Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Gaze and History of the Discovery of Cinema

The Gaze

The following are assigned articles for the next meeting. I will conduct oral recitations in the next classes based on the these articles:

(1) Movie Pleasure and the Spectator's Experience: Toward a Cognitive Approach (Click to download)
Some of the topics here were already discussed previously, this will be part of the midterm examinations.

(2) Notes on "The Gaze" by Daniel Chandler (Click to download)

You must read also the original text "The Gaze" written by Laura Mulvey, she is a British feminist film theorist. You can look for the Ms. Mulvey's article here.

  • What is "the gaze" exactly?  -- describes the act of looking; began as the study of the objectification of women in visual texts.
  • How does it impact women in particular?
  • What are some of the issues involved in discussing "the gaze"?
    • the objectification of women-- seen as objects
    • the commonality of female nudity -- display implies subordination
    • internalization of the gaze, changes women's perceptions of themselves and makes them think of themselves as objects
    • shift to objectification as a source of pleasure (for both the looker and the looked-at)
    • men as the dominant group have been the looker (the subjects; women the objects)
    • ties back to another aspect of the feminist critique of Freud-- the degree to which Freudian theory is based on visual dynamics
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Outline of Laura Mulvey's Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema


a) A Political Use of Psychoanalysis

  • Film reflects the language of patriarchy by being bound up in the same story of sexual difference that all patriarchy is founded on.  In film women is seen as Other, as an object not a subject.  In a way she represents the unconscious of the male because she is always the object he is looking at and never is able to speak for herself.
  • Phallocentrism -- a world view which sees the penis (symbolic and otherwise) as the defining center of meaning.  In other words-- there is a central, stable meaning to things; that meaning is defined largely by men who associate their power to name and define and control reality with their masculinity.
  • Symbolic Order -- the realm of meaning controlled by the Law of the Father  (in Lacan's theorizing): the language of patriarchy.  As opposed  (by Kristeva) to the Imaginary -- the primal language of connection associated with pre-Oedipal bonding with the mother.

b) Destruction of Pleasure as a Radical Weapon
  • Hollywood film reflects the dominant ideology of their culture.  We get our pleasure from films from this presentation of the erotic.  If we learn to make films which do not encode these ideologies, a lot of people will lose their pleasure in looking at film.
  • Mise-en-scene means staging an action. It is historically to do with directing plays, and became later to do with film to express how the material in the frame is directed.


  • a) Film satisfies this primal pleasure we all get from looking at other people. 
            scopophilia - - the pleasure we get from looking, in seeing other people as objects. We get a sense of power from being able to do this.  With John Berger she believes the one who looks has the power. 

Voyeuristic scopophilia -- 
  • b) Narcissistic scopophilia is looking at other people as seeing them as surrogates for yourself.  We also identify with people in movies.   So there is a tension here between the sense of power we get from observing others as separate from ourselves and the pleasure we get in imagining that we are the people we are looking at. 
           the mirror stage: 
  • c) tension between these impulses-- to see others as separate and to identify with them


a) Split between male, active gaze which looks and female passivity which is looked upon. Women are always on display in film.  Seen as objects of sexual desire; this is transformed into exhibitionism.  Visual presence of female tends to stop the story line to dwell on the image. 
diegesis -- "In a narrative film, the world of the film's story. The diegesis includes events that are presumed to have occurred and actions and spaces not shown onscreen. "
Why are so many women in film showgirls, strippers, etc. 
b) Gender split carries over into narrative of film--men carry the story, make things happen, while woman remains the icon.
c1) Problems with woman as icon: 
    c1a) voyeurism -- sadistic desire to punish woman for her lack 
    c1b) fetishistic scopophilia -- builds up beauty of woman in order to compensate for anxiety 

C2) Examples: Sternberg's Dietrich films show fetishism.  Hitchcock--

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The following will be asked during the oral recitation in the next class/ sessions. Please read the article “Notes on the Gaze” by Daniel Chandler.

