“Something Else Besides a Mother” in Mamma Mia

After reading Linda William’s “Something Else Besides a Mother” and watching Mamma Mia, I recognized the similarities and differences. Williams goes into detail on analyzing the film Stella Dallas and its feminist criticism. What the main character Stella is trying to achieve is to be both a woman and a mother. In the end, this proves to be impossible as she is stripped of both titles. I think that Donna in Mamma Mia tries to do this, and in contrast is successful in doing so. Her character is strong throughout, as she raised her daughter Sophie and ran a hotel all on her own, without the help of a patriarch. On the other hand, Williams said, according to patriarchal society, “that it is not possible to combine womanly desire with motherly duty”. I think that the film shows this to be true in some ways, which I did not expect to think.

Donna has put her relationships with men on hold while she puts all her effort into being a mother. Donna was a mother, not a woman. Towards the end, she finally shows her womanly desire for a husband (Sam). Something that bothered me was that while watching this film again through a feminist point of view, it might not be as powerful for females as it appears.  After Donna marries Sam, Sophie and Sky leave that night to go travel the world and follow their dreams. In that instant she sort of loses her responsibility as a mother. Donna was a woman, not a mother. She was no longer this independent woman, she had become overwhelming happy in the end just because she now has a man. She proves that a woman can’t have desires and be a woman, which is just what Stella realized in the end of Stella Dallas. Donna’s friends even are good examples of this. They are both sexualized woman who love to have fun and fulfill desires, and both do not have any children. (at least Aunt Tayna’s children were never mentioned and she did not seem like a mother). They had to choose womanly desires over motherhood.

The “happy ending” happened for every character. The girl ended up with the guy. I think the ending in some ways deters from this feminist empowerment.

Masculinity and “Camp”

While reading the article I felt a some relief. It is mentioned that film tackles many different social issues, but it wasn’t until recently that masculinity was no longer over looked. We’ve talked about how women were objectified in film, but I also was thinking at the time that this happened to men in film as well. Probably not to as large an extent, but it’s very hard to have anyone in film without them being judged, or being objectified. People like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone are usually not mentioned without some mention of their bodies, and they give a pretty unrealistic body image.

While reading chapter 11 there was a section on “camp” and it was mentioned several times. After reading the section I am still a little confused as to what it is, can people tell me what they think of camp?

Momma Mia and Feminism

While watching Momma Mia I noticed many scenes that exemplifies a feminist message and advocated for feminist ideals, but many of these scenes were later negated by classical hollywood narrative choices that made the overall message of the film difficult to understand. One of the first feminist messages the film had was evident within the scene when Donna led the women of the island in a dance number that was set to the tune of Dancing Queen by Abba. In this scene Donna rallies the women of the island and gets them to all dance on their own, an act that I perceived to be a statement to the men that women do not need a male in their life in order to be happy. I thought that this dance number, along with Sophie’s gesture of having her mother give her away at the wedding, was suppose to convey that Sophie and Donna were doing fine on their own and didn’t need a patriarch in the family to provide for and financially support them, but this idea is completely tossed aside at the end of the film when Sam proposes to Donna and she accepts his proposal. To me this was obviously necessary because in order to make a film appealing to fans of the romantic comedy genre you as a filmmaker have to implement a happy ending that gives the audience hope and leaves them feeling happy when they leave the theater, but by doing this the filmmaker negates the earlier message of being self-reliant and instead promotes the idea that having a patriarchal figure within a family is the only way for a family to be whole.

Having said that there are characters in the film who retain their feminist values by turning patriarchal constructs like the male gaze on its head by taking back the power from men and proving that they are in control. One character who does this is Tanya. During the Does Your Mother Know dance number Tanya is being pursued by the young bar tender on the island and the way he is shot serves to make him and the men who dance on the beach the objects of desire that Tanya teases by toying with their emotions. This scene is important because rather than being a scene in which men gawk at a women they find attractive it becomes a scene in which an older worn gets a man to chase her around and in doing so she retains the power within the scene because the gaze shifts from her to the man.



