Christian Metz discusses the fact that cinema differs from the other arts in its relationship with the spectator. Unlike other art forms, which also present an object to be viewed by the subject, in cinema the object is not ever really present and is doubly represented through the acts of projection and perception. Metz uses Freudian psychoanalytic theory to discuss the relationship of the spectator with representation. Basically, we identify ourselves in what we see, but we don’t see ourselves. The subject must find his place outside of the frame. Filmmakers can play with this idea by using shots from the point of view of a character. This creates an interesting relationship between what is imaginary and what is real. What we see projected on the screen is an idealized version of ourselves. Metz goes on to link the act of the spectator to voyeurism and fetishism.

The spectator is a voyeur because he derives a sadistic pleasure from watching the objects on screen from a distance, never interacting. The real pleasure is gained from the absence of fulfillment. I think it’s a little bit extreme to call this pleasure sadistic. The spectator doesn’t have the intention to cause harm and the fact that the film is offered up for projection implies the consent that Metz says is necessarily missing in a voyeuristic situation. The lack of consent is manufactured by the nature of the presentation of film, so is this truly sadistic? Metz discusses the castration complex, which I’ve always been kind of skeptical of. I think it’s assuming a lot to assert that all young boys see their mother naked. I would think a more obvious sexual difference perceivable to a child would be his mother’s breasts, not her lack of penis. I also think it’s interesting because biologically speaking, we all start out as female in the womb. Anyway, so the boy is afraid his penis will be removed, but transfers the fear to some other object, which he becomes obsessed with and derives sexual pleasure from. The filmmaker can direct the spectator’s gaze to a fetishized object (or lack thereof, hinting at something missing) by using framing techniques.

Laura Mulvey applies similar theories to the depiction of women as passive objects of desire who lack agency and are constantly subject to the empowered, controlling, active gaze of a male figure. The female characters serve only as a symbol of the threat of castration, to remind the male of what has been lost (mother) and must be regained (wife). But Mulvey says this is a distraction from the plot. Women are shown as a spectacle, emphasizing their eroticism. Films tackle the question of woman as “the other” in two ways: trying to uncover the mystery or as a source of fetishized pleasure. Mulvey discusses how Sternberg uses the latter and Hitchcock a combination of both.

Mary Ann Doane narrows the field further by looking at the female spectator and examining her response to the male gaze. Women lack the proper distance from the depiction of self on the screen that is required of a cinephile. They are left with two options. One is over-indentification, which leads to a sort of narcissistic response where the female spectator assumes the masculine gaze (a sort of transvestitism), and views what is essentially herself as an object of pleasure (a form of autoeroticism). Women lack the ability to fetishize (really?) because when they become aware of the lack of a penis, they are comfortable enough with it to internalize it immediately. Another response is creating a masquerade of femininity in order to manufacture a distance between what is true femininity and what is false (or exaggerated). Women can appropriate the gaze by losing the glasses and becoming attractive. Glasses are a symbol of the woman’s gaze. Once removed, she loses her gaze. Women who exert their own gaze (femme fatale) are usually seen as dangerous and killed off. Even in naturalistic shots, women are subjected to the gaze of men. This indicates the position of women as dictated by society.

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