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Feminism And Film

Patricia White Swarthmore College, [email protected]

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Recommended Citation Patricia White. (1998). " And Film". Oxford Guide To . 117-131. https://works.swarthmore.edu/fac-film-media/18

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Feminism is among the social movements and cul­ inist politics and women's studies in the academy, tural-critical discourses that most definitively shaped feminist film studies has extended its analysis of gen­ the rise of Anglo-American film studies in the 1970s; in der in film to interrogate the representation of race, turn, film studies, a relatively young and politicized class, sexuality, and nation; encompassed media such field, provided fertile ground for feminist to as and into its paradigms; and con­ take root in the academy. Feminist film studies, emer­ tributed to the rethinking of film historiography, most ging from this juncture, has been both highly special­ notably in relation to consumer . The feminist ized in its theoretical debates on representation, interest in 's relation to the socially spectatorship, and sexual difference, and broad in its disenfranchised has influenced film studies' shift cultural reach and influence. It has also involved a dual from textual analysis and subject positioning to focus on critique and cultural production. broader of institutions and . As a critical methodology, feminism makes salient A postmodern, globalized, technologically saturated the category of gender and gender hierarchy in all social has set new questions for forms of knowledge and areas of inquiry. The female and methodology as for the whole of film studies. —the female as image—has been a central fea­ ture of film and related visual media; in film and theory, making gender the axis of analysis has entailed a thoroughgoing reconsideration of for, j In and theory, making by, and about women, and a consequent transforma­ I gender the axis of analysis has entailed tion of the canons of film studies. Bringing into focus a thoroughgoing reconsideration of the overlooked contributions of women to film history I films for, by, and about women, and a has been a key objective of feminist film studies as well I consequent transformation of the as an organizing principle of women's film festivals and journalism. A concern with representation, in both a * canons of film studies. political sense(of giving voice to or speaking on behalf of women) and an aesthetic sense, has also united the activist and theoretical projects of women's film An account of principal issues, texts, and debates culture. that have established feminist critical studies of film as Over the past two decades, in the context of fern- a unique area of inquiry will be followed by a

117 CRITICAL APPROACHES discussion of some of the diverse women's film produc­ and 1970s); the high point is represented by the tion practices with which the field has engaged. strong, independent heroines of the 1940s, which reached its apotheosis in stars such as Katharine Hep­ burn. Presenting herself as a maverick , Haskell Feminist fiim criticism and theory frequently distances herself from feminism, neglects to consider non-white women, and betrays a profound Most histories of the field of feminist film studies find a heterosexism (Hepburn and Tracy are for her the starting-point in the appearance of several book- romantic of complementarity of the sexes). Yet length popular studies of in the United she makes several useful contributions, and criticism of States in the early 1970s (e.g. Rosen 1973; Haskell the reductionism of her study can itself be reductive. 1974; Mellen 1974). Theirfocus on ' of women' She diagnoses violence against, and marginalization was immediately critiqued by 'cinefeminists' inter­ of, women in acclaimed 'New ' films, as ested in theorizing the structure of representation. As reactions to the emergence of feminism and the threat a result, an opposition—rhetorical in part—arose posed by women's autonomy, and she is wary of the between 'American'sociological approaches and 'Brit­ mystifications of European cinema, which would ish' theory, of 'cinefeminism', which was based upon a appear to place women and their sexuality more cen­ critique of realism. trally in their stories, while offering only a new version of the 'eternal feminine'. Finally, Haskell's comments on the 's picture, or 'weepie'—a production Reflection theory category denigrated by the industry and most Molly Haskell and Marjorie Rosen's studies are usually —suggest that such films actually did represent considered exemplars of 'reflection ' of the contradictions of women's lives in patriarchal capit­ women and film: they assume that film 'reflects'social alism and inaugurated one of the most fruitful areas of reality, that depictions of women in film mirror how feminist film studies. society treats women, that these depictions are distor­ tions of how women 'really are' and what they 'really and ideology critique want', and that 'progress' can be made (see Retro 1994). Such accounts are related to powerful feminist Reviewing Haskell and Rosen's books, Claire Johnston critiques of the effects of media, porno­ (1975b) notes the inadequacies of the 'images of graphy, and on body-image, sex roles, and women' approach: while it grasps the ideological , which, in turn, fuelled advo­ implications of cinema, images are seen as too easily cacy for women's intervention in image-making. Typi­ detached from the texts and psychic structures cally, such studies present and critique a typology of through which they function, as well as the institutional images of women—an array of virgins, vamps, victims, and historical contexts that determine their form and suffering , child women, and sex kittens. The their reception. For Johnston, film must be seen as a emerging film criticism of , as well as African and woman as a sign—not simply a transpar­ American and Asian American women, and other ent rendering of the real (see also Pollock 1992). In women of colour, also tends to identify and reject perhaps the most influential statement of this position, —such as the homicidal, man-hating les­ 'Women's Cinema as Counter Cinema', Johnston bian, the African American mammy, the tragic mulatto, (1973) combines 's concept of as and the Asian dragon lady—and advocates more com­ the rendering natural of ideology with theory to plex representations. These are categories, however, decode the function of women in Hollywood films by which tend to limit consideration of the social function Howard Hawks and John Ford, as well as women of stereotypes and frequently lead to simplistic 'good'- and . This, in turn, 'bad' readings of individual films. The identification of set a pattern for subsequent feminist studies of Holly­ types and generic conventions is an important step, wood such as film noir, the musical, and the but simply replacing stereotypes with positive images western, which showed how woman as signifier per­ does not transform the system that produced them. formed precise iconographic and ideological func­ Haskell narrativizes the as an arc from tions, either constituting a 's structural 'reverence' (the silent era) to 'rape' (Hollywood in the dimensions (woman = home in the western) or expos-


ing its ideological contradictions (the and desire—from, in short, what called figure in film noir; see Kaplan 1978). the symbolic register. Freud's description of scopophi- In this latter case, as Janet Bergstrom (1979) points lia—pleasure in looking—was Mulvey's starting-point. out, Johnston and others were influenced by the con­ Dominant cinema deploys unconscious mechanisms in cept of the 'progressive text' derived from the French which the image of woman functions as signifier of journal . Indeed, the progressive sexual difference, confirming man as subject and text, or popular film which 'displayed the ideology to which it belonged' (Comolli and Narboni 1969), was maker of meaning. These mechanisms are built into the chief inheritance offeministfilm studies from Marx­ the structure of the and itself through ist cultural theory (through the Russian Formalist notion the manipulation of time and space by point of view, of 'making strange', to Brechtian 'distanciation' and framing, , and other codes. Althusserian 'contradiction') and shaped the ongoing interest in Flollywood film. Cahiers' methodology was I This position derived from her account also assimilated by the British journal , which emerged as the dominant venue of work combining I of the gendered processes of structuralism, semiotics, , and I spectatorial desire and identification and the touchstone for developments in feminist film J orchestrated by classical narrative theory. I cinema and is summed up in one of her I piece's headings: 'woman as image/