a.     Why does viewing a recorded image have a voyeuristic dimension?
b.    What is the difference between a gaze and a look?
c.     Why does a gaze of indirect address represent an offer?
d.    Why does a gaze of direct address represent a demand?
e.     Why do glamour photographers enhance their photographs by dilating the pupil of their models?
f.     Why is it common for male models to look off or up?
g.     Why do actors in conventional narrative film gaze very rarely directly at the camera?
h.     Why is peripheral gaze more common to Asians?
i.      Why is an expert presented in a profile or in an interview rather than in a direct gaze?
j.     What is the intention of seeing the back of a depicted person?
k.     Why does a frontal portrait have been associated with the working class?
l.      In Michael Watson’s study what group of people chose to stand closest together? What group stood farthest apart from each other?
m.   Why is BCU seldom used for important figures? – BCUs may emphasize interviewee’s tension, guilt, may suggest lying?
n.     Why does the camera turn the depicted person into an object, thus distancing viewer and viewed?
o.     What is photographic seeing? Why is it a “controlling gaze”?
p.    Why is it the voyeuristic mode of gazing more intense for the cinema spectator than television viewer?
q.    What constitutes the suspension of disbelief? – Identification of the viewer with the camera: my eyes are the camera.
r.     Why does the film spectator re-enact the “mirror image” of Jacques Lacan? Why does a camera become a tool of self-reflection and surveillance?

See my Class Lecture on "The Gaze" here.

Continue browsing through the following articles:

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Materials for the Film to be viewed today

Materials for the Film Viewing Today (1 August 2015)

There will be no lecture today, we will postpone to the next meetings
the oral recitation and discussion since the film we will watch will be 3.25 hour long.

1. Supplemental Materials for Schindler's List

Oskar Schindler (1908 — 1974) was an ethnic German born in the village of Zwittau in Sudetenland, a portion of Czechoslovakia with many German inhabitants. He was known in the village by the name "Gauner," which meant swindler or sharper. A Jewish woman who lived in the town and whose life Schindler later saved, said, "As a Zwittau citizen I never would have considered him capable of all these wonderful deeds." 

Oskar Schindler was a member of the Nazi party. He arrived in Cracow, Poland, just after the collapse of the Polish Army and at the beginning of the German occupation. His first effort, as shown in the film, was to capitalize on the misfortune of the Jews who had recently been forbidden to engage in business. As an added inducement for them to "invest" in his new business, Schindler offered to employ the investors or their relatives in his factory. For years, relations between Schindler and his Jewish workers were circumspect. But as the lot of the Jews in Poland worsened, the workers at Schindler's factory noticed that they were somehow protected. Word of this spread through the Jewish community. 

2. Schindler's List Essay Questions

Children are used throughout the film to indicate family loyalty, despite horrific circumstances. During the liquidation of the ghetto, there are many children/parent pairs featured. One father tries to stop a soldier from shooting his son as he runs away, giving up his own life. Children are also used to symbolize the hopelessness of the Jews' situation. A notable example of this is the little girl in the red coat. Despite her efforts to resist and hide, and despite the red coat that identifies her as special, she ends up dead and piled up with the other victims, nameless and unimportant.

3. Schindler's List: Student Discussion Questions

What is the central theme of Schindler's List? This is a complex question with no "right" answer. The film will speak to each student differently. But the search for the central theme will provide students with a framework to gain useful insights and analytical skills.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Cinema Paradiso

The story of a lifelong affair with the movies, Cinema Paradiso tells of a young boy in a small Italian village, where the only pastime is a visit to the movies at the Cinema Paradiso. Enchanted by the flickering images, Salvatore yearns for the secret of the cinema's magic and is overjoyed when Alfredo, the projectionist, agrees to reveal the mysteries of moviemaking to him. As their friendship grows, so does Salvatore, growing older with his good friend and the movies he adores, learning from both of them how to court his first love, and dreaming of one day making movies of his own. When the day comes for Salvatore to leave the village and pursue his dream, Alfredo makes the man promise to never look back, to keep moving forward. And so he does, for thirty years, until the day a message arrives that beckons him back home to a secret, beautiful discovery that awaits him there.

If you love movies, it's impossible not to appreciate Cinema Paradiso, Giuseppe Tornatore's heartwarming, nostalgic look at one man's love affair with film, and the story of a very special friendship. Affecting (but not cloying) and sentimental (but not sappy), Cinema Paradiso is the kind of motion picture that can brighten up a gloomy day and bring a smile to the lips of the most taciturn individual. Light and romantic, this fantasy is tinged with just enough realism to make us believe in its magic, even as we are enraptured by its spell.

