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"Raise the Red Lantern" ~ Zhang Yimou
Sheila M. Fram-Kulik

Jacques Derrida philosophizes his anti-masculine-Greek- Christian theories on the French Feminisms that have walked with him for guidance. Nietzsche knows the feminine and sees the positivity of the use. Cixous transcends female to a higher plane from where to see other worlds in writing. "Derrideanism is the philosophy of the unnatural and, on occasion, of the supernatural," as stated by Alice Jardine in Gynesis. Derrida knows outside the questioning of subjecthood and suggests to woman to use writing; releasing woman from the metaphysical bondage of woman in phallologocentricism. Derrida knows woman as putting man in question. He denaturalizes the world--"explores the intrasymbolic borderlines of the spatial words and worlds we thought we knew.(Jardine)" Derrida uses his style to take up the task of analyzing the natural. He writes through the differances. With the Sexual differences, Derrida knows what Nietzsche views of woman."Men must remain at a distance from women(die Frauen), in order for seduction to operate." But Nietzsche does not view Feminism. Cixous avoids the sexual difference by using the second person in her speaking. We live in a world of strong identifications, that leave no room for mobility within our person and outside of our person."In our impassioned times on all political fronts, where it is largely a question of an open and covert struggle with the mysteries of sexual difference, as women we are at theobligatory mercy of simplifications.(Cixous)"This keeps woman in the hysteric realm. Each of these steps that I have taken with woman, you know me to know woman as too simplistic with each walk. Songlian's walk was with no one but you and herself.

In "Raise the Red Lantern", Zhang Yimou gives Gong Li the character, Songlian, and she walks with her in her turmoils. We see on the screen the metaphysical bondage of the woman, Songlian in her Chinese world. (This Chinese world of similar phallocentricism as the Western world) Songlian is somewhat educated and has stepped into, for only a moment, the woman- world that gives off a feminine power of knowledge. We see Songlian as the servant to her husband. She gradually loses her individuality of a name and is addressed from the beginning as the Fourth Mistress. We see her as a rival to the other wives for the glory of being chosen, the prior evening, to pleasure her husband. We see her as mechanical in her acts as the "pleasure machine" for her husband, the Master. But Songlian soon takes what she has learned in academia and questions the man, the Master. For he is not a Master unless she is the servant, first. She sees this world as unnatural and not what she is used to knowing about marriage.

We see Songlian at a distance; Nietzsche's distance of woman for the sake of Seduction. Songlian is the woman at a distance. The Master keeps his wives at a distance to keep the Seduction as ever-sexually arousing. Songlian sees the distance and tries to bring a closeness between them but it is stifled by the Third Mistress and her jealousy over the Master having a fourth Mistress. The Second Mistress even tries to turn the tables with her magical charms. Songlian feels defeated and tries to recover but her attempts make the distance between the Master and her even farther because she has angered him, extremely. She becomes even more alone when she is shunned by the other Mistresses.

We know from the start that Songlian is decapitated from the strong identifications that place her within the role of the collective concubine. She is the Fourth Mistress, not Songlian as I have stated before. She has become immobilized in the rules that a Mistress must follow. She spies the Master's son playing the flute and longs to play it as well in private. Songlian, at one point, loses her flute that was her father's because her Master thought that she had received it from a college male friend. He uses this tactic to keep her in the role that she was put in. Her maid states,"Flutes can only be played by men." She becomes angered by this remark from the two- faced servant. Songlian recognizes her immobilization and tries to lash out by confronting the Master. When he reveals his reasons for destroying the flute, she confrontationally tells him that it was her father's. The Master only offers to buy her better ones. Songlian lashes out again by drinking excessively. She asks for wine to silently celebrate her birthday that has been forgotten or ignored by the Master and the other Mistresses. She feels a sense of loneliness. She defies all rules against drinking excessively and she throws away her sadness through laughter.

As horrible events unfold, Songlian descends into a death from the world that she was forced into. She succumbs to a mental death that leaves her to go to another world to live in peace. Her immobilization has caused her to become, what Catherine Clement calls, the hysteric. She brings about a disorder in the male world of the Master that keeps her from the rules that are strictly enforced upon her by every person around her. Her identification changes and she soon is named The Mad Woman, the hysteric, the name that her Master has given her after he glances at her actions. Songlian never regains her true name as Songlian. She never regains her true nature as woman. She is now forever the hysteric.