Psychoanalysis - man as bearer of the look'. The most thoroughgoing and explicit introduction of neo-Freudian to feminist film Centred around the spectator's and the 's studies, and the single most inescapable reference in look, cinema offers identificatory pleasure with one's the field (and arguably in contemporary English-lan­ on-screen likeness, or ego ideal (understood in terms guage as a whole), is 's 'Visual of the Lacanian mirror stage), and libidinal gratification Pleasure and Narrative Cinema', published in Screen in from the object of the gaze. The male spectator is 1975. Recommending 'a political use of psychoanaly­ doubly supported by these mechanisms of visual grat­ sis', this essay, like Johnston's 'Women's Cinema as ification as the gaze is relayed from the male surrogate Counter Cinema', was polemical both in tone and in within the diegesis to the male spectator in the audi­ its advocacy of theoretical rigourand a new, materialist ence. The woman, on the other hand, is defined in feminist cinematic practice. Flowever, whereas John­ terms of spectacle, or what Mulvey described as 'to- ston had argued that 'in order to counter our objecti­ be-looked-at-ness'. As Mulvey observed, 'In a world fication in the cinema, women's collective fantasy must ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has be released . . . [and] demands the use of the enter­ been split between active/male and passive/female'. tainment film', Mulvey insisted on a break with domi­ Mulvey excluded from consideration the possible nant cinema (in the form of a modernist cinematic pleasures afforded a female spectator by narrative practices which would provoke conscious reflection cinema through her provocative use of the male pro­ on the part of the spectator) and the 'rejection of plea­ noun to designate the spectator. As she explained sure as a radial weapon'. This position derived from her later, her essay explored 'the relationship between account of the gendered processes of spectatorial the image of woman on screen and the "masculiniza- desire and identification orchestrated by classical nar­ tion" ofthe spectator position, regardless of actual sex rative cinema and is summed up in one of her piece's (or possible deviance) of any real live movie-goer' (Mul­ headings: 'woman as image/man as bearer of the look'. vey 1981/1988: 69). Mulvey argued that the institution of cinema is char­ Yet ifthe image of woman is to be 'looked at', italso, acterized by a sexual imbalance of power, and psycho­ according to the Freudian account, connotes sexual analysis may be used to explain this. Because difference and a threat of castration that must be con­ psychoanalysis makes sexual difference its central tained. According to Mulvey, narrative cinema has category, feminist thinking can use it to understand developed two ways to neutralize this threat, which women's exclusion from the realms of language, law. she correlates with the filmic practices of two of film

119 CRITICAL APPROACHES theory's most privileged auteurs: of Hollywood films from the -codes of editing to and . Von Sternberg's baroque com­ the macro-codes of narrative structure, candidly stated positions, centred around the impossibly stylized in an interview with : 'To put it a bit image of , are seen as exemplary of hastily. . . I think a woman can love, accept, and give a a fetishistic disavowal of the threat of sexual differ­ positive value to these films only from her own maso­ ence. In the Freudian scenario, the fetish stands in for chism' (quoted in Bergstrom 1988:195). the missing penis, and the fetishist disavows his Needless to say, Bellour's was not the last word on knowledge of lack with belief in the compensatory the subject, and a number of responses to the totaliza­ object. The oblique and iconic, layered tion of the apparatus model soon evolved. For some compositions in von Sternberg's films exemplify, theorists, ifthe woman's'visual presence tends to work therefore, what Mulvey called fetishistic . against the development of a story line' (Mulvey 1975: In anotheroft-quoted formula, Mulvey described the 33), then it could be argued that spectacle itself could second avenue of mastering castration anxiety as be understood as a weak link in the totalizing patriar­ gratified by investigation and punishment chal regime Mulvey delineated and used as a way of or redemption of the 'guilty' (that is, different, female) interrupting narrative closure and its presumed confir­ object: 'sadism demands a story', she wrote. For ex­ mation of spectatorial mastery. The spectacularized ample, the angst-ridden, illogical world of film noir is woman—for example, the female , whose iconicity stabilized by pinning guilt on the femme fatale. Mulvey is also constructed intertextually and thus may exceed argued thatAlfred Hitchcock'sfilms{Vert/goUSA, 1958; narrative placement—can demonstrate or defy the and RearW/ndowUSA, 1954) brilliantlyfuse thefetishis- logic of the system that would subordinate her to the tic and voyeuristic-sadistic solutions to the threat gaze of the male. Similarly, the musical genre's subor­ posed by the image of women, and her reading inau­ dination of narrative codes to performance and spec­ gurated a rich strain offeminist workon the director. tacle might resist ideological containment, and this is Prior to Mulvey, psychoanalytic film theory had possibly one source of its appeal to female and gay tended to confirm the hegemony and homogeneity audiences. Other responses to and extensions of Mul­ of the patriarchal unconscious in cinema. Christian vey's paradigm suggested that the male spectator's Metz extrapolated the mechanism of fetishism (con­ relation to the image signifying sexual difference might sidered an exclusively male perversion) to define the be masochistic, ratherthan necessarily sadistic. Gaylyn spectator's belief in the cinematic illusion itself; Jean- Studlar (1988), for example, argues that this is the Louis Baudry argued that the 'cinematic apparatus' effect—and the subversiveness—of the von Stern- (defined technologically, institutionally, and ideologi­ berg-Dietrich films, and Carol Clover (1992) suggests cally) extended Western representation systems to that contemporary horrorfilms encourage theiryoung position an ideal, transcendental subject; and the the­ male spectators to identify with the female victim. ory of suture demonstrated how cinematic syntax, for Finally, it was argued that cases of the spectaculariza- example the point-of-view construction so often used tion of masculinity or ethnicity, while not contradicting in establishing the woman as image, confirmed the the association of with to-be-looked-at- coherence of the viewing subject over and against ness, permitted an interrogation of the wider cultural lack (see Creed, Part 1, Chapter 9, for a fuller exposition logic determining the power and hierarchy of the of these arguments). gaze. Feminist work in the wake of Mulvey's essay high­ Mulvey herself addressed two key omissions in her lighted how all of these m eta psycho logical accounts argument in her own 'Afterthoughts' on the issue: what implicitly posited a male viewer—however illusory his she called 'the "woman in the " issue' and 'the mastery and unity might prove to be—and went on to "" issue' (Mulvey 1981/1988: 69). Both elaborate the effects of the cinema's seemingly neces­ concerns stemmed from her 'own love of Hollywood sary and massive exclusion of the female subject posi­ melodrama' and demonstrated the irony of her earlier tion. However, in articulating the problem of dominant essay's conclusion that 'Women . . . cannot view the cinema so very exactly, the feminist psychoanalytic decline of the traditional film form with anything much paradigm risked being trapped within the monolith. more than sentimental regret' (1975:39). Much like the As Raymond Bellour, whose meticulous textual ana­ choice faced by the melodrama's heroine between lyses traced and confirmed the maleOedipal trajectory pursuing her desire or accepting 'correct femininity'.


