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Film 299 Post

F299: Research Update #10

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

  • First (the “women in the audience” issue), whether the female spectator is carried along, as it were by the scruff of the text, or whether her pleasure can be more deep-rooted and complex. 
    • it is always possible that the female spectator may find herself so out of key with the pleasure on offer, with its “masculinization,” that the spell of fascination is broken. 
    • On the other hand, she may not. 
    • She may find herself secretly, unconsciously almost, enjoying the freedom of action and control over the diegetic world that identification with a hero provides. 
    • It is this female spectator that I want to consider here. 
  • Second (the “melodrama” issue), how the text and its attendant identifica- tions are affected by a female character occupying the center of the narrative arena. 
    • Rather than discussing melodrama in general, I am concentrating on films in which a woman central protagonist is shown to be unable to achieve a stable sexual identity, torn between the deep blue sea of passive femininity and the devil of regressive masculinity
  • The emotions of those women accepting “masculinization” while watch- ing action movies with a male hero are illuminated by the emotions of a heroine of a melodrama whose resistance to a “correct” feminine position is the crucial issue at stake. 
    • Her oscillation, her inability to achieve stable sexual identity, is echoed by the woman spectator’s masculine “point of view.” 

The female spectator’s pleasure: Freud and Femininity

  • For Freud, femininity is complicated by the fact that it emerges out of a crucial period of parallel development between the sexes; a period he sees as mascu- line, or phallic, for both boys and girls 
    • “In females, too, the striving to be masculine is ego-syntonic at a certain period-namely in the phallic phase, before the development of femininity sets in. But it then succumbs to the momentous process of repression, as so often has been shown, that determines the fortunes of a woman’s femininity.”
    • On Femininity:
      • We have called the motive force of sexual life “the libido.” Sexual life is dominated by the polarity of masculine-feminine; 
      • There is only one libido, which serves both the masculine and the feminine functions. To it itself we cannot assign any sex; if, following the conventional equation of activity and masculinity, we are inclined to describe it as masculine, we must not forget that it also covers trends with a passive aim. Nevertheless, the juxtaposition “feminine libido” is without any justification. 
      • the accomplishment of the aim of biology has been entrusted to the aggressiveness of men and has been made to some extent independent of women’s consent. 
  • Freud introduces the use of the word masculine as “conventional,” apparently simply following an established social-linguistic practice 
  • secondly, and constituting a greater intellectual stumbling block, the feminine cannot be conceptualized as different, but rather only as opposition {passivity) in an antinomic sense, or as similarity {the phallic phase). 
    • This is not to suggest that a hidden, as yet undiscovered femininity exists but that its structural relationship to masculinity under patriarchy cannot be defined or determined within the terms offered. 
    • The correct road, femininity, leads to increasing repression of “the active” {the “phallic phase” in Freud’s terms). 
      • In this sense Hollywood genre films structured around masculine pleasure, offering an identification with the active point of view, allow a woman spectator to rediscover that lost aspect of her sexual identity, the never fully repressed bed-rock of feminine neurosis. 
  • On Narrative Grammar and trans-sex identification
    • In “Visual Pleasure” my argument was axed around a desire to identify a pleasure that was specific to cinema, that is the eroticism and cultural conventions surrounding the look. 
    • Now, on the contrary, I would rather emphasize the way that popular cinema inherited traditions of story-telling that are common to other forms of folk and mass culture, with attendant fascinations other than those of the look. 
    • Freud points out that “masculinity” is, at one stage, ego-syntonic for a woman.  
    • For a girl, on the other hand, the cultural and social overlap is more confusing. Freud’s argument that a young girl’s day-dreams concentrate on the erotic ignores his own position on her early masculinity and the active day-dreams necessarily associated with this phase. 
      • In fact, all too often, the erotic function of the woman is represented by the passive, the waiting {Andromeda again), acting above all as a formal closure to the narrative structure. 
    • Three elements can thus be drawn together: 
      • Freud’s concept of “masculinity” in women, 
      • the identification triggered by the logic of a narrative grammar, 
      • and the ego’s desire to phantasize itself in a cenain, active, manner. 
      • All three suggest that, as desire is given cultural materiality in a text, for women {from childhood onwards) trans-sex identification is a habit that very easily becomes second Nature. 
      • However, this Nature does not sit easily and shifts restlessly in its borrowed transvestite clot 
  • The heroine causes a generic shift
    • two functions emerge, one celebrating integration into society through marriage, the other celebrating resistance to social demands and responsibilities, above all those of marriage and the family, the sphere represented by woman 
    • the development of the story acquires a complication. The issue at stake is no longer how the villain will be defeated, but how the villain’s defeat will be inscribed into history, whether the upholder of law as a symbolic system (Ranse) will be seen to be victorious or the personfication of law in a more primitive mani- festation (Tom), closer to the good or the right 
  • On one side there is an encapsulation of power, and phallic attributes, in an individual who has to bow himself out of the way of history. On the other, an individual impotence rewarded by political and financial power, which, in the long run, in fact becomes history. 

