Pt 4 Project 4 Gendering the gaze


Read the chapter by Laura Mulvey called Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema on pps 381 – 389 of the course reader making notes.

Scopophilia, gain pleasure from looking at, objectifying the looked at and gaining erotic pleasure from.

In the context of cinema, as much as those on screen consent to be viewed, the audience are in the dark, separated from each other and sucked into the performance, playing themselves into the roles on the screen in front of them.

Mirror phase, recognition of human form in front on screen (which looks like a mirror) forgetting the world around the audience (narcissism and construction of the ego)

Thanks to freud we return once again to the castration complex and look at the portrayal of women from this angle.

Active male/passive female roles. good looking women appear on screen for men to drool over. “women looked at and displayed”

Although Mulvey states that this is suspended in song and dance numbers?

Women used to work against narrative in film, looking at the sexy lady everything. What she does (Budd Boetticher) is provoke a reaction in the male lead, either tittilation, caring which makes him act the way he does. Beyond that, she’s superfluous.

Buddy movies remove women as a distraction completely.

Men drive the plot (have the lines) because men (audience) don’t tend to objectify good looking blokes on screen. Also, by looking at the female actress as a sexual object, the male lead is projected into by the audience we watch him gain control of her.

She also represents the act of castration and acts as a threat.

The male lead needs to either “demystify” her and resolve the anxiety that way, (sadism)

or objectify her further the look more important than the reaction to her? Hitchcock.

Hitchcock uses faultless hero’s we can look up to who fall because of their erotic drives, linked to non perfect women who have transgressed in some way.

Rear window:- the female lead is a part of the audience until she is voyeristicly watched by the male lead in an apartment from his window. he then saves her and reawakens his attraction for her.

Vertigo:- male lead choses to be a policeman from career as lawyer, obsessively seeks out female lead with whom he has no intellectual interaction.

(will watch movie later to understand this)


3 looks in film, the audience, the camera and the actor.

The female is an anomaly though as also works in castration element creating one dimensional roles.

• Watch a copy of Vertigo. Make notes on how it stands up to Mulvey’s analysis.

Vertigo starts with a view of a woman’s eye, we are watching that which watches…

Our main female lead is a troubled woman, so from the offset we understand her need to be rescued from herself, this drives our hero’s actions and gives him a reason to observe her from a distance. We initially see her in evening finery and Hitchcock alters the lighting to accentuate this moment of seeing (note; not meeting) we are looking at her at her best and Stewarts character is smitten.

He dutifully follows her saving her from herself and fails to pass on all the information to the employer, her husband. He is becoming lawless in his desire to help this poor stricken woman.

Much in Mulvey’s model, he is demystifying Novak’s character, although we understand when he meets her again that actually its a set-up.

The second half of the plot is about making this girl he has met on the street into the initial dream of a woman he dreamt of saving, the girl who is a much more natural character, is forced to conform into wearing the clothing and finally the hair colour before a final confrontation that ultimately gives the solution and her death.

Hitchcock’s dislike of women comes to the fore here, its not the husband that has justice served, but the girl he paid to pretend to be his wife. And the method Stewart uses to prove his innocence at her expense, in modern terms is abusive.

Mulvey is right, the female lead is there to drive the plot, she gives meaning to Stewarts actions and is not in control right to the point where she is acting as someones wife as they have requested, another man is directing her.

Stewart, in pushing her into his ideal of a beautiful woman because thats what he desires plays into Mulveys roles perfectly. The oddity is his friend who fails to live up to this ideal and shows him his folly which gets her pushed aside and not seen for the rest of the film. Which is a shame as she has an independent role even if its in an industry that as a female she is obviously suited to fill.

Of its genre and the age it is filmed, I think my reaction to it is possibley not how Hitchcock originally intended.

• How does the portrayal of some contemporary black music in video match up to Mulvey’s insights?

In the video for Beyonce’s song sorry, we are presented with Beyonce and a host of other females, wearing skin-tight clothing and acting fierce as the song describes the end of a relationship. The conflict of the negative message in the music against the sexualised images showing presumably what the lost love is supposed to be missing? whilst being viewed by the audience to titivate and garner more plays of the vid. This contradiction between the women doing what they want, but conforming to an image that men desire is about as far from equality as you can get.

• Annotate Manet’s Olympia in terms of the gaze and the various characters, within and without the image.

The painting of Olympia by Edouard Manet is a painting of some size, of a prostitute reclined on a bed, without clothes, being attended by a maid.

The main character, we the viewer are invited to see, in her best pose as we (and the artist presumably) are invited into her boudoir. The maid gazes at her whilst offering a large bunch of flowers presumably from an admirer. The cat at her feet not looking at his mistress.

Her eyes are locked with ours outside the picture, she boldly states this is who I am, or is it holding your eyes so they don’t traverse her body?

However, who commissioned the picture and why was she painted? Manet must have had an idea that either this direct image would provoke and be controversial? Also as the man in control of the picture, is this empowering or denying her control over her form?

We look scopophilicly, whilst wondering at the maid looking on wishing it where us in the room with the artist (camera)?

My issue with that view would be that as the artist and maid it is possible there is no erotic connection there. the woman has consented to her body being viewed, a transaction may have taken place to make this allowable and her defiant look may be more for our benefit as the viewer than the artists as Manet was known as a good painter and the picture was always going to go up in a salon.

This painting is less about eroticism than the right to be who she is and allowing us to look at her.


Mulvey, L(1975) Visual pleasure and narrative cinemaIn: Visual culture reader, Jessica Evans, Stuart Hall. London. Visual culture reader. pp. 381-389

Vertigo[Feature film]Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions. 2hr 8mins

Sorry[Music video]Dir. [anon]. The Beehive Studios, Los Angeles. 4mins 25secs available from [accessed 2nd April 2017]

Manet, E(1863) Olympia [Oil on canvas] [online image] Place: Musee d’Orsay. Available from:  [accessed 2nd April 2017]


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