LAURA MULVEY AND CLASSICAL NARRATIVE CINEMA
Both Mulvey’s and Doane’s perspective of pleasurable female spectatorship is essentially negative, and the concept of unmediated pleasure for the female spectator is inconceivable within the psychoanalytic framework. The types of critiques which have emerged on the use of psychoanalytic theory by Mulvey and Doane have come from a number of directions—from feminist and nonfeminist film theorists, and from theorists working in the area of post-colonialism and anti-racism.
One of the criticisms of psychoanalytic film theory emerging from mainstream film theorists, as well as feminist film theorists, is the implicit assumption within psychoanalytic film theory that media texts contain univocal meanings. Van Zoonen (1994:92) contends that the pleasures of the male spectatorial position is a ‘direct result of the way they are positioned by the cinematographic mode of address’. She notes that in this situation the text-spectator relation is determined by the visual and narrative discourses of the text which produced fixed gendered subjectivities, allowing for a limited range of responses (e. g. voyeurism and identification) and in the process ignoring the ambiguities and tensions which frame the text. Thus both textual discourses and the discourses of spectatorship are confined by a closed and predetermined frame of reference. The primary determinant of spectatorship is gender, which assumes primacy over factors such as ‘race, sexuality, class, cultural capital and individual life histories beyond the Oedipal stage’ (ibid,).
This raises some important issues, because even using the concept of gender alone, a universal response to mainstream Hollywood cinema in terms of spectatorial pleasure cannot be considered. Feminists working in the area of anti-racism and post-colonialism have questioned the relevance of the debate to their concerns (Roach and Felix 1988; Gaines 1994). Some leading theorists in the field have moved, more recently, to incorporate issues of race and ethnicity in their work (Modleski 1993). Van Zoonen (1994:94) maintains that Doane’s (1991) analysis maintains that both ‘women and blacks constitute an enigma and a threat to the patriarchal unconscious that can only be contained by violent repression’. She claims that Doane’s psychoanalytic account of the collective unconscious, while explaining the nature of sexism and racism, can be seen at the same time as ethnocentrically ‘preoccupied with the pathological character of white patriarchal society’ (1994:94). Within this framework women and blacks are seen as ‘different’, ‘other’ and ‘deviant’.
Mulvey’s analysis of some key concepts in the area of psychoanalytic theory provoked a significant growth in feminist scholarship in the area of feminism and psychoanalysis. Many of the texts which appeared subsequently have become classic contributions to the debate in their own right. They include: E. Ann Kaplan (1983) Women and Film; Teresa de Lauretis (1984) Alice Doesn’t: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema; Mary Ann Doane (1987) The Desire to Desire: The Women’s Film of the 1940s; and Tania Modleski (1988) The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory. Many of these texts raised some ‘early’ concerns within the feminist community about the limitations of Mulvey’s use of psychoanalytic concepts, and about psychoanalytic theory more generally. Mulvey did not directly address the issue of female pleasure. Mahoney (1994:68) maintains that this is because the psychoanalytic analysis of cinema is problematic because ‘it is theorised predominantly from a perspective of masculinity and its constructions’. Gledhill (1988:65), drawing on the work of Mulvey and others, contends that ‘early cine – psychoanalysis found it difficult to theorise the feminine as anything other than “lack”, “absence”, “otherness”’. Thus, while female pleasure in looking is inconceivable within the frame of reference used by Mulvey, there is an implicit argument within her article which, as van Zoonen (1994:90) notes, suggests that ‘within patriarchal culture a reversal of the structure of looking-facilitating concurrent female scopophilia and identification-is out of the question’.
This issue was also raised by Kaplan, who asked whether the gaze is necessarily male. In raising this question Kaplan (1983:25) maintains that it is only ‘through asking such questions within the psychoanalytic framework.. .[that we can],. .begin to find the gaps and fissures through which we can insert woman in a historical discourse that has hitherto been male dominated and has excluded women’.