Woman as signifier of sexuality

  • the symbolic equation, woman equals sexuality, still persists, but now rather than being an image or a narrative function, the equation opens out a narrative area previously suppressed or repressed. She is no longer the signifier of sexuality (function “marriage”) 
  • Now the female presence as center allows the story to be actually, overtly, about sexuality: it becomes a melodrama. It is as though the narrational lens had zoomed in and opened up the neat function “marriage” (“and they lived happily . . . “) to ask “what next?” and to focus on the figure of the princess, waiting in the wings for her one moment of importance, to ask “what does she want?” 
    • Here we find the generic terrain for melodrama, in its woman- oriented strand. The second question (“what does she want?”) takes on greater significance when the hero function is split 
  • the narrative drama dooms the phallic, regressive resistance to the symbolic. Lewt, Pearl’s masculine side, drops out of the social order. Pearl’s masculinity gives her the “wherewithal” to achieve heroism and kill the villain. 
    • The lovers shoot each other and die in each other’s arms. 
    • Perhaps, in Duel, the erotic relationship between Pearl and Lewt also exposes a dyadic interdependence between hero and villain in the primitive tale, now threatened by the splitting of the hero with the coming of the Law. 
  • Stella, as central character, is flanked on each side by a male personification of her instability, her inability to accept correct, married “femininity” on the one hand, or find a place in a macho world on the other.
  • The masculine identification, in its phallic aspect, reactivates for her a phantasy of “action” that correct femininity demands should be repressed. 
    • The phantasy “action” finds expression through a metaphor of masculinity. Both in the language used by Freud and in the male personifications of desire flanking the female protagonist in the melodrama, this metaphor acts as a straitjacket, becoming itself an indicator, a litmus paper, of the problem inevitably activated by any attempt to represent the feminine in patriarchal society. 
    • The memory of the “masculine” phase has its own romantic attraction, a last-ditch resistance, in which the power of masculinity can be used as postponement against the power of patriarchy. 
  • Her “tomboy” pleasures, her` sexuality, are not accepted by Lewt, except in death. So, too, is the female spectator’s phantasy of masculinization at cross-purposes with itself, restless in its transvestite clothes. 
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Film 299 Post

F299: Research Update #3

The next few research updates are my analyses and reflections on some of the Philippine films I have watched so far involving the violent female. Currently, I am subscribed to the ABS-CBN film restoration efforts, and I have signed up to watch some digitally restored Ricky Lee Films. I have also shortlisted some other films from other platforms such as Netflix, iFlix, and iWant TFC that I will be watching in the next few weeks.

  • Corazon, ang unang aswang
  • Minsan lang kitang iibigin
  • Maria
  • Nasaan ka man
  • Patayin sa sindak si Barbara
  • Aishite Imasu 1941: Mahal Kita

ANALYSIS: Corazon, Ang Unang Aswang

Corazon: Ang Unang Aswang is a 2012 thriller film directed by Richard Somes, starring Erich Gonzales and Derek Ramsay. Rather than complying to typical horror/thriller stereotypes, the film focused on the love story of Corazon (Gonzales) and her husband, Daniel (Ramsay), and complemented this with elements of folklore, mob mentality, and remnants of war.

Corazon and female objectification

  • Corazon was a village beauty, and her beauty surpassed those of all the women in the village. She was also married to Daniel, the village “alpha”, who is the strongest and most leader-like among all the men.
  • Instead of highlighting her beauty and physicality through the male gaze, the film made her an object of ridicule and jealousy by the other women’s gazes. Orphaned by her mother at a young age, the village women considered her as impure because they gossiped that her mother used to “sell her body” to the Japanese soldiers during the war.
  • The village women, in their insecurities, also attacked her pride and looked down on her because in the five years of her marriage to Daniel, she was unable to bear him a child. The film highlighted the traditional burden of childbearing imposed on a woman, most especially in the old Filipino culture. Corazon’s body might not have been fetishizingly objectified, but it was nonetheless objectified as a vessel of a child.

