The purpose of this article is to offer a brief explanation to some of key elements of Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasures and narrative cinema. With particular reference to her points about how modes of cinema spectatorship and the suturing of audiences are inflected with masculine desires and pleasures, within films from the classic Hollywood period.
This is a snapshot, and is no substitute for reading the original essay which provides far broader and clearer insights, and will offer a far stronger basis for the analysis of gender representations in film texts.
Laura Mulvey in her theories of spectatorship developed from work by Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytical approach to film spectatorship specifically the pleasures of fetishism and voyeurism, (which might even occur simultaneously) that film form and cinema spectatorship seems to invoke in audiences.
In her work Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, she identified how these different modes of spectatorship seemed to be inflected in classic Hollywood cinema entirely for masculine pleasure, or the male gaze. What Mulvey identified was the complete dominance of masculine consciousness addressed through these modes of spectatorship.
To explain we should try to understand what each mode might invoke in the spectator; the first, pleasure in looking, places its focus on objects of sexual desire on screen this might be what Lacan described as fetishism, the second also builds on Lacan’s notions of voyeurism in spectatorship; pleasure derived in seeing and identifying with characters on screen through mise-en-scène and the suturing of the audience within the text through cinematography. Where the ‘glamorous impersonates the ordinary’ thus allowing the viewer a glimpse into lives more desirable than their own, living vicariously through characters onscreen and finding pleasure in the exotic, in plenty and the intensity of characters’ adventures (Richard Dyer’s work on film musicals also addresses some of the issues related to this mode of spectatorship).
The key element which is at the core of Mulvey’s work is where she identified the dominance of masculine gaze in what Lacan defined as suturing of the audience within a film form, her focus was how gender representations of films from the classical Hollywood period. Specifically in the ways the camera itself becomes a proxy for the eyes of the Spectator, which were invariably a male perspective through the dominance of medium shot and MCU and mise-en-scène, drawing the spectator’s perspective to the physicality of female characters. Thus engaging fetishist pleasures from a just masculine perspective.
However, this positioning of the spectator is not confined to assumptions about gender and physical orientation it also seems possible that these ideas of suturing of audiences within the film through the dominance of certain shots selection, editing and the limited perspectives on offer. This could equally be applied to position audiences with specific ideological perspectives. For example, Leni Riefenstahl’s film for the National socialists own the 1930’s are key examples in this, particularly Triumph of the will (1934 Germany dir: Riefenstahl), where in the early sequences the cinema audiences are clearly positioned alongside the adoring masses in Nuremberg. In awe of the ‘demi-gods’ of the Nazi party, set up by the sequence of Hitler arriving like a Norse god through the clouds.