Marshall Berg




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 established interpretation of sexual difference that controls images, erotic ways of looking, and spectacle.”1 She uses Freud’s psychoanalytical theory of phallocentrism, which, “depends on 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 command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.”2 It is apparent that Mulvey finds Freud’s theory to be highly misogynistic and, “a political weapon, demonstrating the way the unconscious of patriarchal society has structured film form.”3 She goes on to introduce the gaze, though two “structures of looking in the conventional cinematic situation. The first scopophilic, arises from pleasure in using another person as an object of sexual stimulation through sight. The second, developed through narcissism and the constitution of ego, comes from the identification with the image seen… Both pursue aims in indifference to perceptual reality, creating the imagized, eroticized concept of the world that forms the perception of the subject and makes a mockery of empirical objectivity.”4 For the remainder of the essay Mulvey argues her point using specific examples of a male dominated agendas and systems 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 by the substitution of a fetish object or turning the represented figure itself into a fetish so that it becomes reassuring rather than dangerous (hence overvaluation, cult of the female star)”5 I would argue that Mulvey was seeing things to personally skewed, and would rather 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 as well as tangible things,” which reaches its absolute fulfillment in the spectacle, where the tangible world is replaced by a selection of images which exist above it, and which simultaneously impose themselves as the tangible par excellence”6

Melvey was approaching a universal issue, through the eyes of feminism. I don’t believe this to be an issue of gender (at least not in the 21st 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 requires investors. For investors, the film industry is a huge opportunity: an economic market, and the source of cultural propaganda allowing for the accumulation of money, power, and political prowess. Dabord sees a world in which the tangible becomes replaced by images, and Hollywood is a factory constantly producing images of situations intangible. The spectacle that is mainstream film immerses us in a cultural fantasy, brought forth in society by the investor, who invests because his interests are shown. “The camera becomes the mechanism for producing an illusion of Renaissance space, flowing

movements compatible with the human eye, an ideology of representation that revolves around the perception of the subject; the camera’s look is disavowed in order to create a convincing world in which the spectator’s surrogate can perform with verisimilitude.”7 I have a hard time with the fact that “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” only suggests the point of view of a male viewer. The opinion of the female viewer is relinquished from the essay as Mulvey seemingly reinforces Freud’s opinions by showing how they are enforced in cinema. In the essay she points to how men see narrative cinema. She goes no further than Frued’s idea: how woman, “can exist only in relation to castration and cannot transcend it.”1 Obsessed with a feminist agenda, she doesn’t explore 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 the look of the camera into its materiality in time and space and the look of the audience into dialectics, passionate detachment.”7 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 point in cinematic history,) or even necessary for us to destroy what is most pleasurable in film? 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 project which, in its negitive form, seeks the abolition of classes, the workers’ direct possession of every aspect of their activity.”8

Dabord is warning us to be aware of the potential persuasion and manipulation contained in visually pleasurable and desired images, objects, and human beings. He is

also urges us to open our minds, to be as conscious as possible, and to desire new knowledge, without attaching ourselves to one opinion. This is an urging from Dabord for us to not succumb to the spectacle, which has always existed in the structures of mainstream cinema. The film “Baraka” by Ron Frike9 is classified as non-narrative. I would say it as an untraditional narrative. It is a brilliant example of a solution to the gaze, and to the spectacle that exists in the mainstream film industry today. The film is a feature length montage of images and sound. “It uses no language, so needs no translation. It speaks in magnificent images, natural sounds, and music both composed and discovered. It regards our planet and the life upon it. It stands outside of historical time. To another race, it would communicate: This is what you would see if you came here.”10 The film exists in three parts, “Nature untouched by man (indigenous peoples, their rituals as part of nature being integrated)… burglary of nature in technology (Uprooted human interaction with nature and with his kind - war and concentration camps.)… (Lastly) old and still living cultures (The architectural remains of past civilizations – transience and lasting of all human efforts.)”11 The film portrays the unnatural balance of technology and nature, and presents culture from around the world. Humans effect and interactions on the world are magnificently displayed, every detail available to the eye by Fricke’s use of 65mm film. It is extremely visually pleasurable, magnificent in color, detail and beauty. The movie simply shows us, it doesn’t telling us anything. We are free to form our own opinions, and in this sense, the way we think about and intake the film is completely different.

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A plot is present, but extremely subtle. It can be easy to become immersed in the beauty, but then with a clever cut, we become instantly aware of something deeper. A slow, panning, helicopter shot shows us crudely cemented apartments on top of each other in endless stacks. The next shot is eerily similar looking cement stacks of graves. The sound of a plane roars in the speakers, the first mechanical sound in the film thus far. A dark mood sweeps into a film that has been visually immersive, spectacular, and inspiring, until now. The sequence that follows is quickly becoming the greatest half hour of film I’ve ever seen produced on a Hollywood budget.

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It is a flawless series of shots. The pacing of the cuts, and score, that perfectly overlay the inside of a cigarette factory, they are hand rolled, here humans act as machines. We are actively piecing together a story, through comparison of these images and sounds, and of our personal past experience.

“Baraka” succeeds in being a immersive, voyeuristic, and visually pleasurable piece of cinema. I also feel it completely transcends all negative connotations with these labels. It is truly genius in this way: “Baraka” doesn’t rely on any pre-cultural background. Anyone can view this movie, and the experience of each viewer will be similar, but also vastly varying based on personal perspective. “Baraka” exists on both extremely personal, and extremely universal levels. There are no simple dichotomies in this film. No one is presented as good or bad, there are no roles of male or female. Humans are not presented as different, but as unique. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” merely attempts to justify taking power from one group and giving it to another. She continues to harp over simple dichotomies and the need to explain exactly why things are, without even offering a personal perspective. The compromise? “Baraka,” a film that is like humanity itself: beautiful, sublime, ridiculously absurd, and unfolding in ways we have never seen before. As participants, we are just trying to piece it all together as it flashes in front of our eyes.

1. pg. 361: opening, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” By Laura Mulvey taken from, “Art

After Modernism” ed. Brian Wallis pgs. 361-62, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” pg. 361: opening, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” pgs. 365-66, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” pg 368 “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” Statement 36 from, “Society of the Spectacle” by Guy Dabord, 1967, Pg. 373 “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” Statement 53 from, “Society of the Spectacle” by Guy Dabord, 1967, 9. “The Internet Movie Database: Baraka” Baraka (1992) 96 min -Documentary | War-November 1993 (USA) A movie with no conventional plot: merely a collection of expertly photographed scenes. Subject matter has a highly environmental theme. Director:Ron Fricke Writers: Constantine Nicholas, Genevieve Nicholas Budget:$4,000,000 (estimated) Gross:$1,250,322 (USA) Production Co: Magidson Films 10. Critical Review, “Baraka 1992” by Roger Ebert, AID=/20081016/REVIEWS08/810150290/1023 11. “Baraka Wikipedia Page” 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

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