The female and religion as mystical elements

  • Unable to bear a child, Corazon was “referred” by her manghihilot to a “mysterious” woman named Herminia, who is sought out for her miracles.
  • Herminia was a typical albularyo. She also mentioned that she was a religious person, who had devotions to saints and the Virgin Mary. However, the film presented her religious practices as that of “black magic”. She was portrayed as an element of evil, even though the only help she gave Corazon was to lend her a statue of San Gerardo and instruct her to start a devotion to the patron saint of pregnant women.
  • The typical religious practices, once done by women, was presented as mystical and of dark nature. They were shown as unconventional and even as opposed to the good brought about by the Catholic faith.
  • Here, the tone of the film showed both Herminia and Corazon as believers of unknown rituals that are supposedly far from what the church teaches.
  • Corazon travelled to the hill and practiced her devotion to San Gerardo in isolation for weeks. She was shown suffering intensely in her devotion, while Daniel was frustratedly waiting for her to return.
  • Corazon’s sacrifice was given as much importance as Daniel’s, even though Daniel technically did nothing but wait. 
  • The unnecessary intensity of the devotion also highlighted how much suffering and commitment a woman must be able to give in order to fulfill her purpose of bearing a child. Without a child, her life is meaningless.
  • This is in line with Laura Mulvey’s point that a woman is “nothing but a signifier of the male “other” in a patriarchal culture, where her role is to fulfill his desires, obsessions and fantasies.”

The beginnings of a violent female

  • After her devotion, Corazon became pregnant, only to eventually give birth to a stillborn child. The midwife, who delivered the child, looked at it as if it were a monster. She shook and refused to show Corazon her baby, even as Corazon insisted. The midwife also showed fear in front of Corazon, as if she were also a monster because she gave birth to a monster. Corazon held her dead baby lovingly, at the disgust of the midwife.
  • The film showed Corazon further as a woman unable to accept her grief. She paraded her dead baby in the village, hurting anyone who dared to mock or “hurt” her child. She also cursed Christianity, the religion who she said gave her false hope.
  • One villager said “Agawan mo ng bata ang babae, magiging demonyo siya”. This marks the beginning of the film’s attempt to demonize a childless woman.
  • In a cry of despair and grief, Corazon ate her own child after cursing everyone and everything that wronged her. The film explained through a parallelism with a dog that the mother dog ate its dead puppy in an attempt to bring it back to her body. This is a cruel and sickening act done by an animal and, later on Corazon. This puts Corazon as an image of a new animal, in her newfound monstrosity.
  • Corazon also began stealing, killing, and eating some of the village children as an act of war and revenge. Here, the picture of a violent female is rooted in her inability to bear a child—her supposedly main purpose in life.
  • Laura Mulvey mentions in her essay that a woman’s purpose, once fulfilled, puts her meaning into an end. She is now meaningless and is left only as a memory in the world. Corazon bore a child, but the child was dead. So Corazon, meaningless in the first place, is further left with a life of meaninglessness, as she is purposeless.

Male response to the violent female

  • The male villagers eventually began hunting down Corazon because they speculated that she did not disappear because she was dead. They intended to kill her, the monstrous feminine who is now fully demonic.
  • As Mulvey said, when the male is reminded of the castration anxiety by the woman, he escapes by:
    • Investigating and trying to demystify the woman, and devaluating and punishing her
      • The women in the village devalued Corazon and ridiculed her for her inability to bear a child.
      • The men also mocked Corazon and talked about her barrenness.
    • He forces a change in her, in a battle of strength and sanity,  ultimately trying to defeat and destroy her
      • The men, unable to demystify Corazon, labelled her as a monster and tried to destroy her by means of force.
      • They searched the forests, high and low, with their knives, guns, and torches.
      • Daniel, Corazon’s husband, on the other hand, searched for her because he longed to be with her because he was “in love with her”.
    • If unsuccessful, he substitutes her for another object of his fetish, or turns her into a fetish so that she becomes an object of lust, and not anxiety.
      • When Daniel finally found Corazon, Corazon said that she was beyond saving. Daniel responds by saying that he will love her and choose to be with her despite everything.
      • At this point, the male failed to contain the female, so he chose to convert her, in all of her monstrosity, into his fetish. Her violence becomes part of what he loves, because he chose to commit to her out of his “love” for her.

