Man with the Movie Camera:
The Male Gaze
Between every audience and a film there will always lay a camera; this camera may seem transparent or not visible, but nevertheless there is a camera and a cameraperson filming the scenes. Laura Mulvey, within her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, coins the term “male gaze,” where the intermediary, the camera, is metaphorically transformed to the eyes of a male, changing how we view cinema, as well as both men and women immortalized on the silver screen. Dziga Vertov, a Soviet director, wrote and directed an avant-garde, silent documentary film called Man with the Movie Camera in 1929. Despite being famous for its anti-narrative cinematical elements, the film includes a number of narrative developments of human movement in the Soviet Union, which portray power struggles between the government, men, and women. Vertov’s Man with the Movie Camera reflects Mulvey’s psychoanalytic male gaze by abstaining from the use of a visible subject or actors, its use of a wide and unusual variety of cinematic camera techniques, and a male perspective.
Man with the Movie Camera lacks a clear or constant visible subject or actor, and thus supports Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze in cinema. The film, instead of having recognizable characters or actors, attempts to capture the life of a camera man, very much from the camera’s perspective. Vertov includes shots of the titular camera men within the film, but many of the scenes are montage or unstaged clips of daily life. By not utilizing strongly developed characters, the audience does not have a particular perspective to view the film, other than the exclusively male cameramen, but, by including the cameramen, with their cameras, filming within the film, as well having the audience view another audience watching the same movie, Vertov brings attention to the gaze itself; that there is, in this case, a man looking through the camera and creating the scene. Mulvey says that “There are circumstances in which looking itself is a source of pleasure, just as, in the reverse formation, there is pleasure in being looked at” (200). The male gaze in the example of scenes of cameramen filming with the film itself represents this pleasure of looking and of capturing a moment. Mulvey goes on to say that: “At first glance, the cinema would seem to be remote from the undercover world of the surreptitious observation of an unknowing and unwilling victim. What is seen of the screen is so manifestly shown. But the mass of mainstream film, and the conventions within which it has consciously evolved, portray a hermetically sealed world which unwinds magically, indifferent to the presence of the audience, producing for them a sense of separation and playing on their voyeuristic fantasy” (201).
Man with the Movie Camera seems to counteract the illusion of cinema by drawing attention to the act of filming and the cameramen themselves and a lack characters. Furthermore, because the film is a silent documentary, though an orchestral soundtrack was produced to accompany the film, the characters that are present have no voice or audible connection to the audience, thus without a consistency of characters nor a voice attached to any of the subjects within the film the audience becomes aware that the camera can ultimately be an intermediary between the cameramen and them, and the illusion of narrative cinema is lost. Mulvey states that in film women are typically the objects, rather than the possessors, of gaze because the control of the camera, and thus the gaze, comes from the assumption of heterosexual men as the default target audience for most film genres, in this case, as a result of the male cameramen present in the film (200).
Though there are no consistent human characters with Man with the Movie Camera, the camera itself seems become a subject itself. In the opening scene of the movie one of the various cameramen is positioned, by being...
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