Sunday, March 8, 2009

Questions for Group 2! Courtesy of Stassia, Sean and Bladi.

This past week we saw both an example of a Classical Hollywood text, Gilda, and one which ran as an example of a “counter-cinema,” in Godard’s Weekend. The theoretical texts we read all served as critiques of the Classical form and offering both a theorization and conceptualization of a form that could stand as a reaction or “counter.”

Metz and Mulvey discuss, at large, the importance of the spectator's identification through the three modes offered by film. Mulvey claims that watching a movie implies "identification of the ego with the object on the screen through the spectator's fascination with and recognition of his like". Godard's Weekend is an example of a film that maintains attack against the ease of spectator identification. How does a film, such as this, influence the spectator's perception of the film? Also, are there any specific readings you have that serve as points where the spectator's possition is complicated?

Mulvey goes on to say that the woman, "[Either she] must gracefully give way to the word, the Name of the Father and the Law, or else struggle to keep her child down with her in the half-light of the imaginary." How does this quote parallel a character like Norman in Psycho as child and a casualty of the imaginary Mulvey addresses? In regards to Mulvey's argument of "woman as bearer of meaning, man as maker of meaning", is the ending of a film like Taxi Driver (where Betsy's gaze and string of questions engage Travis) some kind of flaw in the argument that sees gradient of meaning to be lop-sided?

Brian Henderson seems to believe that Godard’s use of a tracking shot, which serves as a “species of long take,” “repudiates ‘the individualist conception of the bourgeois hero.” He goes on to say that “his camera serves no individual and prefers none to another.” Can this be attributed to Godard’s avoidance of “depth,” and the resulting “flatness” of the film? Why is this flatness privileged by Henderson, as Godard extends beyond this within the film? On page 60, Henderson seems to celebrate that like “the method of montage,” Godard’s sequences offer points where “what is done in one shot may be undone, or complemented, by another.” Is this reading of Godard’s text contradictory to his previous point of "flatness" or do you believe Godard’s camera-style to be at work within “the method of montage”?

In films considered Classical Hollywood Cinema, such as Gilda and Vertigo, theorists like Mulvey find that women function from a position of objectification, whereas, men are given a privileged subject positioning. Do these films target the male spectator as their audience in order to reinforce male identification with the narrative protagonists? What about the already constituted subjectivity of the individual spectator? Do individuals other than heterosexual males (women, gay men, etc.) problematize the systems and codes of classical Hollywood visual pleasure?

Finally, Mulvey, Wollen, and Henderson (who emphasizes that “the flatness of Weekend must not be analyzed only in itself but in regard to the previous modes of bourgeois self-presentment”) seem to seek but constrain their arguments for a different mode of cinema that serves as a “counter” or reaction to the dominant mode. What are the implications of revolutionary film making as serving in relation to the dominant mode of representation? Can these reactionary methods actually work to subvert the hegemonic values of classical narrative cinema, or as reactions can they only serve to legitimize and strengthen the dominant form?



  1. Though the Classical Hollywood Cinema does seem to somewhat lean toward targeting the male spectator, I believe that it is still left very open for others to join in on the "subjecting bandwagon" as Mulvey might say. Even women, I feel, drooled over Gilda's multiple hair flips and flirt-full gaze. I feel that we all (men, women, children, straight, gay, etc) are objectifying the subject on the screen in some form or another. Maybe because (like Metz said) somewhere in the back of our head we know and understand that what we are watching is in fact an object created by the hands of another human? So maybe we feel safer to objectify such things? (I don't know where I'm going with this....sorry....hope I'm making sense?)

    Also, I'm still a little confused as to what exactly Mulvey is saying about the viewers feeling pleasure from a film. She isn't just talking about attaining pleasure from viewing a women right? (Even though that seems to be the dominant form of pleasure found in Classical Hollywood style films...) I believed we went over this in section, but sorry I'm still confused....So what happens to pleasure felt from other things in the film (eg nature, fruit, flower, etc)? What about pleasure felt from the discourse of the film itself? What if we are greatly pleasured by, lets say, the long take in "Touch of Evil"? Is that all "wrong" in Mulvey's eyes?

