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Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure & Narrative Cinema

This is a lecture for Arts One at the University of British Columbia: http://artsone.arts.ubc.ca

Christina Hendricks

on 3 January 2018

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Transcript of Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure & Narrative Cinema

Laura Mulvey
"Visual Pleasure and
Narrative Cinema"

16.3 (1975): 6-18

Christina Hendricks
Arts One, UBC

All images not attributed are from Pixabay.com
Laura Mulvey, by Mariusz Kubik, Wikimedia Commons, licensed CC BY 3.0:
Presentation licensed CC BY 4.0:
Feb. 29, 2016
Laura Mulvey
Mulvey on this article
Introduction to
Visual and Other Pleasures
"The articles and essays here were not originally intended to last. I often
sacrificed well-balanced argument, research and refinements of style
to the immediate interests of the formative context of the moment, the demands of polemic, or the economy of an idea or the shape and pattern of a line of thought" (vii).
this article was "written in 1973,
polemically and without regard for context or nuances of argument
..." (vii).
b. 1941
studied history at Oxford
filmmaker, with Peter Wollen, including:

Penthesilea: Queen of the Amazons

Riddles of the Sphinx
--available at UBC library on DVD, several clips on YouTube
currently professor in Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies, Birkbeck, University of London
Mulvey & Berger
early to mid-1970s
Félix Trutat, Nude Girl on a Panther Skin, public domain on Wikimedia Commons:
Printed catalogue image of same painting, Wikimedia Commons:
"Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. ... The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female" (Berger 47).
Social presence of a man vs. social presence of a woman (Berger 45-46)
"the essential way of seeing women, the essential use to which their images are put, has not changed. .... because the 'ideal' spectator is always assumed to be male ..." (Berger 64).
But how about 40 years later?
Sexualized images of men as the "surveyed"
But back to the 70s with Mulvey...
A version of Berger's thought experiment on p. 64
Structure of the article
Section 1: Introduction
Using psychoanalysis as a "political weapon, demonstrating the way the unconscious of patriarchal society has structured film form" (6).
Freud on Leonardo, the vulture, his mother, the smile
Cinema produces "visual pleasure," and "mainstream cinema coded the erotic into the language of the dominant patriarchal order" (8).
This pleasure must now be "attacked" and destroyed (8).
Section II: Pleasure in Looking
Section II.A
Voyeuristic Scopophilia
Rear Window
Three Essays on Sexual Theory
Looking is important part of sexual activity (can be blocked by shame)
Can turn into "perversion" if one stops at looking:
voyeurism (active; looking at others)
exhibitionism (passive; being looked at by others)
film in theatres produces sense of voyeurism (9)
Section II.B
Narcissistic Scopophilia
Jacques Lacan and the "mirror stage" (1930s-50s)
Child in the Mirror, by Frank Robinson, Flickr, licensed CC BY 2.0:
6-18 months, children recognize selves in

(mirror can be also how others react to them)
“According to the principles of the ruling ideology and the psychical structures that back it up, the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification" (Mulvey 12).
Section III: Woman as Image,
Man as Bearer of the Look
Three "looks" in cinema
pp. 17-18
the aim is to "eliminate intrusive camera presence and prevent a distancing awareness in the audience" (17)
need to "free the look of the camera into its materiality in time and space" and also help the spectator achieve "distance from the image in front of him" (18)
What this article is aimed at doing, I think
see in the mirror a being that is "
more complete, more perfect
than [the child] experiences his own body" (Mulvey 9).
develop an "
ideal ego
": sense of self as unified, complete; but an ideal that is separate from the self, alienated (Mulvey 10)
later, develop an "
ego ideal
": sense of how we ought to be based on the social and linguistic order we are born into--the laws, morals, social practices & rules, values, etc.
Sander Muller photography, licensed CC BY 4.0
Cop2 Mirror Veterans Day by Elvert Barnes, Flickr, licensed CC BY 2.0:
In cinema
"The cinema has structures of fascination strong enough to allow temporary loss of ego while simultaneously
reinforcing the ego
Mulvey p. 10
"the cinema has distinguished itself in the production of
ego ideals
as expressed in particular in the star system . . . ."
Voyeuristic scopophilia (Part II.A)
Narcissistic scopophilia (Part II.B)
"identification with the image seen"
"using another ... as an object of
sexual stimulation"
Section III.A
Activity & Passivity in Looking

In a world ordered by sexual imbalance
, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female” (Mulvey 11).
Two levels of display of women
erotic objects for characters
erotic objects for spectators
"the device of the show-girl allows the two looks to be unified technically without any apparent break in the diegesis" (Mulvey 12).
Section III.B
Activity & Passivity in Narrative Structure
"the man's role [is] the active one of forwarding the story, making things happen"
(Mulvey 12).
"A male movie star's glamorous characteristics are ... not those of the erotic object of the gaze, but those of the more perfect, more complete, more powerful
ideal ego
.... The character in the story can
make things happen and control events
better than the subject/spectator ..." (Mulvey 12).
Identifying with the self in the mirror/on the screen
Section III.C
Women & "Castration"
can draw attention away from story line, "freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation" (11)
Caliban, Prospero and Miranda, Flickr photo by Bill D'Agostino, licensed CC BY-NC 2.0:
Freud on Oedipus Complex & Castration
1. Boy loves mother, wants to get rid of father

2. castration threat: boy must move from mother to other love objects (in heterosexuality, other women)
1. girl loves mother

2. girl realizes mother/women are castrated; becomes upset with mother and turns to father as love object

3. moves from father to other love objects (in heterosexuality, other men)
Lacan on Oedipus Complex & Castration
phallus as object of mother's desire
want to be the phallus, have
complete union with mother
must move out of close union with mother into symbolic order of language, social, cultural, moral rules and laws
Mulvey on Castration
Women on screen not only provide visual pleasure for (heterosexual) male spectator, but also imply "a threat of castration and hence unpleasure" (13).
Two responses in mainstream Hollywood cinema
1. A controlling voyeurism:
"pleasure ... in ascertaining guilt (immediately associated with castration), asserting control and subjecting the guilty person through punishment or forgiveness" (14)
"investigating the woman, demystifying her mystery" (13)
2. Fetishistic scopophilia
“disavowal of castration by ... turning the represented figure itself into a fetish so that it becomes reassuring rather than dangerous (hence over-valuation, the cult of the female star)” (13-14)
Marlene Dietrich in
Shanghai Express,
public domain on Wikimedia Commons
from trailer for
public domain on Wikimedia Commons
8:41 to 9:30 in this video
3:57-5:04 in this video
Full transcript