Feminism and “Other”

After reading Mulvey’s article, I couldn’t help but think of the concept of orientalism. I’m pretty sure someone brought it up at the very end of class on Monday, and I think it’s an interesting and important discussion. In case someone hasn’t heard of orientalism, it’s a Western way of depicting Easterners; it’s done in a very demeaning way that makes people from Eastern countries (such as countries in Asia or the Middle East) seem either primitive or sexual in nature (or oftentimes both). It is a means for Westerners to define themselves because they are not this weaker “other.” These patronizing depictions were also used to justify colonization of the eastern world.

In her article, Mulvey writes that “woman then stands on patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other, bound by the symbolic order in which man can live out his phantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning” (Mulvey 716). Essentially, Mulvey argues that women in films are defined by the fact that they are not a man; women are painted as “other.” Women are therefore only in a film to satisfy the male protagonist and to act as a passive spectacle that he can return to every so often between his moments of action. Thus, women cannot move beyond two-dimensional passivity because they are defined purely as “not a man” or “other.”

In the next section, Mulvey discusses how technology advances over the years that led to the Hollywood studio system have contributed to the limited roles women in film can play; technological advances have reinforced this “otherness” and made it mainstream. Mulvey points to avant-garde cinema as a way for women to break out of this constraining mold. However, Mulvey notes that “a politically and aesthetically avant-garde cinema is now possible, but it can still only exist as a counterpoint” (Mulvey 716). To me, this means that Mulvey sees avant-garde cinema as an avenue women can go down both in front of an behind the camera in order to showcase more dynamic female characters. However, this does not mean that avant-garde cinema completely breaks away from the studio system. Instead, the use of avant-garde cinema to portray women as more than “other” is still seen as an exception or “other” to mainstream cinema. Thus, while trying to break away from the studio system that reinforces the patriarchal culture, avant-garde cinema is still in conversation with it.

Feminism On Screen

Comparing and discussing the two clips depicting women in different manners highlighted the underlying power of cinematic techniques. The first clip portrayed a woman doing typical mundane tasks through the perspective of a stagnant filming apparatus and the use of long takes. At first, I thought the lack of cuts added to the male gaze, working against feminism because it allowed the viewer to spectate for a long period of time as if subject were a zoo animal. However, after watching the entire clip and realizing that nothing demeaning or sexually arousing was occurring, it was evident that this clip was not a typical portrayal of women in Hollywood Cinema. Furthermore, in comparison to the clip from Klute, the absence of any significant dialogue, music or intricate costumes in the first clip also added to the dull portrayal.

The second clip from the film Klute depicted the female character in an entirely different manner using sexual language, the introduction of two male protagonists, and exotic music in the background. Although the lighting prohibited the audience from explicitly viewing the promiscuous details, the mise-en-scene was enough to convey a sexual image of the female. Mulvey stated that Hollywood Cinema inevitably privileges the male in terms of narrative and spectatorship, which is overt in clips such as Klute, and less so in the first screening we viewed. Nevertheless, the comparison of the two clips was crucial in pointing out the power of lighting choices, camera angles, the use of sound and various other cinematic aspects.

Masculinity in the Media course at Lafayette

Dale Russell, Toby Schwartz, Katie Weeks, and I made a short documentary a couple weeks ago for Professor Smith’s FAMS 340 course: Topics in Documentary.

Our video is about how men are portrayed in the media and how a student can learn media literacy in Gene Kelly’s FAMS course called Masculinity in the Media. Critical media literacy allows the viewer to engage with a piece of media and understand why it was produced or received a certain way.

The video’s obviously not perfect, but I think it fits conveniently well with the chapter on Masculinity in UFT.

Dogme 95

Dogme 95 is great in theory but I think it lacks severely in execution.

To me, rules 1 through 5 downplay the cinematic apparatus and therefore leave the spectator to pay attention to the story and the acting. I think this is awesome. Some films today are shallow, visual spectacles with no real depth or passion, so any attempt (though perhaps Dogme 95 is an extreme attempt) to combat that trend is good for cinema as an art form. Similarly, rule 9 standardizes film presentation, which is mostly good even though it limits expression. Rule 10 can even be grouped in with 1-5 simply for the fact that it disrupts the general association between final product and “auteur”. So since these limitations don’t exactly allow the viewer to call a Dogme 95 film likeThe Celebration a visually groundbreaking film, I think that the viewer is left to concentrate on the acting and the plot.