What attracted me to this film was the view of the oppression of women as sexual machines that must have baby boys for their Master. I could see that this was an obvious view of women by even some men who disagreed with the subjectivity. Yimou brought out this oppression to make a point and to question man in his castle. He brings the woman to the front and lets her ask the questions instead of being questioned. He takes the realism and places it in our hands. He shows us what China had to offer for women in that period. What I have taken from Derrida, Nietzsche and Cixous are just some of the entrances that are open to Woman. We see the views, the differences, the stereotypes, the identifications of women. So, now then, we need to change them, deconstruct them, reconstruct them, remove them, rewrite them to not exclude the other possibilities of woman and women.

The Naro Video has most of the films by Zhang Yimou. I would suggest that you check them out.

The Yellow Earth (1984) Red Sorhgum (1987) (this is not at the Naro Video.) Ju Dou (1990) Raise the Red Lantern (1991) The Story of Qiu Ju (1992) To Live (1993) Shanghai Triad (1995)

On the Internet page, I have put some addresses that have articles available about Zhang Yimou and his films. If you cannot find a film, please, E-MAIL me and I will help you out. And if I can not then I will find someone who can.


Practicing Film Feminism
Dr. Andrea Slane

Film is an entertainment industry, an art form, and a means to thought and pleasure. It is a social phenomenon, bearing the marks of ongoing struggles over the control of public life, personal freedoms, and artistic achievement. Feminist film practice, exercised by both spectators and filmmakers, understands these domains as dynamic, where power is exercised, perpetuated, or forged into new and more progressive forms. There are many ways to practice feminism in film; it is a flexible set of possible strategies, adaptable, creative, and occasionally at odds.

The twentieth century can easily be seen as the century wherein the control and management of pleasure has always been a primary arena of social contention. In part this is due to cultural changes wrought by the development of an urbanized industrial economy through the 19th century, where new working class populations came to have two things they did not have under previous economic and social systems: wages and leisure time (although neither of these in great quantities). Hence, when movies became part of the entertainment scene at the turn of the century, they joined the booming market for "cheap amusements", which also included vaudeville theaters, dance halls, and amusement parks. They also joined the ranks of public spaces which civic-minded reformers sought to regulate.

As large numbers of immigrants and native-born young women entered the work force in factories and service work, middle class reformers launched campaigns which voiced concerns about the physical and moral health of these young women. Often led by Christian women's groups, these reform movements served as the beginnings of social welfare policies and helped advocate for occupational safety standards, minimum wages and restrictions to child labor. But some of these groups also feared that the freedoms young women gained from earning wages and living away from their families might lead them to "loose" morals: premarital sex and other unacceptable self-indulgences which challenged traditional notions of the "good" girl. These latter reform campaigns often focused on working-class leisure activities, arguing for the need for local government restriction and control.

It was these forces that tried, almost from the very beginning of the history of movie exhibition, to force restrictions on the movie industry which "protected" young women from their corrupting influence. Young women viewers were feared to succumb to the arousing effects of sitting in a darkened space amidst mixed gender company, with emotionally stimulated images playing before their eyes. These anxieties about the movies reveal a class-based difference between some middle class women's efforts to play a part in social welfare (a precursor to ongoing struggles of feminists today) and some working class women's efforts to choose their pleasures and live more autonomous lives. The latter is of course also an ongoing feminist struggle, and so this episode in film history helps lay out the different paths down which feminist film practice continues to walk.

Feminists do not always agree on the proper approach to "reforming" the movies to feminist ends. In some ways watching film as a feminist means knowing how to criticize the evidence of gender hierarchy which the film has set to celluloid. In other ways it involves reading "against the grain", or rewriting some of this evidence by means of creative interpretation, focusing on the supporting characters or secondary storylines for instance, or isolating a single aspect of a strong female character and ignoring her final demise. Or it might involve supporting the work of feminist directors, writers, and actors (be they male or female). In all cases, "feminist" means a wide range of possible strategies. These strategies might valorize the diversity of women's experiences. They might challenge the gender hierarchy which devalues women. Or they might unseat the gender binaries of male and female entirely, opening up new realms of possibility for a post- gendered future.

