In tandem with ongoing scholarship in history and literature, women film scholars have long endeavored to identify forgotten filmmakers—forgotten because most male film critics and scholars writing before the 1960s were not interested in women directors. Because their films were in distribution, Dorothy Arzner (1897-1979) and Ida Lupino (1914-1995) were the first women directors in the sound era to be studied. Foreign directors, like Mai Zetterling (1925-1994), also gained attention at this time. Later, feminists took a great deal of interest in women directors and producers from the silent era, like Lois Weber (1881-1939) and Mary Pickford (1892-1979). Since the 1990s, the Women Film Pioneers Project has been engaged in intensive international study of early women in cinema in their many roles.
Sociological analysis of women in film soon followed. Three books on women and film emerged at nearly the same time in the early 1970s, mainly using a sociological and role-focused analysis: Molly Haskell's From Reverence to Rape (1973), Marjorie Rosen's Popcorn Venus (1972), and Joan Mellen's Women and Their Sexuality in the New Film (1974). Although perhaps insufficiently appreciated by academic feminists in its historical moment, Haskell's book has had the longest-lasting impact. Feminist film theorists of the time, frustrated by sociological and role analyses, were seeking to move beyond Haskell's approach. Drawing on a vast knowledge of Hollywood as an institution and of movies themselves, Haskell took a penetrating look at the shabby treatment of women on- and offscreen. She had a strong feminist understanding of how threatened American men felt by women, as well as an intense appreciation of actresses and their performances. Haskell points out the irony that both the Production Code and the Depression ''brought women out of the bedroom and into the office'' (p. 30). She argues that actresses of the 1930s and 1940s (such as Rosalind Russell, Katharine
Hepburn, and Joan Crawford) offered images of intelligence, forcefulness, and personal power, far surpassing roles of actresses in later films. Male directors who ''integrate women into the flow of life'' enjoyed the spunky, smart woman capable of challenging the hero. Haskell defines herself as a film critic first and a feminist second, hoping to address ''the wholeness and complexity of film history'' (p. 38).
A new generation of women film scholars turned to the melded disciplines of metaphysics, semiotics, and psychoanalysis, a shift prompted by what they saw as the limits of studies focusing on individual actresses and women's roles in cinema. To compare images of women in film with women's lived reality seemed simply to critique the current gendered organization of society or to expand it by, for instance, insisting on more male involvement in domestic matters. The new scholars hoped instead to discover the root cause of women's secondary status in Hollywood and society in the first place. Laura Mulvey's groundbreaking essay, ''Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema'' (1975), partly inspired by reaction to American sociological film analyses, seemed to fulfill the need for a new kind of analysis, and her ideas rapidly took hold. Mulvey's polemical contribution was to isolate three related ''looks'' in Hollywood cinema, and to argue that these were all male: the look of the camera (mainly operated by men) in the pro-filmic studio site; the look of the spectator, which of necessity followed the camera's masculine gaze; and the dominating look of male characters within the filmic narrative, depriving women of agency and subjectivity. Theorizing the cinematic gaze from a psychoanalytic perspective, Mulvey argued that in film viewing the screen paralleled Jacques Lacan's mirror phase in which the child misrecognized his perfect self. Cinema was set up so that men could identify with the idealized male hero within the symbolic order as presented by the narrative, while women were left to identify with figures relegated to inferior status and silenced. Mulvey was one of the first to appropriate psychoanalysis as a political weapon to demonstrate how the patriarchal unconscious has structured film form. The essay's significance derived in part from her vivid language: ''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.'' Man, she argued, can live out his fantasies by ''imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer, not maker, of meaning'' (Visual and Other Pleasures, p. 14).
In the wake of Mulvey's deliberately polemical essays, certain tropes and conventions began to develop in relation to a ''male'' gaze and the three ''looks'' that Mulvey outlined. In addition, British and American television studies had an impact on psychoanalytic feminist
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