Mulvey argued that female spectatorship entails a ten­ overestimate fantasmatic mobility, downplaying the sion or oscillation between psychical positions of mas­ constraints of social-sexual identity on spectatorship. culinity and femininity which are legacies of the female Critiques of the field's largely unexamined ethno- Oedipal complex and socialization under centrism also became more and more insistent (see confirmed in dominant narrative patterns. Making a Gaines 1990). In so far as sexual difference is the orga­ 'trans-sex identification' with the agent of desire and nizing axis of subjectivity in psychoanalysis, Lacanian narrative is habitual for women. Mulvey's account of was ill equipped to theorize the female spectatorship as it is engaged in narrativity intersection of gender with racial, ethnic, class, suggests that gender identification, and hence iden­ national, or other differences—whether in visual and tity, is a process, and this point has been picked up by narrative codes or in spectatorial response. The insti­ . 'The real task', she argued, 'is to tutionalization of the field reinforced this structuring enact the contradiction of female desire, and of omission. Although psychoanalytic concepts of the women as social subjects, in the terms of narrative; to gaze, disavowal, and fetishism have been used to perform its figures of movement and closure, image account for the racialized image (notably in work draw­ and gaze, with the constant awareness that spectators ing on the writings of Frantz Fanon), the discourse is are historically engendered in social practices, in the generally seen as too ahistorical and individualistic to real world, and in cinema too' (1984:156). be useful to an anti-racist film theory. In 'The Opposi­ In other words, the 'woman in the audience' cannot tional Gaze' (1992), argues that black female be reduced to that single term in the polarity: 'woman spectators cannot help but view Hollywood films from as image'. Her identification with that position must an oppositional standpoint as the fetishized woman in continually be solicited by narrative, visual, and wider film is white. Such glaring blind spots in feminist film cultural codes. Moreover, not every 'woman in the theory called for concrete readings and new method­ audience' is the same. The idea that formalist interven­ ologies—drawn from feminist and anti-racist politics, tion is the only way of interrupting mimetic spectator- and historical and cultural studies—to explicate the text relations ignores the fact that the socio-historical relationships of diverse women in the audience to location of many audience members presents a diffi­ dominant representations of femininity. cult 'fit' with the textually ordained position. spectatorship has posed a particularly revealing chal­ The woman’s film lenge to pscyhoanalytic theory's seeming equation of 'sexual difference' with heterosexual complementar­ Mulvey's own linkage of 'the woman in the audience ity—the presumption that women cannot desire the issue' with 'the melodrama issue'sets up an important image because they are the image (Doane 1982). As contest of textual and contextual models. Cinema has points out: 'psychoanalytic accounts inherited a great deal from theatrical and literary melo­ which theorize identification and object choice within ; however, the association of melodrama with a framework of linked binary oppositions (masculinity/ femininity can be detected in the pejorative attitude femininity: activity/passivity) necessarily masculinize with which it is often regarded. Studies of silent melo­ female ' (1987: 370). She then goes on drama in various national contexts, the Hollywood to stress the inherent homoerotic components of 'family melodrama' of the , television genres female spectatorship. Attempts to address lesbians such as soap , and particularly that subset of precisely as social subjects, as viewers, have therefore melodrama known as 'the woman's film' offer the side-stepped the psychoanalytic paradigm to consider opportunity to compare feminist methodologies and how lesbian viewers might appropriate dominant, epistemologies concerned with historical context and heterosexist representations (Ellsworth 1990). Other actual viewers with those focused on textually con­ challenges to Mulvey's paradigm from within psy­ structed spectator positions. choanalysis, such as the theory of film's homology The woman's film flourished in Hollywood in the with fantasy as the 'mise-en-scene of desire' (Cowie 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, but is found in most indus­ 1984), suggest that spectators do not necessarily tries and survives today, notably in the made-for-TV take up predetermined or unitary positions of identifi­ movie. It is centred around a female star-heroine, fre­ cation. However, while making room for identifications quently written by or adapted from the work of across gender and sexuality, such accounts tend to women, often fairly inexpensively made, and explicitly

