3 October 2019
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen, Volume 16, Issue 3, 1 October 1975, pp. 6 – 18.
“It is said that analyzing pleasure, or beauty, destroys it. That is the intention of this article.”
This essay investigates cinematic eroticism by dismantling the male-centered patterns established by classic Hollywood cinema. One of its main points is that the narrative of male dominance is a learned cultural construct, not a biological imperative, and that another cinematic world exists in which women, feminism and female points-of-view, previously relegated to supporting roles, are now central players.
One important idea in this essay is that patriarchy is embedded within language itself. Patterns of male dominance are reinforced through use of this coded language. One route for dismantling this relationship is to break it down into its component parts and reveal its psychological nuts and bolts. Mulvey demonstrates this with examples from classic films (Hitchcock, von Sternberg). Her tone is direct, intelligent, and assertive. The essay’s goals and intentions are clearly stated, then achieved.
Main themes: gender, sex, psychoanalysis, Freud, cinema as a system of representation, sexual imbalance, castration threat, phallocentrism, scopophilia, the male gaze, cinematic pleasure, the mirror phase, narcissism, voyeurism, heterosexual division of labor, the Hollywood star system.
This essay remains highly influential in fields beyond film studies. It is important for its contribution to understandings of gender, sex, and the viewer/spectator relationship.
How does this relate to scenography?
Mulvey discusses production design directly through analysis of the cinematography of the films of von Sternberg and Hitchcock. She argues that shallow pictorial space and framing both limit and emphasize erotic desire in the films of von Sternberg. In the work of Hitchcock, space and depth are expanded through narrative point-of-view and camera angle. This leads to a more complex erotic association between viewer and film.