drives the plot, but rather freezes it as she turns all attention towards her. She is both an attraction and a distraction. She never gives too much emotion or action, so as not to drive too much attention away from her physicality. Mulvey perfectly captures this in her essay, saying:

“…her visual presence tends to work against the development of a story line, to freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation…As Budd Boetticher has put it: ‘ What counts is what the heroine provokes, or rather what she represents. She is the one, or rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero, or else the concern he feels for her, who makes him act the way he does. In herself the woman has not the slightest importance.’”

(Mulvey, p.11, 1975)

Second, in the evolution of cinema, women have been given a wider scope in their roles. They are now given the freedom to execute one important gesture of emotion that they were trained so well to do—cry. And it is with all the intensity of sarcasm that I intend to say that it is extremely delightful that women were also given the chance to play between being scared, sad, angry, and vulnerable. It just proves how well they give the “distressed” part to the role of “damsel-in-distress”.

“Obviously their emotions have overpowered their reason, and they can’t control themselves.”

 – Plato’s view of the soul and body (Spelman, p.115, 1982)

Turning away from film a little bit, there are countless times wherein women would not get elected for a government position because people would argue that they are so hormonal, they could “start a war within 10 seconds”. But then again, just as a journalist pointed out, weren’t all wars started by men? In the context of cinema, it was established previously that women were intended to pause the narrative to gain attention for themselves. That would mean that the male characters, down to the viewers, are overfilled with their erotic desires that they literally freeze to look at that which captivates them. This implies that it is the men, not the women, who appear to have no control over their emotions. They are the ones whose reasoning is overpowered by their desire. Such emotional triumph over thinking not only limits the narrative, but also limits the art in the perspective of the viewer, who cannot help but reduce it to merely satisfy a visual pleasure.

Third, women are treated as lower beings. Spelman mentions that “slaves, free laborers, children and animals are put in their place on almost the same grounds as women are” (Spelman, p.118, 1982). This brings about oddity, as one would not typically fetishize over something they look down on. Fetishism is usually a product of admiration, not of hatred or classism. In relation to this, women are also treated as possessions. The clash between fetishism and discrimination is ultimately bridged by possession, which is an act of trying to own and grasp things which you cannot understand. Since it has been difficult to understand women, emotionally and physically, because of their difference to men, they are being admired and oppressed at the same time. It mirrors the urge to possess and give meaning to art so that its transcendence may be brought down to something more reachable to the common man.

Fourth, women are used to represent and embody men’s insecurities. They are everything which a man cannot and should not be. A man ought not to dwell on his emotions, according to society. He should be a thinker, not a household laborer. His physicality and disposition should neither be equated to weakness and femininity. He can only give out reasoning, not empathy, discourse, not compassion. The image of a woman as a castrated man enrages the male because the absence denotes the void in his being, as well as his limitations.

“Woman’s body is slashed and mutilated, not only to signify her own castrated state, but also the possibility of castration for the male. In the guise of a ‘madman’ he enacts on her body the one act he most fears for himself, transforming her entire body into a bleeding wound.”

(Creed, p.52, 1986)

Lastly, women are portrayed as bridges in a man’s story. They are passersby, never heroes. The woman neither brings questions, nor answers. She is simply there to stop by and leave for the narrative to go on. She becomes the subject of the story when she is looked upon, but as soon as the gaze reaches an end, she has to vanish, for her existence will only hold back the man from fulfilling his purpose. The man, by all means, has to succeed. He has to move on and reach the epitome of his being and purpose, and he has to do it in the absence of that which represents everything that he cannot be. As Creed directly puts it:

“She is no longer the subject of the narrative; she has become the object of the narrative of the male hero. After he has solved her riddle, she will destroy herself.”