She contends that psychoanalysis is a useful mechanism to deconstruct Hollywood films, thereby exposing the operation of patriarchal discourses and myths on which Hollywood film is based and through which women are constructed as ‘other’.
Kaplan argues that in the dominant Hollywood genres women are marginalised and the only Hollywood genre where women and women’s issues occupy a central space is that of the family melodrama. Kaplan outlines the centrality of Oedipal issues in the classic framing of Hollywood melodrama. She shows, however, that it can be approached in a different way, as Laura Mulvey’s work has shown. Mulvey, while viewing melodrama as concerned with Oedipal issues, sees it as a potential ‘space’ for women, ‘primarily as a female form, acting as a corrective to the main genres that celebrate male action’ (Kaplan 1983:26). However, she recognises that while ‘melodrama’ does help to surface ideological elements there is a lack of resolution of events within the films in a way which benefits women. Using the Lacanian model, Kaplan shows how psychoanalysis can be drawn on to analyse the nature of viewing ‘pleasures’, noting that
simply to celebrate whatever gives us sexual pleasure seems to me both too easy and too problematic. We need to analyse how it is that certain things turn us on, how sexuality has been constructed in patriarchy to produce pleasure in the dominance-submission forms, before we advocate these modes.
She goes on to discuss the unequal ownership of viewing pleasure and ‘desire’. She shows that the ‘dominance-submission’ dimensions of psychoanalysis can be drawn on to understand the constructed nature of sexuality, as well as the range and differentiated positioning available for women and men. She shows how ‘the passivity revealed in women’s sexual fantasies is reinforced by the way women are positioned in film’ (Kaplan 1983:28). In the process, she draws on the work of Mary Ann Doane (1981) and outlines Doane’s contribution to the debate. Doane shows how, in the classical genres, the female body is sexuality, providing the erotic object for the male spectator. In the woman’s film, the gaze must be deeroticised (since the spectator is now assumed to be female), but in doing this the films effectively disembody the spectator (Kaplan 1983:28). Doane shows how classic Hollywood genres-westerns and gangster movies, for example-reflect a ‘perfect mirror self for the male spectator with the accompanying control. For the female spectator, the reflection is a ‘powerless victimised figure’ with a complete lack of control and self worth. As Mulvey (1975:12-13) notes, ‘The male figure is free to command the stage.. .of spatial illusion in which he articulates the look and creates the action.’
Kaplan goes on to point out that the early 1980s saw a shift in terms of the male subject in traditional Hollywood film. Men, she argues, became the object of woman’s gaze in films such as Urban Cowboy and Saturday Night Fever, and she identifies actors such as Robert Redford in The Electric Horseman as the object of ‘female desire’. However, as she notes, the shift in emphasis, with the man being set up as sex object, simply results in the woman taking on the ‘masculine’ role and acting as bearer of the gaze. In this role, Kaplan observes, the woman always loses her traditionally ‘feminine’ characteristics, e. g. motherliness, kindness, etc. She adopts ‘masculinist’ characteristics which deny her femininity. Kaplan argues that even in a supposedly ‘feminist’ film such as My Brilliant Career the crude patterning of oppositions is apparent, in the contextualisation of issues, within the framework of patriarchal power relations, i. e. men’s desire carrying power. Kaplan (1983:29) notes that ‘This positioning of the two sex genders in representation clearly privileges the male (through the mechanisms of voyeurism and fetishism, which are male operations, and because his desire carries power/ action where woman’s usually does not)’. She goes on to make the point that such substitution does nothing to change established positions and structures.
Kaplan uses the concept of patriarchy unproblematically and her analysis is pre-postfeminist in its lack of deconstruction of feminist and filmic categories, e. g. patriarchy, ‘the gaze’, signifier and signified. This enables Kaplan to proceed to discuss two Freudian concepts—voyeurism and fetishism—in a problematic but undeconstructed way. Further, Kaplan (1983:31) notes, ‘the sexualization and objectification of women is not simply for the purposes of eroticism; from a psychoanalytic point of view, it is designed to annihilate the threat that woman…poses’.