The strategies are varied and many, and the dialogue between them is what makes feminist film practice, despite the reticence of many practitioners to name themselves as such, a thriving arena of cultural activity.

Dr. Andrea Slane is an Associate Professor of English at Old Dominion University, who joined in 1995. She received her B.A. at Rutgers University and her M.A. and PhD. at the University of California at San Diego. Her knowledge of Film stems from her education and her experience as an independent filmmaker. Besides teaching English courses, Dr. Slane also, teaches film studies at ODU. She is, currently, working on a new film of her own. We hope to see the finished product soon. She has other films that she has done. If you are interested in seeing her films, please, E-mail her. Maybe we can convince her to make them more available to the public...hint, hint.


Blue Velvet ~ David Lynch
Stephanie Leftwich

David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" (1986) depicts a problematic, perplexing vision of female sexuality and subjectivity. Written and directed by Lynch, the film, as Lynda K. Buntzen notes, "provides a feminist and psychoanalytic film criticism with a rare opportunity to test many of its assumptions (Western Humanities Review 1988)." Lynch clearly uses Freudian notions of the Oedipal conflict, sadism and masochism, and fetishism to motivate his characters and guide their connections with one another. In this Freudian realm, woman is placed in a compromising position with little chance to tell her own story.

The film opens with Jeffrey Beaumont returning home from college to take care of the family business after his father has suffered a stroke. Walking home after a visit to his neighbor, Detective Williams. Jeffrey attempts to gain information about the police case but is unsuccessful. Detective Williams takes on the role of the older, privileged holder of knowledge that "one day, when this is all over, " he will be able to share with Jeffrey. To Jeffrey's claim of, "I'm just real curious, " he responds, " I was the same way when I was your age." Jeffrey is set in motion as the classic, naive young man seeking knowledge and adulthood. What he discovers is that " it's a strange world." From the detectiveís daughter, Jeffrey hears of nightclub singer, Dorothy Vallens who lives in an apartment building on the "bad" side of town and may be involved in something. Jeffrey decides that he wants to hide in Dorothy's apartment to spy on her. His obsession with solving the mystery of the ear leads Jeffrey on an adventure during which he learns that life is not as it seems in the freshly cut green lawns and friendly firemen suburbia of Lumberton. His detective work unearths the seedy side of town where drug dealer, Frank Booth, has kidnapped Dorothy Vallens' son and husband (who just so happen to be missing an ear). To keep her family alive, Dorothy must play a part in Frank's sexual fantasies. Jeffrey gleans this information from the closet in which he has hidden.

Dorothy's character immediately poses a problem for the viewer: Is she a helpless victim or an agent of her situation? In a critical scene, Dorothy discovers Jeffrey hiding in her closet and he admits that he has watched her undress. Wielding a blatantly phallic knife, Dorothy forces Jeffrey to undress for her. While doing so, she repeats the same commands that we witness Frank give her. She seems unable to speak with her own voice; a helpless victim of male domination. With Jeffrey completely vulnerable, Dorothy chooses to seduce him rather than to act out revenge. She asks what he wants when she is clearly in a position to get what she wants. Why? Because this is how men want to see her; this is her only option in her world.

Dorothy functions in a patriarchal society that dictates female behavior. Indeed, she is written by the male Lynch. Our society is based on a structure of oppositional binaries (male/female, good/bad, culture/nature) that privilege the masculine. Language has invented these binaries in order to construct a history of difference. This is the history that men have written. In the Newly Born Woman (co-written by Helene Cixous), Catherine Clement asserts that women need to take their turn at telling the history "arranged the way tale-telling women tell it." Only then will it be true. In her telling of the male-inscribed history Clement intends "to undo it, to overturn it, to reveal it to expose it." Women as they really are, not women as they have been created by men.

