Posted: October 27th, 2022

FILM DISCUSSION

Discussion Threads are a place for you to ask questions, engage with your TAs and peers, to find collaborators, and generally deepen your engagement with the course and your own learning. You should think of these posts as mini papers. Write in complete sentences, do not use bullet points or ellipses. Your response should be between 250-500 words. The style of your post can be speculative and personal, you do need to come up with arguments, rather just reflect on your own comprehension of the material. Write in your own voice. But this is not a social media space– your posts should be thoughtful and structured.

In her interview with Scott MacDonald (“Film as Translation, A Net With No Fisherman”), Trinh T Minh-ha reflects on her filmmaking practice in relation to theory. On page 123 she writes,” But I, myself, think of theory as a practice that changes your life entirely, because it acts on your conscience….I see theory as a constant questioning of the framing of consciousness — a practice capable of informing another practice, such as film production, in a reciprocal challenge.” Her statement seems to echo the activist sentiment of Mulvey’s essay (“Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema”), which is a call to disrupt the usual ways of looking in classical cinema. In your post this week, reflect upon these two calls to ‘see differently.’ How do you read these two pieces of writing as a call to activity (to do something differently) and what gets in the way of that (its specialized language, the difficulty of its concepts)? This post is an opportunity for you to engage in a generous and good faith reflection of your own reading of these two authors (Mulvey and Trinh).

Don't use plagiarized sources. Get Your Custom Essay on
FILM DISCUSSION
Just from $13/Page
Order Essay

Chapter 4

Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze

Two men face each other sitting at a table on which are arranged devices that
register eye movement as well as record and measure pupil dilation. The pur­
pose of this set-up is to establish whether the test subject is human or a so-called
‘replicant,’ an artificial being with the external appearance of a biological organ­
ism. The interview proceeds in orderly fashion until the interviewee feels pro­
voked by a question about his mother, upon which he pulls out a gun and shoots
the interviewer with the words, “I’ll tell you about my mother.” This ‘Voight­
Kampff-test’ can, by measuring empathy, supposedly distinguish between impas­
sive replicants and empathetic people. Already the opening sequence of BLADE
RUNNER (US 1982, Ridley Scott) foregrounds the eye as its central motif. Initially,
the eye functions as the organ of truth (and the soul) in a Cartesian sense, given
that the boundary between a real human being and an artificial one is regulated
by an eye test. Conversely, it is not the active – searching, penetrating, or
investigating – eye that serves as a source of knowledge or defines this bound­
ary. Rather, it is through the passive, receptive, or reactive eye turned into an
object of investigation that the distinction emerges in this science-fiction film.
Wh4t complicates matters further is the fact that Deckard (Harrison Ford), the
protagonist who in contrast to the artificial beings seems to have neither a first
nam� (normally a strong marker of individuality) nor strong feelings, in the end
turns out to be a replicant, 1 while the emotionally more sensitive beings are the
artif)cial ones, whose possession of memories makes the division of human and
nonhuman even more fragile and porous, if not altogether untenable. Already
the very first shot of the film reflects a series of distant gas explosions in a giant
pupil, thus firmly establishing the central role of the eye while also alluding,
through the motif of reflection, to the precarious status of the eye between sub­
ject 1md object, between being an agent or instrument of control and subject to
overwhelming and disempowering sense impressions.

In the present chapter we want to follow some of these leads: while
we examine the role of the eye in cinema as an organ of world-disclosure

Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze 95

Figure 4.1 BLADE RUNNER: Voight-Kampff machines police the blurry line between
humans and nonhumans.

(because films make us discover the world primarily through sight), we also
discuss the unsettling and provisional nature of such disclosure as evidenced in
those cases where the look seems to emanate from an apersonal or subjectless
source. The look into the mirror, on which the previous chapter focused, pre­
supposed a certain spatial arrangement within which the effects of doubling
and splitting functioned as signs of reflection and reflexivity. The mirror also
marked the point at which a character’s action and its exteriority in relation to
the body and the self gave way to an inescapable interiorisation and subjectifi­
cation. Unlike our first two ‘ontologies’ of cinema, the window and the door,
the mirror directly implicated the self in what it sees. The present chapter,
with its focus on the eye and the look, sets out to revisit these positions, to
expand their inherent interaction and reciprocity, and thereby to complicate
them.

In the 1970s and 1980s, film theory saw the emergence of several positions
which were strongly influenced by Jacques Lacan’s poststructuralist rework­
ing of Freudian psychoanalysis, yet also built on Michel Foucault’s theory
of the ‘panopticon,’ a surveillance and self-surveillance prison architecture
developed by Jeremy Bentham, as a model for both social control and sub­
jectivity. In this perspective, the eye is the privileged point of convergence
for various structures of visibility and looks that in film find their articulation
in shot, framing, and montage. Feminist film theory in particular has iden­
tified specific patterns of control and captivation (within the intra-diegetic
space, between camera and characters, or between spectators and film) inher­
ent in the look. Similar to the approaches discussed under mirror and face,
such thinking presupposes that a certain distance, proper to ‘seeing’ as a
pure act of ocular perception, is maintained throughout. Unlike the frame or

96 Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze

the window, however, this distance does not facilitate or regulate access to the
diegetic world, but highhghts the power potential of this arrangement and its
promise or threat of mastery or possession.

If we regard the eye as an interface between spectator and film we can dis­
tinguish among several configurations that shape the look and the activity of
seeing in different ways. Even before they were adopted and further developed
by the cinema, some of these configurations have long been culturally prede­
termined and deeply rooted in the popular imagination. For instance, the eye is
central to several myths of agency that range from the creative ( or inner) eye of
the Romantic imagination to the evil eye of the ethnic and cultural Other. The
benevolent eye of an all-seeing Christian God (as depicted on the US dollar bill)
translates into the democratic ideal of an eye that stands for transparency and
visibility: the look of enlightenment and reason, characterised by light (le siecle
des lumieres) equates eye and sun as sources of knowledge. But the eye and the
look can also be the occasion for an unrelenting demand for self-examination
to the point of self-incrimination, as demonstrated by the witch-hunts of the
Inquisition, by the Stalinist show trials, or any other type of extorted confes­
sion. In each case the guilt that one assigns to oneself is activated by the (imag­
ined) gaze of the Other, which need not be transmitted through looking at
all. Opaque and obscure, it can be invisible, while drawing its power in direct
proportion to its capacity to remain outside the field of vision. The subsequent
organisation of the chapter will follow these two fundamental instances of the
look and the gaze – at once, transparent and inoffensive, connoting knowledge
and enlightenment, but also dark and malicious, associated with power and
subjugation. Many of these configurations can be also found in the cinema,
where they translate into the somewhat different dynamics of active and pas­
sive looks on the one hand (with a clear division of subject and object, of power
and subjugation), and the all-pervasive, surveillant, and punitive eye on the
other hand.

Before turning to these configurations in detail, a brief survey of the his­
tory of the eye in early cinema and classical avant-garde film is in order. The
cinematic lens, from its beginnings, has often functioned as a prosthetic eye,
serving as a mechanical extension of human perception. The world of a century
ago, largely without aviation and private motorcars, knew only the railway as a
readily available mechanised means of transportation. 2 Into this world, the cin­
ema burst as an infinitely pliable, unfettered mobile eye: what a sense of elation
it must have been to finally possess an organ which was no longer tied to the
body and which, thanks to a mechanical invention, could roam and travel freely,
could practically become invisible, was barred from almost no place (be it pri­
vate, social, or physical)3 and not only seemed ever-present, but also made time
travel possible — back into history and forward into the future, as for• instance

Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze 97

in Georges Melies’ A TRIP TO THE MOON (FR 1902, LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE).
No wonder, therefore, that films shot from the front or rear of railway trains
(so-called ‘phantom rides’)4 were immensely popular during the early days of
the cinema, or that the arriving train has become such a powerful symbol for a
force that overcomes all obstacles and reaches even the remotest locations. 5 The
disembodied eye was celebrated as a strong illusion of power and omnipotence.
One tends to forget that the voyeurism which was to become such an abiding
preoccupation for film theory depends on forms of disembodiment, especially
the idea of not having to take responsibility for one’s bodily presence in a given
space or at a given time.

Dziga Vertov’s famous avant-garde film MAN WITH A Movm CAMERA (SU
1929, CELOVEK s KINOAPPARATOM) can be understood – in addition to influen­
tial recent readings by Lev Manovich,YuriTsivian, or Jonathan Beller6 – as giving
expression to this jubilant eye, a sense organ that discovers the world as if for the
first time. When window shutters open in the beginning of the film as eyes onto
a new day, and when the daredevil cameraman confronts an oncoming train in
another scene to capture it on film without incurring bodily harm, Vertov’s ‘cin­
ema eye’ appears disembodied and all-seeing. Indeed, he and his group of collab­
orators called themselves kino-glaz (cinema eye), evoking the mechanised seeing
that challenges “the visual perception of the world by the human eye and offers
its own ‘I see!'”7 In his writings and films Vertov celebrated the technological
dissociation of filmic seeing from the insufficiencies of human perception, that
is, the absolute, triumphal (optical) victory of film over the limitations of the
human senses and the world they perceive. Walter Benjamin also enthusiastically
welcomed the penetration of the human environment by the camera; for him,
film facilitated access to the ‘optical unconscious,’ or all those phenomena that
for the first time become observable through enlargement, slow motion, freeze
frame, eccentric angles and camera positioning, and time-lapse photography.
In this respect, Benjamin sees film not as a realistic medium of representation,
but something endowed with the possibility of breaking open the urban space as
well as regimented time:

Our taverns and our metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms,
our railroad stations and our factories appeared to have us locked up hope­
lessly. Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dyna­
mite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins
and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling. 8

This passionate and poetic enthusiasm for the capabilities of the camera to over­
come the limitations of human perception is typical for the avant-garde of the
1920s and 1930s.9

98 Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze

Figure 4.2 MAN WITH A Movie CAMERA:The ‘kino-eye’ conquering time and space.

In early cinema the metaphorical role of seeing and of the eye is emphasised
by the many prostheses with which they are related. In the previous chapter
we discussed GRANDMA’S READING GLASS (UK 1900, G.A. Smith), in which a
magnifying glass is used to explore not only the limited and enlarged world of
the room and of the sewing table but also Grandma’s piercing eye, making the
spectator uncertain whether it is his/her own look that discovers Grandma’s
eye, or whether, on the contrary, her angry look is directed at the spectator.
Films like As SEEN THROUGH A TELESCOPE (UK 1900, G.A. Smith), THE GAY
SHOE CLERK (US 1903), and the French peephole films leave no doubt about
the phallic nature of the probing, inquisitive eye: It is through the male gaze,
aided by prosthetic devices, that the female body is being explored. These fiims
seem to be giving away a secret that classical cinema would be more careful to
camouflage -the (male) gaze of power on the (female) body is directly displayed
in its voyeuristic nature instead of being narratively integrated. 10

Similarly, the films of German Expressionism are often very explicit in their
depiction of the pleasures and terrors of the eye: the heroes of films such as
THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (GE 1919, Robert Wiene, DAS CABINET DES DR.
CALIGARI), THE STREET (GE 1923, Karl Grune, DIE STRASSE), and NOSFERATU
(GE 1922, F. W: Murnau) are all ‘Peeping Toms,’ whereas Fritz Lang preferred to

Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze 99

stage punitive looks: In the catacombs of METROPOLIS (GE 1926) Rotwang vir­
tually pierces Maria with the pointed beam of his flashlight before letting it glide
over her, sadistically exposing and ‘undressing’ her. The hero of DR. MABUSE
(GE 1922, DR . MABUSE , DER SPIELER) has a hypnotising look to which people
(must) subject themselves , while Lang’s early sound films M (GE 1931) and
THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE (GE 1933, DAsTESTAMENT DES DR. MABUSE) turn
the complicated relation of seeing and hearing into a major resource of the films’
disturbing power (see Chapter 6). However, Lang’s visual sadism (or that of his
protagonists) is much surpassed by the opening scene of another film from the
same period , Luis Bufiuel’s and Salvador Dali’s UN CHIEN ANDALOU (FR 1928),
in which the spectator is confronted in an almost unbearably direct manner with
the simultaneous desire and vulnerability of the eye. In a parallel montage we
see a (pointed) cloud (optically) pierce the moon while a man slices a woman’s
eye with a razor. Not only do we encounter here the ‘passive’ eye familiar from
the previous chapter as a window onto the soul (as in LA PASSION DE JEANNE
o’ ARc, FR 1928 , Carl Theodor Dreyer) or as a blending of the ‘Self’ with the
‘Other’ (as in PERSONA , SE 1965, Ingmar Bergman), but we also experience in
a brutally literal way the ‘gaze’ of power. In UN CHIEN ANDALOU this gaze is rep­
resented by the man with the razor (played by Bufiuel himself), whereas in REAR

Figure 4.3 UN CHIEN ANDALou: the desire and vulnerability of the eye.

I 00 Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze

WINDOW it coincides at least briefly with the gaze of Mr. Thorwald (Raymond
Burr) when he ‘returns’ Jeffrey’s voyeuristic look of surveillance by storming
violently and with murderous intent into the latter’s apartment. In much of clas­
sical cinema, by contrast, such punishing gazes appear disembodied, displaced
into an imaginary sphere, where neither origin nor direction and addressee are
clearly determined. We will focus on this issue in the second part of this chap­
ter; first, however, let us turn our attention to what we have called – using an
extremely condensed formulation for a very complex issue – the ‘active’ eye,
and the corresponding look of power and desire.

To understand this mode of seeing in the cinema (as spectator) and this mode
of being of the cinema ( as film) it is worth recalling Jean-Louis Baudry’s ‘appara­
tus theory’ (see Chapter 3). The paradigms discussed in the present chapter fol­
low on from Baudry and Jean-Louis Comolli, in that these paradigms emerged
in opposition to but also by building on apparatus theory. This theory, it will be
remembered, is based first of all on an analysis of the fixed and unchangeable
arrangement of ( disembodied, captive, and impressionable) spectators, (fixed)
screen, and (hidden) projector, all of which entertain a specific spatial relation­
ship to one another. This arrangement creates an architecture of looks, linking
camera, audience, and protagonist(s) that turns the silver screen into an imag­
inary mirror of spectatorial desire. But several steps complicate this notion:
Baudry initially premised his theory on an understanding of cinema as dream,
but grounded this rather banal and, as we saw, misleading physiological analogy
in key issues ofWestern epistemology and ontology; hence his return to Plato,
particularly the latter’s parable of the cave. Baudry’s film theory- which should
really be called a theory of cinema, given its emphasis on the specific situation
of the audience in the cinema theatre – readily supported both a Marxist cri­
tique of ideology and false consciousness (J.L. Comolli), 11 and a psychoanalytic
critique of ego psychology and of bourgeois individualism.

It is the latter critique that Baudry’s turn to Jacques Lacan brings to the
fore. Involving as it does, thanks to the emphasis on Lacan’s so-called ‘mir­
ror phase’ of subject formation, a quasi-anthropological explanation for the
predominance of the sense of sight and of vision in (modern) identity forma­
tion, Baudry’s (visual) theory complements Louis Althusser’s Marxist version
of subject formation via (aural) ‘interpellation,’ that is, the “hey-you” effect
of sensing oneself addressed when hearing the personal pronoun ‘you.’ W hen
born, human beings are not ready for the world, so to speak, and they depend
on a nurturing ‘outside’ to become autonomous. Lacan developed this evo­
lutionary fact into a comprehensive account of why we are caught up in our
self-images. Harking back to Freud’s theory of the self (id/ego/superego),
Lacan also insisted on the distinction between the ideal ego and the ego ideal.
W hen identifying with our ideal ego we are being subjected to the gaze of the

Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze IO I

Other, not by having internalised an Other (as our superego), but by imagin­
ing the Other looking, at the same time as we look at ourselves. We habitually
adopt this critical look from outside when we check ourselves in the mirror
for posture, hair, and attire – the steady restaging of the mirror phase in any
reflecting surface, which demonstrates the everyday ordinariness of this drama
of self-monitoring as self-consumption. The ego ideal, by contrast, is our idea
of the person we aspire to emulate, our role model, our object of idealisation,
reverence, and love. A conflict arises because the (imagined) look of the Other
is never congruent with our own (narcissistic) look. If one takes these two
sides of the ego together, it becomes clear why we can never ‘be’ ourselves,
always oscillating between ideal ego and ego ideal. It is this negative, forever
divided view of human subjectivity and identity that Baudry imported into film
theory. It suggests that the cinematic apparatus not only mimics Platonic ide­
alism about the unknowability of the world other than through its reflection,
but also reenacts the inherently premature or incomplete nature of the human
animal at birth, its lack of motor coordination, as well as its inability to provide
for its own survival. The cinema thus offers the prosthetic experience of human
ontogenesis, staging the drama of’becoming subject’ in the form of compulsive
repetition. Baudry’s film theory is imbued with such deep pessimism that it
qualifies as a genuinely ‘tragic view of cinema.’ It was a provocation to lovers
of cinema, who did not relish to see their ‘good object’ tarnished, but also was
not welcome to all of those who especially in the 1970s wanted to believe in
the liberating and progressive potential of film.

Given the radical implications of Baudry’s theory, it is not surprising that
certain aspects of it, if not its entire construction, were soon regarded as prob­
lematic. Here we want to focus on three areas of critique that proved to be par­
ticularly influential for subsequent developments: the function of narrative and
narration, the role of gender and sexual difference, and the issue of the historical/
empirical as well as the embodied/ disembodied spectator. As to the role of the
eye and the look in the filmic system of narration, we remember that Christian
Metz distinguished between primary and secondary identification (Chapter 3),
whereby primary identification – the identification with the look of the cam­
era, and thus with the act of filmic narration (or enunciation) – was so deter­
mining that it rendered secondary identification – the identification with (the
look of) individual characters – almost irrelevant from a theoretical point of
view. The question that the emphasis on primary identification raises is there­
fore how to accommodate cuts and the shifts in camera perspective, in other
words, why the discontinuities and ruptures introduced through editing do
not seem to break this ‘primary’ bond with the spectator. Jean-Pierre Oudart,
Daniel Dayan, and Stephen Heath – still staying within Baudry’s theoretical
framework – devised an ingenious ‘solution’ to this problem, which came to

I 02 Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze

be known as ‘suture theory.’ The term suture, borrowed from surgery, initially
designated the stitching up of a wound after an operation, came into film the­
ory via Lacan and in particular, through an essay by his follower Jacques-Alain
Miller, when explaining the processes of binding or enfolding that pertain to
subject formation. 12

Without entering into its psychoanalytic ramifications, we can briefly sum­
marise the meaning of suture for film theory as follows: given that it is based
on tjie conflation of two looks, that of the camera and that of the spectator,
different in �e (that of recording and that of viewing) as well as asymmetrical
in agency (the active look of the camera, the passive look of the spectator), pri­
mary identification amounts to an ideological effect. It disguises how this fusion
and reversal are brought about, and at what cost, making it inherently unstable.
Or �s Stephen Heath puts it ironically: “(T]he eye in cinema is the peifect eye,
the steady and ubiquitous control of the scene passed from director to spectator
by virtue of the cinematic apparatus.”13 The moment of rupture introduced by
editing potentially brings the otherwise hidden machinery of vision (the ‘appa­
ratus’) to the viewer’s attention, and thus produces a moment of anxiety and
loss, which the subsequent shot has to retrieve, bind up, or stitch together, in
short – has to suture. The shot does so – at least in so-called ‘continuity editing’
(see below) – by a match cut, or aligning the framing, angle, and point of view
of both shots, according to a set of rules that ensure that the second shot (cor)
responds to the first shot, either at the ocular level (for instance, by establish­
ing a logic of’seeing-seen’ between them, also known as ‘shot-reverse shot’) or
by answering an (implicit) question, like: ‘where?’ – ‘here.’ What may seem to
be a fragile bridge actually turns out to be an especially tight bond: the anxiety
on the part of the spectators of losing coherence and the threat of being either
abandoned or exposed, become the very glue that makes her /him stick the
more fervently to the filmic flow, which is to say, ‘identify’ with its dominant
look. Hence the appositeness of the term suture to mark the force or strength
of continuity editing as the technique that not only ensures continuity and the
sequential logic of actions, but also as the effect that ‘stitches’ the viewing sub­
ject into the film thanks to rupture, rather than in spite of rupture. 14 As will be
evident, a certain familiarity with the continuity system (which is often equated
with classical cinema) is necessary to understand suture theory, so that a brief
review of the key rules of continuity editing is in order.

