wall-e-photo-1

CGI (Computer Generated Images) made their notable appearance in the 1970s with the development of science fiction films (reference). Indeed, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) studio created CGI for Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) in order to create a realistic intergalactic saga. In the 1980s and the 1990s, Pixar studios marked a turning point with Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995), a watershed which proved computer animated films to be guaranteed financial success. Other studios within Hollywood are devoted to computer-animated features, such as Walt Disney Animation Studio or DreamWorks, which produced WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008), the film which I will be focusing on. However, Hollywood is not the only source of computer-animated films: other filmmakers use CGI are for more experimental and abstract purposes, such as Yoichiro Kawaguchi or Marc Craste.

Since animation has established studios and auteurs, we can therefore consider it as a genre. Animation is therefore noteworthy to analyse for its formal and narrative characteristics. The main characteristic of classic animation would be giving movement to an inanimate lifeless object or hand-drawn images. However, CGI are more concretely computers generating images utilising algorithms. This questions the role of the human hand within the creative process. By being more computerized, is animation to be considered less artistic? Is CGI the epitome of spectacle, consumption and consumerism and escapism or a form of art allowing infinite possibilities? Moreover, I would argue that labelling computer-animated feature in general as a genre is too reductive. CGI, like motion picture are a media, a mode. Within this mode are several genres, each having distinctive formal and narrative features.

The way of apprehending animation has evolved through the 20th and 21st centuries with the appearance of CGI. Like in motion picture, animation was a fast succession of twenty-four frames (drawings or objects) per second. It has changed with CGI, where the “frame is no longer the determining factor in the measure of the advancement of this movement.”[1] Indeed, the frame is no longer relevant as space and continuous flow. Scholars such as Leon Gurevitch make an analogy between the development of the perspective in the Renaissance and CGI as both revolutions regarding the relationship between the viewer and the representation. Perspective puts the human vision (thus the viewer) at the centre of the creative process. The difference with CGI is that the perspective is no longer calculated by humans but by automated algorithms.[2] Moreover, these algorithms are capable to reproduce consistent spaces, objects and “camera” similar to the real world while allowing for “plasticity,”[3] i.e. infinite possibilities which are only possible in animation.

To go back to Bazin, the perspective and continuous flow allowed by CGI offer a new richness within the image. Smaller objects seem more distant than bigger objects (see fig. 1) in this screen shot, the cockroach and the explosion have approximately the same size, it is their positioning within the image – the cockroach at the foreground and the explosion at the background – that make the perspective work. “the observers and their environment are complementary… visual perception operates only if the observer is free to move about, use both eyes and observe rich, changing scenes.”[4]

  1. cgi-1

Paradoxically, computer-animated movies are defined as a genre thanks to their form yet somehow denied of having real artistic expressivity because of their automated form.

Let us have a look at the first images of WALL-E. The film starts as typical Hollywood-style, with spatial images of the galaxy (fig. 2) (Spatial images are traditionally associated with CGI because they allow to create or reproduce a space that would be impossible or too expensive to film) and then the earth (fig. 3), which we “dive” into. The “camera”, or should I say viewpoint crosses the atmosphere to unravel this apocalyptical world. Not surprisingly, we dive into the North-American continent.

2.

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3.

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The music is highly nostalgic and coupled with images of a destroyed earth, covered in mountains of trash. (The film alternates between long shots of different angles, (bird’s eye view, lateral…) and fade-outs transition, expressing both nostalgia and the endlessness of the destruction (fig. 4 & 5).

4.

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5.cgi-5.png

CGI enables the immensity of this Dantesque vision, with a plethora of details: the dust, detritus etc… E. H. Blake notes the importance of details in CGI as essential to be believable “These levels of detail are simultaneously perceived as nested within one another, for example, grains of sand on beaches in bays along the coast and fine fuzz on the leaves of trees in forests. At every scale there are forms within forms.”[5] Our eyes end up following a moving box, which is actually WALL-E. Within digital image, the eye is caught by the movement, just like in motion picture. We first follow WALL-E from a long shot (fig. 6) and then from an extreme close-up (fig. 7).

6.

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7.

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Like most Hollywood narrative, the attention is quickly driven onto the individual interacting with or against the outside world. WALL-E and the cockroach are the moving beings, which already puts in balance automation and biological movement. WALL-E emphasises the importance of human characteristics: communication, exchange, love, and uniqueness while being the fruit of, should I say “anti-uniqueness”, since it is a computer-animated movie. We are confronted a few times with images of “real” humans (non-digitalised characters) who look like us and who have disappeared. The images of Axiom shows non-digitalized humans (fig. 8) on a screen within a screen, creating a mise-en-abyme of ourselves.

8.

cgi-8

These “real” humans have disappeared, and the digitalized ones are all identical, obese, manipulated, impotent beings.  Therefore, we end up identifying more with Wall-E than with the humans. The narrative structure is faithful to Hollywood structure and continuity: introduction, disruption, resolution and a heterosexual couple manages to save humanity. Yet this “heterosexual” couple is that of robots. WALL-E underlines the importance and omnipresence of anthropomorphism, even with CGI. Indeed, the audience identifies with the robots because his “human” features: big eyes, need for romance etc… WALL-E is also sympathetic because of his imperfection; his rustiness and bricolage-like appearance makes him stand out from the other polished and cold robots from Axiom, which are definitely non-human. The message is paradoxical: the robots threaten and manipulate humanity, yet robots (Wall-E and Eve) save the latter.

Vivian Sobchack points out the tension between animation and automation. [6] “Automation” means that the work is achieved by a robot instead of a human (in WALL-E, robots have replaced humans in so many aspects of life so much so that they are incapable of doing anything by themselves). It is not the human hand who animates the image, but the computer itself. Thus, it is a mechanisation of representation. This recalls the Bazin’s indexicality of the photographic image. Contrary to the painting which used the only means of representation, the photography is the index of the world, since the link between the photo and what it represents is a mechanical device. Are CGI a step back to iconic representation, since, instead of reproducing the world, it creates a world? Is it the end of a “human” art as we know it? Perhaps it is an iconic indexicality, since CGI are based on “real” elements (e.g. the use of motion sensors). WALL-E expresses the contemporary human anxiety regarding the mechanisation of everyday-life and art: “‘in between’ future and past, gain and loss, promise and nostalgia, animate and inanimate – and, of course, life and death.”[7] Thus, one of the characteristic of contemporary Hollywood animated movies could be the expression through both the narrative and the form of the transitional nature and uncertainty regarding the development of technology and our own agency.

As said earlier, computer animated films have a secondary status within film scholarship, perhaps because their form obliterates the authors. Indeed, who, apart from insiders, remembers the names of the animation film directors? As often for film associated or made with special effects, they can belong to “high concept film,” i.e. simple pitch, advertisement mise-en-scène, merchandising, product placement etc… This goes back to cinema of attraction, as film as both and advert and a product of consumerism, where “viewers no longer engage with rounded characters and a story arc but instead relish the interplay of different elements and the style of the film.”[8] Gurevitch discusses the correlation viewer/consumer as the mass-produced animation echoes mass-consumption: “Pixar animated features mainline the viewer onto the processes of industrial fabrication and consumption simply through the act of spectatorship.”[9] This due to the merchandising of Pixar characters, or vice-versa the creation of a character from an already existing object, “When engineers construct an object on their computer for mass industrial production, the visual object they work with is not simply an image of a product, it is a product.” [10] WALL-E is once again self-reflexive on conformism and consumerism. The irony is that WALL-E denounces consumerism yet it is a product of consumerism itself, as a mass-attraction film and derived products (e.g. WALL-E toys).