Conclusion

  • Throughout the film, Corazon was never the subject. The film was all about Daniel’s love for her and how good of a husband he supposedly is.
  • The female was shown at the peak of her violence, but the film refused to dwell on and tackle her grief. She was highlighted as her downfall to darkness, instead of being portrayed as a grieving mother.
  • The film used all the characters harming her from the beginning to burden her to the point of insanity, which she willingly embraced. She was shown as weak in the face of anger, because she is unable to handle the sorrow brought about by her inability to fulfill her “purpose”, which is childbearing.

The film ended with the quote from one of the village men saying,

“Marahil ay mas payapa at maligaya silang namumuhay sa piling ng isa’t isa, malayo sa mapagpula at mapanghusgang isipan at dila. Malayang nagmamahalan ng walang humahadlang o nakikialam. ‘Marahil ang digmaan ang sumira sa aming paniniwala sa tao bilang tao, o marahil ang takot sa aming puso ang nagbigay daan upang magkaroon ng halimaw.”

The film, here confessed that the true demons were the people. They were the ones who created monsters among themselves and they caused a monster to be born in Corazon. However, contrary to this ending statement, the film failed to show this “moral lesson” because it pointed and channeled all the monstrosity at Corazon. It was a story, focused on the love of a man to his wife. She, in her purposeless female body, embraced violence and insanity upon being unable to contain all the people’s torturing gazes and words. The people were the real monsters, but how come it is the female who was portrayed so? How come the people were victimized but the female was shown to be the predator? And how come, in all her suffering and pain, the female’s salvation came to her only when her man chose to be with her? Why is this story released without question for the audience to consume? 

Deeper analysis on female portrayals must really be practiced in order to produce more films that explore femininity rather than condemn it.

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Film 299 Post

F299: Research Update #2

Below are my notes in Laura Mulvey’s Essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. It is a compilation of my understanding of the major points of the essay, as well as its application in the image of the “violent female”.

Woman as bearer of meaning

  • Phallocentrism and all its manifestations depend on the image of the woman, particularly the castrated women, in order to make sense of its ideology.
    • Her desires and existence are encapsulated in her longing to transcend her castration. She has no other meaning apart from being the bearer of the bleeding wound.
    • She is nothing but a signifier of the male “other” in a patriarchal culture, where her role is to fulfill his desires, obsessions and fantasies.
  • In the patriarchal subconscious, the woman plays two main parts:
    • Her lack of a penis represents the threat of castration
    • Once she fulfills her function of bearing a child, she raises it into the symbolic by raising the child as a signifier of her desire to possess a penis.
  • Her purpose, once fulfilled, puts her meaning into an end. She is now meaningless and is left only as a memory in the world.
    • She is not a maker of meaning, but tied to her place in silence as only a bearer of it.
  • The dominant ideology dictates that any form of analysis or criticism of pleasure or beauty, destroys it.
    • A woman’s challenge is to fight the dominant ideology coursed through a structured language, while tied to the limitations of her reality under a world of patriarchy.
  • In terms of cinema,  historically, despite the strong ideological language in place, an alternative cinema was able to develop. However, it still adapted the formality of the dominant ideology.
    • A politically and aesthetically avant-garde cinema is now possible, but it can still only exist as a counterpoint.
    • With the mainstream cinema still unchallenged, it is continuously coding the language of the patriarchy.

Pleasure in Looking at the Human Form

  • Cinema provides a sense of scopophilia, meaning the love of looking, and pertaining to the predominantly male gaze encapsulated in mainstream film.
  • Looking generates pleasure as much as being looked at does. The former is stereotypically male’s, while the latter is a pleasure stereotypically assigned to females.
    • Too much looking, on the other hand, may lead to obsession and perversion, wherein sexual satisfaction can only be achieved through looking.
    • Cinema’s tendency for exhibitionism gives power to the lookers by enriching their experience of their voyeuristic fantasies through the projection of the objects of their repressed eroticism.
  • Mainstream film, above all, focuses on the human form through camera movements, space, scales, and stories.
    • There is a romantic affair between the image and self-image which found itself extremely expressed in the medium of film. This generates such overwhelming recognition from the audience.
  • In the pleasure of looking, there are some contradictory aspects:
    • First, scopophilia arises from pleasure in looking by using  another person as an object of sexual stimulation. This is a sexual instinctual function.
    • Second, innate narcissism and the ego results in identifying with what is being seen. This is an ego libido function.
    • Both aspects have to be incorporated into an ideology to gain meaning.

