Monday, June 09, 2008

Gaze and the City

A couple of months ago when I wrote a post about the (lack of) visibility of the penis in contemporary mainstream cinema I never thought that it would be so soon between drinks (so to speak) and I could again be subjected to the same enjoyable spectacle. Yes folks, penis spotting is alive an well in the Sex and the City movie currently doing the rounds at the cinemas.

Funnily enough it wasn't really the penis itself that interested me this time, more that the so called traditional male gaze of the camera had been flipped and twisted for a second into an almost unheard of female gaze. It was a bit of a shock to me that I became so aware of the switch in the first place. I had just assumed that a movie about women and basically made for women would be filmed primarily with a female gaze - god knows the subject matter would probably bore any heterosexual man to a slow and painful death -but I assumed wrong. It seems that the female gaze remains as highly elusive in popular mainstream cinema as it ever was and I don't think this phenomenon is due to any kind of big conspiracy either - it just is that way, god knows why but it just is. The fact is that a female perspective in cinema may exist in so far as subject matter and characterisation is concerned but not in terms of cinematography. Does it even matter? I don't know - does it? Women look at women's bodies all the time - the difference is that while we will, can and do appreciate the female form this is not necessarily a sexually laden gaze - does the male gaze of the camera lens take this concept fully into consideration or is it just all knowing and omnipresent like God? It is all gazes, it is the only gaze, it is supreme and all accommodating? And if this is the case why did I get the shock of my life when I finally recognised the female camera gaze? Hm, why indeed?

The scene in question was the a shower scene where man-crazy Samantha pervs on her neighbour as he takes a naked outdoor shower (as you do in California apparently). The camera moves slowly and lovingly over the man's body, focusing on his heavily defined and muscular back and perfect bum and right down to his strong, tanned and not too hairy legs before it travels back up again to it's final destination - the money shot. If I ever needed a moment to tell me what women see when they are having a good perv that was it. I had become so accustomed to viewing cinema through the filter of the male gaze (camera) that I had to think twice in order to recognise my own. It felt foreign to see something filmed so entirely from the point of view of a woman that I completely disengaged from watching the movie. I remember thinking "oh, now that's interesting" - but it wasn't his body, it was the camera that I found interesting. Also the sudden representation of a female filter by which to watch a movie, one I had naively assumed I had always viewed movies with, was just so strange. The fact that I had just realised then just how strange it was unnerved me - the movie while being female-centric was filmed primarily in classic male gaze form. The point being of course not that this was done in order to exclude women, just the opposite the point is that we, women, are most comfortable in viewing cinema (all art?) in this way. The question of course then is why?

When I have theorised the male gaze of the camera in the past it is always with reference to old movies of the Hitchcockian era (and of course Laura Mulvey) where scopophilia really was a male dominated art form. I'd assumed due to various changes in movie subject matter, the rise of female directors and indeed the societal changes due to the women's movement that cinema had changed too. Ahem - perhaps not.

It's funny that it took *this* particular movie based on a series so obsessed with highlighting the *look we've come so far because now we can have sex like men* cliche, to drum the point home. We women are comfortable seeing ourselves through the point of view of how men see us - and perhaps this is highlighted in many of the female-centric things we partake in
(beauty myth etc) and I don't know that we'd even want to change that if we had the chance anyway. The question for me still is, why? I still can't answer it - it's ingrained there somewhere between why we will willingly pay for the pleasure of ripping the hair out of our most sensitive places and why GW Bush was ever re-elected. Questions I guess that answering will open a can of worms so big it can never be contained. Maybe we need that, I don't know but I do think it's highly fucked up that the so called female camera gaze existed for a grand total of 10 seconds in a movie based on women and made for women. Food for thought.

On another note, almost every (straight) guy I know loathes these women, the series, the whole premise of the show etc. Is it hated because it's subversive or because it's bullshit? I've said it before but when something is hated then it's always because a few buttons are in the process of being well and truly pushed.

What say you? Are there any movies you can recommend that show the female gaze in action? Remember female subject matter/characterisation do not necessarily mean a female gaze..

Sex and the City - do you hate it/them? Why?

And now my musical choice today comes of my female gaze quite happily looking through the filter of the male gaze. Go figure! Here we have the Duck Man performing probably my favourite of all songs I've ever discovered through watching a movie - Otis Redding's Try a Little Tenderness. A scene I love so much I shared it with my university film class as "a favourite" and a song I love so much I rang Gold FM to request it and was sternly told that "we don't play *that*". Hmph! Here are my two favourite things, movies and music combined. Okay, three favourites: Duckie.
...Apparently he has strong lips. Bless!

Try A Little Tenderness - Otis Redding.

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