Clement discusses two traditional, male-written depictions of women, the sorceress and the hysteric. both are "antiestablishment." They revolt and shake up the public; "the hysteric unties familiar bonds, introduces disorder into the well-regulated unfolding of everyday life." Their history is ambiguous; one never knows precisely what happens to them. They disappear leaving "mythical traces." These "women suffering for women" are "innocent, mad, full of badly remembered memories, guilty of unknown wrongs." Throughout history, the sorceress and the hysteric have been designated as a social misfits. They move among the gaps in the symbolic order and are considered dangerous because they make those gaps apparent. They are double, they side with the regular as wives and mothers and they side with the irregular, "those natural disturbances, their regular periods, which are the epitome of paradox, order and disorder." Their very existence is dependent upon an audience of men who want to witness their "possession". The women mirror their audience's projections of desire. For the sorceress, the "display" of madness takes place at the festival where everything is turned "upside down". Social order is reversed with woman as the figure at the center to which the others refer, for she is, at the same time, bother loss and cause, the ruin and the reason. She... is the guilty one. Women are made to atone for the guilt of their sex. In southern Italy, women "bitten" by tarantulas publicly do the "dance of the tarantella" in order to rid themselves of venomous desire. They dance in a frenzied pleasure to the point of collapse. It is only when their desire has been depleted that they are able to return to the social order. The hysteric's stage is Freud's couch. She tells of the childhood sexual abuse inflicted by a male family member, usually her father. After hearing several similar hysterics' tales, Freud determines this to be a lie. He moves the blame from the father to the hysteric. Freud also finds the mother at fault. Since the mother is the one who takes care of the child's body, it is she who is responsible for sexually stimulating the child. She, too, is a "double woman" , she is at once, the castrating mother to be feared and the seductress mother to be desired.

Clement contends that the sorceress and the hysteric no longer exists. Unfortunately, I donít find this to be the case. Dorothy's characterization is marked with these characters' mythical traces. She is the embodiment of the sorceress, guilty mother and the tarantella dancer. She mirrors male desire with no identity outside her audience. At first, little is known about Dorothy other than that she is a seductive singer at the Slow Club. The discovery of her "domestic" side, the fact that she is a wife and a mother, surprises Jeffrey. Like the sorceress, Dorothy has symbolic mobility. She moves between the realms of regular and irregular.

The initial scene between Dorothy and Frank plays out several strange versions of Freud's Oedipal scene in which Dorothy can be blamed as the guilty mother. Most obvious is Frank's demand that Dorothy play "Mommy" to his "Baby" in his psychosexual drama. He simulates sex with the mother while oscillating between the role of "Baby" and "Daddy". He wants to punish Dorothy for her lack of a penis while at the same time he fears that she can take his. All of this is witnessed from the closet by Jeffrey who can also be seen in the child role with Dorothy and Frank serving as surrogate parents. Witnessing his "parents" sexual union, he too fears Dorothy's power to "take the penis". But, he also finds her desirable, tempting. Therefore, she is guilty for his further actions. Though it is apparent that Dorothy does not wholeheartedly enjoy the demented torture inflicted upon her by Frank, there is evidence that she does find elements of it pleasurable. She desires and initiates sadomasochism with Jeffrey. So, Dorothy must atone for her desire. Her torture is the punishment for her socially unacceptable sexual behavior. She has been bitten by perverse desire and must dance the tarantella in order to be rid of the poison. She dances with Jeffrey until he destroys Frank. She must then leave the "natural mode, the marvelous freedom that is animal and desiring" behind. In the final scene, free from her torturer, she has been returned to her socially accepted role, the mother to her real son.


The Internet Bookmarks

Upon venturing into the crevices of the Internet to find homepages that would give me information on certain films that I am currently viewing, I stumbled upon some of these addresses that gave me a wealth of information and a different eye, a third eye, for looking at a film from someone's perspective.

found some interesting facts on Zhang Yimou and his films on the multiple faces of oppression in the Chinese society.

Another address that makes accessible other criticisms and reviews of films are from feminist views are:

Make good use of these addresses! I will have plenty more in the next issue coming in January!

Some writers have E-mail addresses for you to send any comments on their articles. Other comments for writers can be E-mailed to the Editor. Sheila M. Fram-Kulik [email protected]
Dr. Andrea Slane [email protected]
Stephanie Leftwich [email protected]

 

 

 

 

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