  2. It's true that Classical Hollywood Cinema objectified women while pushing the male (the protagonist in nearly all cases) to the foreground in order to clearly define gender roles. Perhaps the clearest example I can think of is King Kong. Ann is abducted by Kong, but even though she becomes the driving force behind the entire movie's presence, her role is undermined by the heroic first mate Jack. His words and his actions clearly belong to a hero--and when Kong finally falls to his death, the last words coming out of Carl Denham's mouth are: "It wasn't the planes. It was beauty killed the beast." This suggests that the fault of the monster's death is the woman--an object of temptation.

    Ashley brings up a good point in her interpretation of Gilda, speaking about the envious moods instilled into women when Rita Hayworth's character flips her hair back. Of course, what I believe is at stake is this idea of pleasure. Although I studied Mulvey's idea of pleasure of last semester, I also felt confused then and even a bit confused now, but the idea of pleasure is what keeps the spectator intrigued while watching the film.

    When Gilda flips her hair back, the spectator loves it. I don't know if you guys noticed, but a lot of people were smiling and commenting during the screening during that scene. Pleasure is just that--a feeling of satisfaction within the spectator. When Mulvey speaks about it in regards to the objectification of women, she is talking about the spectator's desire to watch this woman--say Rita Hayworth--flip her hair. They're talking about the desire to see Ann fall in love, get captured, and eventually rescued in the face of doom.

    Pleasure in other forms exists, I believe, and especially in Ashley's example of the long take in Touch of Evil. After watching that, I visibly stuttered my exhale in amazement. Same for The Untouchables Odessa Steps homage scene and the original from Battleship Potemkin. Pleasure is prevalent in other portions of film, but I suppose the most intriguing part, especially in classical Hollywood cinema is the objectification of the female form.

  3. The Classical Hollywood Cinema seeks to define the woman as a mysterious object, giving the viewer a voyeuristic view, the same view as the main character. This creates a sort of double identification – with the male protagonist, such as Travis in "Taxi Driver" or Johnny in "Gilda," as well as with the viewer himself. This is when the identification can get complicated: the viewer identifies with himself as an omnipresent viewer, since he does not need to identify with the "mirror" of the screen having already reconciled his image as a baby. This double identification is lost when the spectator cannot latch his own identification onto the movie. A movie like "Weekend" stops the viewer from identifying with any character, disorienting him by allowing only the omnipresent view. In addition, I feel that this prevents the mystery of the main female character. The viewer does not identify with the male protagonist as a voyeur, and because of that the woman is not seen in the same way, as the object of attention. In my opinion, that is why "Weekend" is seen as counter-cinema.

    Mother in "Psycho" is definitely not a character who gives way to the "Name of the Father and the Law," which is part of why the ending of Psycho is so shocking. There is no strong male protagonist, so we see Norman as a sort of protagonist, a literal voyeur (he watches Marion undress) who we root for (before we know the truth). However, Hitchcock shocks us by cutting out our identification with Norman, by essentially turning him into a female character: Mother. Instead of the mystery of Mother, who is a sort of voyeuristic, mysterious object for the spectator, we get Norman, who we can no longer identify with because he becomes Mother. And of course, at the end of the movie Norman is taken completely into the "half-light of the imaginary" by ceasing to exist as an individual person.

  4. Godard's Weekend is certainly a film that complicates Metz's and Mulvey's views on spectatorship and identification. Mulvey talks about the narcissism inherent in identifying with the protagonist in a film. However, Metz illustrates how in some films there is no one to identify with, which is why primary identification is with one's own look and the camera. Weekend is one such film where it is very difficult to identify with the main characters. The characters are shown doing horrific things, and are portrayed not even as anti-heroes but as completely repulsive. Metz's primary representation is also difficult, as it usually involves conflates one's own look with that of the camera and disavowing the cinematic apparatus. However, the techniques of counter cinema utilized by Godard serve to foreground the cinematic apparatus and make us more aware we are watching a movie. With a film like Weekend, the viewer cannot passively take in the information; the film is difficult enough that it requires deeper levels of thought.