121 CRITICAL APPROACHES marketed to and consumed by female audiences. cludes that such films ultimately position the women Typically, such films are concerned with evoking they address as subject to, ratherthan of, the discourse emotional responses to such 'women's issues' as of desire. Like the in the heterosexual , domesticity, and ­ woman's film Possessed (USA, 1947), the female spec­ hood. While some feminists have rejected such tra­ tator is dispossessed of what appears to be her own ditional associations, particularly their survival in story. contemporary popular culture, others have found In a crucial contribution to spectatorship theory, in them an expression, however mediated, of 'Film and the Masquerade' (1982), Doane argues that women's contradictory experience in the patriarchal the visual and affective intensity of the family. Indeed, the films have seemed to offer the woman's film encourages the female spectator to opportunity to decode the mother as an ideological over-identify with the image. According to the psycho­ construct and to come to terms with the pre-femin­ analytic model of sexual difference, the distance upon ist generation of 'mothers'. From the perspective of which fetishism, desire, and even criticism depend is genre theory, the woman's film could be seen as simply not available to her: the woman is deficient in performing 'cultural work'—speaking to, if displa­ relation to the gaze. The title and conceit of Dark cing, genuine social conflicts—between women's (USA, 1939), in which the heroine must mime economic dependence and desire for autonomy, being able to see so that the hero (but not the audi­ between heterosexual and maternal ideology and ence) will leave her to suffer and die alone, serves as a sexual self-definition. The woman's film thus links hyperbolic . When Doane acknowledges the focus on 'depictions of women' in sociological that it is 'quite tempting to foreclose entirely the pos­ criticism with cinefeminists' concern with 'the figure sibility of female spectatorship', her statement must be of the woman'. Their methodologies and evalua­ seen in the context of feminist anti-: 'the tions, even their organizing questions, differ, how­ woman' of 'the woman's film' does not exist—she is a discursive category produced within a phallocentric ever. representational regime. Doane proposes a new trope for female spectatorship: masquerade, defined by : The woman's film could be seen as Freudian analyst Joan Riviere as indistinguishable from 'genuine womanliness', and which can provide * performing 'cultural work'—speaking a means of 'flaunting' femininity's lack. : to, if displacing, genuine social Unwilling to reject films that historically have given I conflicts—between women's economic women solace and pleasure, other feminist theorists

I dependence and desire for autonomy, argue that female spectatorship encompasses more I between heterosexual and maternal than narcissism or masochism. Although, as Ann Kaplan argues (1983a), Stella Dallas (USA, 1937) does ’ ideology and sexual self-definition. indeed end with an extravagant scene of female abjec­ tion (anonymous among the crowd, the title character watches from afar the wedding of the daughter she In her influential study The Desire to Desire (1987), gave up), Linda Williams argues that in it women recog­ develops a theory of female specta- nize contradictory points of view: that they engage torship through intricate textual analyses of films pro­ their 'multiple identificatory power' and their critical duced for a female audience in wartime Hollywood. reading skills (1984/1990: 154). Not simply glorifying Identifying 'maternal', 'medical', and 'paranoid' sub­ female sacrifice, such films allow women to mourn loss genres of the woman's film, Doane demonstrates the and reject its necessity. frequency of overt thematizations of psychoanalysis in These contrasting emphases in feminist film theory their depictions of family, romantic, and doctor- can be illustrated by two strikingly different interpreta­ patient relationships; and her readings uncover scenar­ tions of Alfred Hitchcock's 'woman's picture' Rebecca ios of masochism and hysteria that confirm Lacanian (USA, 1940), based on the 1938 novel by Daphne du psychoanalysis's definition of femininity as deficiency Maurier. While Doane (1987) sees the of the or lack. Analysing the designation 'woman's film' in film's heroine and the absence of the eponymous char­ terms of both possession and address, Doane con­ acter (the hero's dead first wife Rebecca) as a negation

122 FEMINISM AND FILM of female subjectivity, Tania Modleski (1988) sees a feminist analyses had little to say about the signifying compelling version of the female Oedipal drama in effects of a star image in a particular textual system— which the object of desire and identification is another let alone about how the interaction between text and woman—a drama all the more compelling because the spectator might be determined by foreknowledge and power that that woman exerts over the heroine (and in anticipation of the star; by, in short, intertextuality. This turn the spectator) comes from outside the visual field careful avoidance was in part a reaction to work such as (indeed from beyond the grave). Relating the woman's Haskell's which followed journalistic conventions of film to traditions in women's and to popular writing about characters and stars, and in part a logical genres such as soap operas and Gothic and romance extension ofthe theory of the image of woman as male fiction, Modleski views such highly codified narratives fetish and its identification with ideological complicity. as responses to women's social and psychological con­ The increasing influence of cultural studies (identi­ ditions, utopian 'resolutions' of real conflicts through fied with the work of the Birmingham Centre for Con­ aesthetic means, fantasies of omnipotence and outlets temporary Cultural Studies), which looks beyond the for rage and desire. film text for the social meaning of cinematic practices, If Doane is careful to specify that she speaks only of as well as of approaches in film history that include the discursively constructed female subject, who is not institutional and promotional discourses and reception to be conflated with actual members of the audience, studies, invigorated work on film stars. As Judith and Modleski seeks to theorize the position and plea­ Mayne (1993: 124) notes, the consequences of this sure of real women, still other feminist film scholars shift in perspective are immediate: taking stars into have challenged psychoanalytic explanations by account makes it hard to accept that the fascination emphasizing historical and audience studies in their ofthe movies inheres in the regressive pleasure ofthe work on the woman's film (see Stacey 1987). This is projection situation, as apparatus theory argued. This part of a wider movement in film studies away from approach is of particular interest to feminists, not only the homogeneity of the cinematic institution pre­ because female stars are the most powerful women in sumed in apparatus theory, and from the centrality the and represent ideologically significant and determinism of the film text, towards the hetero­ versions of femininity throughout the culture, but geneity of what Stuart Hall (1980) calls encoding and because it is as 'fans' that women are addressed as decoding practices. Many signifying systems intersect the prototypical moviegoers. This demands reconsi­ in any given spectatorial situation, and spectators deration of the pronouncement that women are bring diverse identities, histories, cultural compe­ excluded from the spectator position and from the tences, and responses—both conscious and uncon­ articulation of desire. At the very least, stars, like genre scious—to the movies. The tension between the films, are offered as particular imaginary solutions to plurality and diversity of actual viewers and responses women's unfulfilled desires. and that textual and theoretical construction con­ Following the methodology set out in 's ceived in the singular as 'the female spectator' can book Stars (1979), critics read the inflexions of particu­ be related to what Teresa de Lauretis (1984) identifies lar star images across the body of films in which the star as one of the central, necessary contradictions in fem­ appears as well as in promotional, , and critical inism—between woman, a philosophical or aesthetic texts such as magazines and testimonials, com­ construct, and women, materially and historically modity tie-ins, public appearances, tributes, and cul­ located beings who are gendered female. Work on tural citations. Dyer sees 'independent women stars' the woman's film seeks not to resolve this tension but such as and , or, to give to explore its productivity. a contemporary example, Susan Sarandon, as poten­ tially oppositional types—at least at the basic level of embodying the category of the individual as female. Stars, reception studies, and consumer Maria Laplace (1987) traces the roots of Davis's public cuiture persona and her roles in her star to the her­ It is a defining feature of the 'woman's film' that it oines of women's fiction, and reads her association with showcases popularfemale stars as its suffering ortrans- work, as well as with consumption, as particularly gressive heroines. Despite its central tenet that woman appealing to female spectators. Dyer also analyses is a constructed image, psychoanalytically informed Davis's restless performance style, her 'bitch' and