Can we still find art within CGI? As mentioned earlier, they allow infinite possibilities and creativity. As Wells argues, “animation is still the art of the impossible, (…) animation remains the most versatile and autonomous form of artistic expression.”[11] I would argue that animation and CGI is expressive itself since it still requires designers to create a world and a narrative structure. “‘technology’ and its innovations are no longer sufficient in evaluating the progress of the form, and it is once more the traditional skills in innovative storytelling, persuasive character animation and inventive visual spectacle that will determine the next classic in the field.”[12] Genres are groups classified according to textual characteristics (form, content, style…); film industry practices and marketing, audiences expectations and responses. Hollywood animated features, regardless the studio look formally very similar; the distinctiveness of these films rely thus more on their narrative genre: Sci-Fi, comedy, fairy-tale etc. Sci-fi is “a genre characterised by stories including conflicts between science and technology, human nature, and social organisation in futuristic and fantastical worlds created in cinema through distinctive iconographies, images and sounds, often produced by means of special effects technologies.” Wells quotes Walt Disney: “The first duty of the cartoon is not to duplicate real action or things as they usually happen – but to give a caricature of life and action… to bring to life dream fantasies and imaginative fantasies that we all have thought of based on a foundation of fact.”[13] However, I would argue that WALL-E is not only a fantasy. Humans’ destructive power against their environment and themselves because of consumerism – as illustrated in the film by the ravaged Earth and the obese humans incapable of moving – touches upon the loss of power and agency. On Axiom, humans are shown as hypnotised and absorbed by the images projected in front of them instead of looking at what is going on around them. It is again a mise-en-abyme of the spectatorship, where we watch a screen representing people mesmerized by screens.

In Kawaguchi’s short films (e.g. Embryo (1992), Cylcoton (2002), we see shapes and textures and colours changing and evolving according to music.[14] CGI becomes an artistic abstract expression, like a moving abstract painting. On a less abstract, Marc Craste’s Jo Jo in the Stars (2004)[15] recreates German Expressionism and Universal horror films style of the 1930s, thanks to perspective and shadows (fig. 9).

9.

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In this bleak world, everybody (the characters are indefinite creatures) goes to watch Jo Jo, a winged-trapezist owned by Madame Pica. The film questions the ethics of spectatorship, by showing countless identical beings watching Jo Jo, a captive being constantly stared at (fig. 10). The hero, one the spectator, steals the key of Jo Jo’s prison to see her. They fall in love; their feelings are expressed by them floating in the stars (fig. 11), but it is just their fantasy; animation allows this plasticity.

10.

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11.

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However, they are surprised by Madame Pica and her henchmen. Both decide to jump out of the window, Jo Jo survives because of her wings but the hero falls in the void. Ten years later, Madame Pica recruits another misfit for her show, who is horribly disfigured and mutilated. It is actually the hero, who will find Jo Jo again. The film ends on them embracing through the bars, then floating in the stars. This example illustrates how animation can use anterior sources of stylistic inspirations while having a narrative. The “unrealness” of the animation helps conveying the symbols more forwardly, as John Halas lists animation’s key characteristics: “symbolisation of objects and human beings, picturing the invisible, selection, exaggeration and transformation…”[16]

To conclude, one might say that animation is a new media, which distinctive feature is first and foremost in its form, as CGI. This media represents a large scope within which different genres and approaches exist. Studios related to Hollywood produce Hollywood-like narrative structures with similar designs. However, WALL-E proves that computer animated features are not merely escapist but can be capable of self-reflexivity. CGI allow a great versatility of effects and therefore can be expressionist, such as in Jo Jo in the Stars. Once again, it is how CGI are used which creates or not an artistic piece of work.

 

 

Bibliography

Blake, E. H. “The Natural Flow of Perspective: Reformulating Perspective Projection for Computer Animation”. In Leonardo 23, no. 4 (1990): 401-9.

Gurevitch, Leon. “Computer Generated Animation as Product Design Engineered Culture, or Buzz Lightyear to the Sales Floor, to the Checkout and Beyond!” In Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal 7, no. 2 (July 2012): 131-149.

Manovich, Lev. “ ‘Real’ Wars: Esthetics and Professionalism in Computer Animation”. Design Issues 8, no. 1 (1991): 18-25.

Oxford Dictionary of Film Studies, edited by Annette Kuhn and Guy Westwell. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Sobchack, Vivian. “Animation and Automation, or, the Incredible Effortfulness of Being.” In Screen 50, no. 4 (2009): 375-391.

Wells, Paul. “The Language of Animation.” In Introduction to Film Studies, edited by Jill Nelmes, 230-58. London and New York: Routledge, 2012.

Filmography

Bird, Brad. The Incredibles, 2004.

Craste, Marc. Jo Jo in the Stars, 2004.

Kawaguchi, Yoichiro. Embryo, 1992. Cylcodon, 2002.

Stanton, Andrew. WALL-E, 2008.

Links

Embryo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChFAFUYpyf0,

Cyclodon

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDZ6mNYX_-4

Jo Jo in the Stars

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10WQEWSRT_Q

[1] Paul Wells, “The Language of Animation,” in Introduction to Film Studies, ed. Jill Nelmes, (London and New York: Routledge, 2012), 231.

[2] Leon Gurevitch, “Computer Generated Animation as Product Design Engineered Culture, or Buzz Lightyear to the Sales Floor, to the Checkout and Beyond!,” Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal 7, no. 2 (July 2012): 133.

[3] Gurevitch, 134.

[4] Blake, 403.

[5] E. H. Blake, “The Natural Flow of Perspective: Reformulating Perspective Projection for Computer Animation,” in Leonardo 23, no. 4 (1990): 403.

[6] Vivian Sobchack, “Animation and Automation, or, the Incredible Effortfulness of Being,” in Screen 50, no. 4 (2009): 375.

[7] Sobchack, 378.

[8] Oxford Dictionary of Film Studies, s.v. “high concept.”

[9] Gurevitch, 137.

[10] Gurevitch, 140.

[11] Wells, 231.

[12] Wells, 254.

[13] Wells, 232.

[14] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChFAFUYpyf0, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDZ6mNYX_-4

[15] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10WQEWSRT_Q

[16] John Halas, quoted in Wells, 232.

terminatorThe 1980s were marked by the presidency of Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), who was extremely popular – his approval ratings as an outgoing president were the highest so far.[1] In a time of post-imperial malaise and general US decline  (i.e. the Vietnam war and the Watergate gate), Reagan’s persona offered a feeling of confidence and solidity. As Richard Nixon puts it “’he restor[ed] America’s spiritual strength. He renewed America’s faith in its ideals and recommitted America to a responsible world role.’”[2] Reagan was himself coming from the Hollywood industry, “one of the most pervasive and influential features of American culture.” [3]  This interrelationship between Reagan persona and Hollywood were embodied by the action men of the 1980s, the hard bodies (e.g. Rambo, Rocky Balboa, Terminator…) On the contrary, the 1990s, witnessed the muscular hero changed to become a more internalized character and even a nurturing father, according to Yvonne Tasker.[4] It is correlated with George Bush presidency, who struggled to establish his political person torn between a caring figure as well as a “tough commander-in-chief.”[5]

If there is a shift from sheer action to family, would it mean that the male hero becomes necessarily more nurturing? How are violence and family mediated from the 1980s to the 1990s?

I will discuss this evolution throughout the evolution of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s persona, primarily through The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) and True Lies (1994), correlated with the US sociological and political contexts.

The hard body, in correlation with Reagan’s policy, is white, muscular and invincible. He is embodied – mainly – by Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger. These figures of sheer and raw masculinity have become mythical within popular culture. Their status of “unified national bodies”[6] imparted them an allegorical quality, forming a national identity, representative of Reaganian Americanness – tough, goal-oriented, assertive.  This would be, according to Susan Jeffords, a response to the “perceived deteriorations in masculine forms of power,”[7] – feminism, Civil Rights – which resulted in an emphasis on external facets of masculinity: the body in violent action. One can note that there is very little, or no development of the male’s character psyche and feelings. T800 in the first Terminator is the paragon of spectacular masculinity. The trailer[8] describes the machine as such “It can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be bothered with. It will feel no pain, no remorse, no fear.” The man-machine is thus a spectacular – and empty – shell, deprived of feelings and even of subjectivity, which protects it from any questioning.

