Spectatorship and Identification in Frank Miller’s Sin City.

Christopher J. Wheeler


Date of Submission 22 May 2007

Lecturer: Prof. Gideon De Wet

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree BA (Honours) Audio-Visual Production Management in the Department of Communication at the University of Johannesburg.

Content page 1. INTRODUCTION 2. RESEARCH PROBLEM 3. RESEARCH QUESTIONS 4. RESEARCH AIMS 5. THEORECTICAL STATEMENTS 6.METHODOLOGY 6.1. Literature overview 6.1.1. Film Noir as a Genre 6.1.2. Filmic Apparatus and The "Imaginary Signifier" 6.1.3. Spectatorship and Identification 6.1.4. Psychoanalysis and Laura Mulvey 6.1.5. Nexus search 6.2. Methodological orientation 6.3. Research design and Rationale 6.3.1. Data Collection 6.3.2. Data Analysis 7. CONCLUSION 8. SOURCE LIST

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1. INTRODUCTION Classical film theory brought ideas of how films are formally constructed and they focused on the significance of film as an iconic sign. Contemporary film theory, however, is concern with film as an exchange of meaning between the spectator and a set of signifiers (Fourie, 2002: 223). This newly placed emphasis on the viewer's experience and has given rise to new disciplines in modern film theorizing none more intrigue, and controversial, than the application of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytical principles of the unconscious. According to Metz (in Fourie, 2002:229) one of the reasons viewers identify with their action of perception is that "film corresponds to people's 'perception' and experience of their own dreams", it for this reason that psychoanalysis is interested in the positioning of the viewer as a spectator who is actively involved while at the same time passively guided through any given feature. It is therefore in the interest of psychoanalytical film theorist to actively theories about the object/subject (i.e. object being the film and the spectator relationship and its connection to unconscious psychological structures that operate within the viewer. This paper will propose the research of the role of the spectator and filmic identification, in accordance to psychoanalytical film theory, in Frank Miller’s Sin City (Rodriguez, R. & Miller, F. 2005). The filmic conventions of the Film Noir genre will be examined, as well as the influence these conventions have on the spectator’s identification within the film. 2. RESEARCH PROBLEM How do the filmic conventions of Frank Miller’s Sin City, as a contemporary Film Noir, influence the spectator’s identification with the text? 3. RESEARCH QUESTIONS   What filmic conventions of Film Noir can be identified in Frank Miller’s Sin City? How does the psychoanalytical principle of cinematic-apparatus explain the spectator’s identification with filmic texts? How do Film Noir conventions, operating in Frank Miller’s Sin City, influence male/female spectatorship in the film?

4. RESEARCH AIMS  To identify what filmic conventions of Film Noir which can be found in Frank Miller’s Sin City. To describe how the psychoanalytical principle of cinematic-apparatus explains the spectator’s identification with filmic texts. To investigate how filmic Noir conventions, operating in Frank Miller’s Sin City, influence male/female spectatorship?

5. THEORECTICAL STATEMENTS • Genre theory examines the structural, thematic, and visual systems integral to the whole series of film (Root in Cook & Bernink, 1999:184), in this vein genres act as paradigms, and as properties of signification (Fourie, 2001:67). • The ‘cinematic-apparatus theory’ (or ‘filmic apparatus’), states that the spectator’s identification is based on the viewer’s enjoyment of film. This enjoyment is explained through their identification with the action of perception and imagined emotions; the film-dream experience; voyeurism and fetishism (Fourie, 2002:228). Furthermore, the theory is based on the semiotic assumptions that, firstly, meaning is influenced by the nature of sensual stimuli (such as the content and construction of a visual image); and secondly, that viewers/spectators have the ability to assign complex meaning to such images (Fourie, 2002:9). • Laura Mulvey (in Cook & Bernink, 1999:349) argues that cinematic apparatus favors masculine spectatorship, and therefore patriarchal ideology. Theories of spectatorship, therefore, support the assumption that Film Noir conventions will influence male/female viewers in different ways. 6.METHODOLOGY The following section will discuss the theoretical scope of this proposal through a detailed literature overview followed by a proposed methodological orientation and research design. 6.1. Literature overview Metz’s theory of theory of ‘Filmic Apparatus’ will be outlined as well as spectatorship and identification in psychoanalytical film theory. The Film Noir will also be discussed within genre theory and its significance to this study.