Kaplan claims that fractures in the feminist film community emerged around the intersection of psychoanalysis and feminism. Some feminists objected to drawing on theories originally devised by men. Julia LeSage argues that the Lacanian model has been problematic in reifying women, ‘in a childlike position that patriarchy had wanted to see them in’; for LeSage, the Lacanian framework establishes ‘a discourse which is totally male’ (cited in Kaplan 1983:32).6 Other feminists have advocated an opening up of the debate to focus on women spectators. In this context Kaplan reviews a range of debates and ‘positions’ from within feminist writing and critique.7 Despite the fact that Kaplan’s writing cannot be identified as postfeminist, she recognises the range of debates within feminism which have produced feminist pluralism. Judith Barry and Sandy Flitterman ‘have argued that feminist artists must avoid claiming a specific female power residing in the body of women and representing “an inherent feminine artistic essence which could find expression if allowed to be explored freely”’ (Barry and Flitterman 1980:37, cited in Kaplan 1983:33).
The feminist community of the 1980s identified a range of feminist challenges and alternatives to conventional film and filmic practices. Arbuthnot and Seneca (1982) articulate a need for feminist films ‘that at once construct woman as spectator without offering the repressive identifications of Hollywood films and that satisfy our craving for pleasure’ (Kaplan 1983:33). Kaplan notes that in order to problematise Hollywood images and in order to understand ‘how it is that women take pleasure in objectification, one has to have recourse to psychoanalysis’ (Kaplan 1983:34). Kaplan claims that psychoanalytic methodology is an essential first step in the feminist project of challenging the patriarchal discourses of Hollywood film.
Another feminist theorist who, like Mulvey, has drawn on Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalytic accounts is Mary Ann Doane. She has employed a more sophisticated version of psychoanalytic theory in analysing the male gaze. Doane claims that female subjectivity and voyeurism is impossible within patriarchal society and thus ‘the reversal of the gaze’ is not feasible. As Doane (1982:42) comments, ‘the male striptease, the gigolo—both inevitably signify the mechanism of reversal itself, constituting themselves as aberrations whose acknowledgment simply reinforces the dominant system of aligning sexual difference with a subject/object dichotomy’. Doane’s point of emphasis is different from Mulvey’s: while Mulvey’s is on the female/passive, male/active binary, Doane considers the concepts of ‘proximity’ and ‘distance’. She maintains ‘that in cinematic theory there is a certain distance which needs to be maintained between film and spectator’ (Mahoney 1994:69). This distance also needs to be established to assume a voyeuristic or fetishistic position. However, the impact of psychoanalytic theory on theories of the feminine, from Freud to Irigaray, constructs women as lacking the ‘necessary distance for voyeurism or fetishism’ (ibid.). Van Zoonen shows how, ‘Drawing on the Lacanian model, Doane maintains that the capacity to establish this distance is located in the appreciation of sexual difference that takes place in childhood’ (van Zoonen 1994:91). As female specificity is characterised by proximity, women lack the capacity to establish a voyeuristic position.
Given this position, Doane argues that the only possibilities for female spectatorial pleasure are firstly masochistic, resulting from an over-identification with the image or narcissistic resulting from becoming the object of one’s own desire. Mulvey (1981) in a later article (produced as a result of criticism of her earlier position) ‘also claims that the female gaze can only be a masochistic adaptation of the male spectator position enforced by the voyeuristic/fetishistic economy of narrative cinema in a patriarchal order’ (van Zoonen 1994:91-92). Doane goes further than Mulvey, in maintaining that the female gaze can gain control of the image by two means. She contends that a distance can be established by the female spectator by adopting the male spectatorial position, which Doane calls ‘transvestism’, or by using femininity as a mask. In the latter example, Doane draws on the psychoanalytic concept of the ‘masquerade’, which she argues facilitates the creation of a distance between the self and image.
