To What Extent Is Laura Mulvey's Article ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' True to the Representation of Women in Film Noir?

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  • Topic: Film theory, Laura Mulvey, Gaze
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To what extent is Laura Mulvey's article ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' true to the representation of women in film noir?

Feminism is a social progress that has had a large impact on film theory. Cinema is said to be taken by feminists as a medium which represents myths about women and their femininity and men and their masculinity. Previous feminist theory has been focussed on stereotypes of women particularly in film (Rosen, 1973) In her article ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' (1975) Laura Mulvey uses psychoanalysis to try and understand the obsession of Hollywood cinema. This can be explained through the concept of scopophilia, the desire to look at someone else and narcissistic voyeurism. Mulvey claims that scopophilia in cinema has a structure that is based on activity and passivity. Women in film are there for male requirements. They are usually seen as powerless whereas males are seen as powerful. The audience are made to identify with the male character on screen regardless of whether they are male or female because what is seen on screen is always filmed from a male point of view therefore the female character is seen as an object to the audience as well as the male character. Mulvey suggests that women are placed in the passive position in three ways. 1.through character portrayal within the narrative

2.through spectator perception of the female
3.through the controlling gaze of the camera which objectified women Mulvey used psychoanalysis to question why gaze is so powerful. To males, women are seen as lacking because they do not hold a penis. Men deal with this by classifying other males and objectifying females. Mulvey looked at why the male gaze is dominant. Within voyeurism women are examined. By doing this the male is reassured that he himself is not castrated. In Hollywood narrative the woman is seen to feel guilty by the male saving her. This makes the male appear and feel like the hero. In addition the female is seen as an object by the use of camera movement, lighting, costume and make-up. This has been called fetishism. Attention is deflected from her lacking a penis and she is transformed from a dangerous character into a creature of beauty.

‘Whoever went to the movies with any regularity during 1946 was caught in the midst of Hollywood's profound post-war affection for morbid drama. From January through December deep shadows, clutching hands, exploding revolvers, sadistic villains and heroines tormented with deeply rooted diseases of the mind flashed across the screen in a panting display of psychoneuroses, unsublimated sex and murder most foul.' This article from a 1947 Life magazine quoted in Hollywood Genres is revealing not only for the way in which, at a time when the genre was still young it manages to touch on many of what were later see to be essential elements of film noir..' (Cook and Bernink, 1999:184) In terms of film noir the women are portrayed in a certain way. They are seen to be sexy, bold, strong and powerful. The woman is also seen as someone who is irresistibly attractive and traps and leads the male character into danger and despair. The femme fatale rejects the role of the conventional wife who stays at home and looks after the house while her husband is out working. By the end her indiscretion of the norms that society has set for her leads her to damage her life and the lives of those around her. The femme fatale of film noir is given power and ambition something that Hollywood audiences are not used to seeing. As the femme fatale has a hold of her sexuality she is a threat to males and the patriarchy. The way that film noir displays the femme fatale seems to support how society views women today. It does this by building the women up to be a powerful force and by the end she is punished. In her essay Mulvey states that the presence of woman is and indispensable element of spectacle in normal narrative film, yet her visual presence tends to work...
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