6.1.4. Film Noir as a Genre There has been debate over whether Film Noir should be classified as a genre or a style. This divide offers an interesting definitional problem in that the Noir film requires a system of classification that encompasses it’s generic markers and investigates its structural, thematic and visual systems integral to the Noir ‘spirit’ (Root in Cook & Bernik, 1999: 184). Ewing (1988:61) argues that “…[a film] has to reflect every aspect of the Film Noir spirit or it is something other than Noir”. However, the rise of contemporary films such as Blade Runner (1982) and Sin City (2005) have presented postmodern extension of the Noir. Furthermore, the stylistic elements found in classic Noirs are still present in their contemporary counterparts (e.g. claustrophobic urban settings, distinct oblique indexical depth perception cues, high contrast, compositional tension, etc.). Therefore, style of Noir cannot be characterised by the classical era alone instead, like all other genres, there must be an accepted pastiche that recognises that the development of the Noir structure and its form is defined as a form of Noir, rather than being Noir. Many film scholars and theorist have tended for the term ‘neo-Noir’, this is an attempt to encapsulate both the style and structure of classic Noir narratives when catagorising contemporary Noirish films. Subsequently, the classification of Noir has also been affected by the social-historical context in which the genre was established. The conceptualisation of the thematic elements in Noir emerged during the 1940’s in France, when French critics noticed a new mood of cynicism, pessimism and darkness in American cinema (Schrader in Simpson, Utterson & Shepherdson, 2004:149). Film historians account the conventions of Noir to be a result of post-war social depression that mimics the disruption of social order and patriarchal ideology, subsequently this disruption of order was transferred over into film as a medium of social commentary and ideological criticism (Fourie, 2002:224). The cycle of film genres allows theorist to localise the ideological intent of the latter extensions of genres through ongoing retrospective classification. Hence, genre theory allows for a revisionist movement that is able to encapsulate the thematic and filmic conventions of the original films that constitute the analysed and understood. 6.1.2. Filmic Apparatus and The "Imaginary Signifier" The film viewing experience has long been associated with a suspension of disbelief, while at the same time involving the viewer in an identification process with the filmic text. Metz (in Cook & Bernik, movement (Giannetti, 2005:379). This offers film theorist a genre paradigm through which contemporary filmic texts can be

1998:348) argues that "...to watch a film in a cinema is to be seduced, encouraged to regress furtively to a childhood state where fantasy is permitted free rein". In other words film acts a means to engage viewers in a dream-like state whereby the images on screen are reminiscent of the sensations and manifest content caused by the unconscious identification with the latent content. This is a result of what is know as the 'Apparatus' theory. The concept is that the cinematic process involves a number of tangible and intangible elements that lead to an object/subject relationship that allows this 'filmic apparatus' to imitate the processes of the human unconscious (Fourie, 2002:227). By understanding the relationship between the nature of signs and codes in filmic texts, psychoanalysis offers an approach to semiotics that incorporates unconscious mental processes of the mind outline by Sigmund Freud. This study will look at how Metz’s cinematic ‘apparatus’ approach to film, specifically Noir, can yield psychological processes provoked and exploited in the experience of the spectator. Filmic apparatus involves the technical nature of film communication (i.e. the effects of camera, lighting, sound, projection, etc.); the physical environment the viewer finds themselves in (the dark theatre, size of the screen, the projector); the image in itself and its inherent quality (i.e. film as a mimicial device and as a iconic representation of a projected reality) and, most importantly, the mental process of the viewer (Fourie, 2002:227-228). Although the physical environment in which films are viewed may differ (i.e. one might watch on a smaller home television), the principles remain the same, as the gestaltic film experience is still relevant and ultimately cohesive, in other words the Apparatus theory would still apply. The result of the Apparatus theory is that the image seen by the viewer is essentially absent. The visual array of information the viewer experiences (characters, settings, dialogue, etc.) is projected as an intangible spectacle, it is only on the film's celluloid that the concreteness of any variable information can be located and measured. In other words "the actors, the events, that depict the content are physically absent and exists merely as light and sound on celluloid; that exists only in and through the camera and projector signals, which are themselves empty forms that have no existence outside the total filmic apparatus." (Fourie, 2002:227). Thus film is recognized as an 'imaginary signifier' that serves purely as a means through which the viewer can 'engage' in the process of identification and spectatorship. 6.1.3. Spectatorship and Identification Metz argues that although the viewer “identifies with the fictional character(s), and although such