Traditionally, ‘continuity editing’ names the technique or the set of rules
that allow for an inconspicuous compression of space and time at the same
time as it creates and maintains a spatial and temporal coherence. How is this
achieved? Cuts, or the interruptions of the spatio-temporal structure of a con­
tinuous shot, are usually ‘motivated’ by the movement, action, and interaction
of characters, which also make the spectator overlook the cuts or not perceive

Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze I 03

them as disturbing. Decisive in this respect is the primacy of character-oriented
narration, to which all other filmic techniques of composition �. including
montage – are subordinated. Film is therefore understood primarily as a nar­
rative medium, not as a medium of pure visuality of pictorial representation
(as in the case of the avant-garde), 15 or as a medium of movement and time on
an immanent level (as in Gilles Deleuze’s film philosophy). 16 Historically, the
system of continuity editing has been the dominant style of commercial cinema
since the 1920s, so that even where a film does not conform to this system (for
instance, Russian montage style, or many Japanese films from the 1940s and
’50s), it implicitly refers to this system by breaking or transgressing its norms,
firmly established as they are in the minds of the world’s spectators since the late
1910s. Films as different as BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (SU 1925, Sergei Eisenstein,
BRONENOSEz’PoTEMKIN’ ) which we discussed regarding montage in Chapter 1,
UN CHIEN ANDALOU (discussed previously), and THE IDIOTS (DK 1998, Lars von
Trier, IDIOTERNE) play with (and imply) continuity rules by strategically under­
mining them.

Thus, opponents of suture theory will argue that the logic of narration ( or
‘narrative comprehension’) provides a much simpler account for the efficacy
and persistence of continuity editing (as well as its deviations), without the ‘bal­
last’ of psychoanalysis.17 On the other hand, it is significant that the continuity
system bases itself primarily (if not exclusively) on looks – partly the looks of
the characters within the diegetic world, partly imaginary ones – and that the
spatial configuration of a film is defined by its lines of sight. One central ele­
ment of spatial coherence is the 180-degree rule: within one scene the camera
remains constantly on one side of the action. This side is formed by an imagi­
nary line between major characters, and any crossing of the line is perceived as
disruptive or at least as highly problematic. Thus, consistent screen direction
is maintained: a movement across a cut continues the (rough, i.e. left or right)
direction of the movement, because otherwise the axial line would be crossed.
That is why soldiers rushing forward in a war film or characters in a comic
slapstick chase always move in the same direction from one cut to the next. At
the same time, however, the camera position across a cut must not be too close
to the previous one: a shot should deviate from the preceding one by at least 30
to 35 degrees, because otherwise the transition could be perceived as a disturb­
ing ‘jump cut’ (and, of course, the overall variation within one and the same
sequence may not exceed 180 degrees without crossing the axial line).

Additional techniques ensure that spatial continuity is maintained and that
cuts are motivated by action. A case in point is the so-called ‘eye-line match’
or ‘point-of-view shot’ (‘POV’), when we as spectators assume that the shot
following the shot of a person looking (intensely) at something presents the
object that the character looks at. Spectators interpret this sequence normally

I 04 Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze

Figure 4.4 CASABLANCA: over-the-shoulder shot ensures continuity.

as being from the character’s perspective. 18 Generally speaking, any change in
the relationships among characters and objects in a film is usually answered by a
corresponding change in the type of shot, the passage motivated by movement.
A cut in the middle of a movement is less obtrusive and disturbing because the
spectator may instinctively follow the continuity of the action across the cut.
The continuity of movement and action, therefore, has a stronger impact than
the interruption caused by the cut. And finally, parallel montage, the alternat­
ing presentation of two different plot strands – a discovery with which D. W
Griffith is usually credited – gives spectators the impression of two simultane•
ous events. In Griffith’s films, for instance THE BIRTH OF A NATION (US 1915),
various action strands converge and find their resolution in a common climax.

The question that arises from these discoveries and their effects is whether
these elaborate and quite specific rules of continuity are binding because of
some ‘hard-wired’ aspect of the psychology of human perception, or whether
they are indeed ideologically or psychoanalytically determined, corresponding
to some ‘geometry’ of subject formation or subjectification which the ‘rules’
have merely codified and ‘naturalised.’ While scholars such as David Bordwell
and Edward Branigan have offered detailed rebuttals of suture theory along the
lines of cognitive psychology and the spatial logic of ordinary human percep·
tion, Slavoj Zizek has mounted a spirited defence of suture as more relevant than

Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze I 05

ever, when trying to understand a number of’postclassical’ or art cinema films,
notably those of David Lynch and KrzysztofKieslowski.19 In other words, while
for its advocates, suture theory explains some of the most powerful features of
classical as well as postclassical cinema, namely the ability to weave the spectator
not only into the external action but also into the inner world of the protago­
nists through a sophisticated manipulation of look, gaze, framing, and off-screen
space, its opponents tend to see merely a metaphysical theory – proven neither
experimentally nor empirically – because it is based on tenuous or tautologi­
cal assertions about the relation of perception to bodily integrity in the human
infant.

The second main engagement with apparatus theory came from the ranks of
emerging feminism and focused on the inscription and role of gender in Baudry’s
geometrical scheme. As much a refinement as a critique, this modification of
apparatus theory also focused on the eye and the look: it posed the question
of spectatorship not descriptively but in explicitly polemical terms. The cen­
trepiece of what came to be known as feminist film theory, ‘the look’ dominated
countless debates at least from the mid-1970s through the mid-1990s. If not
its first then by far its most succinct and successful articulation can be found in
Laura Mulvey’s short but pithy essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.”20
Historically, and for the discipline of film studies, Mulvey’s theses represent a
decisive moment. A manifesto of second-wave feminism, its influence was not
only foundational in film theory, but extended well beyond into art history, cul­
tural studies, and even literary theory. Most provocative – and finally, perhaps
also most problematic – was its ‘anti-aesthetics,’ its radical iconoclasm, and its
stance against beauty and pleasure: “It is said that analy sing pleasure, or beauty,
destroys it. That is the intention of this article” (748). Mulvey, who builds both
on Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage and on suture theory, implicitly addresses
various problems in Baudry’s approach, while in a sense she shares his ‘tragic’
view of cinema. Her main point of departure, however, is the idea that (narra­
tive) cinema is structured primarily by a mobile, dynamic, and wholly asym­
metrical configuration of looks. Following Christian Metz, Mulvey distinguishes
among three types of looks that become important in conjunction with any
cinematic experience: the look of the camera at the action, the spectator’s look
at the screen, and, finally, the characters’ intra-diegetic looks at one another.

These looks, which do not correlate with the looks of early film and avant­
garde cinema but, instead, represent their ‘domesticated’ and narratively and
spatially embedded form, are organised hierarchically in the Hollywood system
and follow a logic according to which the first two (i.e. the look of the camera
and the look of the spectator) are subordinated to, if not negated and replaced
by, the third one (i.e. the looks of the characters). A classical film acknowledges
neither the presence of the camera during the shooting, nor the presence of

I 06 Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze

the audience in the auditorium; instead, both are overridden by the rules of
continuity. If the spectators are no longer folded and stitched into the diegetic
fiction through looks, for instance when a character looks directly into the cam­
era or when a shot of a character looking is not followed with a shot of his/
her optical point of view, the seamless synchronisation of spatial coherence and
temporal succession starts to crack at the seams, as does spectator identification
and narrative understanding. The result is a ‘cinema of displeasure’ in which the
usual subject-effects of plenitude or the ideological effects of illusionism deriv­
ing from smooth transitions and involvement in the filmic plot are foreclosed
or denied. 21

It is not only the classical decoupa9e that fosters both the voyeuristic process
whereby women especially are objectified and the narcissistic process of iden­
tification with an ‘ideal ego’ that one sees up on the screen, but various other
characteristics of the situation in the cinema add to these phenomena:

Although the film is really being shown, is there to be seen, conditions of
screening and narrative give the spectator an illusion of looking in on a
private world. Among other things, the position of the spectators in the
cinema is blatantly one of repression of their exhibitionism and projection
of the suppressed desire on to the performer.

(749)

Thus Mulvey formulates a psychoanalytically inflected theory of spectatorship:
she locates film’s power and fascination in two independent drives. The first is
the pleasure of looking (what Freud called ‘scopophilia’), a pleasure which treats
“other people as objects, subjecting them to a controlling and curious gaze” (748).
This is apparent in the architectonic set-up of the cinema (the darkness of the
auditorium and the brightness of the screen), as well as in the voyeuristic style
of classical cinema according to which the presence of the camera and of the cin­
ematic apparatus, as well as the constructedness of the filmic discourse, cannot
be acknowledged openly (see earlier discussion). The other source of pleasure in
cinema is located in a regression to an earlier stage of development, namely the
mirror stage. As we saw in the previous chapter, in the mirror stage an infant of
six to eighteen months identifies with its mirror image, which appears to pos­
sess more developed motor abilities. This originary moment of self-recognition is
always already a moment of self–miscognition, an idealised self-projection, and
this is a decisive characteristic of subsequent processes of identification.

This shift of emphasis onto intra-diegetic looks and the disavowal of the spec­
tatorial position gives, in patriarchal society, rise to yet another effect, which is
central to Mulvey’s text: “In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in
looking has been split between active/male and passive/female” (750). Mulvey’s

Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze I 07

Figure 4.5 THE BLUE ANGEL: Dietrich as scopophilic object.

main argument contends that in Holij,wood cinema the normativeij, functioning hierar­
chy ef looks is coded in terms ef gender:’the man looks, the woman is being looked at. The
decisive innovation of her approach is her turn from content to form, as she no
longer criticises the representation but the mode of representation. While pre­
ceding feminist texts had concerned themselves primarily with women’s roles in
films, focusing therefore on representation understood as mimetic reahsm, result­
ing for example in an influential study on the depiction of women ranging from
repression to rape, 22 Mulvey radicahsed this critique by accusing all films of classi­
cal cinema -be they exponents of positive role models for women or not- of sup­
porting the dominant phallocentric patriarchy and of perpetuating its structures.

Classical Hollywood cinema typically focuses not only on a male protagonist
in the filmic narration but also assumes a male spectator ( or a spectator coded
as male):

As the spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his
look on to that of his like, his screen surrogate, so that the power of the
male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of
the erotic look, both giving a satisfying sense of omnipotence.

(751)

I 08 Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze

Only a few genres such as the melodrama tend to have a female protagonist,
and it is not by accident that these genres were often disparagingly referred
to as ‘women’s films’ or ‘weepies.’ An additional problem in these films is that
they seem to offer only a masochistic position of identification with the female
protagonist and her suffering (see below). Furthermore, according to Mulvey,
the presence of the woman in film always denotes a lack, because on a symbolic
level a woman brings into play the threat of castration. In such a constellation
the film has only two options to avert this ‘danger’ of castration: fetishism or
sadism. The woman is either elevated to the position of fetish ( or part-object),
and thus into the realm of the imaginary, as demonstrated according to Mulvey
by Josef von Sternberg’s films with Marlene Dietrich, or she is punished within
the plot for her desire to see, and banished from the symbolic order, by ‘regress­
ing’ into dependency, as in Alfred Hitchcock’s films, notably MARNIE (1964), THE
BIRDS (1963), and VERTIGO (1958).

Mulvey’s theses have been repeated countless times and in the process have
been reduced to a checklist of psychoanalytic concepts such as fetishism, voy­
eurism, castration anxiety, phallus, and disavowal. Generations of student essays
have translated her complex if compressed argument into simple assertions such
as “the look is male” or “woman as image, man as bearer of the look” (750), “[s]
adism demands a story” (753), or “desire is lack.” On the other hand, at least two
generations of film theorists (whom we can only discuss in passing) have since
the 1980s produced sophisticated commentaries on the narratological, gender­
related, and ideological implications of Mulvey’s arguments about the cinema
and the status of’sexual difference.’

Figure 4.6 VERTIGO: woman banished from the symbolic or der.

Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze I 09

Among the most influential contributions to this on-going dialogue were
to cite only the book-length studies – Mary Ann Doane’s transposition of Mul­
vey’s model to the ‘woman’s film’ ; Teresa de Lauretis’ complication of the
identification model according to which the woman is always split between an
identification with the passive (female) object and the active (male) subject;
Kaja Silverman’s inclusion of the acoustic dimension of cinema; Tania Modleski’s
study of women in Hitchcock; Sandy Flitterman-Lewis’ analyses of the works of
three French female directors (Germaine Dulac, Marie Epstein, Agnes Varda);
and Barbara Klinger’s historical contextualisation of Douglas Sirk’s melodra­
mas. 23The last two studies already suggest how film theory in general opened up
towards historical investigations after the highly politicised but somewhat ahis­
torical studies published in the 1970s and early 1980s. What all of these investi­
gations share is the centrality of (male versus female) spectatorship, marked by
the paradoxical loss of self (the voyeuristic and scopophilic pleasure of looking
at other people, seemingly in secret) and the simultaneous empowerment of
self (identification as a double movement of recognition, miscogmtion, and the
repression/ disavowal of this miscognition).

Indeed, the historicity of the look, its cultural and temporal diversity, has
become a broadening field in film and media theory. Martin Jay and Peter Wol­
len have outlined how’ gaze theory’ has developed in twentieth-century French
thinking from Alexandre Kojeve’s Hegel seminars in the 1930s to Lacan, Sartre,
and Mulvey,24 thereby contributing to the history of film theory, another more
recent field of interest. 21 And in an argument touching on anthropology and the
gaze of the ( ethnically) Other, Paula Amad has theorised how the return of the
look in documentary material shot in the 1920s in Africa articulates a complex
set of (reversible) power relations. 26 The question of the gaze of the culturally
and ethnically Other will be discussed further in Chapter 5, which deals with
the cinema as a means and instrument of contact and exchange.

Mulvey’s essay was also a major contribution to a virulent discussion in the
1970s and 1980s on the topic of women’s representation in classical Hollywood
cinema. The model that prevailed in the early 1970s can be called the role model
thesis and had to do primarily with negative or positive stereotypes. These socio­
logically oriented content analyses were not particularly interested in the filmic
mode of representation derived largely from formal parameters; instead, they
aimed at a transformation of society through positive role models. 27 More radi­
cal voices from Great Britain – such as Pam Cook or Claire Johnston – accused
these analyses of political and social na’ivety:

If women’s cinema is going to emerge, it should not only concern itself with
substituting positive female protagonists, focusing on women’s problems,
etc.; it has to go much further than this if it is to impinge on consciousness.

I IO Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze

It requires a revolutionary strategy which can only be based on an analysis
of how film operates as a medium within a specific cultural system. 28

Related approaches that also drew their energy from the emerging theory of
filmic narration, were the ‘repression thesis,’ according to which women con­
stitute an inconsistency and fragility in the textual system that film wants to
hide and conceal under the surface. 29 The ‘disruption thesis’ puts forward that
the woman means ‘trouble’ or ‘friction’ for the system, which generates in turn
the core dynamic of a narrative progression concentrated on men. The woman,
therefore, is necessary as a trigger (or catalyst), but she does not contribute at
all to the resolution of the conflict or problem. The related’ containment thesis’
relies on the trope of woman-as-turbulence in order to set a narration in motion
in the first place. Eventually, however, the woman must once again be ‘con­
tained’ so that the film may reach an ideologically acceptable ending. 30

In the course of these debates, Mulvey’s project was not only advanced but
also criticised on a number of accounts, such as for constructing a heterosex­
ist argument by implicitly or inadvertently setting heterosexual identifica­
tion as the norm. 31 Her model leaves no room, so the argument went, for
lesbian (or homosexual) identification, to which Mulvey replied in an essay
that stressed ‘perverse’ identification with the male look as a possible sub­
ject position for women. 32 Gaylyn Studlar has suggested that Mulvey overes­
timates sadism as a central source of pleasure, reminding us of masochism as
the ‘originary’ subject position in cinema. 33 Finally, Mulvey was criticised for
portraying the ideological construction of a gender-specific identity as a suc­
cessful hegemonic activity, although the patriarchal process of identity con­
struction through cinema might be only partially successful, if not completely
failing. From this perspective, Mulvey has been accused of not participating
in the deconstruction of precisely the patriarchal structures that she criticises
and, instead, of supporting the ideology in its efforts to construct gender­
specific identities through popular culture. By ascribing such great power to
the patriarchal system, Mulvey indirectly risked consolidating this power by
showing it as overly hegemonic.

It was precisely through analyses of individual films, cycles, or genres that
Mulvey’s model of absolute dominance was softened and differentiated: in
melodrama critics working with different theoretical parameters, such as Linda
Williams and Joan Copjec, have identified alternative socio-sexual and psycho­
dynamic structures, whereas fylary Ann Doane has given the debate a Foucauld­
ian twist in expanding melodrama to include the subgenre of’medical’ women’s
films. 34 In horror films the gender-specific architecture of looks (to see/to be
seen, intra- and extra-diegetic) shifts once again: Carol Clover has shown how
the so-called ‘final girl,’ or the girl who eventually hunts the monster down,

Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze 11 I

extends an invitation to identify even to rµale teenage spectators, so that in
cinema an alternative gender position can be tried out and exchanged in a play­
ful manner, with no direct risks involved. 35 Even in relation to film noir and the

femme fatale some dissenting voices made themselves heard. 36
A good case in point for the deconstruction of the male look as implicit norm

and reference point is THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (US 1990, Jonathan Demme),
in which the female protagonist Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) knows that she is
being watched (by FBI agents, by Hannibal Lecter, and by her superior), but she
uses these looks as the source of a performative empowerment. This explains
why the opinions of feminist critics about this film were split: on one side were
those who saw the woman’s role in this film similar to that in Hitchcock –
exposed to the sadistic pleasure of men. On the other side were critics who took
Clarice to symbolise the new, postfeminist strong woman. This latter interpreta­
tion puts forward not only a positive (female) role model designed to demort•
strate courage and determination but also a woman who must prove herself as a
‘professional’ in a world of men. In the final showdown Clarice knows that she is
being watched without herself being able to see (the scene is set in the dark cel­
lar of Buffalo Bill, who wears a device for night vision), but she retains contrf l
and keeps her finger on the trigger.

That THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS caused an intense public debate, demon­
strates how, in the concrete context of cinema, the social force field can influence
the reception of a film and therefore the ‘subject position’ of the spectator(s). 37
The controversy played itself out among feminist theorists, as well as between
feminist and gay activists. It was sparked by the film’s ‘sexual po4ti<:s,' that is, by the significance of Clarice's (and Jodie Foster's) sexuality and gender posi­ tion. Gay activists, on the other hand, perceived Demme's film as homophobic, because it pathologised homosexuality through the figure of James Gumb (or 'Buffalo Bill' ), the serial killer, transvestite, and transsexual psychopath. From the perspective of empirical reception research (audience studies), the power structures in the public space of debate seemed much more important than the power structure inside the closed filmic (or textual) space between camera position (point of view) and subject position (suture). 38

It is remarkable that the film could elicit such contradictory reception posi­
tions without becoming incoherent or losing its popular-cultural and mytho­
logical resonances. On the one hand, this demonstrates once again Hollywood’s
proficiency: how calculated and market-driven but also consciously ambivalent
and ambiguous (post)classical narration must be in order to offer and circulate
such diverging reception positions in the first place. But, on the other hand, it
also shows how problematic the relationship between the cinematic apparatus
as a technology of seeing and making visible – which is cited and allegorised in a
self-referential and knowing way in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS — and the resulting

I 12 Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze

subject theory can be, especially when these two are mutually dependent on
each other, as postulated by Baudry and feminist film theory.

