Monday, October 23, 2006

I Want Mulvey: A Review of Marie Antoinette

Last night, I finally saw Marie Antoinette and I have to confess, it was fabulous. I'm a sucker for Sofia. We are the exact same age, our fathers look alike, we both like fashion and we have the exact same taste in music. Yet, Marie Antoinette really wasn't about Marie Antoinette at all. Todd thinks it is a movie about being in college. If this is a true, on a broader scale, MA can be interpreted as a film about the sadness about the loss of youth and innocence and being held responsible for one's actions. Others argue that MA is an autobiographical tale about Sofia Coppola and the her role in the royal dynasty of the Coppola family. The critics are always critical of Sofia and ready to chop off her head in viscous film reviews.

Today, I realized that Marie Antoinette is actually a Hollywood lesson in basic psychoanalytic feminist film theory.

I suspect Sofia has been reading some Laura Mulvey. So, to understand Marie Antoinette, here is basic Laura Mulvey 101. And for the record, Mulvey was my first favorite film theorist.

For those of you not up on your Mulvey, Mulvey deconstructed the male gaze in mass media in her seminal article entitled Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema. Basically, Mulvey says that film is is an instrument of the male gaze, producing representations of women, the good life and sexual fantasy from a male point of view. So, what happens when a woman takes over the role of filmmaker construcing a narrative soley for a feminine audience? The answer to this question is Marie Antoinette. (For those of you without Cinema Studies degrees, Laura Mulvey is a common name to drop.) So, here's some Mulvey 101.

Armed with Freudian psychoanalytic film theory with a Lacanian bent, Mulvey's studies of spectatorship focus on how subject positions are constructed by media texts rather than investigating the viewing practices of individuals in specific social contexts. Mulvey notes that Freud had referred to (infantile) scopophilia - the pleasure involved in looking at other people's bodies as (particularly, erotic) objects. In the darkness of the cinema auditorium it is notable that one may look without being seen either by those on screen by other members of the audience. Mulvey argues that various features of cinema viewing conditions facilitate for the viewer both the voyeuristic process of objectification of an ideal ego; seen on the screen. She declares that in patriarchal society, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female; This is reflected in the dominant forms of cinema. Conventional narrative films in theHollywood tradition not only typically focus on a male protagonist in the narrative but also assume a male spectator. As the spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his look onto that of his like, his screen surrogate, so that the power of the male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic look, both giving a satisfying sense of omnipotence. Traditional films present men as active, controlling subjects and treat women as passive objects of desire for men in both the story and in the audience, and do not allow women to be desiring sexual subjects in their own right. Such films objectify women in relation to the controlling male gaze presenting woman as image(or spectacle) and man as bearer of the look. Men do the looking; women are there to be looked at. The cinematic codes of popular films ;are obsessively subordinated to the neurotic needs of the male ego. It was Mulvey who coined the term 'the male gaze'.

Mulvey distinguishes between two modes of looking for the film spectator: voyeuristic and fetishistic, which she presents in Freudian terms as responses to male castration anxiety. Voyeuristic looking involves a controlling gaze and Mulvey argues that this has has associations with sadism: pleasure lies in ascertaining guilt - asserting control and subjecting the guilty person through punishment or forgiveness; Fetishistic looking, in contrast, involves the substitution of a fetish object or turning the represented figure itself into a fetish so that it becomes reassuring rather than dangerous. This builds up the physical beauty of the object, transforming it into something satisfying in itself. The erotic instinct is focused on the look alone. Fetishistic looking, she suggests, leads to overvaluation of the female image and to the cult of the female movie star embodied in the character of Marie Antoinette. Mulvey argues that the film spectator oscillates between these two forms of looking.

See, the Mulvey theory is obvious! In the I Want Candy scene, Sofia visually summarizes Laura Mulvey better than any film professor can!

Now, I need to go download the fabulous soundtrack.

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