Most of Cinema Paradiso is told through flashbacks. As the film opens, we meet Salvatore (Jacques Perrin), a famous director, who has just received the news that an old friend has died. Before departing for his home village of Giancaldo the next morning to attend the funeral, he reminisces about his childhood and adolescence, thinking back to places and people he hasn't seen for decades.

As a fatherless child, Salvatore (Salvatore Cascio) loved the movies. He would abscond with the milk money to buy admission to a matinee showing at the local theater, a small place called the Cinema Paradiso. Raised on an eclectic fare that included offerings from such diverse sources as Akira Kurosawa, Jean Renoir, John Wayne, and Charlie Chaplin, Salvatore grew to appreciate all kinds of film. The Paradiso became his home, and the movies, his parents. Eventually, he developed a friendship with the projectionist, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), a lively middle-aged man who offered advice on life, romance, and how to run a movie theater. Salvatore worked as Alfredo's unpaid apprentice until the day the Paradiso burned down. When a new cinema was erected on the same site, an adolescent Salvatore (Marco Leonardi) became the projectionist. But Alfredo, now blind because of injuries sustained in the fire, remained in the background, filling the role of confidante and mentor to the boy he loved like a son.Cinema Paradiso's first half, with Salvatore Cascio playing the young protagonist, is the superior portion. The boy's experiences in the theater, watching movies and listening to Alfredo's stories, form a kind of journey of discovery. As Salvatore cultivates his love of movies, those in the audience are prodded to recall the personal meaning of film. It's an evocative and powerful experience that will touch lovers of motion pictures more deeply than it will casual movie-goers.

Once Salvatore has grown into his teens, Cinema Paradiso shifts from being a nostalgic celebration of movies to a traditional coming-of-age drama, complete with romantic disappointment and elation. Salvatore falls for a girl named Elena (Agnese Nano), but his deeply- felt passion isn't reciprocated. So he agonizes over the situation, seeks out Alfredo's advice, then makes a bold decision: he will stand outside of Elena's window every night until she relents. In the end, love wins out, but Salvatore's joy is eventually replaced by sadness as Elena vanishes forever from his life.The Screen Kiss is important to Cinema Paradiso. Early in the film, the local priest previews each movie before it is available for public consumption, using the power of his office to demand that all scenes of kissing be edited out. By the time the new Paradiso opens, however, things have changed. The priest no longer goes to the movies and kisses aren't censored. Much later, following the funeral near the end of Cinema Paradiso, Salvatore receives his bequest from Alfredo: a film reel containing all of the kisses removed from the movies shown at the Paradiso over the years. It's perhaps the greatest montage of motion picture kisses ever assembled, and, as Salvatore watches it, tears come to his eyes. The deluge of concentrated ardor acts as a forceful reminder of the simple-yet-profound passion that has been absent from his life since he lost touch with his one true love, Elena. It's a profoundly moving moment -- one of many that Cinema Paradiso offers.

Is Cinema Paradiso manipulative? Manifestly so, but Tornatore displays such skill in the way he excites our emotions that we don't care. This film is sometimes funny, sometimes joyful, and sometimes poignant, but it's always warm, wonderful, and satisfying. Cinema Paradiso affects us on many levels, but its strongest connection is with our memories. We relate to Salvatore's story not just because he's a likable character, but because we relive our own childhood movie experiences through him. Who doesn't remember the first time they sat in a theater, eagerly awaiting the lights to dim? There has always been a certain magic associated with the simple act of projecting a movie on a screen. Tornatore taps into this mystique, and that, more than anything else, is why Cinema Paradiso is a great motion picture.

© 1996 James Berardinelli

Cast: Philippe Noiret, Salvatore Cascio, Marco Leonardi, Jacques Perrin, Antonella Attili, Pupella Maggio, Agnese Nano, Leopoldo Trieste Director: Giuseppe Tornatore Producers: Franco Cristaldi, Giovanna Romagnoli Screenplay: Giuseppe Tornatore Cinematography: Blasco Giurato Music: Ennio Morricone Duration: 2:03