Critics of the psychoanalytic and psycho-semiotic approaches in film studies
have thus argued that ‘apparatus theory’ bases itself on a similarly problematic
assumption as Descartes: by separating the eye as a part of the brain from the
eye as a part of the body, one gives precedence to the eye over all other organs
of embodied sense perception, de-corporealising it in the process. In short, such
critics lament the focus in classical as well as Lacanian film theory on specu­
lar and visual perception, because it systematically ignores the significance of
the spectator’s body as a continuous perceptive surface and as an organising
principle for spatial and temporal orientation even in the cinema. Apparatus
theory, but also feminist film theory, thus strengthens, however inadvertently,
the (bourgeois) ideology of looking at films in a disembodied, decontextualised,
and dematerialised way, even while accusing mainstream cinema of producing
alienated forms of human experience. Furthermore, in their efforts to theorise
the cinematic experience, psychoanalytic film theories tend to treat the rela­
tionship between the spectator and the screen as if it were based on a percep­
tual ‘illusion’ (i.e. as if spectators believed that the objects seen on the screen
were really present), when it is equally plausible to argue that what one sees
are representations, symbolic constructions or culturally determined images.
This has been the line of reasoning among many theorists inspired by cognitive
theories of perception and comprehension, when discussing ‘identification’ and
spectatorship. 39

In the following two chapters ( on skin and ear) we will come back to the
question of embodied perception. For the moment, however, we want to
address the question of the historicity of modes of seeing and forms of per­
ception. As already mentioned several times, throughout the 1980s and 1990s
film historiography had contributed to a transformation of the theoretical field.
It may have been precisely because the (global) historical changes expected as
inevitable in the late 1960s turned out to be illusionary in their anticipated form
from the mid-1970s onwards that a new interest in history – partly archival,
partly educational, and sometimes even deconstructive – grew out of this dis­
appointment and resignation. In film studies attention turned to, among other
things, the ‘origins’ of cinema,+0 and produced with the ‘new film history’ a
theoretically founded version of the previously unreflected positivist historiog­
raphy. 41 In this process early cinema emerged as an independent field of study
where new questions could be asked in a different form and backed up with
empirical data. Feminist theory discovered early cinema as a public sphere in
which women, unlike in classical cinema, were not marginalised or stereotyped
but were allowed both as producers and consumers a modicum of freedom and

Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze I 13

active participation.42 Last but not least, in the larger context of the humanities
and social sciences, poststructuralist investigations of historicity and the con­
structedness of history gave rise to a regenerative impulse towards historically­
oriented studies also about film and the media’s relation to private and public
memory.41

It is in this larger context that the third major critique of Baudry’s theory
can be located. It focused on the historicity of theory itself, and in particular
on the historical imaginary underpinning Baudry’s own, seemingly ahistorical
because universalising, theory. If one follows apparatus theory to the letter, then
any engagement with individual films becomes mere illustration or decoration,
since the immutability of the system would seem to crush any variation at the
level of the individual work. However, it is quite striking that Baudry developed
his influential theory at a time when the spatial arrangement, audience set-up,
and projection technology, with which his cinematic apparatus and its ‘meta­
physics’ are so intrinsically bound up, had already lost much of its supremacy
and certainly its claim to ‘normativity.’ In the 1970s and 1980s it even appeared
lik�ly that the cinema in which this apparatus had first been used would not
only hand over to television and its ‘channels,’ but that cinema as a public place
was inevitably condemned to extinction. One can therefore assume that the
insistence on the insurmountability and omnipotence of the apparatus in his
theory was embedded in an ideologically symptomatic, contradictory relation
to the dwindling influence that same apparatus began to have in practice. In
other words, apparatus theory reacted to the crisis of cinema – which had been
caused historically by the development of different audio-visual technologies
and by changes in audience behaviour – with a certain kind of mourning work
vis-a-vis the cinema in which the loving, nostalgic look of the cinephiles gave
way to a special kind of love-hate relationship in the face of cinema’s looming
demise.44

Given the focus of the present chapter, the look and gaze, too, cannot be
exempted from this historisation of its own material, that is, its technologi­
cal, ideological, and political conditions. This is why in the 1980s attempts
were made to modify and refine Baudry’s theses with the aim of understanding
the subjectivities and subject positions shaped by the cinema as historically,
socially, and politically variable. Is it possible to treat the cinematic apparatus
as an institution not only whose technologies but also whose psychic dimen­
sion can vary depending on the social context to which historical spectators
are exposed? In their search for an answer to this question, film scholars have
for instance turned to psychoanalyst Alexander Mitscherlich, who in his books
about National Socialism and the ‘fatherless society’ had diagnosed a type of
look characteristic of modern societies. According to him, National Socialism

I 14 Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze

is, among other things, a response to a ‘narcissistic offence’ that modernity
afflicted upon men by exposing them to a world of images and looks that do
not reciprocate their own. Building on Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer
who understood the conservative reaction to Weimar modernity in terms of
an’ aestheticisation,’ Mitscherlich interpreted the public propaganda of images
and media orchestrated by the National Socialists as a cultural revolution which
tried to organise collectively the eye that returns the gaze, the eye of the benev­
olent father, and the look of the significant other. 45 These reflections proved
useful insofar as they tried to uncover the historically-determined conditions
of a ‘political’ history of the look and its ambivalences. The hypothesis of a form
of exhibitionism that responds to an invisible look refers implicitly to various
strategies of eluding the power of an authority (or of an apparatus of state sur­
veillance) by perversely but productively exposing oneself to it. Popular cul­
ture – from the ostentatious carrying of garbage bags in the ‘punk’ and ‘trash’
scene through Madonna’s hypersexualisedfemmefatale image all the way to rap
and hip-hop appropriating terms of abuse and abject subject positions – has
often resorted to this strategy of performing (negative) stereotypes in order to
make them empowering, whether known as ‘pastiche,’ ‘parody,’ ‘signifying,’ or
‘hiding in plain sight.’

Within film theory rather than cultural studies, the more influential models
once again came from France: on the one hand, Jacques Lacan’s conceptualisa­
tion of “the big Other” to analyse the potential for power that we have previ­
ously called the opaque or dark look, and on the other hand, Michel Foucault’s
theorisation of the ‘dispositif’ of surveillance, which he laid out most clearly in
his commentary on the ‘panopticon,’ Jeremy Bentham’s idea of a more ‘humane’
prison. With this we have moved to the final part of this chapter, namely the ‘look
as gaze’ – the steady stare of power that appears to have no clear origin and is all
the more powerful because of it, as demonstrated by the all-pervasive eye of the
totalitarian state, certain types of centralised prison architecture, but also by the
more common, less visible, but nonetheless ubiquitous state security measures,
control mechanisms, and surveillance apparatus, monitoring our movements in
real and virtual space.

The origin of the ‘gaze,’ or the look as a fixed stare or as a scopic regime
of control and domination, cannot be located in any specific place or associ­
ated with any specific person. The term ‘gaze’ encompasses both the historical
(Foucault) and the structural (Lacan) dimensions of visual (power) relations. The
gaze comprises, envelopes, and dominates all individual looks due to its im- and
trans-personal character. The gaze controls the visual field from ‘another scene’
and enters the domain of the visible at best as a phantasm, because, in a psycho­
analytic sense, it belongs to the realm of the Real, which is to say, it functions as
a force that is consistently outside any form of embodiment or representation.

Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze I 15

For (the later) Lacan and his followers (among whom Slavoj Zizek is perhaps the
best known in the field of film), the Real is a domain paradoxically characterised
by the fact that it cannot be defined other than in relation to what it is not: the
Imaginary and the Symbolic, for which the Real marks both the boundary and
the unbounded excess.

With specific reference to the gaze, the Real in Lacan’s understanding signi­
fies the uncanny fact that under certain circumstances the object of our look
looks back at us. For him, the gaze belongs to the object, while the look is
of the order of the subject. Even though we may think that we can control
our look and thereby an object as well, any feeling of voyeuristic and scopo­
philic power is always undercut by the fact that the materiality of existence,
or the Real, always transcends and breaks the meaning and significance that
emerge in the symbolic order. One of Lacan’s favourite examples, Hans Hol­
bein’s painting The Ambassadors, can help us to clarify the relationship between
the look and the gaze. At first we recognise in the sixteenth-century painting
two affluent gentlemen displaying emblems of wisdom, belief, and wealth. As
spectators, we get a feeling of mastering and controlling the scene visually
until we discover a strange shape on the lower rim of the painting, a stain that
on closer inspection reveals itself to be an anamorphic image: viewed from an
acute angle the stain becomes a skull, which gazes at the onlooker. The fact that

Figure 4. 7 Hans Holbein, The Ambassadors ( 1533): the Real as a stain on the
symbolic order.

I 16 Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze

the object of the look (in this case the painting) returns our look, serves as a
powerful reminder that the symbolic order is separated from the materiality of
the Real only by a thin layer of varnish. Normally, the Real lies at the outer lim­
its of our perceptual horizon, still somehow within our field of vision but not
immediately recognisable, constantly present yet not consciously so. It is only
by putting oneself in a special position at an oblique angle that we can focus on
the primordial force of the Real outside the pleasurable recognition afforded
by the Imaginary and the social control of the Symbolic. The gaze therefore is
external to the human subject, a force not controllable and assimilable that can
only be approached in the strangely twisted figure of watching oneself being
watched.46

Slavoj Zizek, the most productive and original of Lacan’s followers, but also
a thinker who often deliberately polarises, provokes, and seems to leave no one
indifferent, 47 has acted as an important intermediary in bringing Lacanian ideas
to bear on contemporary as well as classical cinema. Practicing a kind of Socratic
Hegelianism, his strength lies in the unexpected aptness of his examples, invari­
ably drawn from popular culture, politics, news broadcasts, personal anecdotes,
and risque jokes, as well as from opera, classical music, literature, or philosophy.
In the case of film theory, instead of using Lacan’s highly complex conceptual
edifice to explain contemporary cinema, Zizek chooses the opposite path: he
explains Lacan with the aid of examples borrowed from sometimes well-known,
sometimes obscure films, though Hitchcock and Lynch are clearly among his
preferred directors. 48 Given Zizek’s productivity- he has over fifty books to his
name – it is impossible to do justice to his work in only a few pages. 49 What we
shall do instead is to focus on a few motifs that are particularly relevant for our
discussion of the gaze and the scopic regime.

VERTIGO, one of Hitchcock’s best-known films and also a Zizek favourite, can
serve as an example. A key sequence in the film takes place in Ernie’s restaurant.
Scottie Games Stewart), a former policeman who is suffering from vertigo but
now works as a private detective, is sitting at the bar and sees Madeleine Elster
(Kim Novak) for the first time, a woman he is supposed to tail, while she is
having dinner with her husband in the back of the restaurant. Scottie is clearly
enthralled by Madeleine’s beauty, and he just cannot take his eyes off her. Yet
twice in this scene we see shots of Madeleine that cannot be taken from Scottie’s
subjective position, although this is precisely what seems most logical and is also
what Hitchcock interpreters tend to assume. Each of these shots is followed by
actual shots from Scottie’s point of view. As Zizek writes:

We thus get, twice, the same movement from the excess of ‘subjectivity
without subject-agent’ to the standard procedure known as ‘suture’ …
The excess is thus ‘domesticated,’ captivated in being caught within the

Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze I 17

subject-object mirror relationship … What we encounter in this excess
is the look as object, free from the strings that attach it to a particular
subject. so

Zizek’s rereading of suture, as already indicated, is here not interpreted as a
method designed to draw the spectator into the filmic fiction, but on the con­
trary, is given another turn of the screw – by Hitchcock reading Lacan, as it
were, and keeping the shots un-sutured. Transgressing the norms of the classi­
cal style, Hitchcock makes visible, for just a second, the always-gaping chasm
between camera perspectives coded as ‘subjective’ and the look of the camera
when not attached to a human point of view. While in terms of the story, the
un-sutured shots convey some of the hallucinatory power that ‘Madeleine’ (as
image) now has over Scottie, even though she is the ‘object’ of his look, in terms
of our theory, Hitchcock has given us an example of the gaze (the’ object’ look­
ing at us) as it enfolds and overpowers the look (of Scottie). The gaze, in this
sense, is the look “of an impossible subjectivity that cannot be located within the
diegetic space.”51

Similar and yet opposed to Lacan in several respects is Michel Foucault’s
famous theorisation of the ‘panopticon’ as a model of society and subjectivity:
according to Foucault, we have internalised the gaze of the Other and integrated
it into our own subjectivity to such a degree that there is no longer a need for any
(surveilling) person to uphold this system. The fact that we might be observed
any time holds us captive in this system even if no one is fulfilling the function
of overseer or inspector. The panoptical look emphasises the fact of’being seen’
and is little concerned with the active look that we discussed earlier. The flow
of power is mainly one-way, and when applied to the cinema, such an all-seeing
eye tends to be associated with discipline or self-monitoring rather than with
voyeurism or the inscription of sexual difference. Foucault once remarked, in
a famous quote as if in response to the distinction made by feminist film theory
between narration and spectacle:

Our society is not one of spectacle but of surveillance …. We are neither
in the amphitheatre, nor on the stage, but in the panoptic machine, invested
by its effects of power, which we bring to ourselves, since we are part of
its mechanism. 52

Paranoia thrillers, such as were popular in the 1970s (THREE DAYS OF THE CON­
DOR, US 1975, Sydney Pollack; THE PARALLAX Vrnw, US 1971, Alan J. Pakula;
KLUTE, US 1971, Alan J. Pakula) and have had a comeback with the TV series
24 (US 2001-2010, Fox) and Homeland (US 2011-, Showtime), and films such
as FuGHTPLAN (US 2005, Robert Schwentke), THE INTERPRETER (US 2005,

I 18 Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze

Sydney Pollack), THE CONSTANT GARDENER (UK 2005, Fernando Meirelles),
SYRIAN/\ (US 2005, Stephen Gaghan), or E/\GLE EYE (US 2008, D.J. Caruso) in
the <1-tmosphere of post-9/ 11 concerns with the state security apparatus and its reaches into all spheres of life, readily lend themselves to a mise-en-scene of the panoptic gaze, now no longer centralised but dispersed over a myriad of sur­ veillance devices, of which, once again, not all have to be optical or concerned with vision, MINORITY REPORT (US 2002, Steven Spielberg) is a state-of-the-art showcase for all kinds of surveillance and monitoring devices, even including an actual panopticon, as if to provide its own 'archive' of obsolete technologies.

If one were to use Foucault’s notions of discipline and control in order to
deconstruct the acts of seeing and looking in a film, one would have to search not
only for gender-specific imbalances and asymmetries but also for the way that
vision and knowledge are asymmetric in relation to each other: to see is no lon­
ger to know, and ocular verification is no guarantee of truth. Likewise, the struc­
tures of political or economic power are rarely visible, and often too complex or
volatile, for human beings to claim ‘knowledge’ in the sense of mastery. Gilles
Deleuze once described Foucault’s concept of the gaze as his ‘folds of vision,’ in
order to distinguish it from the ocular pyramid one associates with perspectival
vision: “an ontological visibility, forever twisting itself into a self-seeing entity,
on to a different dimension from that of the gaze and its objects.”53 The panopti­
cal gaze of surveillance, despite the clear geometrical hierarchies that enable its
functioning, is thus less tied to an eye than it signals a continuum from inner eye
to external monitoring, implicating the gaze of someone who is looking but also
the gaze emanating from an empty space, modelled both on power enforced by
vision and power relayed by human conscience into ‘self-surveillance.’

Finally, Foucault and Lacan are not the only thinkers according to whom the
(imagined) gaze of the Other upon the Self is constitutive of the development of
subjectivity. In systems theory, Niklas Luhmann has also elaborated on the role
of observation of first and second degree in the construction of identity:

Individuals are self-observers. They distinguish themselves through the fact
that they observe their own act of observation. In today’s society they are
no longer defined by their (more or less good) birth, nor by origin or traits
that set them apart from all other individuals. Whether baptised or not,
they are no longer ‘souls’ � in the sense of indivisible substances — that
guarantee them eternal life. It is often said of Simmel, Mead, or Sartre that
they gain an identity only through the looks of the others; but this happens
only if they watch themselves being watched. 54

If w� see in Luhmann’s concept of modern self-observation a new societal
model, then it coincides with what Deleuze has termed the control society,

Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze I 19

which he predicted was in the process of replacing the disciplinary society,
analysed by Foucault in his books on the history of prisons, of clinics, and of
human sexuality: not only does power become modular and flexible, developing
ever-new forms of binding libidinal energies to work and the body, but vision
and visuality are no longer the guiding principles regulating subjectivity; the
cinematic apparatus, regardless of how we define it, is less in need of a theory
capable of deconstructing it than it is threatened by obsolescence – overtaken by
mechanisms of power and pleasure directly engaged with the body. 55

But this already takes us into a realm that has more to do with the body and
embodied perception than with the paradigm of the eye that we have explored
across two interrelated aspects: on the one hand the active and passive eye of
seeing and being seen in feminist film theory, and on the other hand the imper­
sonal gaze that, subject-less from an unspecified position, exerts all the more
control. The shift of focus in the following two chapters to the body and its
perceptive surfaces, through the concepts of skin and ear, parallels the devel­
opments just sketched and marks a movement toward a stronger anchoring of
filmic experience in the spectator as an embodied being.

Notes

At least this is what the so-called ‘director’s cut’ suggests, i.e. the supposedly authentic ver­
sion edited by director Ridley Scott and released theatrically in 1992 (a second ‘more authen­
tic’ version has recently been released on the home market). More about the genesis, analysis,
and interpretation of BL�DE RUNNER can be found in Scott Bukatman, Blade Runner, BFI Mod­
ern Classics (London: British Film Institute, 2000), and Will Brooker (ed.), The BLADE RUNNER
Experience: The Le9acy of a Science Fiction Classic (London: Wallflower, 2005).

2 For the interrelation of cinema and modernity sec Stephen Kern, The Culture oj’Time and Space,
1880-1918 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), Leo Charney and Vanessa R.
Schwartz (eds.), Cinema and the Invention of Modern Life (Berkeley, CA: University of California
Press, 1995), and Francesco Casetti, Eye of the Century: Film, Experience, Modernity (New York:
Columbia University Press, 2008).

3 Cinema gave women access to public entertainment, which had previously been reserved for
men alone – an important factor in the appeal of early cinema to female spectators. More on
this topic can be found in Heide Schliipmann, The Uncanny Gaze: The Dmma of Early German
Cinema, trans. Inga Pollmann (Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2010),
and Miriam Hansen, Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1991 ).

4 For more on ‘phantom rides,’ see Tom Gunning, “An Unseen Energy Swallows Space: The
Space in Early Film and Its Relation to American Avant-Garde Film,” in John A. Fell (ed.), Film
Before Griffith (Berkeley, Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1983), 355-366.

5 See Catherine Grant’s video essay “The Arrival of the Train Revisited” at http:/ /vimeo.
com/41351769 (11 June 2014).

6 See Lev Manovich, The Lan9ua9e of New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001); YuriTsiv­
ian, “MAN WITH A MovrE CAMERA, Reel One: a Selective Glossary,” Film Siµdies:An International
Review, Issue 2 (Spring 2000): 51-76, as well asTsivian’s audio commentary to the DVD ver­
sion published by the British Film Institute; and Jonathan Beller, “Dziga Vertov and the Film of
Money,” Boundary 26 no. 23 (Fall 1999): 151-199.

120 Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze

7 Dziga Vertov, “Kinoks: A Revolution” (orig. Russian 1923), in Annette Michelson (ed.), Kino­
Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov, trans. Kevin O’ Brien (Berkeley, CA: University of California
Press, 1984), 11-21, here 21.

8 Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Benjamin,
llluminations, edited by Hannah Arendt, trans. by Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken 1969),
217-252, here 236.