    Despite Godard's use of counter-cinematic techniques, there is still a general narrative, and montage is used often. Is this what Wollen means when he says that counter-cinema is not the revolutionary cinema that is needed? Is it possible to create a truly revolutionary film that is watchable?

  5. In response to Matt's comment above me, I think that Metz's argument is less about identification with the look of the camera, and more about our identification with ourselves as all-perceiving through confirmation that both we exist, and the medium that we are viewing (film) exists. In this sense, the audience is perfectly able to identify in Weekend, as there is nothing that seems to contradict the audience's ability to recognize that what they are viewing exists, and therefore they are perceiving everything. On the other hand, I think the identification that Wollen mentions with regard to Godard has more to do with identification versus estrangement of the audience to the characters in the film, which is something I think Godard does very effectively. Characters are mostly shown in long shots, and are not necessarily on screen during their moments of "action" (think the bread-eating-manifesto scene).

    Also, Adam Pliskin wrote on the other section's blog, regarding Godard's choice to create estrangement, that "it is highly counter-intuitive... to force your audience to have to refocus their attention when you, as a filmmaker, already posses it. The risk doesn't seem worth the reward." I disagree, because I believe that in doing so, Godard is trying to prove that he should have the audience's attention through discomfort, rather than comfort. Godard is trying to produce counter-cinema, and therefore his want to constantly create estrangement and discomfort is completely within the realms of his ideology.

  6. Going on the same line of thought of the last two posts, I think that both Wollen and Mulvey would agree that Weekend is counter to classical cinema, but not does not have the total separation that both these theorists were looking for. In being completely opposite to every aspect of hollywood film, films such as Godard's is a reaction to hollywood film and could not exist if classical film didn't exist. What both these theorists are calling for is a type of cinema that is separate but not a reaction. What they mean by that, well, I think it's a little more complicated because when trying to differ from something that we're all used to, the first thing we will do is do everything opposite from it. I love Weekend though, the way it doesn't hide the fact that its a film to the characters of the film itself is just so great and revolutionary. But like Wollen said, it is reactionary. I don't think thats necessarily a bad thing though...

    But what about third cinema? Film made, in a sense, by the people, for the people, and about the people. Is this the type of revolutionary film these theorists are looking for? Sometimes I feel like art cinema, or second cinema, is just a small part of the larger genre of "mainstream" or first cinema. Does third cinema fall under the same category? Or would you say that second cinema is not a category of first cinema at all? Or maybe, third cinema is a category of second cinema? I don't agree with the last idea, but hey, let's see what others think.

  7. In response to the question of pleasure and the subjective position and the comments regarding it above, I think it's helpful to look at the last few sentences of the Mulvey article. There she mentions destroying the "satisfaction, pleasure, and privilege of the 'invisible guest.'" I think it's instructive to see identification both as a conscious act—we can say after the movie has played the characters we identified with—and as an unconscious act—there are certainly specific gazes, camera movements, and actions with which we identify and aren't aware of it.

    For Mulvey, I think the issue is one deeply embedded in psychoanalysis. Sexual difference is relegated to the unconscious from a very young age and many social norms, identifications, etc. are premised on navigating this difference—Oedipal complex, castration anxiety. The very forms of pleasure insofar as they don't challenge identification reinforce the patriarchal structures deeply embedded in society. The way I read this, I don't think it's an issue of films catering to the explicit desires of heterosexual males. Instead, I think Mulvey sees the entire process of film-making—depicting narratives, tracking action, constructing spaces, directing gazes—as complicit in patriarchal society unless it does everything it can to consciously do otherwise.

    Other elements that give us pleasure then, like say a well-executed long take, would still fall under this paradigm for Mulvey. A graceful tracking shot, while drawing attention to the camera, does not necessarily disrupt the spectatorial identification. In the example from Touch of Evil and also in the opening shot from The Player, both these shots serve to establish the overall narrative and from the beginning get us lost in the film. It's almost as if they preempt identification with the camera and allow you to have it immediately so you aren't left to navigate it later. All of this is constitutive of visual pleasure, and I think Mulvey would argue, certainly a part of the problem.

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