123 CRITICAL APPROACHES camp roles and their reception and imitation in gay audience studies, andfeminist television scholarship in male culture. This 'structured polysemy' of a star image general, have been increasingly important to develop­ allows the figure to be claimed by diverse audiences ments in film studies. Finally, work on can and generates unpredictable effects in a range of restore the question of gender to the now dominant concept of . Many of the characteris­ reception contexts overtime. For example, the 'mystery' and self-sufficiency of tics of postmodern society—fragmentation over Dietrich and Garbo (evident in their visual presentation coherence, style over history, surface over depth, and as well as the plots oftheirfilms), the former's cruelty to consumption over production—have traditionally men and the latter's tragic relation to love, as well as been associated with women's condition, as Anne costuming codes and their on-screen flirtations with Friedberg (1994) demonstrates by linking the visual women, have been understood not only as open to culture of modernity to contemporary spectatorial appropriation by lesbian spectators today, but as draw­ practices of the shopping-mall, cineplex, and home ing on the visual codes of lesbian self-representation in video. Friedberg suggests that there is at least some the 1930s. Black or ethnically coded star-images, such potential for mobilizing such associations on women's as those of Lena Horne or Carmen Miranda, have been behalf—even as postmodernism threatens identity decoded in relation to fantasies of racialized sexuality categories upon which feminism and other opposi­ and the construction of American national identity and tional politics would seem to depend. as figures of oppositional identification for non-white Indeed the traditional left's rejection of popular cul­ spectators (see Roberts 1993), and studies of national ture as capitalist manipulation, a position commonly cinemas have increasingly mined the semiotic riches of associated with the Frankfurt School, frequently betrays the equation of consumption with feminine popular star images. The analysis of stars entails both sociological and passivity. On the other hand, an unproblematic cele­ psychoanalytic approaches and touches on several bration of consumerism in the name of women's plea­ important directions in contemporary feminist film stu­ sure does not constitute 'resistance'. Generally dies: placing the cinema within consumer culture, his- speaking, feminist cultural studies rejects the view of toricizing film exhibition and reception, and female viewers as victims of 'false consciousness , but understanding active spectatorship as a process of without then attributing inherently subversive powers 'negotiation'. Historically, cinema emerges within the to them. Stuart Hall's (1980) term 'negotiation' (itself a market-place metaphor, as Mayne (1993) points out) culture of consumption. Once again it is not unreason­ able to suggest that women are not marginalized as describes viewers' strategies of decoding media mes­ spectators, with no access except through disempow- sages—from television news to film endings—as not ering identification with femininity-as-commodity in wholly in conformity with, nor in complete opposition the figure of the star, but energetically addressed as to, dominant ideology. A negotiated reading is consumers. Miriam Hansen (1991) looks at the Valen­ inflected by viewers' socio-historical location and the tino craze in the as a definitive moment in locat­ discourses available to them. , in ing female sexuality in modernity and the public Black Women as Cultural Readers (1995), analyses . Fan culture involves a range of concrete prac­ her ethnographic research among black women view­ tices of consumption, purveyed by magazines, fash­ ers of Steven Spielberg's film The Color Purple (USA, ions, and commodity tie-ins. Jane Gaines and 1985). She finds that their familiarity with Alice Walker's Charlotte Herzog (1987) demonstrate that costuming novel, the opportunity to see a high-budget film with a is a crucial dimension of the personae of'women's'stars black female protagonist, and the community in which such as Joan Crawford. Consumeristdiscourse works in they viewed and discussed the film contributed to a as well as through the woman's film, often as a potent more nuanced and positive reception of the film than allegory of women's attempt to define herself or satisfy that of many liberal reviewers, both black and white. her desire. Consumer goods and the surfaces of cos­ As the preceding account demonstrates, after more tume, skin, and hair also offer non-narrative, tactile, than twenty years feminist film studies has become an and visual pleasures to women. Television, which established academic discipline, with the critique of addresses consumers in the home, extends such dominant media a primary preoccupation. But while dimensions of women's viewing practice; arguably, recent work stressing the agency of the film or televi­ the television 'apparatus' itself is feminized. Television sion viewer is an important challenge to the hierarchies