9 An attempt to identify a distinct body of fllm theory around the mobile eye is made in Mal­
colm Turvey, Doubting Vision: Film and the Revelationist Tradition (New York: Oxford University
Press, 2008).

10 See note 20 and the discussion of Laura Mulvey’s influential theory below.
11 Jean-Louis Comolli and Jean Narboni, “Cinema/Idcologie/Critique,” Cahiers du cinema, no.

216 (October 1969): 11-15 .
12 A seminal essay in this context was Jacques-Alain Miller’s “La suture,” Cahiers pour/’ analpe,

no. 1, 1966, which was published in English, not accidentally, in a film-theoretical context:
“Suture: Elements of the Logic of the Signitler,” Screen 18, no. 4 (1977): 24-34.

13 Stephen Heath, “Narrative Space” (orig. 1976), Qgestions of Cinema (London: Macmillan,
1981), 19-75, here 32, italics in original.

14 A central text on the subject is Jean-Pierre Oudart, “Notes on Suture,” Screen 18, no. 4 (Win­
ter 1977-78): 35–47; orig. French, “La suture,” Cahiers du cinema, no. 211 (1969): 36-39,
and no. 212 (1969): 50-55. Intluential in the 1970s was Daniel Dayan, “The Tutor-Code of
Classical Cinema,” Film Qgarterly (Fall 1974): 22-31. This latter text preceded the publication
in English of Ou dart’s text but narrowed the discussion unnecessarily to the shot-countershot
technique. Another seminal text of this debate is Stephen Heath, “Notes on Suture;’ Screen 18,
no. 4 (Winter 1977-78): 48-79 (available onlinc at http:/ /www.lacan.com/symptom8_
articles/heath8.html, 1 Sept 2014). Retrospective overviews and further elaborations can
be found in Kaja Silverman, “Suture,” The Subject of Semiotics (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1983), 194-236, as well as in the paradigm of the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek,
“Back to the Suture,” The Fright of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kiellowski Between Theory and Post-Theory
(London: British Film Institute, 2001), 35-54.

15 See Gregory Currie, Image and Mind: Film, Philosophy, and Cognitive Science (Cambridge: Cam­
bridge University Press, 1995).

16 See Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Hab­
berjam (London: Athlone Press, 1986; orig. French 1983), and Cinema 2: The Time-Image,
trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press,
1989; orig. French 1985).

17 For an early critique of the idea of suture, see William Rothman,” Against ‘The System of the
Suture,”‘ Film Qgarterly 29, no. 1 (1975): 45-50. A major polemic against suture theory spe­
cifically can be found in Noel Carroll, Mysc!fying Movies: Fads and Fallacies in Contemporary Film
Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 183-199.

18 This is in principle no different than the so-called ‘Kuleshov effect.’ In a famous editing (or
montage) experiment in the 1910s, the Russian film director Lev Kuleshov inserted between
two identical shots of the actor Ivan Mozjukin a bowl of soup, a woman’s face, and a child’s
coffin. In each case, spectators (mis)took Moszjukin’s second (reaction) shot as expressing
hunger, love, and sorrow, even though it was in fact the same image.

19 David Bordwell, Narration and the Fiction Film (London: Routledge, 1987); Edward Bra­
nigan, Narrative Comprehension and Film (New York: Routledge, 1992); Zizek, The Fright of
Real Tears.

20 Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen 16, no. 3 (1975): 6-18. The
text has been reprinted in numerous anthologies. We will be quoting from Gerald Mast,
Marshall Cohen, and Leo Braudy (eds.), Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, 4th ed.
(New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 746-757. All further citations in the
text will be from this version.

Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze 121

21 Mulvey believes that this can be changed only on the level of film practice through a film
form that denies any scopophilic pleasure (the pleasure of looking) and any spectator satisfac­
tion that might be derived from a narcissistic ego-identification (in the case of men) or from
fetishism and castration anxiety (in the case of women). In that period, Mulvey put this into
practice, most notably in her tllm RIDDLES OF THE SPHINX (UK 1977, with Peter Wollen). The
relationship between theory and practice was generally an important aspect of feminism in
the 1970s and 1980s – sec for instance the two influential magazines Women and Film (1972-
1975) in the United States and Frauen und Film in Germany (since 1974).

22 Probably the most important study on this topic published shortly before Mulvey’s polemic
was Molly Haskell, From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment efWomen in the Movies (New York: Holt,
Rinehart, and Winston, 1974).

23 Mary Ann Doane, The Desire to Desire: The Woman’s Film of the 1940s (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1987); Teresa de Lauretis, Alice Doesn’t: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema (Bloom­
ington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984); Kaja Silverman, The Acoustic Mirror: The Female
Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1988) – see
also Chapter 6 on the ear; Tania Modleski, The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist
Theory (London, New York: Methuen, 1988); Sandy Flitterman-Lewis, To Desire Differently:
Feminism and the French Cinema (Urbana, Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1990); Bar­
bara Klinger, Melodrama and Meaning: History, Culture, and the Films of Douglas Sirk (Blooming­
ton, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994).

24 Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), and Peter Wollen,
“On Gaze Theory,” New Left Review++ (March-April 2007): 91-106.

25 See the transnational project “The Permanent Seminar on Histories of Film Theories,” which
occupies itself with conferences and translations, at www.filmtheories.org

26 Paula Amad, “Visual Riposte: Looking Back at the Return of the Gaze as Postcolonial Theory’s
Gift to Film Studies,” Cinema journal 52, no. 3 (Spring 2013): 49-74.

27 The classical studies in this Held are Marjorie Rosen, Popcorn Venus:Women, Movies and the Ameri­
can Dream (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1973); Molly Haskell, From Reverence
to Rape;Joan Mellen, Women and Their Sexuality in the New Film (New York: Horizon, 1974).

28 Claire Johnston, “Women’s Cinema as Counter Cinema,” in Claire Johnston (ed.), Notes on
Women’s Cinema (London: Society for Education in Film and Television, 1972), 25.

29 Pam Cook and Claire Johnston, “The Place of Woman in the Cinema of Raoul Walsh,” in
Patricia Erens (ed.), Issues in Feminist Film Criticism (Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana
University Press, 1990), 19-27.

30 On this topic, see the exemplary analyses by Raymond Bellour, available in The Analysis of Film,
(ed.) Constance Penley (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000), or the collection
of essays by Stephen Heath, Qyestions of Cinema (London, Basingstoke: MacMillan, 1981).

31 For more on this, ‘see the special issue “The Spcctratrix,” (eds.) Mary Ann Doane and Janet
Bergstrom, of Camera Obscura, no. 20/21 (1990).

32 Laura Mulvey, “Afterthoughts on Visual Pleasure;’ Framework 15-17 (1981): 12-15.
33 See Gaylyn Studlar, In the Realm of Pleasure: Von Sternberg, Dietrich, and the Masochistic Aesthetic

(New York: Columbia University Press, 1988).
34 See Linda Williams, “Melodrama Revised,” in Nick Browne (ed.), Refi.guring American Film

Genres: Histo1y and Theory (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998), 42-88; Joan
Copjec, Read My Desire: LacanAgainst the Historicists (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994); Mary
Ann Doane, “The Clinical Eye: Medical Discourses in the ‘Woman’s Film’ of the 1940s,” in
Susan Rubin Suleiman (ed.), The Female Body in Western Culture: Contemporary Perspectives (Cam­
bridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), 152-174.

35 See Carol Clover, Men,Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (London: British
Film Institute, 1992).

36 See E. Ann Kaplan (ed.), Women in Film Noir, new edition (London: British Film Institute,
2005).

122 Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze

37 Janet Staiger, “Taboos and Totems: Cultural Meanings of THE S1u,NCE OF THE LAMBS,” in Jim
Collins, Hilary Radner, and Ava Preacher Collins (ed.), Film Theory Goes to the Movies, AF!
Film Readers (New York, London: Routledge, 199 3), 142-154. An extensive analysis of’THE
SILENCE m THE LAMBS can be found in Thomas Elsaesser and Warren Buckland, Studyin9 Con­
temporary· American Film (London: Bloomsbury, 2002), 249-283.

38 For more on reception studies and film see Janet Staiger, Perverse Spectators:The Practices cf Film
Reception (New York: New York University Press, 2000).

39 Several of these position can be found cogently argued in Richard Allen, Projectin9 Illusion: Film
Spectatorship and the Impression cf Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), and
Murray Smith, En9a9in9 Characters: Fiction, Emotion, and the Cinema (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1995).

40 See for example Laurent Mannoni, The Great Art ef Li9ht and Shadow:Archaeoloar cf the Cinema,
trans. Richard Crangle (Ext,ter: University of Exeter Press, 2000), and Stephen Herbert, A
History ef Pte-Cinema, 3 vols. (London, New York: Routledge, 2000).

41 By way of a short introduction, see Thomas Elsaesser, “The New Film History,” Si9ht and Sound
55, no. 4 (Autumn 1986): 246-251. A monographic application/implementation is offered
by Robert C. Allen and Douglas Gomery, Film History: Theory and Practice (New York: Knopf,
1985).

42 For a recent overview, see Jennifer M. Bean and Diane Negra (eds.), A Feminist Reader in Early
Cinema (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2002). See also the work by
Miriam Hansen and Heide Schliipmann cited in note 3.

43 What comes to mind in this context are the works of Hayden White or the New Historicism
advocated by Stephen Greenblatt and others. For applications to cinema, see Vivian Sobchack
(ed.), The Persistence ef History: Cinema, Television and the Modern E”ent, AF! Film Readers (Lon­
don, New York: Routledge, 1996).

44 For further elaborations of this position as well as for alternatives see Marijke de Valek and
Malte Hagener (eds.), Cinephilia: MoFies, Love, and Memo1y (Amsterdam: Amsterdam Univer­
sity Press, 2005).

45 Alexander Mitscherlich, Society Without a Father (New York: Schocken Books, 1970). With
specific reference to cinema: “Might not the perverse pleasure of fascism, its fascination have
been less the sadism and brutality of SS officers, but that of being seen, of placing oneself in
view of the all-seeing eye of the State? . . . Fascism in its social imaginary encouraged a moral
exhibitionism, as it encouraged denunciation and mutual surveillance. Hitler appealed to the
Volk, but he always pictured the German nation as standing there, observed by ‘the eyes of
the world.’Thc massive specularisation of public life, famously diagnosed by Walter Benjamin
as the ‘aestheticisation of politics,’ might be said to have helped institutionalise that structure
of’to be is to be perceived’ which Fassbinder ‘s cinema never ceases to interrogate.”Thomas
Elsaesser, Fassbinder’s Germany: History, Identity, Subject (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University
Press, 1996), 93.

46 The painting is situated in the National Gallery in London. For more about the painting see
Susan Foister, Ashok Roy, and Martin Wyld, Holbein’s Ambassadors (London: Yale University
Press, 1998).

4 7 See for instance the debate between the mutually antagonising forces of Zizek and David
Bordwell. Zizck has taken Bordwell to task for what he understands as Bordwell’s advocacy of
‘post-theory’ in The Fri9ht ef RealTears: KI7ysztef Kieslowski Between Theory” and Post-Theory (Lon­
don: British Film Institute, 2001). Bordwell replies on his blog, “Slavoj Zizek: Say Anything;’
(posted April 2005): http:/ /www.davidbordwell.com/ essays/zizek.php (1 Sept 2014).

48 Slavoj Zizek, Everythin9 You Alwap Wanted to Know About Lacan But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock
(London: Verso, 1992).

49 For an overview, see Rex Butler, Slavoj .Zizek: Live Theory (New York: Continuum, 2005).
50 Slavoj Zizek, Or9ans without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences (London, New York: Rout­

ledge, 2004), 151-162, here 154.
51 Slavoj Zizek, The Fri9ht efRealTears, 34.

Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze 123

52 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York:
Vintage, 1979), 217.

53 Gilles Deleuze, Foucault (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 111.
54 Niklas Luhmann, Art as a Social System, trans. Eva M. Knodt (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univer­

sity Press, 2000; orig. German 1995), 93.
55 See here Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on Control Societies,” Negotiations, /972-1990, trans.

MartinJoughin (NcwYork: Columbia University Press, 1995), 177-182.

   

Page 58

5  
‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’

Laura Mulvey

1. Introduction

(a) A Political Use of Psychoanalysis

This paper intends to use psychoanalysis to discover where and how the fascination of film is reinforced by pre­existing patterns of fascination already at work within 

the individual subject and the social formations that have moulded him. It takes as its starting­point the way film reflects, reveals and even plays on the straight, socially 

established interpretation of sexual difference which controls images, erotic ways of looking and spectacle. It is helpful to understand what the cinema has been, how its 

magic has worked in the past, while attempting a theory and a practice which will challenge this cinema of the past. Psychoanalytic theory is thus appropriated here as 

a political weapon, demonstrating the way the unconscious of patriarchal society has structured film form.

The paradox of phallocentrism in all its manifestations is that it depends on the image of the castrated women to give order and meaning to its world. An idea of woman 

stands as linchpin to the system: it is her lack that produces the phallus as a symbolic presence, it is her desire to make good the lack that the phallus signifies. Recent 

writing in Screen about psychoanalysis and the cinema has not sufficiently brought out the importance of the representation of the female form in a symbolic order in 

which, in the last resort, it speaks castration

* From Screen 16:3, 1975, pp. 6­18.

C

o
p
y
r
i
g
h
t

1
9
9
9
.

E
d
i
n
b
u
r
g
h

U
n
i
v
e
r
s
i
t
y

P
r
e
s
s
.

A

l
l

r
i
g
h
t
s

r
e
s
e
r
v
e
d
.

M
a
y

n
o
t

b
e

r
e
p
r
o
d
u
c
e
d

i
n

a
n
y

f
o
r
m

w
i
t
h
o
u
t

p
e
r
m
i
s
s
i
o
n

f
r
o
m

t
h
e

p
u
b
l
i
s
h
e
r
,

e
x
c
e
p
t

f
a
i
r

u
s
e
s

p
e
r
m
i
t
t
e
d

u
n
d
e
r

U
.
S
.

o
r

a
p
p
l
i
c
a
b
l
e

c
o
p
y
r
i
g
h
t

l
a
w
.

EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 11/27/2020 8:24 PM via UNIV OF CALIFORNIA-SANTA CRUZ
AN: 9594 ; Thornham, Sue.; Feminist Film Theory : A Reader
Account: s8329998.main.ehost

   

Page 59

and nothing else. To summarise briefly: the function of woman in forming the patriarchal unconscious is twofold: she firstly symbolises the castration threat by her real 

lack of a penis and secondly thereby raises her child into the symbolic. Once this has been achieved, her meaning in the process is at an end. It does not last into the 

world of law and language except as a memory, which oscillates between memory of maternal plenitude and memory of lack. Both are posited on nature (or on 

anatomy in Freud’s famous phrase). Woman’s desire is subjugated to her image as bearer of the bleeding wound; she can exist only in relation to castration and cannot 

transcend it. She turns her child into the signifier of her own desire to possess a penis (the condition, she imagines, of entry into the symbolic). 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 halflight of the imaginary. Woman then stands in 

patriarchal culture as a signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by 

imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer, not maker, of meaning.

There is an obvious interest in this analysis for feminists, a beauty in its exact rendering of the frustration experienced under the phallocentric order. It gets us nearer to 

the roots of our oppression, it brings closer an articulation of the problem, it faces us with the ultimate challenge: how to fight the unconscious structured like a language 

(formed critically at the moment of arrival of language) while still caught within the language of the patriarchy? There is no way in which we can produce an alternative 

out of the blue, but we can begin to make a break by examining patriarchy with the tools it provides, of which psychoanalysis is not the only but an important one. We 

are still separated by a great gap from important issues for the female unconscious which are scarcely relevant to phallocentric theory: the sexing of the female infant 

and her relationship to the symbolic, the sexually mature woman as non­mother, maternity outside the signification of the phallus, the vagina. But, at this point, 

psychoanalytic theory as it now stands can at least advance our understanding of the status quo, of the patriarchal order in which we are caught.

(b) Destruction of Pleasure as a Radical Weapon

As an advanced representation system, the cinema poses questions about the ways the unconscious (formed by the dominant order) structures ways of seeing and 

pleasure in looking. Cinema has changed over the last few decades. It is no longer the monolithic system based on large capital investment exemplified at its best by 

Hollywood in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Technological advances (16mm and so on) have changed the economic conditions of cinematic production, which can 

now be artisanal as well as capitalist. Thus it has been possible for an alternative cinema to develop. However self­conscious and ironic Hollywood managed to be, it 

always restricted itself to a formal mise en scène reflecting the dominant ideological concept of the cinema. The alternative cinema provides a space for the birth of a 

cinema which is radical in both a

EBSCOhost – printed on 11/27/2020 8:24 PM via UNIV OF CALIFORNIA-SANTA CRUZ. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use

   

Page 60

political and an aesthetic sense and challenges the basic assumptions of the mainstream film. This is not to reject the latter moralistically, but to highlight the ways in 

which its formal preoccupations reflect the psychical obsessions of the society which produced it and, further, to stress that the alternative cinema must start specifically 

by reacting against these obsessions and assumptions. A politically and aesthetically avant­garde cinema is now possible, but it can still only exist as a counterpoint.

The magic of the Hollywood style at its best (and of all the cinema which fell within its sphere of influence) arose, not exclusively, but in one important aspect, from its 

skilled and satisfying manipulation of visual pleasure. Unchallenged, mainstream film coded the erotic into the language of the dominant patriarchal order. In the highly 

developed Hollywood cinema it was only through these codes that the alienated subject, torn in his imaginary memory by a sense of loss, by the terror of potential lack 

in fantasy, came near to finding a glimpse of satisfaction through its formal beauty and its play on his own formative obsessions. This article will discuss the interweaving 

of that erotic pleasure in film, its meaning and, in particular, the central place of the image of woman. It is said that analysing pleasure, or beauty, destroys it. That is the 

intention of this article. The satisfaction and reinforcement of the ego that represent the high point of film history hitherto must be attacked. Not in favour of a 

reconstructed new pleasure, which cannot exist in the abstract, nor of intellectualised unpleasure, but to make way for a total negation of the ease and plenitude of the 

narrative fiction film. The alternative is the thrill that comes from leaving the past behind without simply rejecting it, transcending outworn or oppressive forms, and 

daring to break with normal pleasurable expectations in order to conceive a new language of desire.

II Pleasure in Looking/Fascination with the Human Form

A

The cinema offers a number of possible pleasures. One is scopophilia (pleasure in looking). There are circumstances in which looking itself is a source of pleasure, just 

as, in the reverse formation, there is pleasure in being looked at. Originally, in his Three Essays on Sexuality, Freud isolated scopophilia as one of the component 

instincts of sexuality which exist as drives quite independently of the erotogenic zones. At this point he associated scopophilia with taking other people as objects, 

subjecting them to a controlling and curious gaze. His particular examples centre on the voyeuristic activities of children, their desire to see and make sure of the private 

and forbidden (curiosity about other people’s genital and bodily functions, about the presence or absence of the penis and, retrospectively, about the primal scene). In 

this analysis scopophilia is essentially active. (Later, in ‘Instincts and Their Vicissitudes’, Freud, developed his theory of scopophilia further, attaching it initially to pre­

genital auto­eroticism, after which, by analogy, the pleasure of the look is transferred to others. There is a close working here of the relationship between the active 

instinct and its further development in a narcissistic form.) Although the instinct is modified by other

EBSCOhost – printed on 11/27/2020 8:24 PM via UNIV OF CALIFORNIA-SANTA CRUZ. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use

   

Page 61

factors, in particular the constitution of the ego, it continues to exist as the erotic basis for pleasure in looking at another person as object. At the extreme, it can 

become fixated into a perversion, producing obsessive voyeurs and Peeping Toms whose only sexual satisfaction can come from watching, in an active controlling 

sense, an objectified other.