In theory, diminishing superficial action and temporal alienation while also rejecting genre norms is mostly good even though it’s certainly limiting; however, this is where The Celebration and several other Dogme 95 films lose me. They tout great things like cinematic realism, or encourage honest things actual violence amongst the actors, or more generally reject contemporary cinematic norms… but then they base their stories on parents raping their children (The Celebration), unethical and exploitative voyeurism (Fuckland), abled people duping women into engaging in sex under the guise of mental retardation (The Idiots), etc. These plotlines are absolutely absurd. It doesn’t make sense to me that one could jump so quickly from fulfilling the truly honorable ideals in the “Vow of Chastity” to making hedonistic plots that belong on snopes.com.

So I see the theoretical value of Dogme 95. I totally understand why filmmakers would want to reject the cinematic norms. What I don’t understand at all is the Dogme 95 filmmakers’ sick infatuation with absurdity for the sake of shock value. I’d say it detracts from the movement, but the creators of the movement are also the very creators of these disgusting plotlines. Why did Dogme 95 filmmakers feel the need to double-down on their already progressive movement?

On a different note, I think we partially miss out on the ability to thoroughly assess the acting in The Celebration because we aren’t native speakers of Danish. A lot of acting can be attributed to voice and dialogue. With subtitles replacing our auditory capability (and visual attention at times), we are at a severe disadvantage in judging the acting merits of the film. Gbatokai was the only English speaker and he was pretty good, but I hesitate to judge all actors in the whole film based solely on his performance. What I mean to say is this: based on what I said before, I think Dogme 95 places emphasis on acting and plot; without being able to understand what the characters are saying due to language constraints, I cannot wholly cement my assessment of this film movement.

Feminism Class Readings

Mulvey’s article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” had me replaying film after film in my head to find moments that matched scopophilia, voyeurism, fetishism, and narcissism. The concept of the audience being a Peeping Tom is a drastic, yet a highly accurate, accusation. Reading “her visual presence tends to work against the development of a story line, to freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation” immediately recalled every James Bond movie or James Bond spin-off I had ever seen. Reading farther made me increasingly aware that major genres including the western and gangster do not have major female roles. Fairytales have passive women generally in need of male heroism. Action films are based around the accomplishments of male characters. The change in feminism over the years began with a desire for equality in rights, then equality in the workplace, to a shift in focus in more than just middle-class white women, and finally the modern take on equality in spirituality and religion. I have watched Mamma Mia (2008) an incredible amount of times, it being my favorite movie and one I take on every trip, and believe it does successfully go against the modern male endorsed film. I look forward to class discussion on how this film works in terms of the feminism movement.

Celebration and the flaws of Dogme 95

Let me preface this by saying Celebration was by far the most uncomfortable film I have ever seen. As many other people have pointed out, the film began as a portrait of a dysfunctional family and quickly spiraled into a incredibly dark drama about sexual abuse that was difficult to watch and even more difficult to analyze because it was tough to look past the shocking subject matter and try and understand what the director’s goal was, but after reading the  Dogme 95 piece I was able to derive meaning from this disturbing film and as a result better understand what motivates a director to follow the Dogme 95 filmmaking path. One of the scenes that struck me the first time I watched the film was the one in which Michael beats the waitress. When I first saw this scene it felt incredibly real and made me cringe because I thought the way they shot it made the violence look like it was actually happening and then after reading Dogme 95 I realized that this scene felt real because it was real: the actor actually hit the woman while they were filming the scene. This discovery made me sick to my stomach knowing that a director not only allowed a woman to be beaten for his production, but in fact encouraged the actor to assault the woman just to make the film seem more realistic an authentic. This is where I think Dogme 95 oversteps a boundary and transcends being an art form to become a twisted ideology because it creates an environment that values realism over creativity and imagination. By having all real action occurring in the scene the director is abiding by rule number 6 of Dogme 95, which is the film must not contain superficial action, which in theory would create a better film because the action and events taking place n the scene were actually occurring, but when a director actually implements this rule into their film as director Thomas Vinterberg does in the beating scene in Celebration you are left with a huge ethical dilemma because you are endangering cast members and degrading a woman in the process. This is why I think Dogme 95 is a flawed filmmaking system because in its pursuit of cinematic realism it ignores basic human ethics and tries to discredit the regular filmmaking system as inauthentic simply because it doesn’t ascribe to the realism rules that Dogme 95 directors believe make a film more genuine.