T-800 is sent in the past to kill Sarah Connor, in order to prevent her form giving birth to John Connor, who will be the leader of the resistance against the machines. T-800 is thus the antagonist; however, it does provide enjoyment as it displays a manly-machine-man using weapons for a simplistic task, asserting the myth of a raw and unshakable masculinity. Steve Neale, building on Laura Mulvey’s male gaze, argues that these action films provide a narcissistic identification for the male viewer with an omnipotent masculine figure. The hard body engaged in violent actions, the sado-masochistic suffering of the body, constantly beaten and wounded, would allow for male contemplation of the male body, escaping the homosexual or feminine gaze.

It is important to acknowledge that another male characterisation coexists in 1980s Hollywood: the “new man” of family dramas or comedies, or shall we say the “babysitter/housekeeper”, who finds himself overwhelmed when it comes to take care of a child (e.g. Kramer versus Kramer, Three Men and a Baby, Mr Mom…) The “new men” become nurturing because of crisis: divorce, women more and more prominent place in the working environment…  These men end up being surrogate mothers, the latter being absent of these films. The absence of mothers can be understood as symptomatic of post-feminism backlash. Because of their more prominent role outside the house, the motherhood taken away from them might be a way to re-assert male indispensability in the family.

Surprisingly, in the second opus, the Terminator moves from being the villain to become the flawless hero and surrogate father for John Connor. The sequentiality of the Terminator series can be understood as a hammering of the continuity of White masculine supremacy.[9] According to Jeffords, the 1990s shift would be due the awareness of men that reckless violence would lead to self and general destruction.[10] Thus the shift of Schwarzenegger’s persona from evil to good might express the need for a more internalized masculinity, and it could also be correlated with George Bush presidency, as film critic Caryn James claims: “’The bad old Terminator reflected the heady Reagan 80s; the good new one is a perfect Bush-era Terminator, a machine as sensitive war hero.’”[11]

One might argue that the action hero of the 1990s could be a blend of the “new man” of the 1980s and the hard body. In Terminator 2, T-800 is still a killing machine. However, this time he is programmed to protect John Connor and become his surrogate father. As Sarah puts it:

[The Terminator] would never leave him. It would never hurt him, never shout at him, or get drunk and hit him, or say it was too busy to spend time with him. It would always be there. And it would die to protect him. Of all the would-be fathers who came and went over the years, this thing, this machine was the only one that measured up.

It is a very pessimistic view of fatherhood and a critique of masculinity. Nonetheless, this portrayal cannot be contrasted with a loving mother, since Sarah cares for a greater cause but does not take care or emotionally bonds with her son. Her masculine behaviour and muscular body might be seen as a feminist subversive take on motherhood, but it can also be interpreted as the invasion of masculinity into the feminine space. As Susan Jeffords argues, it “puts her in direct competition for the Terminator’s role, a job – and a body – that she just can’t fit,”[12] while the Terminator, despite his robotic inadequacy manages to dialogue with John. John teaches him human expressions (“hasta la vista, baby”), them fixing the car is a typical scene of father-son bonding. It thus implies that women give birth, but it is the fathers who ensure upbringing and protection. Robert Bly argued that “ ‘women can change the embryo to a boy… only men can change the boy to a man.’”[13] John’s sending a cyborg from the future can be read as the fantasy of re-living one’s conception.[14] Therefore we move from destructive violence to a positive violence, because protecting John Connor equals ensuring human life, giving birth to a better future. Being at the origin of John Connor’s re-birth and humanity’s continuity grants the Terminator a reinforced facet of virility and potency: that of genitor.

However, this masculinity expresses itself only in times of crisis, which as Karen Schneider explains,

“functions identically in every case: it put families at risk only to bring about their salvation.”[15] In a masculinity challenged by the economical and foreign context, the family becomes a place of control, where masculinity can claim its authority and remain heroic. The role of the police is reversed from first Terminator, instead the antagonist, T-1000 takes the form of a police officer. It can be interpreted as symptomatic of a feeling of alienation, in a “society that is perceived as increasingly technologized, mechanized, routinized, and anonymous”[16] against which the male hero can resist by claiming his individuality and masculinity.

I would argue that True Lies reflects perfectly the 1990s duality within masculinity, torn between the nostalgia of Reaganian manliness and omnipotence and a shifting society, resulting in a re-assertion of the “good old values,” coupled with increasing chauvinism due to Middle Eastern growing menace. The family is threatened by external evil forces, paralleling the terrorist menace from the Middle-East and the US intervention in Kuwait from 1990 to 1991.

Harry Tasker is a secret agent who deploys all secret services available means to know if his wife is having an affair. The first sequence showcases the typical elements of action film: secret mission, gunshots, stunts and exotic femme fatale. After this exciting mission where Harry deployed his skills, he comes back to his suburb house and snoring wife. This sets the typical opposition between escapism and routine, between wilderness and domesticity. In his “normal” life, Harry is an absent husband and father. He does not listen to his wife, as she says she slept with the plumber to get a reaction, he replies “That’s good thinking.” His daughter Dana, in the throes of adolescence, is stealing, which he discovers thanks to a high-tech camera device. Harry needs a sophisticated spy device to realise that something is wrong.

Men’s relationship to their work and its interrelations with the private sphere is particularly interesting in this film. Harry was so immersed in his job he neglected his family. But it is thanks to his job – his secret agent means and skill –  that Harry will get his family back together. Harry reveals himself to be a bad father and husband, and he will try to reverse the situation thanks to his secret agent means and skills. In the case of women in the family comedies or drama, their job is also the cause why they neglect their family, and it is not the bias thanks to which they can reverse the situation. There is no questioning of the necessity of a man’s career in order for him to be complete, both on a public and private level.

Domestic scenes are characterised by darkness and dullness, often accompanied by rain to express this atmospheric mood. Schwarzenegger’s statuesque physique seems cramped both by his boring computer salesman cover and by the frames within the household rooms. Harry’s masculinity is actually more vulnerable within the family – fear of cuckoldry, insolent daughter – than when fighting with terrorists. The family is thus a place to escape from to a fantasmatic world of omnipotence and pleasurable thrills. Women, on the contrary, are not allowed to stepping outside domesticity for action, as Harry will cruelly make fun of Helen, punishing her for wanting a more exciting life – the latter being the result of Harry’s indifference. Harry will have Helen believe she is on a secret mission where she has to strip in front of him (not knowing who he actually is). This scene is “a (male) fantasy of retribution against the family and domesticity,”[17] where the woman can only be a boring housewife or a stripper.

As for his daughter, there is not much dialogue between them. His fatherhood is therefore more inscribed in his role as protector against external forces, which allow him to assert his masculinity both to the Other-antagonists and his wife and daughter. The few times we see Dana, she is either stealing or being held by a terrorist, which advocates for a keeping of the daughter within the domestic space: “At the end she is a happily integrated family member and appropriately feminised young woman.”[18] A real context of crisis offers the possibility to re-assert masculinity and Americanness in opposition the looming otherness, threatening the country’s order, and on a smaller level, threatening the family. Harry is capable of flying a fighter-jet, fighting a terrorist and saving his daughter at the same time. During the fighter-jet scene, Abu Aziz (the villain) gets hit in the crotch, which claims American superior – and rightful – hegemonic violence compared to the weaker, soft masculine body of the Other. The treatment of the Other would need further development, as it is an example of Orientalism. Otherness is represented as feminine, sexual – Junno Skinner –, deviant and dangerous – Abu Aziz –, re-asserting Schwarzenegger’s strength and superiority. Thus the Other is a device reclaiming the necessity of the father within the very domestic place.