At first glance, the cinema would seem to be remote from the undercover world of the surreptitious observation of an unknowing and unwilling victim. What is seen on 

the screen is so manifestly shown. But the mass of mainstream film, and the conventions within which it has consciously evolved, portray a hermetically sealed world 

which unwinds magically, indifferent to the presence of the audience, producing for them a sense of separation and playing on their voyeuristic fantasy. Moreover the 

extreme contrast between the darkness in the auditorium (which also isolates the spectators from one another) and the brilliance of the shifting patterns of light and 

shade on the screen helps to promote the illusion of voyeuristic separation. Although the film is really being shown, is there to be seen, conditions of screening and 

narrative conventions give the spectator an illusion of looking in on a private world. Among other things, the position of the spectators in the cinema is blatantly one of 

repression of their exhibitionism and projection of the repressed desire onto the performer.

B

The cinema satisfies a primordial wish for pleasurable looking, but it also goes further, developing scopophilia in its narcissistic aspect. The conventions of mainstream 

film focus attention on the human form. Scale, space, stories are all anthropomorphic. Here, curiosity and the wish to look intermingle with a fascination with likeness 

and recognition: the human face, the human body, the relationship between the human form and its surroundings, the visible presence of the person in the world. 

Jacques Lacan has described how the moment when a child recognises its own image in the mirror is crucial for the constitution of the ego. Several aspects of this 

analysis are relevant here. The mirror phase occurs at a time when children’s physical ambitions outstrip their motor capacity, with the result that their recognition of 

themselves is joyous in that they imagine their mirror image to be more complete, more perfect than they experience in their own body. Recognition is thus overlaid 

with misrecognition: the image recognised is conceived as the reflected body of the self, but its misrecognition as superior projects this body outside itself as an ideal 

ego, the alienated subject which, re­introjected as an ego ideal, prepares the way for identification with others in the future. This mirror moment predates language for 

the child.

Important for this article is the fact that it is an image that constitutes the matrix of the imaginary, of recognition/misrecognition and identification, and hence of the first 

articulation of the I, of subjectivity. This is a moment when an older fascination with looking (at the mother’s face, for an obvious example) collides with the initial 

inklings of self­awareness. Hence it is the birth of the long love affair/despair between image and self­image which has found such intensity of expression in film and 

such joyous recognition in the cinema audience. Quite

EBSCOhost – printed on 11/27/2020 8:24 PM via UNIV OF CALIFORNIA-SANTA CRUZ. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use

   

Page 62

apart from the extraneous similarities between screen and mirror (the framing of the human form in its surroundings, for instance), the cinema has structures of 

fascination strong enough to allow temporary loss of ego while simultaneously reinforcing it. The sense of forgetting the world as the ego has come to perceive it (I 

forgot who I am and where I was) is nostalgically reminiscent of that pre­subjective moment of image recognition. While at the same time, the cinema has distinguished 

itself in the production of ego ideals, through the star system for instance. Stars provide a focus or centre both to screen space and screen story where they act out a 

complex process of likeness and difference (the glamorous impersonates the ordinary).

C

Sections A and B have set out two contradictory aspects of the pleasurable structures of looking in the conventional cinematic situation. The first, scopophilic, arises 

from pleasure in using another person as an object of sexual stimulation through sight. The second, developed through narcissism and the constitution of the ego, comes 

from identification with the image seen. Thus, in film terms, one implies a separation of the erotic identity of the subject from the object on the screen (active 

scopophilia), the other demands identification of the ego with the object on the screen through the spectator’s fascination with and recognition of his like. The first is a 

function of the sexual instincts, the second of ego libido. This dichotomy was crucial for Freud. Although he saw the two as interacting and overlaying each other, the 

tension between instinctual drives and self­preservation polarises in terms of pleasure. But both are formative structures, mechanisms without intrinsic meaning. In 

themselves they have no signification, unless attached to an idealisation. Both pursue aims in indifference to perceptual reality, and motivate eroticised phantasmagoria 

that affect the subject’s perception of the world to make a mockery of empirical objectivity.

During its history, the cinema seems to have evolved a particular illusion of reality in which this contradiction between libido and ego has found a beautifully 

complementary fantasy world. In reality the fantasy world of the screen is subject to the law which produces it. Sexual instincts and identification processes have a 

meaning within the symbolic order which articulates desire. Desire, born with language, allows the possibility of transcending the instinctual and the imaginary, but its 

point of reference continually returns to the traumatic moment of its birth: the castration complex. Hence the look, pleasurable in form, can be threatening in content, 

and it is woman as representation/image that crystallises this paradox.

III Woman as Image, Man as Bearer of the Look

A

In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto 

the female figure, which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for 

strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to

EBSCOhost – printed on 11/27/2020 8:24 PM via UNIV OF CALIFORNIA-SANTA CRUZ. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use

   

Page 63

connote to­be­looked­at­ness. Woman displayed as sexual object is the leitmotif of erotic spectacle: from pin­ups to strip­tease, from Ziegfeld to Busby Berkeley, 

she holds the look, and plays to and signifies male desire. Mainstream film neatly combines spectacle and narrative. (Note, however, how in the musical songand­

dance numbers interrupt the flow of the diegesis. ) The presence of woman is an indispensable element of spectacle in normal narrative film, yet her visual presence 

tends to work against the development of a story­line, to freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation. This alien presence then has to be integrated into 

cohesion with the narrative. As Budd Boetticher has put it:

What counts is what the heroine provokes, or rather what she represents. She is the one, or rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero, or else the concern he feels for her, who 

makes him act the way he does. In herself the woman has not the slightest importance.

(A recent tendency in narrative film has been to dispense with this problem altogether; hence the development of what Molly Haskell has called the ‘buddy movie’, in 

which the active homosexual eroticism of the central male figures can carry the story without distraction.) Traditionally, the woman displayed has functioned on two 

levels: as erotic object for the characters within the screen story, and as erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium, with a shifting tension between the looks 

on either side of the screen. For instance, the device of the show­girl allows the two looks to be unified technically without any apparent break in the diegesis. A 

woman performs within the narrative; the gaze of the spectator and that of the male characters in the film are neatly combined without breaking narrative verisimilitude. 

For a moment the sexual impact of the performing woman takes the film into a no man’s land outside its own time and space. Thus Marilyn Monroe’s first appearance 

in The River of No Return and Lauren Bacall’s songs in To Have and Have Not. Similarly, conventional close­ups of legs (Dietrich, for instance) or a face (Garbo) 

integrate into the narrative a different mode of eroticism. One part of a fragmented body destroys the Renaissance space, the illusion of depth demanded by the 

narrative; it gives flatness, the quality of a cut­out or icon, rather than verisimilitude, to the screen.

B

An active/passive heterosexual division of labour has similarly controlled narrative structure. According to the principles of the ruling ideology and the psychical 

structures that back it up, the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification. Man is reluctant to gaze at his exhibitionist like. Hence the split between 

spectacle and narrative supports the man’s role as the active one of advancing the story, making things happen. The man controls the film fantasy and also emerges as 

the representative of power in a further sense: as the bearer of the look of the spectator, transferring it behind the screen to neutralise the extra­diegetic tendencies 

represented by woman as spectacle. This is made possible through the processes set in motion by structuring the film around a

EBSCOhost – printed on 11/27/2020 8:24 PM via UNIV OF CALIFORNIA-SANTA CRUZ. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use

   

Page 64

main controlling figure with whom the spectator can identify. As the spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his look onto that of his like, his 

screen surrogate, so that the power of the male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic look, both giving a satisfying sense of 

omnipotence. A male movie star’s glamorous characteristics are thus not those of the erotic object of the gaze, but those of the more perfect, more complete, more 

powerful ideal ego conceived in the original moment of recognition in front of the mirror. The character in the story can make things happen and control events better 

than the subject/spectator, just as the image in the mirror was more in control of motor co­ordination.

In contrast to woman as icon, the active male figure (the ego ideal of the identification process) demands a three­dimensional space corresponding to that of the mirror 

recognition, in which the alienated subject internalised his own representation of his imaginary existence. He is a figure in a landscape. Here the function of film is to 

reproduce as accurately as possible the so­called natural conditions of human perception. Camera technology (as exemplified by deep focus in particular) and camera 

movements (determined by the action of the protagonist), combined with invisible editing (demanded by realism), all tend to blur the limits of screen space. The male 

protagonist is free to command the stage, a stage of spatial illusion in which he articulates the look and creates the action. (There are films with a woman as main 

protagonist, of course. To analyse this phenomenon seriously here would take me too far afield. Pam Cook and Claire Johnston’s study of The Revolt of Mamie 

Stover in Phil Hardy (ed.), Raoul Walsh (Edinburgh, 1974), shows in a striking case how the strength of this female protagonist is more apparent than real.)

C1

Sections III A and B have set out a tension between a mode of representation of woman in film and conventions surrounding the diegesis. Each is associated with a 

look: that of the spectator in direct scopophilic contact with the female form displayed for his enjoyment (connoting male fantasy) and that of the spectator fascinated 

with the image of his like set in an illusion of natural space, and through him gaining control and possession of the woman within the diegesis. (This tension and the shift 

from one pole to the other can structure a single text. Thus both in Only Angels Have Wings and in To Have and Have Not, the film opens with the woman as object 

of the combined gaze of spectator and all the male protagonists in the film. She is isolated, glamorous, on display, sexualised. But as the narrative progresses she falls in 

love with the main male protagonist and becomes his property, losing her outward glamorous characteristics, her generalised sexuality, her show­girl connotations; her 

eroticism is subjected to the male star alone. By means of identification with him, through participation in his power, the spectator can indirectly possess her too.)

But in psychoanalytic terms, the female figure poses a deeper problem. She also connotes something that the look continually circles around but disavows: her lack of a 

penis, implying a threat of castration and hence unpleasure.

EBSCOhost – printed on 11/27/2020 8:24 PM via UNIV OF CALIFORNIA-SANTA CRUZ. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use

   

Page 65

Ultimately, the meaning of woman is sexual difference, the visually ascertainable absence of the penis, the material evidence on which is based the castration complex 

essential for the organisation of entrance to the symbolic order and the law of the father. Thus the woman as icon, displayed for the gaze and enjoyment of men, the 

active controllers of the look, always threatens to evoke the anxiety it originally signified. The male unconscious has two avenues of escape from this castration anxiety: 

preoccupation with the re­enactment of the original trauma (investigating the woman, demystifying her mystery), counterbalanced by the devaluation, punishment or 

saving of the guilty object (an avenue typified by the concerns of the film noir); or else complete disavowal of castration by the substitution of a fetish object or turning 

the represented figure itself into a fetish so that it becomes reassuring rather than dangerous (hence overvaluation, the cult of the female star).

This second avenue, fetishistic scopophilia, builds up the physical beauty of the object, transforming it into something satisfying in itself. The first avenue, voyeurism, on 

the contrary, has associations with sadism: pleasure lies in ascertaining guilt (immediately associated with castration), asserting control and subjugating the guilty person 

through punishment or forgiveness. This sadistic side fits in well with narrative. Sadism demands a story, depends on making something happen, forcing a change in 

another person, a battle of will and strength, victory/defeat, all occurring in a linear time with a beginning and an end. Fetishistic scopophilia, on the other hand, can 

exist outside linear time as the erotic instinct is focused on the look alone. These contradictions and ambiguities can be illustrated more simply by using works by 

Hitchcock and Sternberg, both of whom take the look almost as the content or subject matter of many of their films. Hitchcock is the more complex, as he uses both 

mechanisms. Sternberg’s work, on the other hand, provides many pure examples of fetishistic scopophilia.

C2

Sternberg once said he would welcome his films being projected upside­down so that story and character involvement would not interfere with the spectator’s 

undiluted appreciation of the screen image. This statement is revealing but ingenuous: ingenuous in that his films do demand that the figure of the woman (Dietrich, in the 

cycle of films with her, as the ultimate example) should be identifiable; but revealing in that it emphasises the fact that for him the pictorial space enclosed by the frame 

is paramount, rather than narrative or identification processes. While Hitchcock goes into the investigative side of voyeurism, Sternberg produces the ultimate fetish, 

taking it to the point where the powerful look of the male protagonist (characteristic of traditional narrative film) is broken in favour of the image in direct erotic rapport 

with the spectator. The beauty of the woman as object and the screen space coalesce; she is no longer the bearer of guilt but a perfect product, whose body, stylised 

and fragmented by close­ups, is the content of the film and the direct recipient of the spectator’s look.

EBSCOhost – printed on 11/27/2020 8:24 PM via UNIV OF CALIFORNIA-SANTA CRUZ. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use

   

Page 66

Sternberg plays down the illusion of screen depth; his screen tends to be one­dimensional, as light and shade, lace, steam, foliage, net, streamers and so on reduce the 

visual field. There is little or no mediation of the look through the eyes of the main male protagonist. On the contrary, shadowy presences like La Bessière in Morocco 

act as surrogates for the director, detached as they are from audience identification. Despite Sternberg’s insistence that his stories are irrelevant, it is significant that they 

are concerned with situation, not suspense, and cyclical rather than linear time, while plot complications revolve around misunderstanding rather than conflict. The most 

important absence is that of the controlling male gaze within the screen scene. The high point of emotional drama in the most typical Dietrich films, her supreme 

moments of erotic meaning, take place in the absence of the man she loves in the fiction. There are other witnesses, other spectators watching her on the screen, their 

gaze is one with, not standing in for, that of the audience. At the end of Morocco, Tom Brown has already disappeared into the desert when Amy Jolly kicks off her 

gold sandals and walks after him. At the end of Dishonoured, Kranau is indifferent to the fate of Magda. In both cases, the erotic impact, sanctified by death, is 

displayed as a spectacle for the audience. The male hero misunderstands and, above all, does not see.

In Hitchcock, by contrast, the male hero does see precisely what the audience sees. However, although fascination with an image through scopophilic eroticism can be 

the subject of the film, it is the role of the hero to portray the contradictions and tensions experienced by the spectator. In Vertigo in particular, but also in Marnie and 

Rear Window, the look is central to the plot, oscillating between voyeurism and fetishistic fascination. Hitchcock has never concealed his interest in voyeurism, 

cinematic and non­cinematic. His heroes are exemplary of the symbolic order and the law—a policeman (Vertigo), a dominant male possessing money and power 

(Marnie)—but their erotic drives lead them into compromised situations. The power to subject another person to the will sadistically or to the gaze voyeuristically is 

turned onto the woman as the object of both. Power is backed by a certainty of legal right and the established guilt of the woman (evoking castration, 

psychoanalytically speaking). True perversion is barely concealed under a shallow mask of ideological correctness the man is on the right side of the law, the woman 

on the wrong. Hitchcock’s skilful use of identification processes and liberal use of subjective camera from the point of view of the male protagonist draw the spectators 

deeply into his position, making them share his uneasy gaze. The spectator is absorbed into a voyeuristic situation within the screen scene and diegesis, which parodies 

his own in the cinema.

In an analysis of Rear Window, Douchet takes the film as a metaphor for the cinema. Jeffries is the audience, the events in the apartment block opposite correspond to 

the screen. As he watches, an erotic dimension is added to his look, a central image to the drama. His girlfriend Lisa had been of little sexual interest to him, more or 

less a drag, so long as she remained on the spectator side.

EBSCOhost – printed on 11/27/2020 8:24 PM via UNIV OF CALIFORNIA-SANTA CRUZ. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use

   

Page 67

When she crosses the barrier between his room and the block opposite, their relationship is reborn erotically. He does not merely watch her through his lens, as a 

distant meaningful image, he also sees her as a guilty intruder exposed by a dangerous man threatening her with punishment, and thus finally giving him the opportunity 

to save her. Lisa’s exhibitionism has already been established by her obsessive interest in dress and style, in being a passive image of visual perfection; Jeffries’s 

voyeurism and activity have also been established through his work as a photo­journalist, a maker of stories and captor of images. However, his enforced inactivity, 

binding him to his seat as a spectator, puts him squarely in the fantasy position of the cinema audience.

In Vertigo, subjective camera predominates. Apart from one flashback from Judy’s point of view, the narrative is woven around what Scottie sees or fails to see. The 

audience follows the growth of his erotic obsession and subsequent despair precisely from his point of view. Scottie’s voyeurism is blatant: he falls in love with a 

woman he follows and spies on without speaking to. Its sadistic side is equally blatant: he has chosen (and freely chosen, for he had been a successful lawyer) to be a 

policeman, with all the attendant possibilities of pursuit and investigation. As a result, he follows, watches and falls in love with a perfect image of female beauty and 

mystery. Once he actually confronts her, his erotic drive is to break her down and force her to tell by persistent cross­questioning.

In the second part of the film, he re­enacts his obsessive involvement with the image he loved to watch secretly. He reconstructs Judy as Madeleine, forces her to 

conform in every detail to the actual physical appearance of his fetish. Her exhibitionism, her masochism, make her an ideal passive counterpart to Scottie’s active 

sadistic voyeurism. She knows her part is to perform, and only by playing it through and then replaying it can she keep Scottie’s erotic interest. But in the repetition he 

does break her down and succeeds in exposing her guilt. His curiosity wins through; she is punished.

Thus, in Vertigo, erotic involvement with the look boomerangs: the spectator’s own fascination is revealed as illicit voyeurism as the narrative content enacts the 

processes and pleasures that he is himself exercising and enjoying. The Hitchcock hero here is firmly placed within the symbolic order, in narrative terms. He has all the 

attributes of the patriarchal superego. Hence the spectator, lulled into a false sense of security by the apparent legality of his surrogate, sees through his look and finds 

himself exposed as complicit, caught in the moral ambiguity of looking. Far from being simply an aside on the perversion of the police, Vertigo focuses on the 

implications of the active/looking, passive/looked­at split in terms of sexual difference and the power of the male symbolic encapsulated in the hero. Marnie, too, 

performs for Mark Rutland’s gaze and masquerades as the perfect to­be­looked­at image. He, too, is on the side of the law until, drawn in by obsession with her guilt, 

her secret, he longs to see her in the act of committing a crime, make her confess and thus save her. So he, too, becomes complicit as he acts out the implications of his 

power. He controls money and words; he can have his cake and eat it.

EBSCOhost – printed on 11/27/2020 8:24 PM via UNIV OF CALIFORNIA-SANTA CRUZ. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use

   

Page 68

IV Summary

The psychoanalytic background that has been discussed in this article is relevant to the pleasure and unpleasure offered by traditional narrative film. The scopophilic 

instinct (pleasure in looking at another person as an erotic object) and, in contradistinction, ego libido (forming identification processes) act as formations, mechanisms, 

which mould this cinema’s formal attributes. The actual image of woman as (passive) raw material for the (active) gaze of man takes the argument a step further into the 

content and structure of representation, adding a further layer of ideological significance demanded by the patriarchal order in its favourite cinematic form—illusionistic 

narrative film. The argument must return again to the psychoanalytic background: women in representation can signify castration, and activate voyeuristic or fetishistic 

mechanisms to circumvent this threat. Although none of these interacting layers is intrinsic to film, it is only in the film form that they can reach a perfect and beautiful 

contradiction, thanks to the possibility in the cinema of shifting the emphasis of the look. The place of the look defines cinema, the possibility of varying it and exposing 

it. This is what makes cinema quite different in its voyeuristic potential from, say, strip­tease, theatre, shows and so on. Going far beyond highlighting a woman’s to­be­

looked­at­ness, cinema builds the way she is to be looked at into the spectacle itself. Playing on the tension between film as controlling the dimension of time (editing, 

narrative) and film as controlling the dimension of space (changes in distance, editing), cinematic codes create a gaze, a world and an object, thereby producing an 

illusion cut to the measure of desire. It is these cinematic codes and their relationship to formative external structures that must be broken down before mainstream film 

and the pleasure it provides can be challenged.