preservation movements and new interpretations : It has been women's film production, of early film history emerging in the 1980s have : rather than reception, that has been the assisted feminist efforts to restore women's contribu­ : most prominent model of resistance tions to silent cinema. The role of women in the : and opposition to the status quo. public sphere—in political and social movements, labour, leisure, and the culture of consumption— and in the formation of national identities in the first presumed in Laura Mulvey's influential model, it has decades of the twentieth century, have been illumi­ been women's film production, rather than reception, nated by recent studies of Neapolitan filmmaker that has been the most prominent model of resistance Elvira Notari (Bruno 1995) and of Nell Shipman, and opposition to the status quo. Not simply an impor­ the Canadian-born director of outdoor adventure tant parallel sector of 'feminism in film', women's film- films (Armatage 1995). making practice has been a constant reference and Feminist film scholars' questioning of established dynamic ground for theoretical work. film canons draws on the retrieval of women authors women filmmakers' work within mainstream industries and influences in feminist literary criticism. But cinema and in national and alternative film movements entails not only presents a much more limited history and the re-evaluation of concepts of film authorship and scope than ; it raises the difficulty of defining criteria of film historiography and raises interesting authorship, given the capital and ­ methodological questions, such as the role of the critic intensive, commercial and collaborative nature of film in the definition of a 'feminist' film and the problem of production, especially in Hollywood. essentialism (the notion that all women or all women's films share inherent qualities). The sections look at areas of women's production that have raised particu­ Women in Hollywood larly generative issues for feminist film studies. Independent women directors and producers who flourished in the first decades of were quickly marginalized by the entrenchment of the Holly­ Women’s filmmaking wood and its eventual dominance of world-wide markets. Studies of women who exercised One of the most important discoveries of women's creative control in sound-era Hollywood such as film festivals was of the pioneering role women (see Francke, 1994) or stars represent a played in the emergence of film. Alice Guy-Blache challenge to the conflation of the idea of cinematic is widely credited with directing the very first fiction authorship with the figure of the director. But the few film in 1896. She made hundreds of short films in women who did work as directors in the heyday of and later in the , and more than Hollywood—Dorothy Arzner, who directed her first twenty feature films through her film company, feature at Paramount, where she had been an editor, Solax. The work of another prolific early woman in 1927, and made sixteen more films before retiring writer-director-producer, , helps illumi­ from the movies in 1943, and Ida Lupino, a leading nate links between early twentieth-century middle- actress atWarners who turned independent producer- class feminism and the emerging cultural role of director in 1949 and laterdirectedfortelevision—have cinema. Her 'quality' depicted women's played a central role in feminist film historiography and agency and their favourable moral influence, criticism. addressing social issues, such as birth control (The Claire Johnston's and 's contributions to Hand that Rocks the Cradle, 1917) and abortion The Work of Dorothy Arzner (Johnston 1975a) com­ {Where are my Children?, 1916), within the frame­ bined the work of recovery with the critical model work of melodrama. Well known at the time, Weber, developed in Johnston's 'Women's Cinema as Counter like Guy-Blache, was all but forgotten until feminist Cinema'. The authors looked not for coherent feminist rediscovery in the 1970s made possible an acknow­ expression in Arzner's work, but for traces of 'the ledgement of the role her work played in the contest woman's discourse', readable in the 'gaps and fissures' for the respectability of cinema in the United States, of the classic text. One such moment in Arzner's 1940 and its place in hierarchies of class and taste. Film film Dance, , Dance, in which the female character


'returns the look' of the burlesque audience that would mythology of woman as essentially unknowable and objectify her, has become a canonical example of a childlike, signifier of nature and sexuality for men. The textual 'rupture' within patriarchal ideology. In Direc­ male protagonists and fraught of the ted by Dorothy Arzner (1994), Judith Mayne reintro­ Italian director Liliana Cavani, initially regarded as evi­ duced biographical information and evaluated the dence that women directors could indeed make anti­ significance of the director's lesbianism—not only to feminist films, have been read more subtly by Kaja readings of her films (her 'authorial signature' deci­ Silverman (1988) as authorial projections that unsettle pherable in the highlighting of relationships between patriarchal power hierarchies. Hungarian director women and marginal women characters in her films) Marta Meszaros in has built up a body of but to her public profile when she was an active feature films unusual for a woman director, permitting woman director and to her status and stature in fem­ auteurist analysis while expanding West European inist film studies as a figure of fascination. concepts of feminism and film. However, these direc­ Contemporary with the emergence of such feminist tors' achievements must be seen not as exceptional, criticism, women directors were finding greater oppor­ but inside history, politics, and national contexts. Thus, tunities in the . The genre-film work of feminist critical interest has foregrounded the work of such directors as Stephanie Rothman (Student Nurses, women within the New German Cinema, too often 1970) or (Fast Times at Ridgemont identified only with its male proponents (see Sieglohr, High, 1982) were similarly read 'against the grain' for Part 3, Chapter 10) and in Australian cinema (see Jacka, their feminist inflexions. The cross-over successes of a Part 3, Chapter 16). number of women first active in feminist documentary, In the case of'Third Cinema' (see Dissanayake, Part such as Claudia Weill's Girlfriends (1978), Joyce Cho­ 3, Chapter 18) which explicitly opposed commercially pra's Smooth Talk (1985), and 's lesbian controlled 'First' cinemas and auteurist 'art', or 'Sec­ romance (1985), received particular ond', cinema, several women's films have been seen as scrutiny and anticipated the emergence of contempor­ definitive. The single feature Afro-Cuban director Sara ary figures such as Mira Nair (Mississippi Masala, 1992) Gomez completed before her untimely death. One and (Strange Days, 1995) from femin­ Way or Another ('De cierta manera', Cuba, 1977) has ist production sectors to Hollywood. been widely hailed as Brechtian post-colonial feminist cinema. Its dialectical structure of romance plot and 'documentary' analysis of economic conditions stres­ , new national cinemas, third ses the necessity of consciousness-raising around sex­ cinema ual politics as an essential part of the transformation of the social order. Caribbean-born Sarah Maldoror The European 'art film' has produced a number of depicted revolutionary women's struggle in Angola in indisputable female 'auteurs'. Although they might Sambizanga, (1972) and women's film collectives make fewer compromises to commerce or popular formed in Columbia, Brazil, and Peru, and on the Indian taste than women working within the mainstream subcontinent. The introduction of the films of Third- industries, their work is even less easily assimilable to world women into the canon of Eurocentric feminist the feminist rubric. This does not, however, make them criticism, however, should not homogenize the strug­ uninteresting to feminist critics. The paradigmatic case gles and conditions within which they intervened: fem­ is , documentarian to the Third Reich. inist, Marxist, and anti-imperialist paradigms have not Susan Sontag's influential study (1972) of a consistent always overlapped. fascist aesthetic in Riefenstahl's work from Triumph of the Will (, 1935) and (Germany, 1938) to her African of the 1960s, also Avant-Garde and counter-cinema lays the groundwork for decoding the Riefenstahl per­ Despite vast disparities in resources, conditions of pro­ sona. Her celebration as 'female artist' works to place duction, and audience, most of the work discussed so her outside history (and politics), subjecting her to the far shares the general qualities of feature-length, nar­ same codes governing the representation of woman in rative form, produced with some division of labour, and film. Johnston (1973) critiqued the films of French New aimed for theatrical exhibition. Avant-garde work con­ Wave director Agnes Varda for perpetuating the ceived outside that model has historically been an