Masculinity And Film

As a response to my previous post about how men and women are subjectified and objectified in film, I’d like to further expand on my point of the male object.  Specifically, from how I had thought the use of male actors in film to become objects of fetishism were too far and few, it wasn’t until reading the UFT chapter on masculinity that I found a much broader pool of examples to pick from.  The use of Arnold Shwarzenegger  in Conan The Barbarian, for example, is what I had long thought was the ideal level of male appearance since the idea of appearance was incepted into my brain due to social norms.  The way in which the chapter discusses the use of males in film to represent masculinity reassured my own thoughts on masculinity because, as the chapter seemed to imply, being masculine can be anything from a brainless brute to a genteel fellow.  The way in which masculinity is defined is that basically a man can be anything he wants to be as long as there is confidence in the image, even if the image of that character is someone who is shy; the male character identifies with a trait and sticks with that trait, whatever it is.

Something that I thought was interesting that was highlighted in the chapter is the emphasis of the male gaze at the male object and how the film industry tries to avoid that situation by damaging the object to imply that any homosexual feelings should be abandoned and replaced with violent reactions.  It is with this notion though that the viewership is increased because, at first, the fetishism of the male object attracts the female viewership and the destruction of that object then attracts the male viewership due to the competitive nature of male anxiety.  Having a male character that any man could identify with would relate back the the idea that a male character’s essential trait is something of a jumping off point, where then the viewer explores how they and the character are similar and different.  It is with the narcissistic form of identification that I can see why women find themselves at odds with the film industry due to the portrayal of women in film; there is very little of women in film that explores all the different ways a woman can be, unlike a man.  The roles proposed by longstanding stereotypes seen in film don’t allow women the chance to identify with a broad spectrum of traits and thus don’t see themselves at all in film because of the narrow one or two representations used and recycled in many films.  If more female characters in film were able to be as flexible in terms of image as men have been (barbaric brute vs gentleman :: amazon princess vs lady), then the gender equality gap I think would be much smaller.

Something Else Besides a Mother

In Williams piece, Something Else Besides a Mother, I was interested in the way she used the concept of motherhood to showcase the way women have been displayed on screen through the role of mothers. In her essay she discusses the cultural contradictions  around women’s roles and psychic conflicts they generate. She also includes psychoanalytic ideas in her essay by expressing that ambivalence in the film portrayals of mother/daughter conflicts and in viewer’s passionate/contradictory responses. In other words, Williams discusses that there are contradictions in the portrayals of mother and daughter conflicts and in the responses from the viewers.

This is seen through her analysis of the film, Stella Dallas, the remake of the Henry King’s 1925 film made by King Vidor in 1937. She uses this film to expose how mothers (Stella) must sacrifice in order to gain some sort of happiness or reach a conclusion. Williams points out on pg.  727, “Mixed messages-of joy in pain, of pleasure in sacrifice-that typically resolve the melodramatic conflicts in “The Woman’s film.” Here she talks about the genre of melodrama, but also the way a resolution is set for a “woman’s film.” This resolution can be seen in motherhood the way a mother sacrifices either parts of her identity, her youth, her career or etc., for the benefits of her daughter. Such that to understand motherhood on camera it is to devalue the other character from her happiness/completeness.

Williams uses the strong example of Stella as a mother and a feminine woman in the film. She is known as always dressed in feathers, jewelry and make up. From these aspects of personality she is seen as someone who likes to cover up the truth from her reality, she likes to overemphasize her feminine look. As discussed in her essay, this can be seen in multiple ways because Stella can be hiding her role as a mother, putting on a good face for her daughter or compensating for the absence of the penis. Overall, her role of motherhood is very contradictory because she can’t be a mother and have it all. I thought it was a great example to discuss what Williams is trying to portray in her article.

Feminism Onscreen

In class on Monday, we were able to see two different clips from films that portrayed, framed, decorated and filmed women in two different ways.

In the first clip, the camera is stationary and records long takes of a woman who is a sex worker. The woman in front of the camera is observed by the camera and the viewers doing ordinary chores and routines. We witness her dull actions of turning on/off the lights, dismissing her customer, placing money in her vase, cooking potatoes, showering, closing/opening windows, closing/opening curtains, cleaning the bathroom and adjusting her bed. All the things she is doing are observed for long periods of time that resulted in uncomfortable feelings. I felt like I was intruding her personal space by watching her doing simple things. The role of women as sexual objects was eliminated completely which is a contradiction considering her job and role in the film.