Woman as the image, Man as the bearer of look

  • What is essential and highlighted in a woman is her “to-be-looked-at-ness”. The male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female who is characterized and styled for maximum erotic and visual impact.
  • A woman’s presence is a staple in a typical narrative, but her character’s visuals tend to freeze the storyline in order to give focus to eroticism.
  • Budd Boetticher said: “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.”
  • The woman functions both as an erotic subject for the male characters, and the male audience. The male gaze stikes her from within and outside the screen.
  • On the contrary, the male cannot bear the burden of being objectified. Thus, his role is to forward the story when the woman freezes the narrative with her visuals.
    • He commands the scene and generates all the action needed.
  • The woman’s presence cannot command the story because her imagery beyond sexual objectification is that of castration and, thus, unpleasure. Women exist mainly for sexual difference and objectification.
    • She is an icon displayed for the enjoyment of men. If this purpose is unfulfilled, she is just an image of pain and anxiety.
  • When the male is reminded of the castration anxiety by the woman, he escapes by:
    • Investigating and trying to demystify the woman, and devaluating and punishing her
    • He forces a change in her, in a battle of strength and sanity,  ultimately trying to defeat and destroy her
    • If unsuccessful, he substitutes her for another object of his fetish, or turns her into a fetish so that she becomes an object of lust, and not anxiety.
  • The woman knows that her role is to perform for the male to keep his interest. But in the process of performing for him, he attempts to break her down and expose her.

Further points:

  • Cinema has invoked scopophilic instinct in its audience, as well as the ego libido.
  • Women represent castration threats which are absorbed by voyeuristic tendencies and are fetishized so as to reduce anxiety.
  • Cinema builds how a woman should look because the focus is on her to-be-looked-at-ness
    • Cinema highlights this by controlling time through the narrative and the editing, as well as space.
    • “Cinematic codes create a gaze, a world, and an object, thereby producing an illusion cut to the measure of desire.”
  • Cinema encapsulates three different looks: 
    • that of the point of view of the camera as it records 
    • that of the audience as it watches the film
    • that of the characters within the illusion of the screen
  • As soon as fetishist representation of the female image breaks the illusion of the screen, and the fully erotic image is exposed to the viewer, the woman is fetishized, frozen, and emphasized to keep the spectator from looking at, thinking of, any doing anything else other than wallow in her imagery.

Realizations: Relationship to the Violent Female

It was previously stated that when the male is reminded of the castration anxiety brought about by the woman, he escapes by, first, trying to demystify her. This happens during the typical treatment of films when it comes to violent women. Men are usually depicted at the peak of their curiosity, treating the female as if she were an experiment or a scientific subject. He tries to break down the “mystery” behind her violence. This way, the violence of the woman is not the focus, but rather, it is the male ego and his perseverance in examining the subject that is highlighted. 

If the man’s ego, strength, and knowledge end up being challenged or threatened by the violence of the woman, he tries to devalue and punish her. The film typically supports the devaluation of the violent female by showing her in very vulnerable positions. She is reduced to an animal being punished, rather than a troubled human being. The male punishes, mocks, and tortures her in an attempt to change and, eventually, demystify her. If he fails to do so, he makes it his mission to destroy her. This is why most violent women in films end up dying a cruel fate. It is the female who conforms to societal stereotypes who end up surviving in the story. 

Lastly, if the man cannot destroy her, in a desperate attempt for his ego to prevail, he ends up fetishizing her. The film usually romanticizes this by making the male fall in love with the violence of the female, or embracing her nature and even sharing in her pursuits. This way, violent or not, the female is back to playing the role she was meant to play — the object of his lust and fantasies. She could not and will not be able to escape because, at the end of the day, it will always be about the male ego, the dominant ideology, and the eyes within and in front of the screen, which she is made to serve.

Possible topics for further discussion:

  • The language, practice, evolution, and analysis of the scopophilic instinct and ego libido towards the female object in Philippine Cinema 
  • The ideology of the patriarchal order in Philippine Cinema
  • Evolution of a woman’s to-be-looked-at-ness in Philippine Cinema, or in certain auteur’s works — this will be technical and will look into film form and elements, as well as psychology.

Reference:

  • Mulvey, L. (1975). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. ScreenVolume 16(3), 6-18.