To conclude, the spectacular yet empty masculinity of the Terminator, coupled with the “new men” epitomize Reagan’s tough persona as well as a need for reassurance in a time of sociological and historical shift (women’s emancipation, US decline). The 1990s showcase a shift towards fatherhood expressing itself through crisis, as Terminator 2. Lastly, True Lies, although comical, harshly claims the indispensability of the father figure, as “the traditional family must be asserted again and again – with violence if necessary.”[19]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Jeffords, Susan. Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era. New Brunswick and New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1994. “Can Masculinity Be Terminated?” In Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema, edited by Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark, 245-262. London and New York: Routledge, 1993.

Neale, Steve. “Masculinity as Spectacle: Reflections on Men and Mainstream Cinema.” In Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema, edited by Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark, 9-22. London and New York: Routledge, 1993.

Schneider, Karen. “With Violence If Necessary: Rearticulating the Family in Contemporary Action Thriller.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 27, no. 1 (1999): 2-11.

Tasker, Yvonne. “The Family in Action.” In Action and Adventure Cinema, edited by Yvonne Tasker, 252-266. New York and London: Routledge, 2004.

 

Website

The Terminator trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHz95RYUbik

 

Filmography

Cameron, James. The Terminator, 1984.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 1991.

True Lies, 1994.

 

[1] Susan Jeffords, Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era (New Brunswick and New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1994), 1.

[2] Jeffords in Hard Bodies, 3.

[3] Jeffords in Hard Bodies, 3.

[4] Yvonne Tasker, “The Family in Action,” in Action and Adventure Cinema, Yvonne Tasker ed., (New York and London: Routledge, 2004), 253.

[5] Jeffords in Hard Bodies, 95.

[6] Jeffords in Hard Bodies, 13.

[7] Jeffords, “Can Masculinity Be Terminated?” in Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema, Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark eds., (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), 246.

[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHz95RYUbik

[9] Jeffords, 247.

[10] Jeffords, 253.

[11] Jeffords, in Hard Bodies, 175.

[12] Jeffords, 250.

[13] Jeffords, in Hard Bodies, 9.

[14] Jeffords, 247.

[15] Karen Schneider, “With Violence If Necessary: Rearticulating the Family in the Contemporary Action Thriller,” Journal of Popular Film and Television 27, no. 1 (1999): 4.

[16] Jeffords in Hard Bodies, 170.

[17] Tasker, 260.

[18] Tasker, 259.

[19] Schneider, 11.

 

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) was Pedro Almodovar’s first international commercial success. Made only eleven years after the end of Franco’s dictatorship in 1975, this film asserts a rupture with the old regime, although it is not directly addressed. The eighties saw the birth of the Movida, with Almodovar as the most noticeable protagonist; a movement challenging traditional values through “radical apolitism,” – hence the absence of direct allusion to Francoism in Women – and post-modernism. Post-modernism is the blending of references and aesthetic from other films. Moreover, Women can be seen as an example of “cultural transvestism,”[1] for it indeed mixes filmic references but also cultural and popular references, such as Pop aesthetics.

It is with no surprise that Women, referred to as a comedy, also contains elements of melodrama and is rich in intertextuality. The aim of this essay will be to analyse how the formal aspects of this film conveys both the codes of comedy and melodrama.

I will first try to give a more precise approach to the meaning of comedy and melodrama, which are both modes more than genres, allowing per se a great mixture of formal styles and intertextuality. I will provide a more in –depth formal analysis of the beginning, the chase and the ending.

 

Let us first define the term comedy, since it is the main tone of the film. Geoff King describes comedy as – obviously – “provoking laughter or humour on the part of the viewer.”[2] But more importantly, “comedy is a mode – a manner of representation – in which a variety of different materials can be approached,”[3] i.e. a genre can be treated with a humorous approach. On the other hand, melodrama is also a mode, as explains Linda Williams, that is not at all cantoned to the woman’s films or family melodramas, it is “a form that seeks dramatic revelation of moral and emotional truths through a dialectic of pathos and action,”[4] meaning that melodrama as a mode would seek answers to modernity’s challenging of values, placing the individual. Thus, the use of two modes in Women instead of a “mode plus genre,” (e.g. horror comedy, Western melodrama) allows a great flexibility and plurality of references and genre (e.g. the thriller as we will see later.)

Pepa is a dubbing actress, left by her lover and co-worker Ivan (Fernando Guillen.) However she learns she is pregnant and tries to reach him by all means but she never succeeds because of bad timing and Ivan cowardly avoiding her. Ivan was previously married with Lucia (Julietta Serrano), with whom he had a son, Carlos (Antonio Banderas), gauche and clumsy. Lucia went mad and committed in a clinic after Ivan cheated on her and left her. Ivan left Pepa for a feminist lawyer, Paulina (Kiti Manver), who was actually defending Lucia. Parallel to that, Candela (Maria Barranco), the “naïve provincial,” Pepa’s friend, takes refuge in Pepa’s flat to avoid the police because she had a fling with a man who happened to be part of Shiite terrorists group planning on attacking a plane to Stockholm. Carlos and his rigid and unpleasant girlfriend Marisa (Rossy de Palma) happen to go to Pepa’s flat by coincidence since she decided to rent it. Carlos will find out Pepa was his father’s ex-mistress on this occasion. We can see from the plot already a comedy of characters and situation. Ivan represents an aging and coward Don Juan, around whom three very different women (an actress, a housewife, a feminist lawyer) evolve. Pepa is the melodramatic character because of her situation (she is pregnant and her lover left her.) the other characters are all comic: Carlos is the new feminized man, a little shy and clumsy yet as womanizer and unfaithful as his father, Marisa is funny because of her rigidity and atypical looks, Candela is the naïve provincial, Paulina, the bad-tempered feminist who does not mind hurting other women. The melodramatic line (Pepa’s pregnancy and inability to reach Ivan) and the comic elements (excessive coincidences and imbroglios) nourish each other  “much of the melodramatic genre is really put to work in the service of comedy and much of the comedy here is only melodrama pushed to an incongruous limit.”[5]

The beginning is mostly melodramatic, as it involves a display of emotions.The credits start with images which seem taken from women’s magazine of the sixties, with a nostalgic Mexican music, “Soy Infeliz” (I’m unhappy) sung by Lola Beltran. The music is used as a narrative tool, echoing the feelings of the main character, Pepa.

Added to the title, it definitely sets the film as “woman’s film,” – literally only – as Almodovar is often characterized as a “woman’s director.”[6] Pepa’s voice-over explains to the spectator a sad situation: the end of her couple, setting a melodramatic tone. Then we hear, what we guess is the lover’s voice in question, as if reading out loud a note written on the sleeve of the “Soy Infeliz” album (making the music “physically” intra-diegetic) saying “I never want to hear you to say ‘I’m unhappy.’ Yours, Ivan,” followed by a worrying music and a dollying close-up on a ticking clock and a frame of Pepa and Ivan, then on Pepa’s body, wearing a bright fuchsia pyjama, echoing both Pop-culture and Douglas Sirk’s bright aesthetic. Then, the next shot is a lateral tracking of Ivan walking against a Moorish background, “a mise-en-scène that immediately links his attitudes with the traditions of that [male-dominated] culture.”[7] We understand that is a dream thanks to the dissolve transition. As in a film noir, one could think it is a flashback or the typical tortured dream of the main protagonist. However, Ivan’s use of a mouth spray and the borrowed pitch he uses while walking along a myriad of women (each one of them representing a stereotype) sets a dash of comic tone, although the music remains worrying. The match cut the traffic light in the dream and what seems to be the red light of a projector makes the transition to the reality and Ivan dubbing an American film, with an insert on his lips and mike.This sequence is a mise-en-abyme on several levels. First, Ivan’s text ironically echoes Pepa’s feelings “Tell me how many men have you had to forget?”; it is reinforced through the crosscutting Pepa still sleeping shot in bird’s eye view. The shots/reverse shots of Ivan and the woman of the film (then voiceless, metaphorically, unable to have a say) epitomize the theatricality of Ivan in his own life, in the sense that he can only provide women with illusions, constantly avoiding to confront them. Secondly, the dubbing element is important in Spanish cinema history because it was a mean of censorship during Franco; indeed dubbing could allow changes of the original texts. Lastly, it is meta-filmic reflection on the fact that the film is post-modernist and referring to other films. The both matched-cut and cross-cutting with Pepa’s ticking clock and the film’s countdown add to the suspense and intrigue that is being woven.