As opposed to the first clip, the woman is automatically sexualized the second she appears on screen. She is dressed in feathers and appears in silhouette on cue with the weird music in the background. Her costume, makeup and music add more to her than we would ever think because they hint at the ways we are suppose to feel about her and look at her. She then interacts with the man who is perfectly lit as she remains in the shadows. The element of dialogue and mise-en-scene in this clip was central to the understanding of what was happening as opposed to the first clip we watched. Feminism is seen in two very different ways using these two clips because they show how we can break away from the male gaze and use it in some ways to hint at other ideas.

Mama Mia! Feminism, and Motherhood

While I have heard the soundtrack on several occasions before this week I had never seen Mama Mia! and I enjoyed it. I usually do not enjoy musicals but I thought this was a good film.

First, I’d like to connect the film to the Williams article. Williams writes that women are often viewed as the mother, and that their roles involve joy in pain, of pleasure and sacrifice.  This sacrifice often comes from the difficult decision of “letting their daughter go” like in the film Stella Dallas. I noticed that this happens in Mama Mia! as well. Donna and her daughter argue over the wedding and Donna’s discontent with it happening. Donna does seem like she may be upset to see her daughter go. However, Donna is not only a mother, like the article discusses how Stella was shown as primarily a mother. Donna is also shown to have her own interests, including her friends, work (not as much an interest but another way she is shown not only as a mother) and Sam.

The film is in many ways feminist. It has strong, independent women as the protagonists, and effectively minimizes the objectification of women. I do still believe there was objectification of women in the film however. On the beach Tanya is surrounded by younger men and is pursued by Pepper, with a lot of suggestive dancing. But for the most part Tanya is controlling the situation. In addition to this, when other scenes may have been considered objectifying in other films, they were done in a way that did not. In many scenes men are not around to cast a gaze, leaving only the camera and the audience, and without a male character to follow in the gaze, it is somewhat forgotten and the scene is simply seen for what it is. The three main male protagonists in the film cast almost no gaze in my opinion. One being gay, and the other two having  respect for Donna. Except for the scene where they first meet again, and the camera angle shows the men framed between her legs.

As for the Genre and Narrative of the film, I believe it is a romantic/comedy/musical.  The narrative is primarily from the perspective of Donna and Sophie. But we do not only see what they see, making it effective.

On Women And Subjects

As a male audience member and film creator, I have known, as others have, what it means to objectify women in film to just their physicalities but what it means to subjectify a woman in film, or even a man, has eluded me.  When I’ve heard both objectify and subjectify in context, they both have seemed to have negative connotations but, from reading Linda Williams, I’ve interpreted that in order to include a character in plot at all, you either subjectify them or objectify them, which means that they are rivalrous to some degree and thus, in my mind, means that they antagonize each other only in context and don’t have an exclusive connotation of good or bad.

To connect my interpretation of Williams to examples, I will use Hermione from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Steve “Captain America” Rogers from Marvel Comics.  These examples act as validation to what I believe it means to subjectify a character, both female and male, in a plot.  To start with Captain America, an example I feel more comfortable with in disceminating meaning, he is a manifestation of the rights Americans are meant to be privileged with as well as their sentinel protector.  He is subjectified to be a champion of freedom and justice.  On the other side of the gender spectrum is Hermione, a character unlike Captain America in many aspects but still can be grouped in much the same way.  Although not an avid fan of the Harry Potter series (thus not knowing every little detail), Hermione has always been the character from the trio that I’ve thought to gotten the most development.  She has been characterized as the smart (sometimes know-it-all) member of the three main characters and, more than that, has been used not as any kind of sexual object or focus of male gaze, but from my perspective, a character who’s come to represent the nobility in knowing yourself and staying true and confident to what it means to make your own destiny.  That representation is her subjectification.  She represents something greater than herself just as Captain America has been.