Stephen Heath (1986) maintains that it is only in the 1980s that the idea of ‘the masquerade’ gained significant attention and currency. He argues that the concept gained wider currency within the development of the debates around female sexuality and feminist critiques of psychoanalysis. The concept has been particularly valuable in the area of representation, particularly in relation to film and cinema. Heath draws onJoan Riviere’s article ‘Womanliness as a Masquerade’ (1926) to understand the concept of masquerade.
In summarising Riviere’s analysis of masquerade, Heath (1986:48) states that its concern is with ‘women who wish for masculinity’ and who may then put on ‘a mask of womanliness’ as a defence, ‘to avert anxiety and the retribution feared from men’. The case developed by Riviere is of a successful intellectual woman who adopts the mask, i. e. the stereotypical patterning of femininity (womanliness) as a defensive strategy, because she has successfully adopted masculinist discourse and behaviour. As Heath (1986:48) maintains, ‘The problem can be solved by reference to Oedipal rivalry.’ In adopting a public and successful intellectual position the woman rivals and can be seen ‘symbolically’ to take the place of her father (to have castrated him). However, the woman attempts to placate him by adopting the trappings of womanliness, e. g. flirting, anticipating reprisals, etc. Riviere states ‘it was an unconscious attempt to ward off the anxiety which would ensue on account of the reprisals she anticipated from the father figure after her intellectual performance’ (cited in Heath 1986:37). As Riviere goes on to note, the woman’s life consisted alternatively of both masculine and feminine behaviours.
Riviere further develops the explanation around the Oedipal situation and, as Heath maintains, in summarising the position Riviere’s ‘masquerade’ involves ‘the mask of womanliness, as a defence, to avert anxiety and the retribution feared from men’, ‘disguising herself as merely a castrated woman; ‘masquerading as guiltless and innocent’; masquerading in a feminine guise (Heath 1986:38, 41). In Heath’s summary, ‘A woman identifies as a man-takes on masculine identity-and then identifies herself after all as a woman-takes up the feminine identity’ (1986:49). Riviere’s own position as regards the masquerade is, as Heath acknowledges, an ambiguous one. She at times appears critical; at other times as answering ‘the essential nature of fully developed femininity’ (Heath 1986:43).
As Heath maintains, the position is a complex one; ‘masquerade’ is within a woman’s domain, but it has been usurped by the man. As Heath (1986:50) notes, ‘Collapsing genuine womanliness and masquerade together, Riviere undermines the integrity of the former with the artifice of the latter.’ He goes on to analyse the central issue around ‘masquerade’: the status of the feminine-the identity of the woman. Heath argues that masquerade is a representation of femininity; but, as he goes on to say, ‘femininity is representation, the representation of the woman’ (Heath 1986:53). The main contribution of psychoanalysis is its representation of identity as precarious.
Heath considers ‘the masquerade’ in relation to cinema, citing the work of Josef von Sternberg, particularly his direction of Marlene Dietrich in Morocco, Max Ophuls’ Madam de, and Hitchcock’s Suspicion and Rebecca as all representative of masquerade. Heath (1986:58) argues, ‘the fetishization of the masquerade that the cinema captures is the male distance: having positioned the woman as phallus, as the term for the fantasy of the man, her identity for him’. Heath cites the work of Mary Ann Doane (1982) in relation to the positioning of the female spectator. Doane (1982:87) maintains that ‘The effectivity of masquerade lies precisely in its potential to manufacture a distance for the image to generate a problematic within which the image is manipulable, producible and readable by the woman.’ She notes that theories of female spectatorship are rare, and that ‘spectatorial desire in contemporary film theory is generally delineated as either voyeurism or fetishism, as precisely a pleasure in seeing what is prohibited in relation to the female body’ (Doane 1982:76). Doane (1982:77) points out that filmic theory and the cinematic institution have in common with Freudian theory ‘the eviction of the female spectator from a discourse purportedly about her (the cinema, psychoanalysis)’.