126 FEMINISM AND FILM important venue for women; the various avant-garde The women's films most privileged in the corpus of movements offer feminist critics examples of 'auteurs' feminist film theory have tended to be forms of 'coun­ in the truest sense, as well as grounding for theories of ter-cinema' (see Smith, Part 3, Chapter 2) which ques­ alternative film language. claims the tion the centrality of the image of women to title of first feminist filmmaker; she played a prominent representational regimes: cinematic signifying sys­ role in the French avant-garde as an educator and tems such as editing or the synchronization of sound theorist, as well as the maker of abstract, narrative, and image, narrative logic, the structure of the look, and documentary films. In her most important film. processes of voyeurism and identification. These films The Smiling Mme Beudet (France, 1923), Dulac have also been linked to the concerns of writers such as infused the conventional narrative about a provincial Helene Cixous, , and with wife with experimental techniques rendering the pro­ the concept of feminine writing {ecriture feminine). tagonist's frustration and fantasy. For Sandy Flitterman- Perhaps the most commented-upon text was Belgian Lewis (1989), Dulac's career exemplified 'a search fora director 's minimalist three-hour por­ new cinematic language capable of expressing female trait of a middle-class housewife-prostitute: Jeanne desire'. Dielmann: 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 6ruxe//es (Bel­ gium and France, 1975) which depicted traditional femininity from a feminist stance (see Fowler, Part 3, 1 While feminist film theory has Chapter 13c). Laura Mulvey and 's exploration of Lacanian and Freudian theory from the • consistently championed formal mother's point of view in Riddles of the Sphinx (GB, I experimentation, the avant-garde's 1975), Sally Potter's experimental short Thriller (GB, • ethos of personal expression can be 1979), and American dancer-choreographer-film- • seen to foreclose consistent socio- maker Yvonne Rainer's Film about a Woman Who . . . j political critique and, frequently, (USA, 1974) and The Man who Envied Women (USA, 1985) have also generated considerable debate (see • significant engagement with audiences. Kuhn 1994; Kaplan 1983). For Mary Ann Doane, these filmmakers have attempted 'the elaboration of a spe­ In the poetically rendered subjective space of cial syntax for the female body' (1988: 227) and their Meshes of the Afternoon (USA, 1943) and subsequent concerns with language, desire, and identity have works, Russian-born could be said to be found an important critical venue in the US feminist conducting a similar search. Beyond the general influ­ film journal Camera Obscura. ence that earned her the rather dubious appellation 'mother of the American avant-garde', Deren's aes­ Documentary thetic innovations were paid homage in the explicitly feminist work of experimental filmmakers in the 1970s Although generally under-represented in academic such as Joyce Wieland in and lesbian feminist criticism, the mode of filmmaking in which women's in the United States. Economically intervention has been most extensive and influential, accessible and institutionally alternative, avant-garde which feminists first entered, and which remains most film has given a significant place to American women accessible to emerging artists, including women and since at least the 1950s; yet the movement has been people of colour, is documentary. In 1974 the National pervaded by a male heroic . In an article Film Board of Canada set up Studio D, a women's arguing for the political importance of naming documentary unit, and more than 100 films, of whose women's media practices, B. Ruby Rich calls the style Bonnie Klein's indictment ofthe sex industry Not a avant-garde 'the Cinema of the Sons', a cinema of Love Story (1981) is characteristic, have been made rebellion against the dominant'Cinema of the Fathers' and distributed within that favourable institutional cli­ (Rich 1990: 269). While feminist film theory has consis­ mate. Cinema verite and 'talking heads', interview- tently championed formal experimentation, the avant- based formats al lowed women to speak for themselves garde's ethos of personal expression can be seen to and to narrate history—exemplifying the feminist slo­ foreclose consistent socio-political critique and, fre­ gan 'the personal is the political'. Such films were quently, significant engagement with audiences. meant to raise consciousness and to effect social


128 FEMINISM AND FILM change, addressing viewers in an accessible style and the image track depicts in unexpected framings and encouraging an active response. Hence, the form is discontinuous editing, but to 'speak nearby'. particularly effective in constructing a community. In With the widespread availability of the relatively the heyday of 'ideological criticism', these documen­ inexpensive medium of video, women's media genres, tary practices tended to be charged with a 'naive rea­ exhibition venues, and critical paradigms have also lism'. 's important feature-length proliferated. Lightweight and unobtrusive, the ­ documentary Harlan County USA (1976), for example, corder rejuvenated activist documentary, enabled the was critiqued for effacing the choices made in filming production of erotic by and for women, and and editing that built narrative suspense. However, reflected the 'identity politics' of the 1980s in an Julia Lesage makes a convincing case for 'the political expanding body of independent work by women of aesthetics offeminist ' in her essay of colour and lesbians. Television commissions, women's that title (1990)—arguing that such films construct, film festivals, and the institutionalization of women's among other things, an of everyday studies and film studies ensure that women's media women completely absent from — culture remains a meeting-place of makers, users, and the radical film magazine Jump Cut, of which and critics, although the symbiotic relationship that Lesage is a founding editor, maintains a critical and existed in the early 1980s between a certain kind of aesthetic engagement with political films. filmmaking practice and feminist film theory seems to In the influential film Daughter Rite (1978), Michelle have passed. This is due in part to the fact that the Citron, a contributor to Jump Cut, drew upon the corpus is so much larger, in part to the maturation and immediacy and identificatory appeal of documentary hence diversification of feminist film studies as a dis­ while questioning its form. The film juxtaposed a cipline, and in part to larger cultural fragmentation of cinema verite interview with a pair of sisters with jour­ various kinds. Feminist filmmakers' interventions in nal entries and home movie in order to cinematic language fit well with the 1970s and early explore the fraught connection between mother and 1980sfocus in film theory on textual analysis—whether daughter. Only by reading the credits does the viewer of dominant or modernist films. However, postmo­ learn that the 'interviews' are scripted, but the film's dernism, multiculturalism, and cultural studies has emotional resonance, achieved through the autobio­ demanded a shift to contextual and local analysis, in graphical voice and the shared experience of being a which the boundaries between dominant and alterna­ daughter, is not diminished thereby. More recent work tive, resistance and appropriation, production and such as Mona Hatoum's Measures of Distance (1988) reception, are significantly remapped. 'Diasporan', and Ngozi Onwurah's The Body Beautiful (1991) black, gay and lesbian, and other independent cine­ inscribe new subject positions—those of the dia- mas, and the cultural contexts in which they have cir­ sporan daughter, the black daughter, and the mother culated, have all required the refashioning of critical herself—within the hybrid documentary 'genre' frameworks. As Teresa de Lauretis writes: 'If we rethink Daughter Rite might be credited with founding (see the problem of a specificity of women's cinema and Kuhn 1994). aesthetic forms. . . intermsofaddress—whoismaking Such polyphony—of voices, points of view, and fil­ films for whom, who is looking and speaking, how, mic idioms—increasingly characterizes feminist docu­ where, and to whom—^then what has been seen as mentaries, particularly the self-representations of ... an ideological split within feminist film culture women of colour. This has, in turn, revitalized critical between theory and practice, or between formalism approaches to the form. In particular, an emerging and activism, may appear to be the very strength, the body of theory takes on ethnographic film's traditional drive and productive heterogeneity of feminism' (de gaze at the 'Other', foregrounding questions of Lauretis 1985/1990: 296). authenticity, authority, and testimony in the work of indigenous media-makers and critical anthropologists. No figure has been more crucial to this revision in Conclusion feminist film studies than Vietnamese American film­ maker and theorist Trinh T. Min-ha (1991). In Reassem­ Pam Cook wrote in 1975 that 'from the outset, the blage (1982) the filmmaker's voice-over states her Women's Movement has assumed without question intention not to speak about the Senegalese women the importance of mobilizing the media for women's