The antithesis to subjectivity, objectivity, can also be found on both ends of the gender spectrum as well.  To get it out of the way, there are plenty of examples of women being objectified in film (*coughMeganFoxcough*) but there are also examples of the objectivity of men as well, off the top of my head comes to mind the likes of teenage Zac Efron and Taylor Lautner.  From when I’ve seen the two in movies and/or television, they’re usually unclothed in some regard, most generally shirtless.  As a male, the same appearance standards apply as they do for women, i.e. “how am I ever supposed to get as good abs as they have within my lifetime?”  To some degree, it seems that objectification is embedded within culture to satisfy the fetishization fantasies of men and women, albeit the ratio is widely disproportionate, indicating perhaps the more deep-seeded values intrinsic to male and female cultures.

Mamma Mia Reaction

Fun fact, ABBA has sold over 380 million records… Their music is pretty well liked. I love when popular music is adapted to conceptualized story form. This was a fun attempt, but certainly nothing game changing.  I was one of the few kids in the class who had never seen Mamma Mia all the way through until today. Gut reaction? I still don’t know. I think the film was horribly miscast, but the actors themselves have enough talent that it ultimately wasn’t too big a deal. I thought the supporting characters stole the show and were far more musically talented than the leads, but that being said, Seyfried can really sing.

The direction of the numbers were sometimes quite captivating and other times just so over-the-top and nauseating that I couldn’t get into it. BUT, damn they put you in a good mood. I attribute that partly to the beauty of the scenery, the likability of the cast, and the brilliance of the ABBA tunes.

In terms of this being a feminist film in the modern wave? I’m torn. This was a female dominated production. Director, writer, producers, and stars are all female and the men are presented as the objects of the “gaze.” The women revel in their own sexual and emotional freedom and ability to just be themselves, using the male gaze for fun and pleasure. But, it didn’t really break new ground. The female characters are certainly strong and charismatic, but what I think worked is that fact that the story itself doesn’t dwell on the male/female power issues. The men are enjoying the chaos just as much as the women. The decisions almost always end up being made by the women, which is a solid step forward for cinematic stories. Seyfried called off the wedding, Streep ultimately takes the leap of faith for marriage, and the best friends find their men.

The script itself is pretty weak. The dialogue could have been a lot stronger, but the musical numbers were so fun I didn’t care. The music speaks for the characters far louder than their words. It was a little campy at times, but again, this was a feel good movie so it’s irrelevant. Finally, THIS is one of the few stories that is probably better suited for the stage. For such an emotionally intertwined story, locking the characters to the small confines of a stage actually does a large amount of justice to the development of everyone. That being said, the film took advantage of its landscape and had a lot of fun with the extra space. This really isn’t a brilliant film or musical adaptation. It’s just fun and allows people to get lost in the world of the music and the greek island where the women run the show as bachelorettes pondering their independence. I have a feeling we will see a remake of this in our lifetime, my only hope is they push the drama and enhance the script!

And yes, I am listening to the soundtrack as I write this post… this music is so good it’s addicting.

Mamma Mia! (2008)

This was my first time watching Mamma Mia! (2008) and I thought it was a film that focused on the aspect of motherhood, marriage and women.

To begin, Sophi appears on screen along with her loud best friends screaming of joy at the sight of the engagement ring on her finger. We can automatically tell that it’s been a while since they have seen each other because of the way they react. This behavior is later on mimicked by the mother when she sees her two best friends as well. The mother and the daughter are to be seen as mirrored images of each other, but also as approval for William’s thoughts on motherhood and how sacrifices need to be made in order to complete both the mother/daughter’s wishes. The women on screen in this film are both stereotyped and not. For instance, Donna is wearing overalls and appears as head of household on this Greek island, she is the handy woman. In this sense, Donna isn’t your stereotypical mother displayed on screen. But her two purse holding best friends are portrayed in very stereotypical roles of women.

The role of Donna is seen as someone who doesn’t need anyone to take care of her, who dresses in overalls and is portrayed as a handy-woman. She can take care of her own Greek island without the help of a man. I thought her role really made a comment on the way women are portrayed in musicals and how her character battles the flawed representation of sensitive women.  Donna’s character, then gets married at the end of the film, which showcases how marriage is something that all women, even her character, want.

Overall, both women are very different, but end up trading roles because at first Sophie appears as a very traditional woman and her mom the complete opposite, but by the end of it they switch roles. The mother is happily married to the most perfect man and Sophie declares that she needs to find herself. -Ironic, isn’t it?