Doane, in reference to the work ofJoan Riviere, whom she acknowledges was the first to theorise the concept of masquerade, shows that ‘the masquerade of femininity is a kind of reaction-formation against the woman’s trans-sex identification [her transvestism]’ (Doane 1982:81). Doane argues that the concept of the ‘masquerade’ as discussed in Riviere’s work, in the process of exaggerating or ‘flaunting’ femininity, establishes a distance between women and femininity: ‘womanliness is a mask which can be worn or removed’ (ibid.). The masquerade’s resistance to patriarchal positioning would therefore lie ‘in its denial of the production of femininity as closeness’ (ibid.). Doane argues that the growing demand for a theorisation and elaboration of female spectatorship is a result of the necessity to understand fully the position in order to dislocate it. She sees ‘masquerade’ as playing an important role in this process.
Mulvey (1993) further extends Doane’s argument in a more recent development of the concepts of fetishism and masquerade. She claims that the alignment between femininity and masquerade receives its strongest statement in the Hollywood cinema, ‘investing as it does in the power wielded by eroticism in the marketplace’ (Mulvey 1993:17). Mulvey maintains that this can be seen in the shift that has taken place from the fetishisation to the commodification of the female body, through links between Hollywood cinema and the conscious marketing of the female spectator. In this context, the cinema acts as a link between ‘the movie star as object of desire and the commodities associated with her as objects of desire, for the women watching the screen and looking in shop windows’ (ibid.).
Mulvey’s now seminal article ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (1975) examines classical narrative cinema (realist film), which she understands as exemplified by Hollywood cinema. Mulvey (1989:14) critiques classical narrative cinema as an expression of ‘the way the unconscious of patriarchal society has structured film form’. She proposes a demystification of the assumptions of classical narrative cinema and concludes that the goal of feminist cinema, and presumably feminist film theory, is to destroy the forms of pleasure associated with classic Hollywood cinema. One of the key elements of Mulvey’s article is the way ‘pleasure’ is constructed by mainstream (Hollywood) cinema and the significance of such pleasure for different spectators.
Mulvey sets out to establish the significance of psychoanalysis for an analysis of film, within film theory generally but more specifically within feminist film analysis. In drawing on psychoanalysis, Mulvey intends to show how filmic pleasures reinforce patterns of subjectivity and social formations which already exist in the individual subject and in society. She sets out to establish how film reflects and cultivates interpretations of sexual difference already ‘normalized’ and which control representations and ‘erotic ways of looking’. Mulvey clearly sees psychoanalysis as a useful political weapon for feminism, which she maintains can demonstrate and surface ‘the unconscious ofpatriarchal society’. Mulvey’s usage of ‘patriarchy’ and ‘phallocentrism’ is typical of pre-postfeminist writers, and both terms are used unproblematically.
For Mulvey, from a phallocentric perspective the dominant image is that of ‘the castrated woman’. As she comments, An idea of woman stands as linchpin to the system: it is her lack that produces the phallus as a symbolic presence, it is her desire to make good that lack that the phallus signifies’ (Mulvey 1992:158). As Mulvey indicates, this model establishes women’s desire as subjugated to her image, i. e. one which is ‘castrated’ and which she (woman) is unable to rise above. Mulvey (1992:159) notes that, within patriarchal culture, woman stands ‘as a signifier for the male other bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer not maker of meaning’. The issue of differentiation within the concept of ‘woman’ is not at this point an issue for Mulvey, and she operates within a model of simple ‘binary opposition’. This is shown in Mulvey’s unproblematic use of the concept of ‘oppression’ and her use of psychoanalysis which ‘faces us with the ultimate challenge, how to fight the unconscious structured like a language.. .while still caught within the language of patriarchy?’ (ibid.).