Struggle, at the same time subjecting them to a pro­ Cook, Pam (1975), 'Dorothy Arzner: Critical Strategies', in cess of interrogation' (1975: 36). While carrying out Johnston (1975b). that two-pronged strategy, feminist film studies has Cowie, Elizabeth (1984), 'Fantasia', m/f, 9: 76-105. established itself as an academic field. If the terms of de Lauretis, Teresa (1984), Alice Doesn't: Feminism, once-heated arguments—around the usefulness of Semiotics, Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). psychoanalysis, the privileged status of Hollywood, ------(1985/1990), 'Rethinking Women's Cinema: Aesthetic the primacy of sexual difference—appear to have and Feminist Theory', in Erens (1990). been superseded, contemporary debates are clearly Doane, Mary Ann (1982/1990), 'Film and the Masquerade: founded upon them. Feminist cultural studies of pop­ Theorizing the Female Spectator', in Erens (1990). ular cinema understand 'progressive texts' in social ------(1987), The Desire to Desire: The Woman's Film of the contexts: films such as Fatal Attraction (USA, 1987), 1940s (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). Aliens (USA, 1986), and Thelma and Louise (USA, ------(1988), 'Woman's Stake: Filming the Female Body', in 1991) have therefore been analysed in terms of social Penley (1988). anxieties about feminism, genre-mixing, popular Dyer, Richard (1979) Stars (London: ). reviews, and feminist appropriations. Queer theory Ellsworth, Elizabeth (1990), 'Illicit Pleasures: Feminist has introduced the concept of gender performativity Spectators and Personal Best', in Erens (1990). *Erens, Patricia (ed.) (1990), Issues in Feminist Film Criti­ to studies of filmic representation and spectatorial cism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). response, drawing on psychoanalytic feminist theory's Flitterman-Lewis, Sandy (1989), To Desire Differently: understanding of sexual identity as unstable, while Feminism and the French Cinema (Urbana: University critiquing heterosexist presumptions and giving voice of Illinois Press). to a new cultural politics. Transnational exhibition prac­ Francke, Lizzie (1994), : Women Screenwriters tices confirm that hypotheses of the film text as a in Flollywood (London: British Film Institute). bounded object and the spectator as fixed and unitary Friedberg, Anne (1994), Window Shopping: Cinema and the (Western and male) are untenable. Viewers, critics, and Postmodern (Berkeley: University of Press). media practitioners mobilize 'the politics of location'to Gaines, Jane (1990), 'White Privilege and Looking Rela­ counter new forms of Hollywood hegemony with stra­ tions: Race and Gender in Feminist Film Theory', in Erens (1990). tegic new voices (see Shohat and Stam 1994). Such ------and Charlotte Herzog (eds.) (1990), Fabrications: diverse and often contradictory methods, objects, and Costume and the Female Body (New York: Routledge). affiliations constitute the productive heterogeneity of Gledhill, Christine (1987), Home is where the Heart Is: contemporary feminist film culture. Studies in Melodrama and the Woman's Film (London: British Film Institute). Hall, Stuart (1980), 'Encoding/Decoding', in Stuart Hall etal. (eds.), Culture, Media, Language (London: Hutchinson). BIBLIOGRAPHY Hansen, Miriam (1991), Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship Armatage, Kay (1995), 'Nell Shipman: A Case of Heroic in American (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Uni­ Femininity', in Pietropaolo and Testaferri (1995). versity Press). Bergstrom, Janet (1979), 'Rereading the Work of Claire Haskell, Molly (1974/1987), From Reverence to Rape: The Johnston', in Penley 1988. Treatment of Women in the Movies (New York: Holt, ------(1988), 'Alternation, Segmentation, Hypnosis: Inter­ Rinehart & Winston; 2nd edn. Chicago: University of view with Raymond Bellour', in Penley (1988). Chicago Press). Bobo, Jacqueline (1995), Black Women as Cultural Read­ hooks, bell (1992), 'The ', in Black Looks ers (New York: Press). (Boston: South End Press). Bruno, Giuliana (1995), 'Streetwalking around Plato's Johnston, Claire (1973), 'Women's Cinema as Counter Cave', in Pietropaolo and Testaferri (1995). Cinema', in Claire Johnston (ed.). Notes on Women's *Carson, Diane, Linda Dittmar, and Janice Welsch (eds.) Cinema (London: Society for Education in Film and Tele­ (1994), Multiple Voices in Feminist Film Criticism (Min­ vision); in Bill Nichols (ed.). Movies and Methods, ii (Ber­ neapolis: University of Minnesota Press). keley: University of California Press). Clover, Carol J. (1992), Men, Women, and Chain Saws ------(1975a), The Work of Dorothy Arzner: Towards a Fem­ (Princeton: Press). inist Cinema (London: British Film Institute). Comolli, Jean-Louis, and Jean Narboni (1969/1971), ------(1975b), 'Feminist Politics and Film History', Screen, 'Cinema/Criticism/Ideology', Screen, 12/1: 27-35. 16/3: 115-24.


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