identification is part of the enjoyment of the film, it is a secondary identification" and that before this secondary identification occurs the viewer goes through primary identification that is a result of the viewer identifying with their sense of perception or, in other words, with the projected images on screen (Metz in Fourie, 2002). The viewer is aware that the images they are watching are not happening in 'real' time and that they are, in fact, absent. This results in a viewer being in a position of 'all-seeing mastery', this reinforces the viewer’s identification with the camera and the resultant perspective it produces. It is this identification with the camera that resembles the dream-like experience described earlier. The viewer's engagement with filmic language and with media reaches deep into the very process of identity formation (Flitterman-Lewis, 2002). The reason the perceptions of film relate so strongly to self-identification can be describe through Jacques Lacan's 'mirror stage'. In this stage in childhood development (around the age of six months) the child catches his/her reflection in a reflective surface (mirror or even his mother's face) and sees the reflection as gestaltic image of their otherwise unconnected being. This is the beginning of the identification of one's self through the 'wholeness' perceived in others, and henceforth the child forms a sense of self through the perceptions of others. Therefore, the process of identification in film is a direct result of the original identification with the image the child viewed in the 'mirror', this nostalgic experience is one of the factors influencing spectator enjoyment describe by psychoanalytical film theorists. Furthermore in psychoanalytical film theory, this activates various unconscious processes that correlate with the viewers ‘positioning’ within the text. Hence, if genre analysis involves categorizing films according to specific filmic conventions (e.g. thematic repetitions, stylistic consistencies, etc.), then psychoanalysis should account for these conventions in a manner that suggest the reason for such reoccurrence are a result of ideologically aligning the spectator with the conscious and unconscious processes. 3.1.4. Psychoanalysis and Laura Mulvey In 1975, Laura Mulvey presented her explanation of pleasure and fascination of film, offering a unique approach to feminist film theory that drew on the works of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. Through applying psychoanalytical principles, Mulvey shows that a literary or cultural work is always structured by complex and often contradictory human desires. In 1989, Laura Mulvey’s comments on the use of psychoanalysis were published by Screen: “There is no way in which we can produce an alternative [to ‘the phallocentric order’] out of the blue, but we can begin to make a break by examining patriarchy with the tools it provides…Psychoanalytic

theory as it now stands can at least advance our understanding of the status quo, of the patriarchal order in which we are caught” (Mulvey in Cook & Bernink, 1999: 242) In Mulvey’s groundbreaking article ‘Visual pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (Mulvey in Fourie, 2004:397), she proposes that film offers the viewer a sense of voyeuristic pleasure through witnessing the imaginary signifier that is film; a notion she described through scopophila, meaning the desire to see (Mulvey in Cook & Bernink, 1999: 242). Furthermore, her criticism of traditional Hollywood cinema suggested that scopophila was an active and passive process that is gendered. In other words, the agency constructed through visual narratives in Hollywood cinema is patriarchally biased towards the objectification of the female form, hence male characters’ actions are viewed as active and powerful, whilst female characters are objectified as a source of male pleasure. This approach has interesting implications for film Noir, because although patriarchal narrative paradigms still exist in Noir, the viewer is presented with a heightened sense of division between the sign system in which the male and female characters exist and the characters themselves. This distortion was a result of male authority and agency being under threat during the war years (Cook & Bernink, 1999: 186), resulting in the polarising of gender presentation. 6.1.5. Nexus search The Nexus search revealed that the relationship between psychoanalysis and Film Noir filmic conventions has not been addressed (NFR, 2007). 6.2. Methodological orientation The methodological orientation of this research will be qualitative in its approach and positioning. The meta-theoretical understanding of current literature discussed is qualitative by nature, this approach is seen as more flexible as it views processes as interactive and adopts a more open structure towards research (Du Plooy, 2002:84). Qualitative research is committed to examining the “properties, values, needs or characteristics that distinguish individuals, groups, communities, organizations, events, settings or messages” (Du Plooy: 2002:83). From this it can be deduced that within this type of study reality will be subjective because the main provider of information and the source of meaning is gathered mainly from the perspective of the unit of analysis being studied. The objectives of a qualitative design is to explore certain areas where limited or no prior information exists, therefore an inductive method of reasoning will be used. Therefore, this study is based on assumptions that will