Pepa is dubbing at her turn, just after having learned she was pregnant and missing Ivan’s call. There is a dollying forward to the projector frame from the inside, we see through that frame the actors in a high-angle shot. The music threatening and seems like a military march.

The film they are dubbing shows a couple getting married at the church. This film is not American since the bride is played by the same actress who plays Candela and that we see later in the film. The priest murmurs in her ear “My child, men mustn’t be trusted./Not even my husband?/You can never be too careful,” and hands her a condom. It is a comical satire of Spanish society, torn between the Church and post-Franco modernity. After this film, Pepa dubs alone the film which Ivan dubbed previously, a nostalgic guitar music starts. There is then a very stylized and usual birds-eye tracking, shot, following the blue ray of the projector against the reddish background. It is a direct allusion to Sirk’s lighting in All that Heaven Allows (1995). Indeed, in this film, the blue, unnatural lightning is used to represent negativity and the repressive rules of society that holds the widow from starting a new life. In Woman, the blue is also negative and associated with Francoist masculinity. Pepa, still from bird’s eye view, is completely encased in this light, illustrating her subordination to Ivan. This sequence is melodramatic, because the lines that Pepa has to say, in response to Ivan’s lines, have a cruel echo to her life, provoking her tears (by the same occasion provoking a sympathetic emotional response from the spectator) and fainting. When she lies on the floor in a canned angle shot, there is again this sharp contrast of blue and red, Pepa’s body making a diagonal partition between the two, showing her inner conflict between desire and Ivan’s coldness, or the conflict between femininity and masculinity. The fact that we see her through lenses of her fallen spectacles is a direct reference to Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1955), setting the beginning more on a dramatic tone.[8]

All in all, the beginning, though a few pops of humour is mainly tragic, and this is mostly due to the use of music and a narrative emphasis that is very Hollywoodian.

 

The motorbike chase to the airport is incontestably comic. Lucia wearing a pink layette suit and puffy sixties style wig, handing two guns. Her style “satisfies Almodovar’s taste for kitsch, while simultaneously offering him an opportunity for a figurative representation of ideological retardment [i.e. Francoist patriarchy.]” The mambo and rhythmic music accompanies this comic and suspenseful action. There is an allusion to Superman (Richard Donner, 1978) when Lucia’s head is framed in profile, hair blowing backwards; the music is also typical of the “villain” music. This appeal for the comic aesthetic is a popular reference to the wave of Hollywood films which flooded and met success amongst the Spanish audiences. Lucia’s black make-up à la Twiggy gives her an evil look. Her head appears as comically floating when she is on the moving walkway. Almodovar plays with the diagonal lines created by the escalators, giving a geometric and steeled, Marvel aesthetic. To prevent Lucia from shooting Ivan, Pepa pushes a trolley – of which we have a dollying “point of view” from – to shove her. There are numerous of unusual and stylized camera movements along the film such as dollying at a “feet angle-shot.” coupled with uncanny angle shots, giving a rhythmic and aesthetic quality to the film (there are elements of actions) but also mirroring the instability of the protagonists.

Lucia’s failed attempt to kill Ivan is both comical and tragic. Comical because she ridiculously falls, desperately shooting in the air, showing her knickers, borrowing from the Slapstick and Screwball comedies. Tragic because her pain and folly are genuine and due to Ivan – and by extension to the old Spanish patriarchal order.

Pepa finally gets to talk to Ivan but does reveal her pregnancy. She leaves the airport with a sad violin music. The next shot is that of her, this time entering her flat – the sad music stops when she slaps the door. The flat, first a place of destruction becomes, if not exactly a place of equilibrium, a element of empowerment and independence.   The flat (studio-created) is a reference to the flat in the Hollywood comedy How to Marry a Millionaire (Jean Negulesco, 1953.)

The last scene is ambivalent, yet it is leaning more towards positivity. the scene when Pepa is back to her flat is shot in a craning plan-sequence, showing her evolving in joyful disorder, the policemen, the repairmen and Candela and Carlos still napping because of the sleeping pills gazpacho. The light is soft, typical of a comedy. The next shot is that of Marisa, finally waking up. Both Marisa and Pepa are wearing bright red, echoing their new liveliness; however the deckchair is blue, as well as the blue and red-stripped parasol, reproducing the colour pattern of the beginning, but in a more harmonious way. The lighting, which seems to be that of aspotlight is quite hard and theatrical, emphasizing their centeredness in the terrace, which appears darker. The music, “Teatro,” asserts the artificiality of the scene.

Pepa is pregnant and empowered, Marisa says she has lost her virginity in her dream, to which Pepa replies “Now you say that, you’ve lost that hard look that virgins have,” perhaps referring to the end of Francoist womanhood for a freer one.

 

 

To conclude, we can say that both the beginning and the ending are more melodrama than comedy sad melodramatic tone/happier melodramatic tone. The Music sets or emphasizes the mood of the sequences as a narrative tool, either sad or comical.

The geometrical/composed framing participates to the characters entrapement, while the more open framing accompanies a more hopeful mood.

The bright colours and lighting are a quote from Sirk and Hitchcock, as well as Pop aeshtetic. The characters represent a stereotype. The uncanny and stylized camera movements: quotes from other directors, as well as participating to the rhythmic quality of the comedy or the melodramatic emotions.

Contrary, to the woman’s film of the 1930s, the woman could only be sublimated through pain, self-abnegation and sacrifice;[9] here the comedy allows Pepa to an alternative ending, proper to Almodovar

who “challenges conventional configurations of the family to replace them with unorthodox alternatives.”[10]

 

[1] Barry Jordan and Rikki Morgan-Tamosunas, “Post-Franco freedoms: La Movida,” in Contemporary Spanish Cinema (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1998), 114.

[2] Geoff King, Film Comedy, (London and New York: Wallflower Press, 2002), 2.

[3] King, 2.

[4] Linda Williams, “Melodrama Revised,” in Refiguring American Film Genres: History and Theory, Nick Browne ed. (Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1998), 42.

[5] Mark Allison, A Spanish Labyrinth: The Films of Pedro Almodovar (London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2001), 122-3.

[6] Jordan, 115.

[7] Evans, 33.

[8] Evans, 15.

[9] Evans, 23.

[10] Jordan, 115.

The gangster film The Public Enemy was released in 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression that followed the crisis of 1929 and the Prohibition (1920-1933).

The gangster picture was one of the most popular pictures of the early thirties. First because it was largely inspired by the headlines about bootlegging and gangs that flourished during that time. In addition, gangster pictures were relatively inexpensive to make.[1] The latter element is not negligible since the studios also tremendously suffered from the Great Depression. Warner Bros lost almost eight millions dollars that year.[2] Interestingly, Public was released the same year the term “American Dream” was defined.[3] The American Dream, “from rags to riches,” is supposed to be attainable for everybody, regardless social background, religion or nationality. As any gangster film, Public portrays the ascension and fall of a hoodlum, Tom Powers (James Cagney.) The aim of this essay will be to discuss the position of this film in relationship to the American Dream. The question raised is whether this film gives a version of the American Dream which could encourage delinquency.

First I will try to define the American Dream more precisely and show how this term is itself contradictory and explain how contradictory this expression is regarding American social and intellectual context. Then I will analyse the film in the light of Edward Mitchell’s patterns of links between American culture and the gangster film. I will look more closely at the relationship between the gangster film and the audiences.