To begin with (as an ending), the voyeuristic­scopophilic look that is a crucial part of traditional filmic pleasure can itself be broken down. There are three different 

looks associated with cinema: that of the camera as it records the pro­filmic event, that of the audience as it watches the final product, and that of the characters at 

each other within the screen illusion. The conventions of narrative film deny the first two and subordinate them to the third, the conscious aim being always to eliminate 

intrusive camera presence and prevent a distancing awareness in the audience. Without these two absences (the material existence of the recording process, the critical 

reading of the spectator), fictional drama cannot achieve reality, obviousness and truth. Nevertheless, as this article has argued, the structure of looking in narrative 

fiction film contains a contradiction in its own premises: the female image as a castration threat constantly endangers the unity of the diegesis and bursts through the 

world of illusion as an intrusive, static, one­dimensional fetish. Thus the two looks materially present in time and space are obsessively subordinated to the neurotic 

needs of the male ego. The camera becomes the mechanism for producing an illusion of Renaissance space, flowing movements compatible with the human eye, an 

ideology of representation that revolves around the perception of the subject; the camera’s look is

EBSCOhost – printed on 11/27/2020 8:24 PM via UNIV OF CALIFORNIA-SANTA CRUZ. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use

   

Page 69

disavowed in order to create a convincing world in which the spectator’s surrogate can perform with verisimilitude. Simultaneously, the look of the audience is denied 

an intrinsic force: as soon as fetishistic representation of the female image threatens to break the spell of illusion, and the erotic image on the screen appears directly 

(without mediation) to the spectator, the fact of fetishisation, concealing as it does castration fear, freezes the look, fixates the spectator and prevents him from 

achieving any distance from the image in front of him.

This complex interaction of looks is specific to film. The first blow against the monolithic accumulation of traditional film conventions (already undertaken by radical 

film­makers) is to free the look of the camera into its materiality in time and space and the look of the audience into dialectics and passionate detachment. There is no 

doubt that this destroys the satisfaction, pleasure and privilege of the ‘invisible guest’, and highlights the way film has depended on voyeuristic active/passive 

mechanisms. Women, whose image has continually been stolen and used for this end, cannot view the decline of the traditional film form with anything much more than 

sentimental regret.

EBSCOhost – printed on 11/27/2020 8:24 PM via UNIV OF CALIFORNIA-SANTA CRUZ. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use

   

Page 70

6  
‘Caught and Rebecca: The Inscription of Femininity as Absence’

Mary Ann Doane

Historically, Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) and Ophuls’ Caught (1949) bracket a decade in which many films were aimed at a predominantly female audience. They 

are instances of a broad category of films frequently referred to as the ‘woman film’ or ‘woman’s picture.’ This label implies that the films are in some sense the 

‘possession’ of women and that their terms of address are dictated by the anticipated presence of the female spectator. Both presuppositions are problematic in light of 

contemporary film theory’s investigation of positions offered by the film to the spectator—an investigation which stresses psychical mechanisms related primarily to the 

male spectator—voyeurism, fetishism, even identification. In this context, Hollywood narratives are analyzed as compensatory structures designed to defend the male 

psyche against the threat offered by the image of the woman. A crucial unresolved issue here is the very possibility of constructing a ‘female spectator,’ given the 

cinema’s appeal to (male) voyeurism and fetishism.

Nevertheless, addressing themselves to the perhaps illusory female spectator, the ‘women’s films’ are based on an idea of female fantasy which they themselves 

anticipate and in some sense construct. Interestingly, the problematic of female fantasy is most frequently compatible with that of persecution—by husband, family, or 

lover (both Rebecca and Caught can be aligned with this description). The films manifest an obsession with certain psychical mechanisms which have been associated 

with the female (chiefly masochism, hysteria, and paranoia). All

From Enclitic 5:2, 1981, pp. 75­89.

EBSCOhost – printed on 11/27/2020 8:24 PM via UNIV OF CALIFORNIA-SANTA CRUZ. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use

Elsaesser

and Hagener (E+H),”Chapter 4:
Cinema as Eye- Look and Gaze”

This chapter takes on what is perhaps an obvious feature of
cinema (and something that has been implicit, and even explicit,
in the previous chapters). That is, the importance of and role of
vision in cinema

(p.94) in this chapter they explore ‘the role of the eye in cinema
as an organ of world disclosure (because films make us discover
the world primarily through sight)

In the last few chapters, E+H have tried to argue:
cinema positions us, with both proximity and distance, to the
screen and to the worlds that cinema creates for us. This
positioning is done primarily through the experience of vision

And cinema addresses us at several levels: at the level of story (it
engages us and invites us in) and addresses us at the level of
apparatus (at the level of the screen, projection, the shot,
framing and editing).

In the 1970s and 1980s, E+H note that film theory became very
interested in the apparatus of cinema. Or how the technology of
cinema “is a mental machine that appeals to our psychic
structures and ways of knowing and feeling”

At this time, film theory becomes interested in how cinema (at
the level of both form and content) is participant with systems
of control (and how it might be also used to interrupt or disrupt
these same systems)

In the 1970s and 80s, film theory developed a somewhat dark
vision of the cinema, using concepts from Lacan and Foucault,
theorists began to theorize how cinema was an ideological force,
drenched with issues of power and surveillance

At this time, film theory devises two key terms to address issues
of power and control as it is related to vision in the cinema:
The look
The gaze

Before they investigate 70s and 80s film theory, E+H look to
film history to see how the eye – the bearer of the look –
has appeared in early film

(p. 96) The cinematic lens, from its beginnings, has often
functioned as a prosthetic eye, serving as a mechanical
extension of human perception… into this world (without
cars or airplanes, but with trains) the cinema burst as an
infinitely pliable, unfettered mobile eye: what a sense of
elation it must have been finally to possess an organ which
was no longer tied to the body and which, thanks to
mechanical invention, could roam and travel freely, could
practically become invisible, was barred form almost no
place (be it private, social or physical) and not only seemed
to be ever present, but also made time travel possible—
back into history and forward into the future…

Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera (1929) depicted a jubilant
eye, a sense organ that discovers the world, liberating the eye
from the limits of human mobility or perception

But a darker vision and version of the camera eye began to
emerge – both within early cinema and then in theories
about how cinema was producing experiences for the
viewer

E+H trace the emergence of what would become classical
Hollywood film—the emergence of a film language that
emphasized story and narration and the production of
realist and continuous space through continuity editing

They also trace the emergence of other film languages in
the European avant garde— languages that begin to
centralize questions of power and agency. And how cinema
becomes a particular kind of experience –uniform and
industrialized

Which led to the emergence of apparatus theory in the 70s

(p. 100) Apparatus theory: This theory, it will be remembered, is based
first of all on an analysis of the fixed and unchangeable arrangement
of (disembodied captive and impressionable) spectators, (fixed)
screens and (hidden) projector, al of which entertain a specific spatial
relationship to one another….Baudry’s film theory—which should really
be called a theory of cinema, given its emphasis on the specific
situation of an audience in the theatre- readily supported both a
Marxist critique of ideology and false consciousness and a
psychoanalytic critique of ego psychology and bourgeois individualism.

This theory matched Marxist critique (with its emphasis on ideology),
to psychoanalysis (with its emphasis the development subjectivity), to
produce a theory of film that was ‘tragic’. Or seemed to suggest that
the cinematic apparatus mimics and enshrines power dynamics and
molds its audience. In this theory, cinema is like a hypodermic needle
of ideology and the spectator is injected and passive. Yikes!

1970s film theory tried to figure out how cinema cast its spell on the
spectator. A theory of ‘suture’ emerged:

(p. 102) Without entering into its psychoanalytic ramifications, we can
briefly summarize the meaning of suture for film theory as follows:
given that is based on the conflation of two looks, that of the camera
and that of the spectator, different in time (that of recording and that
of viewing) asymmetrical in agency (the active look of the camera,
passive look of the spectator) primary identification amounts to an
ideological effect

According to this theory, the viewer is stitched into the film, caught in
the web of exchanged looks and this immersion into the world of the
film is seamless and seems to happen unconsciously and makes us feel
like we are experiencing the film first hand (when in fact we are
subject to its manipulation)

E+H tell us about suture theory and they also let us know that
this theory has its critics, namely people who were dubious
about its reliance on psychoanalysis and its very conceptual
ideas about early childhood experiences (described below as
tenuous and tautological)

(p. 105) In other words, while for its advocates, suture theory
explains some of the most powerful features of classical as well
as post classical cinema, namely the ability to weave the
spectator not only into the external action but also into the inner
world of the protagonist through a sophisticated manipulation of
look, gaze, framing, and off screen space, its opponents tended
to see it as merely as a meta physical theory—proven neither
experimentally nor empirically—because it is based on tenuous
or tautological assertions about the relations of perception to
bodily integrity in the human infant

E+H then tell us about Laura Mulvey’s seminal essay, “Visual Pleasure
and Narrative Cinema” (see module 5a.)

(pp. 106-107) E+H summarize Mulvey’s main argument. Her essay is a
polemic, a forcefully argued treatise against the sexism she sees in
Hollywood cinema:

Thus Mulvey formulates a psychoanalytically inflected theory of
spectatorship: she locates film’s power and fascination in two
independent drives. The first is the pleasure of looking (what Freud
calls ‘scopophilia), a pleasure which treats ‘other people as objects,
subjecting them to a curious and controlling gaze.” This is apparent in
the archetonic setup of the cinema (the darkness of the cinema and the
brightness of the screen) as well as the voyeuristic style of classical
cinema….The other source of pleasure in cinema is located in a
regression to an earlier stage of development, namely the mirror stage

She argues that cinema is ideologically sexist,
contending that in Hollywood cinema the
normatively functioning hierarchy of looks is coded
in terms of gender, the man looks and the woman is
looked at

(p. 109) E+H then discuss how responses to Mulvey
and apparatus theory more generally opened up a
mode of critique that tried to historicize the look
and the spectator, to push against the tendency in
psychoanalysis to posit a universal subject that is
does not really take into consideration differences
among spectators (gender, sexuality, race, class,
nationality)

And they discuss the film Silence of the Lambs to investigate how
people’s responses to films were affected by all sorts of things that
existed beyond the single experience of watching a film—meaning
doesn’t only come from the film itself

(p. 111) That the Silence of the Lambs caused an intense public debate,
demonstrates how, in the concrete context of cinema, the social force
filed can influence the reception of a film and there the ‘subject
position of the spectator.’

Not everyone viewed the film the same way. And critics pointed out
that the eye is not separated form the body and that different bodies
(gay, straight, Black, brown, female, queer, non western) would have
different experiences of the eye

(p. 113) Is it possible to treat the cinematic apparatus as an institution
not only whose technologies but also whose psychic dimensions can
vary depending upon the social context to which historical spectators
are exposed?

The rest of the chapter is dedicated to highly conceptual
discussion of “The Real” and a philosophical excavation of the
“Imaginary and the Symbolic” which E+H illustrate through a
discussion of Zizek.

This material is very dense exceeds the limits of what you are
expected to read or understand and so please skim from pp. 114
on (if you haven’t already)

4

Film as Translation
A Net With No Fisherman’

with Scott MacDonald

MacDonald: YOIl grew lip ill Vietnam dllril1g the American prescllce there, TiI;s may be a
stml/ge qllesfioll to (lsk about tlUlI period I bllt f’1/I CIIrious (/00111 wi/ether

.

11011 wen’ a lIIovhxo(‘r
mId wlllli fil lll s YO/l saw ill those yenrs.

Trinh: I was not at all a moviegoer. To go to the movies then was a real feast. A
new film in town was always an overcrowded, exciting event. The number of films
I got to see before coming to the States was rather limited, and I was barely in tro-
duced to TV before J left the country in 1970. Actually, it was only when the first
television programs came to Vi etnam thai I learned to listen to English. Here also
the experience was a coll ective one since you had to li ne up in the streets wi th
everyone else to look at one of the TVs made available to the neighborhood. I had
studied Engli sh at schooL but to be able to foll ow the actual pace of spoken Engli sh
was quite a different matter.

Interview conducted by Scott MacDonald in November 1989, when Surname Vi/’! Gi!1{‘1r Name Nam was
screened at Utica CoUege of Syracuse University .

• bcept for the interview with Jayamanne and Rutherford, all titles have been added by myseJl for this
book-T Mh.

111

Copyrighted Material

Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.

C
op

yr
ig

ht
©

1
99

2.
T

ay
lo

r
&

F
ra

nc
is

G
ro

up
. A

ll
rig

ht
s

re
se

rv
ed

.

112 Interviews

M: Did you see Frellch films ill school?

T: No. A number of them were commercially shown, but during the last few years
I was in Vietnam, there were more American than French films. My introduction to
film culture is quite recent.

M: Reassemblage seems to critique traditional ethnographic movies-Nanook of the
North, The Ax Fight, The Hunters, .. I assume yOIl made a conscioZlS decision to take
011 the whole male-centered history of etJHlographic moviemaking. At w/wt poil1t did .11011
become familiar with that traditio,,? Did you have specific films in mind whe/! you made
Reassemblage?

T: No. I didn’t. You don’t have to be a connoisseur in film to be aware of the
problems that permeate anthropology, although these problems do differ wit h the
specific tools and the medium that one uses. The question of limit in wr iting, for
example, is very different from that in filmmaking. But the way one relates to the
material that makes one a writer-anthropologist or an anthropological filmmaker
needs to be radically questioned. A Zen proverb says “A grain of sand contains all
land and sea,” and I think that whether you look at a film, attend a slide show, listen
to a lecture, witness the fieldwork by either an expert anthropologist or by any
person subjected to the authority of anthropological discourse, the problems of sub-
ject and of power relationship are all there. They saturate the entire fie ld of anthro-
pological activity.

I made Reassemblage after having lived in Senegal for three years (1977-80) and
taught music at the Institut National des Arts in Dakar; in other words, after having
time and again been made aware of the hegemony of anthropological discourse in
every attempt by both local outsiders and by insiders to identify the culture ob-
served. Reasscmb/agc was shot in 1981 well after my stay there. Although I had by
then seen quite a number of films and was familiar with the history of Western
cinema, I can’t say this was a determining factor. I had done a number of super-8
films on diverse subjects before, but Reasscmblage was my fi rst 16 mm.

M: YOII mentiolled you were looking at films before .11011 weill to SCllegal. Were yO/l lookillg at
the way ill which Senegal or other Africall cultures were portrayed ill film?

T: No, not at all. Despite my having been exposed to a number of non-
mainstream films from Europe and the Slates at the time, I must say I was then one
of the more passive consumers of the film industry. It was when I started making
films myself that I really came to realize how obscene the question of power and

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

Film As Tralls/atioll 113

production of meaning is in filmic representation. J don’t reall y work in terms of
in fl uence. I’ve never been able to recognize anything in my background that would
allow me neatly to trace-even momentarily-my itinerary back to a single point of
origin. Influences in my li fe have always happened in the most odd, disorderly way.
Everything I’ve done comes from all kinds of direction, certainly not just from film.
It seems rather clear to me that Reassem/Jiage did not come from the films I looked
at, but from what J had learned in Senegal. The film was not realized as a reaction
to anything in particular, but more I would now say, as a desire not to simply mean,
What seems most important to me was to expose the transformations that occurred
with the attempt to materialize on film and between the frames the impossible ex-
perience of “what” constituted Senegalese cultures, The resistance to anthropology
was not a motivation to the making of the film. It came alongside with other strong
feelings, such as the love that one has for one’s subject(s) of inquiry.

M: So the fact IIwt .11011 fO//1/d a film form different from what has become co/welltiollal as a
mellllS of imagi/Ig Cll/ilire was accidellta/.

T: Not quite accidentaL because there were a number of things I did not want to
reproduce in my work: the kind of omniscience that pervades many films, not just
through the way the narration is being told, but more generally, in their structure,
editing and cinematography, as well as in the effacement of the filmmakers, or the
invisibility of th eir politics of non-location. But what I rejected and did not want to
carryon came also wilh the making of Reassemblage. While J was filming, for ex-
ample, I realized that I often proceeded in conformity with anthropological preoc-
cupations, and the chall enge was to depart from these without merely resorting to
self-censorship.

M: O/Im ill Reassemblage there’lI/h’ flit abrupt /IIovelllelll of tlte camera or a suddeu wi
ill Ihe middle of a 1II0tioll tltal ill a 1I0rmal film would be allowed 10 Iwve a sellse of complelioll.
Comillg to tlte films from the arella of experimelltal 1II0viemakillg, I felt familiar willt those
kil/ds of tactics. Had .11011 seell mllel, of wltat ill Ihis cOllI/try is called “avalll -garde film” or
“experimelltal film?” /’m sorr y to be so persistellt ill Irying to relate YOII to film! I call see it
troubles .11011.

T: [Laughter] J think it’s an interesting problem because your attempt is to situate
me somewhere in relation to a film tradition, whereas J feel the experimentation is
an attitude that develops with the making process when one is plunged into a fil m.
As one advances, one explores the different ways that one can do th ings without
having to lug about heavy belongings. The term “experimental” becomes question-

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

11 4 Ill terviews

able when it refers to techniques and vocabularies that allow one to classify a film
as “belonging” to the “avant-garde” category. Your observation that the film fore-
grounds certain strategies not foreign to experimental filmmakers is accurate, al-
though I would add that when Reassell1blage first came out, the experimental/avant-
garde film world had as many problems with it as any other film milieus. A man
who has been active in experimental filmmaking for decades said for example, “She
doesn’t know what she’s doing.”

So, while the· techniques are not surprising to avant-garde filmmakers, the fil m
still does not quite belong to that world of filmmaking. It differs perhaps because it
exposes it s politics of representation instead of seeking to transcend representation
in favor of visionary presence and spontaneity which o ften constitute the prime
criteria for what the avant-garde considers to be Art. But il also differs because all
the strategies I came up with in RcassclI1blage were directl y generated by Ihe material
and the context that define the work. One example is the u se of repetition as a
transformi ng, as well as rhythmic and structural, device. Since the making of the
film, I have seen many more experimental films and have sat on a number of grant
panels. Hence I have had many opportunities to recognize how difficu lt it is to
reinvent anew or 10 defamiliarize what has become common practice among film-
makers. It ‘Nas very sad to see, for example, how conventional the use of repetition
proved to be in the realm of “experimental” filmmaking. This does not mean that
one can no longer use it , but rather that the Challenge in using it is more criti cal.

I still think that repetition in Reasscmblage functions very differentl y than in many
of the films I have seen. For me, it’s not just a technique that one introduces for
fragmenting or emphasizing eff ects. Very oft en people tend to repeat mechanicall y
three or four times something said on the soundtrack. This technique of looping is
also very common in experimental music. But looping is not of any particular inter-
est to me. What interests me is the way certain rhythms came back to me while I
was traveling and filmin g across Senegal, and how the intonation and in fl ection of
each of the diverse local languages inform me of where I was. For example, the film
brought out the musical quality of the Sereer language through untranslated
snatches of a conversation among vill agers and the varying repetition of certain
sentences. Each language has it s own music and its practice need not be reduced to
the mere fu nction of communicating meaning. The repetition I m ade use of has,
accordingly, nu ances and differences built within it, so that repetition here is n ot
ju st the automatic reproduction of the same, but rather the production of the same
with and in differences.

M: When I had seen Reassemblage enough to see it ill detail, rather !linn just lettillg it
flow by, I lIoticed somethillg that strikes me as very ulII/Sllal. When you focll s 011 a subject,
you dOIl’f see it frolll a single pial/e. Instead, you move to different positions II car and fa r and

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

Film As Tral/slation 115

fro m side lo side. You dOI/’t try to cilOOSC n vicw of tile subject; .11011 explore vnrious wnys of
seeing il.

T: This is a great description of what is happening with the look in Rellsscm/J/nge,
but I’ll have to expand on it a little more. It is common practice among filmmakers
and photographers to shoot the same thing more than once and to select only one
shot- the “best” one- in the editing process. Otherwise, to show the subject from
a more va ried view, the favored formula is that of utilizing the all-powerful zoom or
curvilinear travelling shot whose totalizi ng eff ect is assured by the smooth operation
of the camera.

