Laura Mulvey could not have anticipated the widespread impact of her short polemical essay, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,'' published in 1975 in the British journal Screen. The essay's psychoanalytic formulation of a "male gaze,'' and its condemnation of classical Hollywood cinema's patriarchal bias, immediately provoked interest, debate, and in some quarters dismay. Those who appreciated Mulvey's theories went on, as did Mulvey herself in her extensive writings, to deepen, adjust, and further her insights; those who responded negatively to the essay were challenged to articulate why, and in so doing to develop other theories. Much of the criticism of the essay called into question its strong psychoanalytic stance, shortchanging its political argument. Since the essay's publication, debates within film theory about the utility of psychoanalytic theories have continued.
In a subsequent essay published in 1981, "Afterthoughts on 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' inspired by King Vidor's Duel in the Sun," Mulvey addressed persistent questions about her lack of attention to the material female spectator in her ''Visual Pleasure'' essay. She noted that she was less interested in the female spectator who resists the "masculinization" that Hollywood cinema demands than the one who secretly enjoys the freedom of action and agency that identifying with the male protagonist offers. Using Freudian theories about female sexuality as well as Vladimir Propp's analysis of narrative structure in folk tales, Mulvey examined the difficulty of sexual difference in the western Duel in the Sun (1946).
Mulvey is also a filmmaker and has made several with Peter Wollen, including Penthesilea (1974), Riddles of the Sphinx (1977), and Amy! (1979). These films reflect Mulvey's theoretical views of Hollywood cinema, exploring the difficulty of representing the feminine in a patriarchal world. In each film the struggles of women in patriarchy are transformed by placing them within the discourses of psychoanalysis and history. Some of the films make reference to Hollywood cinema—Amy!, for example, refers specifically to Dorothy Arzner's Christopher Strong— in order to examine the ideological bases of that film.
Penthesilea (1974), Riddles of the Sphinx (1977), Amy! (1979) FURTHER READING
Fischer, Lucy. Shot/Countershot: Film Tradition and Women's Cinema. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989. Kaplan, E. Ann. Motherhood and Representation: The Mother in Popular Culture and Melodrama. London and New York: Routledge, 1992, 2000.
-. Women in Film: Both Sides of the Camera. London and New York: Routledge, 1983, 2000.
Mulvey, Laura. Fetishism and Curiosity. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.
-. Visual and Other Pleasures. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1989.
E. Ann Kaplan assumptions in feminist film theory of the time and introduced research on images of the mother in cinema.
Objections to cine-psychoanalysis included: 1) objection to psychoanalytic film criticism's obvious heterosexism; 2) its apparent exclusion of the body; 3) its equally apparent pessimism about social change because of investment in linguistic theories; 4) its incipient ''whiteness''; and 5) its a- or even antihistorical bias. Scholars critiquing psychoanalytic theories refused the inherently Cartesian mind-body split; denied that language was totally determining; attended to cinematic practices and representations of minority, Third World, and gay women; and, finally, corrected the lack of basic historical information by seeking to find out what women had actually accomplished in Hollywood from its earliest days. If earlier gay and lesbian critiques anticipated the explosion in gay and lesbian approaches to film, as well as the related "queering" of gender images and psychoanalysis, later work was inspired by Judith Butler's theory of gender as performative rather than biological. Black and Latino studies were instituted as more minority students attended college, and debates about US and international racism raged. Inspired work in feminist film and cultural studies began to develop, led by African American critics and filmmakers, such as bell hooks, Michele Wallace, Jacqueline Bobo, and Julie Dash. In Black Looks: Race and Representation, for example, hooks justly criticized feminist theorists for their lack of attention to the specificity of race in film. Building on white feminists' gaze theories, hooks coined the term ''the oppositional gaze'' as she shifted the point of view in a series of readings to the gaze of the hitherto oppressed black subject, whose look at white culture was for so long forbidden. Carol Clover moved gaze theories forward, and feminism backward perhaps, in her groundbreaking 1992 study of the horror film, the genre in which emerges, she argues, a gender crossing that is liberating for males. Heroines in slasher films, she says, are ''transformed males,'' and what looks like maleon-female violence stands in for male-on-male sex. Clover goes on to show, however, that this gender game, once observed, applies in other kinds of film in which, perhaps in response to feminist agendas and analyses, males appropriate the female form for their own ends and desires, a process that challenges gender-specific theories of identification.
The directions in which the field grew and changed, through its destabilization by questions raised by minority, gay, and Third World women, eroded older, seemingly secure binaries of feminist film theory. Psychoanalytic theories of the gaze no longer were central to feminist analysis. However, these ideas then informed ''masculinity'' studies of Steve Neale, Krin Gabbard, and Peter Lehman, which followed feminist film theory and which were part of the shift from feminist film theory to gender studies in film. Within feminist scholarship, approaches broadened to combine historical, sociological, psychological, and genre aspects in research by Miriam Hansen, Lucy Fischer, Annette Kuhn, and Janice Welsch, among others. Hansen's study of gender in early American cinema brought feminist theory to silent cinema studies, while Kuhn's cultural studies approach includes an ethnographic study of cinema viewing practices through interviews with elderly London residents.
A solid body of feminist research, including feminist film theory, has provided the foundation for much cultural work by third-wave feminists, whose interest in cross-identification, transvestism, and transgender images is taking feminist work in new directions. Psychoanalysis may not be the central focus of many studies, but, like gaze theory, it is now being revised to fit new family paradigms, digital media, and phenomena of late global capitalism. Although the pioneers of feminist film theory have moved on to new topics, feminist theory continues to be relevant to film scholarship. A great deal has been written about feminist film theory and its vicissitudes, including many edited anthologies. Significantly, in 2004 the prestigious journal Signs devoted an entire issue to reevaluating feminist film theory. Almost from its origins, feminist film theory has been defined by lively debates; but important also are the strong links between the feminist movement and feminist scholarship, which have persisted as feminisms have arisen and waned and then reemerged in different environments.
see also Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Cinema; Gender;
Marxism; Melodrama; Psychoanalysis; Queer Theory;
Woman's Pictures further reading
Clover, Carol. Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.
De Lauretis, Teresa. The Practice of Love: Lesbian Sexuality and Perverse Desire. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1994.
Doane, Mary Ann. ''Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator.''Screen 24 (September-October 1982): 74-87.
Feminism and Film, edited by E. Ann Kaplan, 86-118. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Gledhill, Christine, ed. Home Is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman's Film. London: British Film Institute, 1987.
Hansen, Miriam. Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American
Silent Film. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994. Haskell, Molly. From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies. 2nd ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
hooks, bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South
End Press, 1992. Kaplan, E. Ann. Women and Film: Both Sides of the Camera.
London and New York: Routledge, 1983, 2000. Kuhn, Annette. Cinema, Censorship and Sexuality, 1909—1925.
London and New York: Routledge, 1988. Mellen, Joan. Women and Their Sexuality in the New Film. New
York: Horizon Press, 1974. Mulvey, Laura. ''Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.'' In Visual and Other Pleasures, 14-26. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989. Rodowick, David. ''The Difficulty of Difference.'' Wide Angle 5, no. 1 (1982): 4-15. Rosen, Marjorie. Popcorn Venus: Women, Movies, and the
American Dream. New York: Avon Books, 1973. Studlar, Gaylyn. In the Realm of Pleasure: Von Sternberg, Dietrich, and the Masochistic Aesthetic. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.
E. Ann Kaplan
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