Mulvey shows how psychoanalysis and the concept of the unconscious can be used to theorise concepts of ‘pleasure’ and ‘the look’. She notes: ‘As an advanced representation system, the cinema poses questions about the ways the unconscious (formed by the dominant order) structures ways of seeing and pleasure in looking’ (Mulvey 1992:159). This system of representation reaches its apotheosis in the Hollywood film: as Mulvey (1992:160) comments, ‘mainstream film coded the erotic into the language of the dominant patriarchal order’. The aim of Mulvey’s analysis is not simply ‘to challenge dominant forms and erotic pleasure which has women at its centre but to negate the relationship b etween pleasure and the narrative fiction film in order to conceive a new language of desire’ (ibid).
Drawing on Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, Mulvey examines the pleasures that classic Hollywood cinema offers the spectator. She uses the concepts of ‘scopophilia’ and ‘narcissism’ as mechanisms through which to examine pleasures. In psychoanalytic theory, ‘scopophilia’ is defined as a basic human sexual drive to look at other human beings in such a way that the process of looking arouses sexual stimulation and objectifies the person looked at. As van Zoonen (1994:89) comments, the feelings of lust and satisfaction that result are not directly related to erotogenic zones. Scopophilia can be further divided into fetishism and voyeurism (these are explored more fully below). The second concept is narcissism,2 which Mulvey describes as a process of identification with the image on the screen.
Mulvey develops the concept of voyeurism around the way the cinema is structured. Kaplan maintains that voyeurism ‘is linked to the scopophilic instinct (i. e., the male pleasure in his own sexual organ transferred to pleasure in watching other people having sex)’ (Kaplan 1983:30).3 Mulvey maintains that scopophilia, pleasure in looking, is one of a number of possible pleasures offered by cinema. As she (1992:160) indicates, ‘there are circumstances in which looking itself is a source of pleasure, just as. there is pleasure itself in being looked at.’ Mulvey refers to scopophilia as used in Freud’s ‘Three Essays on Sexuality’, ‘where he associated scopophilia with taking other people as objects subjecting them to a controlling and curious gaze’ (ibid). Despite further development of the concept of scopophilia in Freud’s later work,4 Mulvey argues that it continues to exist as the erotic basis for pleasure in looking at another person as an object. She goes on to note that, ‘at the extreme, it can become fixated into a perversion, producing obsessive voyeurs and peeping toms whose only sexual satisfaction can come from watching in an active controlling sense, an objectified other’ (Mulvey 1992:161). Mulvey indicates that the cinematic ‘experience’ (the contrast of the darkness of the auditorium and the shifting patterns of light and shade) serves to heighten and enhance the ‘illusion of voyeuristic separation’. As she notes, the circumstances and conditions in which cinema is experienced, combined with the narrative conventions, locate the spectator in an illusory situation where it appears they are looking in on a private world.
Mulvey establishes the link between scopophilia and narcissism and the construction of the ego, which she shows comes from identification with the image seen:
Thus in film terms, one [scopophilia] implies a separation of the erotic identity of the subject from the object on the screen (active scopophilia), the other [narcissism] demands identification of the ego with the object on the screen through the spectator’s fascination with and recognition of his like. The first is a function of the sexual instincts, the second of ego libido.
She goes on to consider ‘woman’ as the object of the male gaze and man as ‘the bearer of the look’. As Mulvey (1992:162) notes, ‘Woman displayed as sexual object is the leitmotif of erotic spectacle from pin ups to strip-tease from Ziegfeld to Busby Berkeley, she holds the look, and plays to and signifies male desire.’ However, the position of the male figure is very differently located in terms of narrative structure. The man controls the film fantasy and the narrative dynamic. The film, as Mulvey points out, is structured around the main controlling figure with whom the spectator identifies:
As the spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his look onto that of his like, his screen surrogate, so that the power of the male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic look both giving a satisfying sense of omnipotence.