Whereas in my case, the limit s of the looker and of the camera are clearly ex-
posed, not only through the repeated inclusion of a pl urality of shots of the same
subject from very slightl y di fferent distances or angles (hence the numerous jump-
cut effects), but also through a visibly hesitant, or as you mentioned earlier, an
incomplete, sudden and unstable camera work. (The zoom is avoided in both Rens-
sem/J/age and Nnked Spaces, and diversely acknowledged in the more recent films J
have been making.) The exploratory movements of the camera-or structurally
speaking, of the film itself-which some viewers have qualified as “d isquieting,”
and others as “sloppy,” is neither intentional nor unconscious. It does not result
from an (avant-garde) anti-aesthetic stance, but occurs, in my context, as a form of
retlexive body writing. It s erratic and unassuming moves materialize those of the
filming subject caught in a situation of trial, where the desire to capture on cellu loid
grows in a state of non-knowingness and wi th the understanding that no reality
can be “captured” without trans-forming.

M: The subject Slays ill its world alld .11011 try to figllre Ollt what YOll r relationship to it is.
/t’s exactly the opposite of “takillg a positiol/”: it’s seeing what different positiolls reveal.

T: That’s a useful distinction.

M: YOllr illterest ill livlllg spaces is obvioll s ill ReassembJage alld 1110re obvious ill Naked
Spaces. You also did a book all hvillg spaces.

T: In Burkina Faso, yes. And in collaboration with Jean-Paul Bourdier.

M: Did your illterest iI, li ving spaces precede making tlte films or did it develop by makil/ ~
II /em?

T: The interest in the poetics of dwelling preceded Reassem/llage. It was very much
inspired by Jean-Paul, who loves vernacular architecture and has been doing relent-

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

116 Interviews

less research on rural houses across several Western and non-Western cultures. We
have worked together as a team on many projects.

Reassemblage evolves around an “empty” subject. I did not have any preconceived
idea for the film and was certainly not looking for a particularized subject that would
allow me to speak about Senegal. In other words, there is no single center in the
film-whether it is an event, a representative individual or number of individuals
in a community, or a unifying theme and area of interest. And there is no single
process of centering either. This does not mean that the experience of the film is not
specific to Senegal. It is e1Itirely related to Senegal. A viewer once asked me, “Can
you do the same film in San Francisco?” And I said, “Sure, but it would be a totally
different fil m.” The strategies are, in a way, dictated by the materials that constitute
the film . They are bound to the circumstances and the contexts unique to each sit-
uation and cultural frame.

In the processes of emptying out positions of authority linked to knowledge,
competence and qualifications, it was important for me in the film to constantly
keep alive the question people usually ask when someone sets out to write a book
or in this case, to make a film: “A film about Senegal, but what in Senega!?” By
“keeping alive” I mean, refusing to package [a] culture, hence not settling down
with any single answer; even when you know that each work generates it s own
constraints and limit s. So what you see in Reassemb/age are people’s daily activit ies:
nothing out of the ordinary; nothing “exotic”; and nothing that constitutes the usual
focal points of observation for anthropology’s fetishistic approach to culture, such
as the so-call ed objects of rites, figures of worship and artifacts, or in the narrow
sense of the terms, the ritualistic events and religious practices. This negation of
certain institutionali zed cultural markings is just one way of facing the issues that
such markings raise. There are other ways. And while shooting Reassemblage, I was
both moved by the richness of the villagers’ living spaces, and made aware of the
difficulty of bringing on screen the different attitudes of dwelling implied without
confronting again and differently what I have radically rejected in this film. This
was how the idea of making another film first appealed to me. Naked Spaces was shot
three years later across six countries of West Africa , while Reassemblage involved five
regions across Senegal.

M: Reassemblage takes illdividual subjects-people, actiOI1S. objects-alld provides var-
iOlls perspectives 011 them; Naked spaces elliarges the scope /1111 II ses all allalogolls proce-
dllre. YOII deal with the sallie gelleral topic-domestic livi ll g spaces-alld explore its partic-
IIlar manifestatiolls ill olle geographic area afler (/I/Olher. And the scope of Ihe view of
particular spaces is enlarged too: you pan across a givfII space frolll differellt distances and
angles (i ll Reassemblage tile camera is generally still. tllougll you filmed from differellt still

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

Film As Trans/ation 117

POSitiOIlSJ, There’s n tendency to move back alld forth across the space in different directions
to rediscover it over alld over ill new COlltexts.

T: The last description is very astute and very close to how I felt in making Naked
Spaces. Although I would say that the procedure is somewhat adverse (even while
keeping a multiplicit y of perspectives) rather than analogous to the one in Reasselll-
bIage, the immediate per ception is certainly that of an enlarged scope; physically
speaking, not only because of the way the fi lm works on duration and of the variety
of cultural terrains it traverses, but also because, as you point out, of it s visual treat-
ment. In Reassemblage. I avoided going from one precise point to another in the
cinematography. I was dealing with places and was not preoccupied with depicting
space. But when you shoot architecture and the spaces involved, you are even more
acutely aware of the limit of your camera and how inadequate the fleeting pans and
fractured still images used in Reassemblage are, in terms of showing spatial relation-
ships.

One of the choices I made was to have many pans; bul lIot smooth pans, and
none that could give you the illusion that you’re not looking through a frame. Each
pan sets into relief the rectangular delineation of the frame. It never moves
obliquely, for example.

M: It’s a/ways horiz01Ifa/.

T: Or vertical.

M: And if’s a/ways referrill g back to .11011 as all individual filmmaker behilld the ClllI/era. /I
lIever becomes this sort of Hitchcock motiOIl t/trough space thai makes the camera feel so
powerfUl.

T: In someone else’s space I cannot just roam about as I may like to. Roaming
about wit h the camera is not value-free; on the contrary, it tells us much about the
ideology of such a technique.

M: It’s hrterestillg too tlwt tile way YOIl pall makes dear tlrat tile ollly thing that we’re goiug
to filld Ollt about .11011 perso/1ally is that YOII’re interested ill this place. Milch hmrd-/teld
call/erawork is implicitly autobiographical, emotionally self-expressive. 111 your films camera
lI/ovemerll is not (lllfobiographical except in the sense thai it reveals yOIl were ill this place
with these people for a period of time and were interested ill them, rather tlran in what tlr ey
mean to yOllr culture.

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

Film As Trims/titian 119

T: There are many ways to treat the autobiographical. What is autobiographical
can often be very political, but not everything is political in the autobiographical.
One can do many things with elements of autobiography. However, I appreciate the
distinctivn you make because in the realm of generalized media colonization, my
film s have too often been described as a “personal film,” as “personal documentary”
or “subjective documentary.” Although I accept these terms, I think they really need
to be problematized, redefined and expanded. Because personal in the context of
my film s does I/ot mean an individual standpoint or the foregrounding of a self. I
am not interested in using film to “express myself ,” but rather to expose the social
self (and selves) which necessarily mediates the making as well as the viewing of
the film,

M: “Persona/,” “subjective,” sllggrsts that something else is impasoual al1d objective,
which is ludicro/ls.

T: Right. Too often a binary opposition between subjectivity and objectivity is
perpetrated in the claim that one makes subjective documentary-as if anyone can
produce such a thing as objecti ve documentary. There is nothing objective and truly
impersonal in filmmaking, although there can be a formulary, cli ched approa.ch to
film. What you often have is a mere abidance by the conventions of documentary
practice, which is put forward as the “objective” way to document other cultures. It
is as if the acknowledgment of the politics of the documentation and the document-
ing subject disturbs because the interests at stake are too high for the guardians of
norms.

M: III Naked Spaces we’re inside tile dwellings as milch as we’re outside. III fact, the
movemellt frol1l outside to iI/side, mId vice versa, seems celltral to tile film,

T: Yes. When you walk from outside to the inside of most rural African houses,
you come from a very bright sunlight to a very dark space where fo r a moment, you
are totally blind. It takes some time to get adjusted to the darkness inside. This
experience is one of the conceptual bases of Naked Spaces. To move inside oneself ,
one has to be willing to go intermittently b lind. Simi larl y, to move toward other
people, one has to accept to take the jump and move ahead blindly at certain mo-
ments of inquiry. If one is not even momentarily blind, if one remains as one is from
the outside or from the inside, then it is unlikely that one would be able to break
through that moment where suddenly everything stops; one’s luggages are emptied
out; and one fares in a state of non-knowingness, where the destabilizing encoun-
ters with the ” unfamili ar” or “unknown” are multiplied and experienced anew.

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

120 Interviews

M: Since as a tccllllology, film captures light, the traditionalassllmptioll has beell that
allythillg that’s dark is 1I0t worth looking at. At most, darkness is a call text for romance al1d
for da/lger. Evell ill a docllmentary, we’d either never sec tire types of dimly lit spaces yOIl
reveal, or they’d be lit artificially, which would allow the techllology to record them, bllt ill a
Wily that would distort the real experiel1ce of SI/Ch Spilces. Ti,e teclmology dcterll/Illes what
olle call see about other wllu res. You depart frolll this 1I0t 0111.11 by recording indoor spaces ill
IIreir OWlIl1aturallow liKIzt conditioll$, bllt by repealillg the beauty of these spaces.

T: You can i magine these houses being shot with a light inside. What would to-
tall y be damaged are the quality of solid darkness and the shafts of li ght that pene-
trate the inside spaces.

M: ‘”stead of illtimate-if tlwt’s thc right word-the spaces would become bare, empty.

T: Yes, yes. . The question of cinema and li ght is pivotal in Naked Spilces. Dwell-
ing is both material and immaterial; it invites volume and shape as well as it reflects
a cosmology and a way of liv ing creativit y. In other words, to deal with architecture
is to deal with the notion of li ght in space. To deal with the notion of li ght in space
is to deal with color, and to deal with color is to deal with music, because the ques-
tion of light in film is also, among others, a question of timing and rhythm. Such
mutual accord of elements of daily existence is particularly strikin g in the built en-
vi ronments filmed and the way these materiali ze the multiple oneness of life.

There are a number of direct statements on color and color ti ming in Naked Spaces.
(“Color is life I Li ght becoming music”; “Orange and blue; warmer or colder; more
luminosity, more presence. Timing acts as a link between natural and artifi cial
li ght.”) The look of a film and how people are represented depends so vi tally on
color timing. For me, it has always been crucial to work closely with the color timer,
even more so in Naked Spaces. Very often, when films shot in Africa reach the lab,
they are treated the same way as with film s shot in Western cultures; that is, they
are timed more on the blue side of the color char! for people with fair skin. Hence,
the African people often come out with a skin color that is dull charcoal black. This
is not the vibrant skin color that J saw and retained, so J devoted much of my energy
at the lab learning from and cooperating with the timer on “color correcting”; in-
sisting, whenever appropriate, on the orange and warmer colors to obtain the miss-
ing vibrant quality.

The relationship J worked on between color and light was also the link I conspic-
uously drew between architecture, music and film. The connections that determine
the structure of the fil m are those that I have experienced in the li ving spaces of the
different peoples involved. The roundness of lif e is not only lit erally manifested in

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

Film As Trallslntioll 121

the round shape of many of the houses. It is also recognizable in all spheres of socio-
cultural activities, such as the various dances shown or even the way women work
together. “The house opens onto the sky in a perfect circle,” a voice states in Naked
Spaces, while the subtitle of the film reads “L iving Is Round.”

M: YOII were 1(llkil1~ (lI1OlIt Il1Ilsic (llId nrc/rileclure. Ct’rtaillly olle of the thillSs tllal ‘s very
IIIl/1sl/(/1 alJOul 1100r Africnll films is tl//’ soundtracks: tire movcmclIl/mck (llId fortll betwccn
/IIusic, oilIer eucryday sOl/llds, tile various I/(/rrativcs alld silwccs. I kilOit’ lID/hillS 1l/1Cl1I/ your
ml/sic cOIIIIJ() sitioll, but laSSllme litis illtcrWc(l vi ll~ of differeut strallds of sOUlld IlIld silmcc
derives fro ll1 your illteresl ill IIIlIsic.

T: I guess no\v I can come back to your earlier question about the film background
I don’t really have, by relating the wCly I work with film to my musical background.
I farc with ease in the world of experimental music, perhaps because of the cultural
hybridity of both its instrumentation and its deterritorialized space-the way it
questions the boundaries of what is music and what is not. I really admired, for
example, John Cage, whose Zen-inspired compositions and readings have effected
radical change in all fields of the arts. I was very attracted to his work because it
touched on something I was similarly groping for but had not articulated. The fact
that Cage brought silence and the sounds of life both into the consecrated realm of
concert halls and out onto the domain of public debate, was very liberating. “Ex-
perimental music” in this context is a constant exploration of sound as sound, rather
than as a substitute for something else: a personal feeling or a psychological state.
Narrative music is thus exposed in its ideology, its closures and its link with power
and knowledge.

Many viewers have, indeed, thought of my films as operating more like a musical
score than like any structure found in film traditions. And I also tend to think of
film montage and music composition as being very much alike, although one can
also argue further that in poetry, a very similar process happens in the play of
words. (Wit h the understanding here that montage is not reduced to the editing
stage, but can occur in the conception and shooting stagers} of the film as well.) For
me, the exploration of new complex subjectivities and the problematizing of the
subject in contemporary theory can be best carried out through poetical language-
as long as poetical language is not equated with a mere aestheticizing tool nor prac-
ticed as a place to consolidate a “subjective” self. In poetry, the “[” can /lever be said
to simply personify an individual. It’s amusing that the feedback I o ft en get from
my relatives or close friends on my book of poems tends to be something like: “We
are far from suspecting that you could be what you are in your poetry!” For them
al! the feelings and situations depicted in poetry are persollally true. They immedi-

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

122 Interviews

ately associate you with the “I” who speaks in your poetr y and assume it ‘s “rea!,”
which is not wrong, but it’s not accurate either, In poetical language, there is no “[”
that just stands for lIIyself. The “]” is there; it has to be there, but it is there as the
site where all other ”I’s” can enter and cut across one another. This is an example of
the very strength and vitality of poetical language and of how it can radically con-
tribute to the questioning of the relationship of subjects to power, language and
meaning in theory. Th eory as practiced by many is often caught in a positioning
where the theori st continues to stand in a “safe place” to theori ze about others.

M: i’oe of tell felt that way about the little J kllOlV of theoretical film writillg. Part of the
rea SOIl J write articles is to consolidate a positiOlI for myself witllill all illStitlltioll, to give
myself a cerlailllll lwlIIll of ecollolllic and psychic seCi/rity. Theorists talk abolll how the art ist
is situated witllillan ecollomie syslelll, /Jilt I rarely hear of (/11.’1 discllssioll of lOrit lll g theory
liS II //IlIrke table aetioily.

T: Exactly, and vice versa.

M: If I show Nanook of the North lind Ax Fight, all d then Reassemblage, it’s like film
IIII:ory illll(lioll. Allybody who sees those three films, ail e after the other, is discoverillg 1111
sorls of tllillgS about all of them. ulIIguage has such a l!!I rd tillle grasping what’s 011 the saeCl!
thai it’s just easier to pllt the films lIext to olle IlllOther and let the al/dimce discover what they
reveala/1011f each other.

T: There is a tendency in theorizing a/1011f film to see theorizing as one activity and
fi lmmaking as another, which you can point to in theory. This is an important ques-
tion for me because I teach theory partly to people who come to school- in a uni-
versity department of cinema-primarily for film production. There’s an antitheory
tradition that runs deep among some of the “production people.” The way I try to
teach it by promoting “bridge” courses and by emphasizing the indispensabili ty of
their mutual challenge can actually be summarized in an old statement by Marx:
that theory cannot thrive without being rooted in practice, and that practice cannol
liberate it self wit hout theory. When one starts theorizing aOOllt film, one starts shut-
ting in the field; it becomes a field of experts wh ose access is gained through au-
thoritative knowledge of a demarcated body of “classical” film s and of legitimi zed
ways of reading and speaking about film s. That’s the pari I find most ste ril e in
theory, It is necessary for me always to keep in mind that one cannot really theorize
about film, but only with film. This is how the field can remain open.

M: Tile thing I find frustrating about tile wllole theory/practice issue as it has played itself
Ollt ill tile last 10 or J 2 years is tllat /0 make (l fi lm 0111′ lias to take a chali ce witli oll e’s life and

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

Film As Trallslatioll 123

olles resources. Its true ill Hollywood films alld ill il/depel/dent film, where, if YOII’re goillg
to try to come up with $35,000 to make a movie, YOIl have to restructllre your life. You have
to take a direct al/d dallgerous part ill whatever the ntl/iol/al economy is that you live in.
When / write abo/lt films-fIIld I dOIl’t write theory, but / tltillk it’s also true there-you dOIl’t
IltIve to reorgal/ize allythillg: you Cflll remain withill till illstitutiOllal framework where you
IltIve a salary: y011 CfIIl critique without chal/gillg your lifestyle. / go to il/dependellt film to
see what those people who are willillg to put their lives 011 the lille are able to discover. Theory
call be brilliaJlt alld elllightellillg, but I dOIl’t feel people’s lives Oil the lille ill the same way.

T: Well , I think there’s such a resistance to theory because theory is often de-
ployed from a very safe place. And I am not even talking here about the other
resistance which is found within the academic system itself, where theory can
threaten the status quo and a distinction could be made between intellectual activi-
ties and academicizing pursuits. But I, myself, think of theory as a practice that
changes your li fe entirely, because it acts on your conscience. Of course, theory
becomes a mere accessory to practice when it speaks from a safe place, while prac-
tice merely illust rates theory when the relationship between the two remains one of
domination-submission and of totalization. I see theory as a constant questioning
of the framing of consciousness-a practice capable of informing another practice,
such as film production, in a reciprocal challenge. Hence theory always has the
possibility, even the probability, of leading the other practice to “dangerous” places,
and vice versa. I can’t separate the two. The kind of fi lm I make requires that eco-
nomically, as you point out, I readjust my life; but because of the film, I am con-
stantly questioned in who I am, as its making also transforms the way I see the
world around me. You know; history is full of people who die for theory.

M: Wlren I’m making these statemellts, 1 guess I’m fllillkillg of those ill academe wlro call
themselves theorists, but who merely use tlte real theorists for tlreir OWII academic ends.

Call we go back to Naked Spaces? How did you decide Oil tire order of the sectjolls? Until
/ went to the atlas, I thought perhaps you travelled ill a circle.

T: Except for the end of the film, which, as you just suggest, leads us back to it s
opening sequences, Naked Spaces is organized in the geographical order of my itin-
erary: from one country, one region, to another. Each location is indicated by having
the names of the people and the country appear briefly on the screen, more as a
footnote than as a nametag or a validating marker. The soundtrack is however more
playful: a statement made by a member of a specific group may be repeated in
geographical contexts that are different. Needless to say, this strategy has not failed
to provoke hostility among “experts” of African cultures, “liberal” media specialists,
and other cultural documentarians.

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

114 hlterv;ew5

Apparently; some “professional” viewers cannot distinguish between a signpost
whose presence only tells you where you are, and one whose visual arrangement
suggests either a different function or certainly more than one f unction at work.
Depending on h ow one uses them, letters on an image have many functions, and
viewers “”ho abide by media formulas are often insensitive to this. For me, the
footnotes or the names that appear on screen allow precisely the non-expert viewer
to recognize thai a few selected statements issued by one source or heard in one
group are repeated across borderlines of ethnic specifici ties. Thus, the names also
function as aCknowledgment of the strategical play of the fil m-w hat one may more
easily call the filmmaker’s manipulations.

Such deliberate act of taking, for example, a Dogan (Mali) statement on adorn-
ment and desire or on the house as a woman, and juxtaposing it wi th specific im-
ages of dwellings among the Kabye (Togo) and then again, among the Birifor (Bur-
ki na Faso) is a taboo among experts. Because what one ethnic group says can
absolutely not be reproduced in another group. Yet thi s is also applicable in the film
to quotes from Westerners such as Paul Eluard’s “The earth is blue like an orange,”
wh ich appears among the Oualatans (Mauritania) as well as the Fan (Benin). And I
use a similar strategy in music: in both Naked Spaces and Rcasscmblagc, music from
one group is first heard with that very group and then varingly repeated afterwards
in other groups. The viewer is diversely made aware of such “vio lation” of borders.

