Over the holiday I read the book ‘Women’s Cinema: The contested Screen’ by Alison Butler. Two quotes by two psychologists stuck out to me.
Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women, but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of women in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision – a sight. (Berger 1972:47)
This quote appears to have been written from the male gaze, however there could be an element of truth in it via the misogyny women have internalized due to the way women have historically been represented through film.
Scopophilia, voyeurism, fetishism and narcissism were the modalities of a controlling, punishing, self-regarding look with functioned to assuage the male subject’s castration anxiety at the expense of the feminine. (Kaplan 1983)
This quote explains why women are seen as passive within film. I’m inclined to believe that there is a good chance this may be why, however I’m also leaning on the assumption that it may also have a lot to do with the way women have been objectified throughout history.
My own work places the women in the role of dominance as there is a non-fetishised view of the body on display as well as a woman’s decision in showing the body.
I’ve always loved the experimental film work of Andy Warhol to the point where I had somewhat of an Edie Sedgwick phase during my school years. Warhol’s film ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’ has had an influence on a significant portion of my video work over the years. The passivity and voyeuristic insight are reoccurring themes within Warhol’s work. Warhol’s avant-garde experimental films capture the characters of the period, however in an out of focus way, which makes the viewer focus more.
One of the most well-known examples of this voyeurism within Warhol’s work is ‘Sleep’.
The Velvet Underground [Big Eye of Nico] April 1, 1966 by Fred W. McDarrah
Fred W. McDarrah was a staff photographer for the Village Voice. This image stuck out to be due to the use of the body with a silhouette over the top which is something that could be done using transparency layers in premiere pro. I have taken footage of my eye, so this is something I could recreate.
By using soft focus and layering transparencies, it’s easy to see the David Lynch influence within my work. I’ve tried to keep a balance between the abstract and the natural body by using varying shots of both alongside dips into black to add focus to the narrative.
Laure Prouvost is a modern artist who uses a combination of collage, video and installation within her work. There are elements of sexuality within the work e.g. Swallow. However, the provocation shown within the work goes against the idea of the male gaze. Prouvost lets the viewer know when to perform certain acts, for example ‘stop breathin’ or ‘you can smoke if you like’ which makes her the dominant force within her work. The use of shots which may be seen as unrelated relate in a way due to the feeling created by the shots all being the same. There are also elements of humour within the work as well as narration, which is something I want to combine within my own video work.
Laura Mulvey is a feminist film critic who coined the concept of the male gaze. The male gaze is the way in which film is often perceived through the male perspective, with the person behind the camera being a heterosexual male as well as a lot of the thematic points of the work. The use of the concept is often in reference to the way in which women are often objectified sexually through the male gaze and often seen as an erotic object of fantasy for the hetero male who is seen as the dominant figure behind the work. This way of thinking has become normalised over the years, making the women in the subject matter of the film seem inferior to the male. This concept of the male gaze is often linked with sexual gratification such as voyeurism. An easy way to identify the male gaze within work is to replace the gender of the female subject to male as see how out of place it would feel.
My own work goes against the idea of the male gaze. The subject matter within my video work is unglamorous and often not seen as a thing that would appeal to the male gaze e.g. scars and cellulite which contrast with the fantasy of the objectified female.
Kenneth Anger is an underground film maker specializing in surrealist and erotic films. The films often feature abstractions of the body as well as clever editing techniques in order to add further confusion to the shot, such as mirroring images and overlapping images with varying transparencies in order to create something more sinister looking. This is a technique I would like to try within my own video work, especially the use of transparencies. I also like the use of heavy shadows and contrast alongside coloured lighting in order to create moods within the video work. The high contrast combined with the shadows helps to further emphasise the abstractions of the body.