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Article Review: Laura Melvey "Visual Pleasure Narrative Cinima"

Article Review: Laura Melvey "Visual Pleasure Narrative Cinima"

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Published by Marshall Berg

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Published by: Marshall Berg on Mar 27, 2011
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Marshall Berg | 2/25/11 | Art History: Since 1945
Universal Pleasure and Non-Traditional, Narrative Cinema
A Response to Laura Mulvey’s: “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”
In her essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” Laura Mulvey analyzes,“the way film reflects, reveals, and even plays on the straight, socially establishedinterpretation of sexual difference that controls images, erotic ways of looking, andspectacle.”
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She uses Freud’s psychoanalytical theory of phallocentrism, which, “dependson the image of the castrated woman in order to give order and meaning to its world…(and) in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic commandby imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.”
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It is apparent that Mulvey finds Freud’s theory to behighly misogynistic and, “a political weapon, demonstrating the way the unconscious of patriarchal society has structured film form.”
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She goes on to introduce the gaze, thoughtwo “structures of looking in the conventional cinematic situation. The first scopophilic,arises from pleasure in using another person as an object of sexual stimulation throughsight. The second, developed through narcissism and the constitution of ego, comes fromthe identification with the image seen… Both pursue aims in indifference to perceptualreality, creating the imagized, eroticized concept of the world that forms the perception of the subject and makes a mockery of empirical objectivity.”
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For the remainder of theessay Mulvey argues her point using specific examples of a male dominated agendas andsystems within the history and language of film.Laura Mulvey introduces the idea of fetish when explaining the Male’s
 
unconscious escape from castration anxiety. As a “complete disavowal of castration bythe substitution of a fetish object or turning the represented figure itself into a fetish sothat it becomes reassuring rather than dangerous (hence overvaluation, cult of the femalestar)”
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 I would argue that Mulvey was seeing things to personally skewed, and wouldrather use an idea from Guy Dabord to illustrate a more universal view of the dangers of fetish and narrative cinema.
“This is the principle of commodity fetishism, the domination of society by “intangible aswell as tangible things,” which reaches its absolute fulfillment in the spectacle, where the tangibleworld is replaced by a selection of images which exist above it, and which simultaneously imposethemselves as the tangible
par excellence 
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Melvey was approaching a universal issue, through the eyes of feminism. I don’tbelieve this to be an issue of gender (at least not in the 21
st
century), rather an issue of manipulation and distraction of the masses through media and spectacle.“Hollywood” (i.e. the mainstream film industry) is a system built by capitalism.The cost of feature length narrative cinema has always been high. The amount of staff,equipment, locations, and technicians that is needed to produce a feature film requiresinvestors. For investors, the film industry is a huge opportunity: an economic market, andthe source of cultural propaganda allowing for the accumulation of money, power, andpolitical prowess. Dabord sees a world in which the tangible becomes replaced byimages, and Hollywood is a factory constantly producing images of situations intangible.The spectacle that is mainstream film immerses us in a cultural fantasy, broughtforth in society by the investor, who invests because his interests are shown. “The camerabecomes the mechanism for producing an illusion of Renaissance space, flowing
 
movements compatible with the human eye, an ideology of representation that revolvesaround the perception of the subject; the camera’s look is disavowed in order to create aconvincing world in which the spectator’s surrogate can perform with verisimilitude.”
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I have a hard time with the fact that “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” onlysuggests the point of view of a male viewer. The opinion of the female viewer isrelinquished from the essay as Mulvey seemingly reinforces Freud’s opinions by showinghow they are enforced in cinema. In the essay she points to how men see narrativecinema. She goes no further than Frued’s idea: how woman, “can exist only in relation tocastration and cannot transcend it.”
1
Obsessed with a feminist agenda, she doesn’texplore the female gaze, or even begin to touch on the multitude of other social problems,which exist in the traditional cinematic experience.Mulvey suggests a rigid solution to the voyeuristic qualities of film. “To free thelook of the camera into its materiality in time and space and the look of the audience intodialectics, passionate detachment.”
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This proposition, “destroys the satisfaction, pleasure,and privilege of the “invisible guest.”Is this the only solution for eliminating “the gaze” in film? Is it possible, (at this pointin cinematic history,) or even necessary for us to destroy what is most pleasurable infilm? Can a film be immersive, visually pleasurable, and socially conscious?I again find that Dabord has a better solution.
“The consciousness of desire and the desire for consciousness are identically the projectwhich, in its negitive form, seeks the abolition of classes, the workers’ direct possession of everyaspect of their activity.”
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Dabord is warning us to be aware of the potential persuasion and manipulationcontained in visually pleasurable and desired images, objects, and human beings. He is

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