begin with observations and end with descriptions of what was observed through the psychoanalytical principles of spectatorship. 6.3. Research design and Rationale This study will identify filmic conventions of Film Noir through a genre analysis of how meaning may be constructed through the repetition of conventions found in the content and form of Noir filmic texts. These filmic conventions of Noir will then be examined through a textual analysis of the t two substories within the film, “The Hard Goodbye” and “The Big Fat Kill”; therefore the unit of analysis. This particular approach will allow for the thematic elements in Film Noir to be addressed from a ‘metapsychological’ perspective as the form and content, from which the filmic conventions arise, influence the spectator identification. In order to answer the research questions posed, the researcher must engage in a ‘dialogue’ with the literature, this interaction in embedded in the theoretical context of the theoretical statements proposed. There must also be an interaction between the researcher and the texts itself, namely the two sub-stories identified above. This interaction will take place in the form of a textual and genre analysis. This analysis will be in turn be informed by the literature, as well as the findings rendered from the researchers interaction with the theoretical framework. The literature and the text cannot interaction with one another directly, therefore it is in the interest of the study that the researcher ensures, as far as possible, that the textual analysis is conducted accurately and is consistent in addressing the core constructs and assumptions presented by the theoretical framework. By using such an approach, the research process becomes circular, dynamic and flexible. This meta-triangulation between researcher, literature and text can be represented graphically (in Da Silva, A. 2004) as follows:

The validity of the literature study is derived from triangulation in which multiple sources will be consulted. It is acknowledged that reliability is limited due to the subjective way in which each researcher may extract relevant information from sources. However, it is assumed that should another researcher consulted the sources to be used in the research, they should come to similar conclusions about the proposed research questions. The issue of reliability and validity is further compounded because one of the most unresolved criticisms of psychoanalysis is that it lacks falsifiablilty. "Freudian theory could account for anything a person did, nothing that a person could do would be contrary to what the theory predicted" (Hergenhahn, 2005:500). Another is that there is a seemingly overemphasis on sex, many other psychological disciplines (such as cognitive, behaviorist and factionist’s theories) have produced personality theories which have yielded non-sexual conclusion based on empirical evidence rather than the unscientific methods of collection data that psychoanalysis entails (Hergenhahn, 2005:499). 6.3.1. Data Collection The data-collection methods used for the literature study to identify the filmic conventions of Film Noir, as well as how psychoanalysis explains spectatorship, includes reading and analyzing relevant material from numerous books, journals and internet articles. For the textual analysis of Frank Miller’s Sin City, data will be collected from the film by means of observations and descriptions of the selected sub-stories. 6.3.2. Data Analysis The descriptions of the selected sequences will be subjected to psychoanalytical criticism, according to the defining features of Film Noir. The analysis will be informed by the works of theorists Metz (1982), Mulvey (1989), Kaplan (1990), Fourie (2002), as well as other key theorists how have contributed towards the psychoanalytical film theory. The main goal of psychoanalysis, as described by Fourie (2002:227), is: “In the first place, this approach makes a meaningful shift from the formalistic study of film as a discrete entity on the screen to a deep contemplation on the relationship between the film (object) and the viewer (subject)…[secondly] the psychoanalytic perspective initiates inspection…into the unconscious processes at play during the perception of a film, and upon which the filmic apparatus focuses.”

The psychoanalytical approach described above will be contextualised within Noir genre. This will be achieved by acknowledging, not only the filmic conventions of Noir, but also examining the origins of the genre as it act as a cultural text within the system of culture in which it was produced. In other words “the system of production often determines what sort of artifacts will be produced…and what sort of effects the text may generate” (Kellner, 2004). In this vein, the data analysis will approach genre as it represent systems of orientations; this assumption refers to the “orientations that circulate between a particular media industry [e.g. film], the text [genre films] and the audience [referred to as ‘spectators’ in psychoanalytical film theory]” (Fourie, 2002: 60). It is these three areas that will form the base of the genre analysis as it pertains to the textual analysis of the selected sub-stories. In addition, the historical influence of the Noir genre will also be examined as it contributes towards an intertextuality of meaning created through filmic means in supporting thematic consistencies with the Noir genre. 7. CONCLUSION The proposed study revolves around understanding that filmic devices operate in creating meaning within a text, as well as influencing the spectator’s identification with the text. The research will examine the Film Noir genre and identifying the filmic conventions that operate in Frank Miller’s Sin City. These conventions, as well as they manner in which they are used, will be analyzed from a psychoanalytical perspective in order to gain an understanding of how this contemporary Film Noir uses the filmic conventions of Noir to influence the spectators identification, as well as their enjoyment, in the film. The following is a proposed structure of the chapters that will be in the research paper: • • • Chapter 2: Film Noir genre and its filmic conventions. Chapter 3: Psychoanalytical film principles of spectatorship and viewer enjoyment of film. Chapter 4: Psychoanalysis, Film Noir and Frank Miller’s Sin City.