 

[The Gangster Film: An Expression of the American Dream Paradox]

The American Dream,  “is the notion that aside from material success, ‘each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.’”[4] First we must look at the notion of American Dream as regards American culture and the gangster film. Edward Mitchell defines three patterns from the American culture that apply to the gangster film: secularised puritanism, social Darwinism and the “rags to riches” myth.[5]

Puritanism is about people’s relationship to the good and evil and God.[6] In this light, Mike (Donald Cook), Tom’s brother would be an embodiment of good and Tom of Evil. Tom’s acolyte, Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) would be in the middle. He is a hood, however contrary to Tom, he does not enjoy killing, and he does not treat his girlfriend badly.  His death, caused indirectly by Tom could signify that one must choose a side.

Social Darwinism is based on “survival of the fittest” in nature, meaning that the sustainability of a species was ensured by its adaptability, aggressiveness and intelligence. Applied to modern humanity, “Social Darwinism served as a rationalisation for economic and geographic rapaciousness.”[7] Tom would be an embodiment of the “fittest,” his cunningness and violence leading him to the “top of the chain.” He indeed succeeds in the material aspect of the American Dream since he can afford expensive cars and tuxedos.

Lastly, the “rags to riches myth,” coming from Horatio Alger’s stories, is linked to Social Darwinism in the sense that the Alger hero must survive, thanks to his intelligence, to get back money/inheritance that was stolen from him. Contrary to Alger’s heroes, Tom does not struggle against a machination but looks for trouble himself, and uses not only cunningness but illicit means and violence. Moreover, the ending is never at the advantage of the hero, or anti-hero who is inevitably “fated.”[8] Indeed, the punishment is death; but also collateral damage. Consequently, the American dream is to be considered paradoxical per se, displaying the contradictory “relationship between self-interest and social obligation.”[9] Mitchell argues that the gangster hero “insidiously demands our admiration.”[10] However I would say that it is not the case in Public. Tom appears unlikeable and sociopathic for no reason; the environment does not justify all of Tom’s actions, since he has a loving mother and an honest brother. In this respect, Public is ambivalent.

 

[The Gangster Hero/ Tom Powers and “the Decent Alternative”[11]]

The plot starts in 1909. I would that this first chapter is the main sociological one. It begins by shots of a city (probably Hollywood), which seems modern and prosperous. Those shots are contrasted with those of much poorer neighbourhoods, as if unveiling a reality far from glamour. This first chapter aims at showing Tom’s childhood, and therefore the origin of his delinquency. Tom and his acolyte Matt are then young boys do petty-mischief but their youth and playfulness make them sympathetic to the spectators. It is during this time that the boys will start working for the first crook, Putty Nose, who will draw them into criminality.

Already during the scene with Tom’s brother Mike and Matt’s sister Molly, their roles are set. Tom has offered Molly stolen roller skates that his brother Mike commands her to give them back. Mike appears law-abiding and Tom is “the bad boy.” Tom is spanked – the spanking is off-screen due to Hays code but the use of sound makes up for it – by, what seems to be, his father. He is at least an authorial figure because he is wearing a uniform. One would assume there are no other depictions of violence on the child because of the censor, but the film suggests that this kind of punishment does not help pre-delinquent children. This man will not appear again; it is the figure of the mother (Beryl Mercer), loving and forgiving that will take over. I would argue that the film – which asserts its sociological approach in the beginning – falters in depicting the social hardships of the poor. Indeed, we do not know why Tom and Matt fall in the wrong crowd and Mike does not. Criminality would therefore be a matter of choice or a character trait.

Since the start, we have seen there is a rivalry between the brothers. Tom mocks Mike for being earnest. “He’s too busy going to school. He’s learning how to be poor.” This sentence expresses the conflict of the meanings of success. It implies that being serious and honest does not assuredly pay. Indisputably, the American Dream is all about the money obtained through hard work. One could argue that criminality is easy-money, however, the gangsters take risks and play their lives in these operations; so one could not call that “easy-money.”

In 1917, Mike is enlisted in the Marines, reinforcing the discrepancy between the two brothers: one as the dutiful honest man, the other as lowlife. However the scene is not that transparent since Tom says about his brother going to war: “You always did take all the breaks.” It implies that Tom is somehow jealous of Mike’s aura and prestige, despite the fact that he earns more money thanks to his illicit business. Tom is at the opposite of Mike by provocation but at the same time envies him.

When Mike is back from war and wounded, he refuses Tom’s beer saying it is blood, to which Tom replies: “Your hands ain’t so clean. You killed and liked it. You didn’t get them medals for holding hands with them Germans.” Public raises ethical and moral issues, questioning the classical and Manichean hierarchy of values, even though its primary aim was not to question the implication of the US army in Europe.

The police in the film are nearly non-existent or useless. They first appear after the death of one of Tom’s accomplice in the stealing of furs. They are drinking beers and one of them says what is the warning of all gangster films: “Larry got what he asked for.” The film, as we have seen earlier with the father, gets controversial regarding authority figures (the father/police/military.) They are either too violent or completely incompetent; it reflects the Depression era’s lack of trust in social structures.

Tom treats his girlfriend badly, again giving an unglamorous portrayal of gangsters’ private life. When Matt gets killed, Tom smiles. This is illogical, I would argue that it is a flaw of the plot. This smile would highlight some kind of sociopathic trait, explaining Tom’s taste for killing. Although Tom is not a sympathetic character, he and Matt shared a spirit of comradeship and trust. The ending is that of a horrid vision, intercut with the mother humming joyfully at the prospect of her son coming back home. The “bad” is indeed punished in the end, the problem is that his family is also punished, because despite who he was, they loved him. This might be why the film could be an unconscious critique of the American Dream, because, in the film, it does not reward the good – apart from the fact that they remain alive – and the “bad” was not given a chance of redemption despite the choice of a “decent alternative” embodied by his brother.

 

[The Gangster Film, the Audiences and the Moralists]

I think the film is a symptom of the era. The film does not directly critique the American ideal of working hard to earn money; because thanks to the example of the older brother, the film underlines that criminality is also a matter of choice. However the social background and poverty give a social approach to the story.

The beginning and the ending of the film show these statements:

It is the ambition of the authors […] to honestly depict an environment that exists today in a certain strata of American life, rather than glorify the hoodlum or the criminal. /The end of Tom Powers is the end of every hoodlum. ‘The Public Enemy’ is not a man, nor is it a character – it is a problem that sooner or later, we, the public, must solve.

By these statements, Warner Bros wanted to position the film in a sociological approach but also to go round the critic of the moralists, who accused the gangster film of glamourizing violence.[12] The idea of a collective responsibility gives a socialist line to the film, which is quite opposed to the American individualism. One could argue it is to please morality. The final statement asserts that crime does not pay; yet expensive clothing and cars show that crime indeed pays. This sentence is superficial and right-thinking because the sociological approach of the film is imbalanced compared to the individualist approach – the film focuses more on the gangster hero than on the societal causes.

The audiences liked the gangsters – fictional or non-fictional – and their “egoism, social protest, amoral virtues and sado-energy.”[13] It was highly problematic for the moralists. The Hays Code instituted in 1934 eradicated the gangster films.

For Robert Warshaw, “The gangster is the ‘no’ to the great American ‘yes’ which is stamped so large over our official culture.’”[14] Indeed, during the tough years of the Depression and the increased social gaps, the audiences enjoyed by proxy the ascension of a poor character buying fancy outfits and driving flashing cars, therefore being equal to privileged people.[15]

Is the film a critique or an endorsement? To answer this question, one is to ask “what is the impact of this film on the spectator’s perception of the gangster? And the answer is mostly negative by comparison.” It depends if we perceive the American Dream as earning money quickly, and whether we feel sympathy for the Anti-hero. This is again to be opposed to another important figure of American culture at that time: the “self-made man”, also an alternative to an illegal choice of life. The notion of “choice” and its consubstantial “responsibility” can be seen as a remembrance of Christian conservative culture. In this respect, the film might also be considered as a critique.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Adams, James Truslow. The Epic of America New York : Blue Ribbons Books, 1931.

