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Gazing at You ~ A Final Look and Then Goodbye
Sheila Fram-Kulik

The eyes see so much and have taken on a power of their own via "the gaze". The power that the dominating gaze holds imitates our societal structure. Our individual structures, are represented by the gaze that we use. Several Feminist film theorists have come up with their own definitions of the gaze that began its entrance into cinema in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Originators like Laura Mulvey and Mary Anne Doane, saw the power of the eye and the impact that it had on society. Others to follow, like Judith Mayne and Constance Penley, took it one step further and to redirect the question from a different perspective. As a summary essay, several theories on the gaze from some of these ladies will show the foundation that has been built because of the many feminisms and where our current feminist filmmakers have their origins. As an Independent filmmaker myself, these theories are but some of the ones that I learned as I began my education into the worlds of Film and Women’s Studies.

Laura Mulvey began the questioning in her book and essay, "Visual and Other Pleasures." She approached the cinematic apparatus from the point of view of Freud and Lacan and giving a definition to the woman as an object. Mulvey states, "In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness. (p.19)" Mulvey’s main question was, How can women’s film-viewing pleasures be understood?

Mary Ann Doane, felt that the female viewer was in a role of cross-gender identification that caused a distance with the text. She saw woman as wearing a costume in a sense. Chris Straayer quotes, "In 'Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator' she argues that, because woman's preoedipal bond with the mother continues to be strong throughout her life (unlike man's), the female viewer - unless she utilizes artificial devices - is unable to achieve that distance from the film's textual body which allows man the process of voyeurism: 'For the female spectator there is a certain over-presence of the image—she is the image.'" This is where the woman becomes narcissistic. Doane offers an a way for woman to distance herself from the image - through the masquerade of femininity.

Doane summarizes the female spectators position as the viewer adopting the masculine position in relation to the cinematic sign, where the female is left with two options, "the masochism of over identification or the narcissism entailed in becoming one’s own object of desire, in assuming the image in the most radical way. The effectivity of masquerade lies precisely in its potential to manufacture a distance from the image, to generate a problematic within the image is manipulable, producible, and readable to woman."

Judith Mayne, in "The Woman at the Keyhole", takes the gaze further and approaches the gaze from a "keyhole" perspective that was prevalent in early cinema and still show a presence in current Film. She states, "For when we imagine a 'woman' and a 'keyhole', it is usually a woman on the other side of the keyhole, as the proverbial object of the look, that comes to mind....but rather asking...what happens when women are situated in both sides of the keyhole. The question is not only who or what is on either side of the keyhole, but also what lies between them, what constitutes the threshold that makes representation possible. (Mayne, p. 9)"

The foundation that these theories as well as other theories offer is one that women filmmakers need to start on a path of speaking in their own voice, having their own gaze, and BE-ing a woman in a world that they generate themselves. For it is not power that is important but becoming and being a woman and individual that can never be defined exclusively.

Sources:

THE WOMAN AT THE KEYHOLE ~ JUDITH MAYNE
VISUAL AND OTHER PLEASURES ~ LAURA MULVEY
DEVIANT EYES, DEVIANT BODIES ~ CHRIS STRAAYER

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LAST ISSUE

Dear Readers,

As of this month, "woman/Cinema ~ Women/cinema" will be printing its last issue. Due to financial problems, we were forced to end the newsletter. We appreciate all the support that we have gotten this year as well as the interest. I wanted to thank all of the students who contacted me with questions and interest, it felt good to know that we were reaching someone and giving them knowledge as a foundation to continue from in their endeavors as writers and filmmakers.

As Editor, I have always felt that there was a need for publications like this one and I will stick to this opinion until more come about. I have always dedicated this publication to all the future and present women writers and women filmmakers out there. The underlying purpose of the newsletter is and was for the benefit of the collective of Women and for the individual of woman. I have moved on into the world of Film in hopes of applying all of my French feminist theories to my works.

This is never an end but a perpetual beginning that will some day begin again at some point in the future, if not by me, then by another woman. So, hold on society, it is going to be a bumpy ride for you and I don’t plan on slowing down .

Sheila Fram-Kulik
womancinema@womancinema.com

 

 

 

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