(Creed, p.61, 1986)

Given all these primitive standards of portrayal that continue to exist for women, it would be unfair to say that cinema has not progressed after all these years. Women are continuously on the way to getting the respect and place that they deserve in society. With the rise of feminism, they have been given main roles, roles that defy the typical “feminine” character, and even roles that highlight their womanhood as strengths, not weaknesses. Throughout the years, women became warriors, bosses and heroes, while being mothers, wives, and sisters. However, as prevalent in the short film mentioned in the introduction, women are still not completely free from the double standards of society. To this, I would like to raise an argument that the concept of female liberation will only be possible through the death of the body.

Plato, in all his misogynistic views, mentioned that “when one is released from the body one can finally get down to the real business of life, for this real business of life is the business of the soul” (Spelman, p.111, 1982). In the context of cinema, for the art of the film to transcend, the fixation on the human body should cease. Voyeurism, as an extremely male tendency, would be difficult to eliminate because, after all, cinema exists partly for pleasure. However, if one wishes to appreciate art in its entirety, one must suspend her/his bodily tendencies and allow the art to be experienced in its absolute form. In watching and telling a story, both the viewer and the artist should aspire for the “death of the body” so as to get to the core of the soul of the art. Something about the body distracts us, and this is the mortal beauty that it is attached to. Plato further argues that,

“Yes, there are beautiful things, but they only are entitled to be described that way because they partake in the form of Beauty, which itself is not found in the material world.”

(Spelman, p.111, 1982)

Cinema has always been fixated on the beauty of the woman. This trickles down to a certain obsession on youth that has led to further discrimination when women reach a certain age. Meryl Streep even said in an interview that by the time she turned forty, she kept being offered witch roles, and this is already coming from one of the industry’s most decorated actresses of her generation. The industry praises men for aging well and applauds them for being “versatile” when they play less physical and more dramatic work as they grow old. Meanwhile, women are seen at a “downfall” in their acting career the minute they begin playing mother roles. Plato mentioned that “to have more concern for your body than your soul is to act just like a woman” (Spelman, p.115, 1982). It is absolutely incorrect to assume that women do not value their souls as much as they value their physicality. However, it is true that they put a great effort to beautify themselves, but this is only because they are told to do so because they are not free. Women have to be beautiful because beauty is all society ever sees value in. They are still slaves to patriarchal standards that they are fighting really hard to break. This brings us to the subject of female liberation. In her essay, Spelman quotes Friedan,

“…men have done more important things, the mental things; women have been relegated in the past to the less important human tasks involving bodily functions, and their liberation will come when they are allowed and encouraged to do the more important things in life. Her (Friedan’s) solution to what she referred to as the “problem that has no name” is for women to leave (though not entirely) women’s sphere and ascend into man’s.”

(Spelman, p.122, 1982)

In my opinion, “liberation” is too much of a word. Women are not to be liberated by becoming thinkers because they already are thinkers. They are philosophers as much as they are mothers. They are scientists and astronomers as much as they are household helpers and laborers. To isolate liberation to the idea of having no room for labor, is to only focus on the upper class. Women work for a living just like men. All people are subjected to labor because they have to survive. That does not mean that they are any less thinkers. To use the term “liberation” is to imply that women, once again, are damsels-in-distress who need to be saved. They are oppressed, yes. But they are more than capable of saving themselves. Their sole existence, as they are, regardless of their function in society, so long as they are not being held back by patriarchal standards, is freedom, itself, beyond the concept of liberation. Women are free. We have reached the point in society where women can be who they are and express how they feel. We, the viewers and consumers of art, are the ones who are not free. We are still trapped in the standards of voyeurism and fetishism that we, ourselves, set. And so long as we keep choosing to be enslaved by the visual prison we have made, we will continue to be deprived of seeing art, and women, in their absolute freedom and transcendence. 

References:

  • Creed, B. (1986). Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection. Screen27(1), 44-71.
  • Mulvey, L. (1975). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Screen.
  • Rebel Park Productions. (2018). Leading Lady Parts [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEdJ4PIGad4
  • Spelman, E. (1982). Woman as Body: Ancient and Contemporary Views. Feminist Studies8(1), 109.