Balio, Tino. Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise, 1930-1939, ed. Charles Harpole, (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: Univesity of California Press, 1995), 283.

Hardy, Phil. “Crime Movies.” In The Oxford History of World Cinema, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith ed., 304-312. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Mitchell, Edward. “Apes and Essence: Some Sources of Significance in the American Gangster Film.” In Film Genre Reader 2, ed. Barry Keith Grant (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995), 203-212.

Springhall, John. “Censoring Hollywood: Youth, Moral Panic and Crime-Gangster Movies of the 1930s.” In Journal of Popular Culture, 32, no.3 (1998), 135-154.

Stevens, Dennis Lamar Jr. “The Aesthetics of the American Dream: Experiencing the Visual as Meaning Beyond Truth,” Teachers College, Columbia University, ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing, 2010.

 

“The Gangster File: From the Musketeers to GoodFellas,” Monthly Film Bulletin, 58, (1991), 93-97.

 

 

Filmography

Wellman, William A. The Public Enemy, 1931.

 

 

[1] Tino Balio, Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise, 1930-1939, ed. Charles Harpole, (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1995), 283.

[2] Balio, 13.

[3] James Truslow Adams, The Epic of America New York : Blue Ribbons Books, 1931.

[4] Adams, quoted in Dennis Lamar Stevens, Jr, “The Aesthetics of the American Dream: Experiencing the Visual as Meaning Beyond Truth,” Teachers College, Columbia University, ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing, 2010.

[5] Edward Mitchell, “Apes and Essence: Some Sources of Significance in the American Gangster Film,” in Film Genre Reader 2, ed. Barry Keith Grant (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995), 203.

[6] Mitchell, 203.

[7] Mitchell, 204.

[8] Mitchell, 206.

[9] Stevens.

[10] Mitchell, 207.

[11] “The Gangster File: From the Musketeers to GoodFellas,” Monthly Film Bulletin, 58, (1991), 95.

 

[12] John Springhall, “Censoring Hollywood: Youth, Moral Panic and Crime-Gangster Movies of the 1930s,” in Journal of Popular Culture, 32, no.3 (1998), 135-154.

[13] Monthly Film Bulletin, 96.

[14] Robert Warshaw, quoted in Phil Hardy “Crime Movies,” in The Oxford History of World Cinema, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith ed. (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 306.

[15] Hardy, 306.

What are the common points between a blockbuster historical film such as Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939) and a propaganda film like Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl, 1935)? They both want to captivate and attract as many people as possible thanks to the lure of the eye. What better to catch the eye than the spectacular? The Oxford Dictionary of Film Studies provides this definition of spectacle:

A visually striking scene, performance, special effect, or other distinctive elements within a film. […] Spectacle is also a feature of a number of enduring film genres, including the action film, the musical, science-fiction, the war film and the history film. […]In a different context, spectacle as a form of shock was used for political effect by Soviet filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein.

This definition applies to Gone with the Wind, (a historical film) and Triumph of the Will a Nazi propaganda film, which are studied as regards spectacle by respectively by Tom Brown and Steve Neale. What kinds of spectacle do those films respectively present? For what purpose?

Gone with the Wind uses spectacle to echo this stately historical story by Margaret Mitchell and for commercial purpose. Is it the fact that Gone with the Wind is historical that it is spectacular? Is it even historical? Triumph of the Will is propagandist yet it is praised for its cinematicity. Is it the way it uses spectacle that makes it cinematic?

I will first try to define spectacle and narrative and the links between them in propaganda and Hollywood historical film. I will then analyse more deeply the interlocking of spectacle, narrative and ideology in the analysis of the beginning of Gone with the Wind and Hitler’s speech to the Hitler’s Youth.

 

Brown underpins the difficulty to define spectacle, which “has become a term often cited but rarely probed and even more rarely defined.”[1] Brown cites Geoff King, whose definition is in accordance with that of the Oxford Dictionary: “the production of images at which we might wish to stop and stare.”[2] In a more negative view, spectacle is often considered as just “a gratuitous display,” in order to attract as many viewers as possible but Brown argues that this definition should be refined.[3] His aim is to give, through the case study of Gone with the Wind as a historical spectacle, an “outline […] precise enough to be of use to a range of individual case studies, without dismissing other kinds of spectacle.”[4] In order to define spectacle, Brown relies on Neale’s definition, which he gave about Triumph of the Will: “display the visibility of the visible,”[5] i.e. making the meaning obvious to the spectator.

Let us now deal on the narrative. Tom Brown does not want to part spectacle, often seen as “moments one can represent with a vertical line,” and narrative, “a horizontal line moving forward”[6]; but treating them as opposite would not be effective because spectacle and narrative are intimately linked. The Russian formalist theory about the narrative, which mainly consists of the story (fabula) – ie what happens –  and the plot (sjuzhet) – ie “the particular presentation of the story in the narrative, plot introduces causality to what become a chain of event.”[7] It can be related to the “filmic time”, that is to say a film’s temporal ordering and arrangement of events, as against the flow of time in the real world, one of the distinctive attributes of a film as a medium being that it had its own patterns of temporality. For example, Triumph of the Will is a 145’ “summary” of a fourteen days rally in Nuremberg. But filmic time implies filmic space, and the following of images showing different spaces are unified thanks to the spectator’s look. This scene for instance: after Scarlett was rejected by Ashley and the war was declared, Scarlett looks through the window the men who are going to war, ignoring Charles Hamilton’s proposal (figure 1) . She sees Ashley kissing Melanie goodbye (figure 2). However, this point of view shot is unrealistic. Scarlett is watching from a higher window, whereas the Melanie and Ashley are shot from a neutral angle. In reaction, Scarlett decides to marry Charles in the hope of making the former jealous (figure 3 & 4). Nothing “proves” that Scarlett is actually watching Ashley and Melanie kissing, it is the spectator who cognitively makes the link between the images creates the plot.

Triumph makes a spectacle and a narrative with no plot or story but relies on the cognition of the spectator, that is “in a manner very similar to that of classical ‘fictional’ cinema [… ]given the absence of a plot and given the absence of a dialogue and commentary, the role of this relay of looks” is crucial for the spectator to understand the spatio-temporality. [8] Because their aim is to appeal/lure the spectator (either for commercial or ideological purposes) both mainstream and propaganda films use the same devices. I would say that Triumph is more cinematic – I mean that it uses the cinema as a modern medium – than Gone with the Wind. The latter makes the spectacle from a book, the traditional link between literature and cinema. Both films use the repetition/difference device, which is noticed both by Neale, who cites Stephen Heath: “The narrative join of a film recasts repetition – difference, the interminable flux of desire, the horizon of death – into the balance of a fiction (…), thus maintains the historical function of the subject …”[9] This corresponds to Scarlett. The spectator follows her adventures, punctuated with the same variations: her obsession with Ashley, the cat and mouse play with Rhett Butler, the glory and then the downward spiral and vice-versa.

 

 

Fig. 1     Fig. 2

 

 

Fig. 3      Fig. 4

 

 

In Gone with the Wind, the narrative is linked to the American history. Therefore Tom Brown, since the narrative and spectacle can be parted, introduces the notion of the historical gaze, which embraces the notions of spectacle and narrative.[10] This gaze covers the character’s position in the history in which he/she lives in the story and reflects contemporary discourse and hindsight of the filmmaking about that history. “‘The […] Hollywood historical epic translate the sense of temporal magnitude and the existential weight of being in historical time into visible size and scale and quantity and extravagance.’”[11] Gone with the Wind “combines two main kinds of historical spectacle – the décor of history and the spectacular vista.”[12] The former is “an excess of detail: detail in the mise-en-scène (décor, but also costume) that is excessive to the requirements of historical verisimilitude, [an] embellishment of the sense of place and time.