8. SOURCE LIST COOK, P. & BERNINK, M. 1999. The Cinema Book. 2nd ed. British Film Institute: London. 406 p. DA SILVA, A. 2004. Bowling for Columbine: An ideological analysis of Third world cinema from the first world. Johannesburg: UJ. (Dissertion – BA Honours). 49 p. DU PLOOY, G.M. 2002. Communication Research: techniques, methods and applications. Juta & Co. Ltd 2002. FLITTERMAN-LEWIS, S. 2002. Psychoanalysis, http://www.jcomm.uoregon.edu. [Date of access: 17 Aug. 2006]. Film and Television.

FOURIE, P. 2002. Media Studies Vol. 2: Content, Audiences and Production. Lansdowne: Juta Education. 588 p. GIANNETTI, L. 2004. Understanding Movies. 10th ed. Pearson Education: New Jersey. 579 p. HERGENHAHN, B.R. 2005. An Introduction to the History of Psychology. 5th ed. Belmont: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning. 678 p. KELLNER, D. 1995. Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism, and Media Culture. www.sagepub.com/upmdata/9375_016783Ch1.pdf. [Date of access: 21 May 2007]. NFR. [2007]. Nexus Database System. http://stardata.nfr.ac.za [Date of access: 18 May. 2007]. PRINCE, S. 1996. Psychoanalytic Film Theory and the Problem of the Missing Spectator.( In Bordwell, D. & Carroll, N. Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies. London: The University of Wisconsin Press. p. 71 - 87.) RODRIGUEZ, R. & MILLER, F. 2005. directors. Frank Miller’s Sin City. Produced by Miramax International and Dimension films and released by Ster-Kinekor entertainment. Wendtwood, South Africa. [DVD]. SIMPSON, P. UTTERSON, A. & SHEPHERDSON, K.J. 2004. Film Theory Vol. 2: Critical concepts in media and cultural studies. Routledge: London. 360 p.

6.3.1. Genre Analysis A genre analysis of Film Noir will be used to evaluate what filmic conventions found in the content and form of the Noir genre. Genres represent systems of orientations; this assumption refers to the “orientations that circulate between a particular media industry [e.g. film], the text [genre films] and the audience [referred to as ‘spectators’ in psychoanalytical film theory]” (Fourie, 2002: 60). It is these three areas that will form the base of the genre analysis. In addition, the historical influence of the Noir genre will also be examined as it contributes towards an intertextuality of meaning created through filmic means in supporting thematic consistencies with the Noir genre. Specifically, the construction of meaning through the form and content in Noir will be examined. This study will address the thematic orientation of Noir and visually perceptual objects and actions within the Noir genre. The perceptual objects and actions can be divided into two areas: overt and covert (Fourie, 2002:69-79). The overt level of analysis the iconography of what appears in front of the film camera (e.g. locations, settings, buildings, etc), as well as the iconography created by camera shots, camera angles and different types of editing techniques. The covert level analysis how “sociocultural meanings are expressed, reflected, unified, contradicted or created by these visualizations” (Fourie, 2002:79). It is in this vein that the cinematic-apparatus theory will be applied in order to examine the influence of these filmic devices in spectator identification. Then a textual analysis will be conducted on Frank Miller’s Sin City, as a contemporary Film Noir, and, hence we can identify the conventions of Film Noir present in the film in order to understand the ideological identification associated with the spectator. 6.3.2. Textual Analysis The textual analysis will be orientated around Frank Miller’s Sin City as the unit of analysis. After the genre analysis of Film Noir has yield its findings, the filmic conventions will be analysed in terms of how they are presented in the film. As well as how this influences the spectator’s identification and positioning, through the meaning create through the use of signs and codes present in the film. This goes beyond merely an aesthetic evaluation, because the filmic codes used in the film will be explained through the psychoanalytical film principles already outlined. In order to obtain a structured understanding of the filmic elements in the film, the textual analysis will cover visual signs (iconic, indexical, and symbolic) and their significant meaning within the Noir genre. Furthermore, visual communication enables the combining of signs to produce visual codes that

communicate complicated and abstract ideas (Fourie, 2002:11). These ‘complicated and abstract’ significations will be explained by applying psychoanalysis as a means of producing an understanding of the texts codes within Film Noir. Metonymic and analogic codes will be identified and discussed in this textual analysis. Metonymic codes are a “collection of signs that prompt the reader to interpret meanings on the basis of their association/assumptions”, whilst analogic codes are a collection of signs that make use of visual metaphors (Fourie, 2002:12). 6.3.3. Validity and Reliable Here you need to show that you will still be using triangulation : the theory will be supported by your analysis of the text, and you as researcher are a third point of the triangle.