First and Final Frames

I came across this video today. It’s a bit unrelated to what we’ve been discussing in class lately, but I thought you guys would all enjoy it. I’m sure a lot of you have seen it circulating around the Internet as well, but I thought I’d just post it here just in case. Also, Dr. Strangelove is featured!

Hope everyone has a good rest of break!

Here’s the link: https://vimeo.com/122378469


Today’s discussion went in depth on the film The Celebration, and I was not able to share what I had prepared about the Brakhage article as much as I would have liked. What I did say ended up not making sense because of anxiety and not really knowing how to connect what I had prepared to where the class conversation was at that point. So, I thought I’d share more here!

Some background – Stan Brakhage became so famous in the first place due to the fact that his style was so radical and unheard of for its time, and at first not widely understood. Then all of the sudden he had made 400 films and was widely recognized in a kind of avant-garde way. However, this was not to say he was a traditional avant-garde filmmaker, for his work was more an expression of his emotions than just projecting realism.

Brakhage wanted to promote a “new type of cinema that intends to film not the world itself, but the act of seeing the world, previously unimagined and undefined by conventions of representation.” Essentially, he thought that feelings we have that are brought up due to visuals while watching a film cannot be separated from our ability to think, and therefore our personal feelings are what drives the success of a film.

I wanted to ask what the class thought of his definition of film and his disagreement with the French idea that “cinematographer means writer of movement”, or a reliance on literature and theatrical performance rather than camera work. I feel like there needs to be a focus on both for a film to be the most popular and accepted/understood by the masses. He feels that film should be about “Light Moving in Time”.

The other question I was hoping to bring up in class was about his ideas of other forms of art, more specifically painting and music, and how the aesthetic is much more interesting and important to him than what is being represented. Why do the aspects of form versus content have to be separated in art or film? I feel that it depends on the type of film whether the angles, cinematography, etc. are what is most important or if the narrative or plot should take up more of the focus.

Anyways, thanks for reading and I apologize for not being super clear during class! I hope everyone has a great break.

The “Celebration”

This movie honestly made me nauseous and squirmy for a couple of reasons. First of all, the plot was sick and the way the story played out was like a montage of every uncomfortable scene in movies/television that I have ever seen. I do like that the title is speaks a little about what is to come, using a title that shows the opposite of what ends up happening.

Secondly, knowing that it was a Dogme 95 film mad me think differently about a lot of scenes. It kind of freaked me out how actors hit each other and and had sex on screen. It was uncomfortable knowing that everything depicted had to be real. This goes along with camera and sound and lighting. In my documentary class, we work a lot with sound and lighting to make sure that it is ideal and not distracting. For me, the home video quality was distracting at times knowing that it is not actually a home video. The grain got very intense and really bothered me, but I do understand the ideas of Dogme 95, and in a way I respect their ideals and qualities to make more realistic feature films.

The Celebration as a Dogme Film

The idea of a Dogme film is to retain a “Vow of Chastity” or a promise to create a film as innocent, pure, and untouched as possible. Looking at The Celebration (1998), directed by Thomas Vinterberg, the ten restrictive rules established in the Dogme 95 movement can be found. The main location of the film is a home where the protagonist of the film grew up with his siblings. This home, the forest around it, and the road leading up to it are pretty much the only footage in the film, this means it could have easily been shot on location and not in a studio. The camera is clearly handheld. This can be seen in a few of the beginning exchanges between Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen) and Christian (Ulrich Thomsen). Also the shot where a car pulls up the driveway, a camera follows it, then points up, and falls back down to follow it again, sort of like a rainbow pattern. Another cool handheld shot came from above and below a stair banister to see the siblings walk upstairs. While filming at night, the images on screen were extremely dark and only illuminated by the light of the sky, which was very little. This can be seen when Christian frees himself from the tree he was tied to. I find the idea that Dogme films may not contain superficial action interesting because it immediately made me think of the sexual abuse information and how it was a director’s choice to not flashback to those moments or even show the father abusing the sister before she committed suicide. It also makes it clear that Helge (Henning Moritzen) was physically beaten on screen by Michael which intensifies the situation. Rereading this description on no superficial action, I am realizing now that the sex scene must have been live action… All of these characteristics are interesting in combination and seem to work. I would like to know why the Dogme 95 movement was so impactful and why filmmakers felt it was necessary to create films in this format.