The formal preoccupation of film as a reflection of society – yet another thought experiment!

Here are the questions that I proposed for my presentation on Muvley/Hitchcock:

  1. Muvley talks about how formal preoccupations reflect the physical obsessions of the society which produced it. Thus, everything from the mise en scene to the camera movement mirrors the dominant attitude of the current society – which is the basis of the ‘male gaze’ where the camera is biased to the patriarchal society, perhaps representing the male human. How then would a matriarchal society alter the formal properties of film (you may choose to reference Carter)? Muvley further suggests that anything other than the male gaze can only exist as a counterpart. According to our androcentric culture, there is both male and female, but also human – what would a ‘human’ gaze look like? Finally, how does this differ from objective cinema, and perhaps (with reference to vertov) the traits of an increasingly objective ‘gaze’ in cinema?
  2. Muvley suggests that Hitcock’s Vertigo oscillates between voyeuristic and fetishistic fascination. We’ve discussed fetishistic in some depth now, but to my understanding, voyeuristic is represented by re-enactment of the original trauma (castration) and devaluation of the guilty object (film noir). In Vertigo, the trauma is Scottie’s fear of heights – what is the devaluation of the guilty object?


In a patriarchal society, males have more power. It seems undeniable that this is reflected in film – from the use of height and blocking[1], to the compositional use of lines of perspectives[2] or territorial space[3] or the very subtle uses of camera movement. In Vertigo, lines of perspective often guide our eyes towards Scottie, he is often blocked in a way that he seems more powerful and camera movement is often done in a way that he is motivated to do something for himself, and others are doing things for him (In the scene with Midge’s painting, Scottie moves away from midge and the camera pans to follow him. The pans used with Midge are of her following him and giving him alcohol). A very simple answer to this is that a matriarchal society would have just flipped the roles – women would be emphasized as more powerful, men would have more subservient roles to women and would be increasingly objectified.

Having read Carter however, this interpretation seemed a little too reductionist for me. Assuming that this matriarchal society came after today, the long standing tradition of Hollywood cinema, built and dominated by males, would not be forgotten easily. Particularly, it is Carter’s representation of female desire in most of the stories in The Bloody Chamber, but particularly in “The Bloody Chamber” and “The snow child” that really hit home to me the differences between male and female desire. Specifically, it is the social stigma behind the expression of female desire versus the social acceptance and in some cases encouragement of male desire. In “The Bloody Chamber”, mirrors are used initially as an avenue of access for the female desire, but eventually becomes yet another means to express male desire. In “the snow child”, male desire is presented without restriction and crudely, whilst female desire is shrouded in symbolism and metaphors. Thus, the “female gaze” would not be a complete opposite of the “male gaze” in terms of the formal properties of film, but to what extent it would differ depends entirely on the social context of the time. We further talked about related topics on the double standard of clothing on male and females, the sexualisation of female underwear, the distinction between literature and film and the way some objects (e.g. glasses) may have altered meanings in a matriarchal society.

The next argument would be the differences between the “human gaze” and the “objective gaze”. In essence, the question came up because I was interested in what the traits of objective cinema would be, and if this would coincide with what the “human gaze” represents. In our androcentric culture, a “human culture” is presented with reference to taking the best or most necessary from the male and female cultures. In a scenario where feminism is at its peak and thus gender equality has succeeded, would film really still be as unbiased towards a male gaze? Realistically, the decades of patriarchy would play a role in creating bias in the film. However, it would seem that a “human gaze” in cinema is either something that we cannot yet imagine in our current situation, something we can only theorize based on scenarios where gender is not a social barrier anymore, or is unfathomable due to the technical complexities that come with it. The traits of the objective gaze however, was interesting – Using virtual reality, a 360 degree film of daily life may accomplish an objective human experience, getting rid of the strong associations of meaning that are attached to camera movement and mise en scene. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that if not extremely difficult, it seems impossible to create a completely objective cinema (as Vertov’s film suggests – e.g. Berlin, the editor-wife at the end making stylistic decisions). Even in our scenario of a 360 degree film or daily life with no camera movement. The actions of the people, the structure of the architecture, the prevalence and message of the media may clue us into the bias between genders.

Nevertheless, that’s just a theory – a film theory. These theories pose an interesting topic that seem to be applicable in many scenarios, but often should be taken with a grain of salt. The implications of this thought experiment however, are interesting in future generations of filmmaking.



With regards to the second question – we briefly touched on the necklace being the devaluation of the guilty object. It is first Madeline’s, and then put onto Judie. It also seems to be a family heirloom of some sort. Yet the first thing that came to my mind was the concept of the mirror being superior to the self – and thus the original being devalued. In this case, I decided that it was one of the females that was the guilty object (fitting in with the male gaze objectifying women in cinema) but was not able to explore further.

[1] Where the characters are placed on screen

[2] Lines on screen that direct attention towards a subject of interest

[3] The concept that the more screen space they occupy, the more powerful/important they are

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