Van Zoonen (1994:88-89) maintains that the mechanisms of pleasure identified by Mulvey, voyeurism and identification, appear to be incompatible and not immediately reconcilable with a single ‘unitary cinematic experience’. However, ‘the conflict between what Freud called libido (scopophilia) and ego (identification) is resolved by the cinematic display of women as objects of the male gaze’ (ibid.). Mulvey explains ‘the reconciliation of the two contradictory, but constitutive pleasures of narrative cinema’ by positing a distinction in male and female pleasures of looking. She contends that the patriarchal structuring of mainstream film establishes ‘looking as a male activity’, and being looked at as ‘a female passivity’. As van Zoonen claims, in classic Hollywood films, ‘women function simultaneously as erotic objects for the male audience who can derive scopophilic pleasure from their presence, and as erotic objects for the male protagonists with whom the male audience can identify’ (1994:88-89). The driving force in this process of binary opposition are the narrative conventions of Hollywood cinema. Mulvey contends that the organisation of the narrative is patriarchal and Hollywood cinema constructs the male protagonist as the active agent propelling the story forward. As Mahoney (1994:69) comments, Mulvey ‘identifies the “look” of the camera as well as the “gaze” of both spectator and protagonist as male’.
However, within the psychoanalytic framework, male viewing pleasures are not unproblematic. As van Zoonen (1994:90) notes, ‘To the patriarchal unconscious, “woman” signifies sexual difference and more particularly she connotes the lack of a penis which evokes fear of castration and “unpleasure”…’ The only way in which male viewing pleasure can be rendered unproblematic is if the castration threat that women pose is removed. This can be achieved through the ‘scopophilic order of narrative Hollywood cinema’ in two ways (ibid,): first, by taking control of the woman’s body visually and narratively; and second, by denying the castration of the woman through ‘substituting her lack with a fetish object-high heels, long hair or earrings for instance—or turning her into a fetish object herself, exaggerating, stylizing and fragmenting female beauty into a reassuring object of the gaze’ (ibid.). Mulvey draws on the films of Hitchcock and von Sternberg as representative of voyeurism and fetishism respectively.
The second major concept used by Mulvey (the first being voyeurism) is fetishism.5 This is a process where cinema (unconsciously) fetishises the female form, representing it in a phallus-like way, thus undermining the threat posed by women. As Mulvey (1992:164) notes, men turn ‘the represented figure itself into a fetish so that it becomes reassuring rather than dangerous (hence over-evaluation, the cult of the female star)’. She uses the concept of ‘fetishistic scopophilia’ to describe a process whereby the physical beauty of the object is built up transforming it into ‘something satisfying in itself’ (ibid.).
Mulvey (1992) explains the structure of the cinema around three male looks or gazes: the look of the camera; the look of the audience; and the look of the (male) characters within the narrative. As she (1992:165) notes, the conventions of narrative film ‘deny the first two or subordinate them to the third, the conscious aim being always to eliminate intrusive camera presence, and present a distancing awareness in the audience’. However, as Mulvey (1992:166) argues, in this reading the very ‘structure of looking in narrative fiction contains a contradiction in its own premises: the female image as a castration threat’. She goes on to say that.. .‘the look of the audience is denied an intrinsic force: as soon as fetishistic representation of the female image threatens to break the spell of illusion…’ (ibid,).
Mulvey’s article was part of a political project which had the aim of destroying the gendered pleasures of mainstream Hollywood cinema. Mulvey extended her theoretical project into the area of film-making (see Chapter 4), producing ‘avant – garde’ films in conjunction with Peter Wollen. In films such as Bad Sister and Riddle of the Sphinx, Mulvey illustrates the issues raised in her article, breaking with ‘naturalistic techniques’ in film-making which she maintained produced the ‘libidinous and ego drives in mainstream narrative film’ (van Zoonen 1994:90).
Mulvey’s work has been criticised from a number of different perspectives, and her project has been accused of being ‘overly successful in destroying the pleasure of looking’ (ibid.). Her work has also been criticised by feminist critics and non-critics for being inaccessible and elitist, and for drawing on concepts which marginalise feminist film theory and the role of the female spectator. Some of these critiques are explored below.