There is a very interesting issue involved here. The peoples of Third World coun-
tries used to be lumped together in their undifferentiated otherness. And this is
reflected pervasively in Western media discourses-radio, books, photos, films,
television. You might have a program on Vietnam, for example, but you hear per-
sistent Chinese music in the background. Even today, in many mainstream films on
the Vietnam experience, the people cast for the Vietnamese roles are the neighbor-
ing Southeast Asians who can hardly speak a word of Vietnamese. Of course, fo r
many American viewers, it doesn’t matter. Asians are Asians, and you can even
take someone from the Philippines or from Korea to fill in the roles. Well, it’s cer-
tainly the perpetuation of such attitude that the cultural experts and anthropologists
work against. And they should. But to rectify the Master’s colonialist mistakes, they
have come up with disciplinarian guidelines and rules. One of them, for example,
is that you always show the source of the music heard, hence more generally speak-
ing, the music of one group should not be erroneously u sed in the context of an-
other group. However, such rationalization also connotes a preoccupation wi th au-
thenticity; one that supposes culture can be objectified and reified through “data”
and “evidences.” Here the use of sync sound becomes binding, and its validation as
the most truthful way of documenting is taken for granted.

It is fine fo r me if the Master’s heirs are now correcting his errors to raise their
own consciousness of other cultures. But when circumstantial and history-bound

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

Film As TrallslatiOIl 125

methods and techniques become validated as the norms for all fi lms no matter who
the (a historical) subject is, then they prove to be very dangerous: once more an
established frame of thinking, a prevailing system of representation is naturalized
and seen as the only truthful and “correct” way. Surely enough, these “rules” are
particularly binding w hen it is a question of Third World p eople: films made on
white American culture, for example, can u se classical music from any European
source and this hardly bothers any viewer. In Naked Spaces, I can neither reproduce
the Master’s mistakes nor abide by his disciplinarian cri teria of correct representa-
tion, hence the importance of the naming of the peoples to acknowledge the delib-
erate gesture of carrying certain cultural statements across ethnic boundaries.

M: So /III’ imagery is a killd of grid against which the spectator call consider YOllr mrmip-
Irlalioll s of SOUlld.

T: Yes. One could certainly have a more restrained soundtrack, and let the images
move back and forth in their tran scultural signs, but the choice here was to have
that transgressive fluidity in the sound. The visuals, as we discussed earlier, have
their own crit ical strategies. After alL boundaries are extremely arbitrary. Bounda-
ries between nations are a more recent phenomenon. The village people themselves
refer to kinship boundaries, which are usually also the boundaries between different
ethnic groups. And ethnic grouping cuts across geo-political borderlines.

M: Olli’ {lcti vity that certailliy cOllfirms IIri s idea is the poundillg of graill, which we see il/
culture after Cillture.

T: At fiv e o’clock in the morning, I would wake up and listen to that sound in
most villages, and it would go on late into the evening. The day begins and ends
with women pounding to prepare the meals. And yes, it is a coll ective background
sound that you’ll recognize in villages across Af ri ca.

M: At tillles you can’t tell whether what YOII’re hearing is daily labor or /fIusic.

T: More than the music of labor, you also have the body rhythm of collective work.
In the film, the way women bodily relate to each other while working is very rhyth-
mic and musical. In other words, daily interactions among the people are music.
You mentioned earlier the various aspects of the soundtrack: the silence, the com-
mentary, the environmental, vocal and instrumental music. All these elements form
the musical dimension of the film, but the relationship between and wit hin the
visuals is also rhythmicall y determined. The wayan old woman spins cotton; the
way a daughter and her mother move in syncopation while they pound or beat

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

Film As Translation 127

the grain together; the way a group of women chant and dance while plastering the
floor of the front court in a house; or the way the different cultures counteract or
harmonize wi th one another; these are the everyday rhythms and music of life. In
such an environment one realizes how much modern society is based on compart-
mentalization-the mentality colonialism has brought in with its spread.

M; On the sOlllldtmck, the statemellfs abollt Africa are presented ill sllch a way thai the
deepest voice seems to speak from within tile wltllres beillg diswssed, the highest voice
speaks-as you said ill the introduction to the text published in Cinematograph (Vol. 3,
1988, pp. 65-78)-“according to Western logic and mainly quotes Westerll thinkers”; and
the medium-mllge voice (yours) speaks in Ihe first perSOIl “and relates personal feelings mId
ol1serontio/ls.” Bllt while the spenkers vary their statements of tell overlap. Were .11011 sllggest-
illg that wilat you heard nOOut {Illy given wlillre, or within any cllltllre, is a combination of
w/wl it says nOO/l/ itself and whal il knows is said aOO1l1 it by others?

T: One can see it that way, certainly. Some viewers have told me, “If you had
fictionalized these voices a little bit more” (which probably means they want the
voices to be more in opposition rather than simply be “different”), ” it’d be easier to
understand the role of these voices.” But J find it informative that a number of
people have difficulty hearing the difference between the voices, even though their
tone ranges, their accents and their discursive modes are so distinct. On the media
we are used to consume one, unitary, narrating voice-over. It is not surprising then,
that it may take some viewers more than one viewing to hear them in their differ-
ences. A viewer thought the difficult y comes from the fact that the voices are “di-
sembodied” (meaning ther eby that the narrators do not appear on screen), which
may be true. But I think there are also other factors in volved, because this same
viewer may have no diffi culty whatsoever listening to a “disembodied” omniscient
voice-over on one of the TV programs. This is all a question of: “How does one
speak?”

Any person who has had prolonged interactions with country people and villag-
ers-whether from their own culture or from another culture- know that you have
to learn to speak di fferently in order to be heard in their context. So if you listen
carefully to your own speech in your interactions with them, you would recognize
that even though you may both speak the same language- the case is further com-
pl icated when you don’t-you speak differently. This sounds like a very banal state-
ment until you find yourself in a situation where you wish to relate again what the
villagers say to your audience-in other words, to translate them. Translation,
which is interpell ated by ideology and can n ever be objective or neutral, should
here be understood in the wi der sense of the term-as a politics of constructing

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

128 Illterviews

meaning. Whether you translate one language into another language, whether you
narrate in your own words what you have understood from the other person, or
whether you use this person directly on screen as a piece of “oral testimony” to
serve the direction of your film, you are dealing wi th cultural translation.

To give an example: a villager may say, while pointing toward the front court of
her dwelling: “Calabash, we call it the vault of heaven.” The local interpreter may
translate: “The calabash is the vault of heaven.” But when outsiders to the culture
Iry to translate this to their audience back home, it might come out, “The calabash
is like the vault of heaven,” or “stands for the vault of heaven.” There are all these
little devices in language that “explain” instead of stating “this, this” or “th is is this”
with no explanation added. When you translate, you automatically rationalize what
people say according to the logic and habits of your own language or mode of speak-
ing. This tendency, which seems to me to be particularly naturalized in the media,
is dealt with in Naked Spaces by assigning the explanatory logic and its ensuing lin-
guistic devices to the voice of the woman whose English accent (actually South Af-
rican) is easily detectable (Linda Peckham’s). It was a real challenge for me to try to
bri ng out these subtleties of translation and to remain consistent in the distinction
of the three discursive modes. Moreover, the only voice in the film that can afford
to have some kind of authority (not media or academic institutionalized authority,
but rather a form of insider’s assertion) is the mediated voice of the people, the low
voice that quotes the villagers’ sayings and other statements by African writers. My
voice gives little anecdotes and personal feelings.

The distinction made between the voices is not a rigid one, and the latter do at
times overlap in what they say and how they speak. The moment when the three
are joined together is in the last third of the film, when the viewers see images of
the Fon’s lake-dwellings. The two voices that often speak in agreement then-as
contrasted to the third one-are those of the two women of color: Barbara Christian
and myself. We haven’t really met in our statements until then, but here the issue
in the village, whose people’s income thrive on touristic trade, concerns the contro-
versy of giving and taking. As it is fairly well known, in the First World-Third World
relationship, what may assert itself in appearance as “giving” very often turns out
to be nothing but a form of taking and taking again. The problema tics of donor and
acceptor is thus played out in that part in the soundtrack. This can be said to be the
only place in the film where the First World and Third World voices work in oppo-
sition. Most of the time, it was important for me that the voices meet or not meet,
but that they are not just set up in opposition to one another.

The voice of Western logic quotes a number of Western writers, induding Cixous,
Bachelard and Eluard. For me, these quotations are very relevant to the context of
dwelling I was in. I don’t situate myself in opposition to them just because the

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

Film As Tralls/atioll 129

writers are Westerners. Actually, in a public debate, a white man resentfully asked
me why I quoted Heidegger and added: “W hy not let liS quote him?” This is like
saying that I have encroached on some occupied territory and that the exclusive
right to use Heidegger belongs to Euro-Americans. Such ethnocentric rationale is
hard to believe (although not the least surprising) when you take as examples, fig-
ures of modernity such as Picasso or Brecht (to mention just two names): what
would their works be lik e without their being exposed to African sculpture or to
Japanese and Chinese theaters? Hi story constantly needs to be rewritten. In fact,
whether I like it or not, Heidegger is also part of my hybrid culture.

M: 11/ effect IIII.’ SOlllldtmck is IlIlCXUS for alltilesc voices. Alld a/ltilest.’ ,IQices met.’! ill you;
yozi”re 1I0t ollly a fi rst-persoll ol/server, yOl/have illtemalized 1111111.11 voices.

T: Exactly. The place of hybridity is also the place of my identity.

M: Actl/C1/1y, differellt forms of culture are presellt ill Africa: thaes 110 poillt ill pretelldillg
that Afrialll peopit’s live ill iso/atiOIl frolll the world.

T: Sometimes you can never win. On the one hand, I encounter reactions such as
“Why don’t you show more of the Irucks and the bicycles we see all the time in
African villages?” When I hear similar questions, I can tell the type of villages the
queslioner is famili ar with; he may have been to rural Africa, but he seems to have
no idea of the villages I went to, which are fa irly remote and diffic ult of access. On
the other hand, some viewers also ask, “Why show all the signs of industrial society
in these villages?” (referring here to the way the camera lingers on, for example, the
white doll a child was playing with in Reasselll/l/age, a red plastic cup, or a woman’s
pink plastic shoe in Naked Spaces).

At the same time as it is reassuring for certain Western viewers to see evidence
of their own industrial society spreading over Third World rural landscapes (what
one can call the marks of the West in its economical dominance), it is also irr it ating
for others to see the camera explicitl y looking at some of these industrialized objects,
or gazing at them a few seconds too long. Since the shooting of Reassembillge has
informed me of the potentials of a notion of cultural difference whose manifesta-
tions neither oppose nor depend on the West-in other words, neither succumbs
to assimilation nor remains entirely pristine in its traditions-the decision was pre-
cisely to work in the remote countryside where circulation was mainly either on
foot, by bicycle, or by pirogue. As a result of this choice, whenever any element of
industrial SOciety was found in such context, it became very visible. And the camera
reproduced accordingly such visibi li ty when an opportunity presented itself.

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

130 Interviews

M: Olle tiling filM’s /ICCII slild alllllli all//Iropologisis i~ tllat, essentially, by $:oinS ill to
“primiti1’e” w/tllres (lIId galherillg illfo rmalioll, they are “scouts” for the dOli/man I wlture,
leadillg the way toward lit e deslructioll of illdigel/(J1/s people.

T: There is some truth to that metaphor, although it is a dangerous one because
none of us who have gone to the cultures in question can claim to be free of it. I
would use another metaphor: sometimes anthropologists act as if they were fisher-
men. They select a location, position themselves as observers and then throw a net,
thinking that they can thereby catch what they look for. I think the very premise of
such an approach is illu sory. If I pick up that metaphor again and apply it to myself,
I would have to be the net myself , a net with no fi sherman; for I’ m caught in it as
much as what I try to catch. And I am caught with everything that I try to bring out
in my films.

M: You were snyil1g yesterday thai some people 11’110 like the African films were llI1pleas-
aI/ fl y surprised by Surname Viet Given Name Nam. There are comll1OI1 elemellls ill all
fltree films, bllt your decision to explore what we might COl/sider your own experience, your
OWl! heritage, requires you to /IIore o/’I,ioIlSly distallce yourself, to more overtly quest ion your
011’11 positioll of autiJority with regard to yOllr wlture. Ollt’ of fhe cellters of tile fi lm is the set
of illt erviews that were originally recorded /If Vie! namese by someone else, and then tmllslated
illto Frel1dl, alld are p·llall y rl’Cllactt’d 111 your film by WOI/I/’1/ who have come to the Ullited
States from Vie/nalll. /11 at least Ollt’ st’l1~e, the film is as /III/cit abol/t the process of tmllslatillg
meallillg frolll 011(: culture to lillO/her, a~ it is a/l()lIt Vietllam.

T: You raise several questions. That some people are reacting diff erently to my last
film is true, but I would not say this is only due to a difference between my African
films and this film. There has already been a split reaction between Reassemblage and
Naked Spaces. A number of people who r eally loved Rcassemblage had problems with
Naked Spaces when it fir st came out. I gu ess everything has it s own time. When
Reasselllblage was released, I had to wait a whole year before the film really started
circulating and before I got any positi ve feedback from viewers. It was such a hope-
less situation, for I was piling up, one after the other, rejections from film festivals
and numerous other film programs. In their own words, people “didn’t know what
to do with such a film”; it was totally misunderstood. Then unexpectedly, the film
started being picked up simultaneously from diverse places. Viewers were bewi l-
dered but very e nthusiastic; different venues opened up, and the unanticipated
circulation of the film continues to grow since then. A somewhat similar process
happened with Naked Spaces. Although the film got to be shown almost immediately
to some packed audiences, the disappointment from those who came expecting

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

Film As Trallslation 131

another Reassemblage was quite apparent. Most of the praise and positive reactions
I obtained in the first few months were from people who had not seen Reassemblage.
One of the sympathizing viewers at a festival told me thai when she shared with
others her admiration for the film, she was told thai she had to see Reassemblage fir st
before offering any comment. Reassemblage was then often referred to by these view-
ers as a model. And yet, since then, I have had very, very moving and elating feed-
back on Naked Spaces-sometimes well beyond any expectations I had for that film.

M: Was tile objection some people had to Naked Spaces the fact that it is less overtly
feminist tlltHl Reassemblage, that it doesn’t foreground ti re role of women ill African 0 11-
tures as obviously as tile earli er fil m?

T: I don’t think so. The most obvious problem people have with Naked Spaces is
the length of the film. The notion of time and of duration are worked on in a way
that makes the experience quite excruciating for some. Time not only as the result
of editing, but time made apparent wi thin the frame itself: by the gaze of the cam-
era; by it s slow unstable movement across people and their spaces; by the quies-
cence and contemplative quality of many of the scenes shown; and moreover by the
lack of a central storyline or guiding message. Moviegoers do not mind sitting a
couple of hours for a narrative feature. But to go through two hours and fifteen
minutes of non-action film wit h no love story, no violence and “no sex” (as a viewer
reminded me) is a real tr ial for many and a “far out,” unforgettable experi ence for
others. It was important for me on the one hand, to bring back a notion of ti me in
Africa that never failed to frustrate foreigners eager to consume the culture at a time-
is-money pace. (One of them, for example, warned a newcomer: “You need im-
mense, un-limit-ed patience here! Nothing is happening!”). On the other hand, it was
also critical to bring about a different way of experiencing film as well as of relating
to our environment.

Some of the objections to Naked Spaces also have to do with the fact that certain
viewers prefer the overt politics of Reassemblage. But Reassemblage cannot be re-
peated, and the audiences for the two film s sometimes overlap, other times remain
quite distinct. Naked Spaces seems to appeal strongly to people who are aware of the
predicament of dwell ing in modern society and are tuned to the inseparable ques-
tions of aesthetics, spirituality, sociality and environment. I have had, for example,
intense and exalted feedback from a few Native American viewers. I could never
anticipate this when I made the film .

For a while, I di dn’t quite know how to locate some of the hostilities toward
Surname Viel Given Name Nam, although in making it, I was well aware of the risks
that it was taking and the kind of difficulties it might encounter. Now that I have

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

732 Interviews

participated in more public debates on the film than I ever wish to, I can at least
identify two kinds of viewers who have problems with it. Actually, they are the
same, since the problems are fundamentally related. These are the viewers who
either feel antagonistic, maintain a competitive attitude toward the feminist
struggle, or are simply unaware of its complexities in relati on to other struggles of
liberation. Many of these viewers may think of themselves as pro-feminist, but they
are not really into the feminist struggle, and this slips out in the questions they
raise, in the lack of concern they show for any earnest inquiry into gender politics.

There are also other viewers who identify themselves as belonging to the anti-
war movement and who do not really see women in SIIr/wlIle Viet (j ust like many
male radicals in the sixt ies could not take seriously their female co-workers and the
feminist struggle that was burgeoning independently right in the m idst of their
struggle for freedom of speech). These viewers tend to deny, or worse, to obSCllre
entirely the question of gender by constantly casting the Vietnam reality back into
the binary mold of communism and anti-communism. They also seem to be more
preoccupied wit h what they milita ted for, or more eager to preserve an idealized
image of Vietnam they supported, than they are will ing to look at the actual situa-
tion of post-revolutionary Vietnam. As with many libertarian movements, there are
people who are genuinely fighting for change, hence they remain sensitive to the
complexities of the feminist struggle; and there are those who only work to consol-
idate a positi on of authority, hence they feel threatened by any form of resistance
other than the one they are familiar with-here feminist. Right now in Vietnam, the
leaders are acknowledging some of the failures of the system and are raising ques-
tions pertaining to the transformation of socialist society. So even when the people
who are directly involved see the necessity for change, you have people from the
outside still holding fast to a past image of Vietnam, where for example, all the
women involved in the revolution are upheld as “heroines.” The work of critical
inquiry cannot be content with fixed anti-positions, which were, in their own time,
necessary in regards to the war in Vietnam, but need to be problematized in the
context of contemporary histories of poli tical migration.

The struggle will never end, and we women still have a long way to go. The more
I discuss these questions, the more I reali ze how little is known of the historical
debates within the feminist struggle, not to mention the Sisyphean efforts of women
of color across nations to expose the politics of gender within revolutionary move-
ments. After this long detour to respond to your question, let me end it by li nking
it briefly to the initial point you made on the fact that SlI n Ulllle Vie! is as much about
the process of translating as it is about Vietnam. To unravel the “n ame” of Vietnam
in the context of translation is to confront the much debated politics of i dentity-
female identity, ethnic identity; nation identity. For translation, as I suggest earlier,

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

Film As Trall slatioll 133

implies questions of language, power and meaning; or more precisely in this film ,
of women’s resistance vis-a-vis the socio-symbolic contract-as mothers, wives,
prostitutes, nurses, doctors, state employees, off icial cadres, heroines of the revo-
lution. In the politics of constructing identity and meaning, language as translation
and/or film as translation is necessarily a process whereby the self loses its fixed
boundaries-a disturbing yet potentially empowering practice of difference. For
me, it is precisely in fi ghting on more than one front at a time- that is, in fighting
not only against fo rms of domination and exploitation but also against less easily
locatable forms of subjection or of binarist subjectivi ty- that the feminist struggle
and other protest movements can continue, as discussed earlier, to resist falling
back into the consolidation of conformism.

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

Copyrighted Material
Minh-Ha, T. T. (1992). Framer framed : Film scripts and interviews. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from ucsc on 2020-10-15 16:06:29.
C
op
yr
ig
ht
©
1
99
2.
T
ay
lo
r
&
F
ra
nc
is
G
ro
up
. A
ll
rig
ht
s
re
se
rv
ed
.

Expert paper writers are just a few clicks away

Place an order in 3 easy steps. Takes less than 5 mins.

Calculate the price of your order

You will get a personal manager and a discount.
We'll send you the first draft for approval by at
Total price:
$0.00

Order your essay today and save 30% with the discount code ESSAYHELP