The spectacular vista is “an excess of action: excessive in scales and qualitatively excessive (a battle occupying a large valley would be a stereotypical example.) The décor of history is associated with the domestic, whereas the spectacular vista generally expresses grander, more hyperbolic visions of history, generally associated with the world of men.”[13] This can apply to Triumph of the Will: women or little girls are generally shot in smaller scales (figures 1 & 2) in comparison to extreme long shots of the military parades (3), restraining women to the domestic sphere, “Kinder, Küche, Kirche” (children, kitchen, church, according to the Nazi slogan).

The Hollywood apparatus involves the display of a dominant ideology and its relationship to the past, present and future. Triumph of the Will starts with evocation of the past, with captions written in Gothic letters, reminding of German’s rich past: “Twenty years after the outbreak of the world war, sixteen years after the start of the German suffering….”After this evocation of the past comes Hitler who, as a “great man” will give to the German people a foresight on the bright future of Germany, in order to convince them to obey and support the Nazi regime. This film uses the past to forge the contemporary ideology which is hoping to shape the future.

Gone with the Wind is a film about a past event; therefore it has hindsight about the past and can give this contemporary hindsight in the form of a foresight in the plot, as Brown explains it.)

Although Brown mentions the Gone’s “distasteful ideological sympathies” like “a nostalgic evocation of the antebellum South […], while the characteristically racist representations widespread in 1930s Hollywood are here more historically charged,”[14] he does not expand on the impact of Gone with the Wind and its relationship to the American identities, which are worth of consideration. When I watched Gone with the Wind for the first time, I was amazed by the mind-blowing beauty of images and let myself go with the flow of the narrative. As millions of spectators, I found this film pleasant and the characters attaching. But after reflexion, these questions came to my mind: “What if I were not white? Would I appreciate a film nostalgic for slavery days, as beautiful as the spectacle of the images is?”

Malcolm X was twenty-four when the film was released: “I was the only Negro in the theatre, and when Butterfly McQueen [the simple-minded slave Prissy with a high-pitched voice] went into her act, I felt like crawling under the rug.” [15] Although, with nowadays hindsight we can see the film as extremely racist, this film contributed to the racial liberalism, because it allowed a bigger place for the Black community in the cinema. My problem with Gone with the Wind is that, because it is a mainstream pleasant film, it displays an ideology more subtly, of course, than that of a propagandist film which suffers no ambiguity. Mainstream films have the power to inoculate ideologies with a mild force. As Guy Debord says, spectacle implies separation and passivity. He “condemn[s] lifeless consumption of spectacle as an alienation from human potentiality for creativity and imagination.”[16] Alienation is directly linked to manipulation and propaganda.

“A successful propaganda must be direct, simple, clear,”[17]in its display, whose narrative relies principally on spectacle. According to Frederic Jameson, [18] “narrative is about power, property and domination rather than universal archetypes. To consider plot in this way is to recognize its dual status as both a noun ‘a/the plot,’ and a verb, ‘to plot.’ Questions of who has the authority to speak and of who controls narrative become central.”

 

Fig. 1    Fig. 2  Fig. 3

 

 

 

Why and how does the medium cinema attract and touch people? It can be explained by the notion of haptic visuality or embodied spectatorship, which “offers a kind of immersion, haptic visuality suggests a more all-encompassing, visceral, emotional, sensuous, form of cinematic engagement.”[19] Triumph of the Will and Gone with the Wind both imply in their own way a physical implication:  the former intends to pull out the pride of German’s race purity, superiority and physical distinctiveness while the latter imposes on the spectator the “weight of history” through its four-hours-duration.

Let us see how the spectacle is displayed in those films. Gone with the Wind is constructed exactly like a play. As I said, it lasts four hours; it has an overture, an intermission, and an entr’acte.  Neale did an analysis of the beginning of Triumph of the Will, explaining how this film incipit was profoundly theatrical, with the clouds by way of theatre’s curtains:

The imbrications of framing, composition, movement and clouds in these opening shots function to install spectacle as the principle of the film’s operations. (…) Clouds have been an essential ingredient in the whole apparatus of spectacle in European art. In offering to the spectators’ gaze a set of forms which mask and fill an otherwise empty and potentially infinite space (the sky) while simultaneously signifying the very emptiness and infinity that they mask, clouds have come to function, in a sense, to signify spectacle itself.

In Gone with the Wind, the first shot is a picture of a long shot of a crepuscule, with a tree and fence, the latter creating a diagonal line, with the word “Overture” in yellow in the centre (figure 1.) This diagonal aesthetic will be recurring throughout the film. The crepuscular sky, etched with wisps of clouds, displays warm shades of orange and mauve. The beauty of the colours along with the solemn music gives the tone of the film: luxuriant, exaggerated, ceremonial, theatrical. This long overture (2’31”) allows time for the spectator to fully appreciate the beauty of the image and to be “tamed” by the mood of the film and to be dazzled by its innovative technological use of colours, which the credits emphasizes on (figure 2 & 3). The time is a meaningful element, because the film is extraordinarily long, referring to the “weight of history,” which I mentioned earlier. The film was shot in Technicolor, which was not widespread because terribly expensive. The film’s intentions is thus to deploy and unfold grandiosity, both in term of the historical narrative and its production. Then appears “Margaret Mitchell’s story of the Old South.” The shot is that of slave in diagonal working on the hills. The colours are mauve and orange. The beauty and the lushness of the image are as grandiose as the ideology is unscrupulous, because the film expresses clearly nostalgia for slavery. It shows a controversial beauty. The title Gone with the Wind scrolls from right to left, the letters are stylized as if they were blown by the wind, illustrating the attention given to the least detail. It is then followed by the cast and film personnel: each protagonist of the film is mentioned and attributed a popular imagery, interlocking the story in itself and the people behind the making of that story, giving the spectator a strong sense of looking at a grandiose spectacle, where the latest technologies, the greatest actors and the biggest amount of money have been deployed to give the public the finest spectacle (e.g. figure 7) The opening ends with the poem-prologue written by Ben Hecht, the screenwriter, for the film[20] (fig 8). The nostalgia is apotheosized with the addition of a melancholic chorus. All in all, this opening epitomizes the “ stage-curtain display” which is “the mark par excellence of the lure of the spectacle itself” and the “exhibition of the means – the tricks – used to produce it,” Neale describes in relation to The Triumph of the Will’s opening.[21]

 

 

Fig 1.    Fig 2.

 

Fig. 3    Fig. 4

 

Fig. 5   Fig. 6

 

 

Fig. 7    Fig. 8

 

 

 

 

The look is essential for the spectacle to exist. Neale analyses Triumph’s cinematicity. Even though Neale thinks that art and ideology need to be considered together, he argues that the aesthetic quality of the film, its “cinematicity,” is worth being studied especially: “What is that these critics find so overwhelming and so deserving of praise – despite their liberal conscience? Why and how is the film so ‘cinematically dazzling?’”[22]It is the “exhibit[ion of] the image for the gaze of the spectator and for the scopic drive [i.e. looking and being looked-at] that sustains it, designed, precisely to ‘catch’ (to lure) the eye.” Spectacle renders the message accessible because appealing.

As Neale says, “it is the spectator’s look which joins the two spaces (that of the crowd and that of Hitler) and the two instances of looking together.”[23] This can be illustrated by that sequence, beginning at 49’22”, of Hitler giving a speech to the Hitler Youth. The first shot is that of a medium close-up in low angle of Hitler, giving him an imposing stature (figure 2.) Then there is a pan on the crowd in a high angle shot. It gives both to Hitler and the film spectator an omnipotent and global point of view. As the camera pans on Hitler from left to right, the camera pans on youngsters in the same low angle shot but from right to left (figures 3, 4, 5, 6.) The soundtrack and the film spectator’s cognition link the two spaces. The parallel and symmetrical movements also reinforce Hitler’s speech. His speech is intercut by close-ups in different angles of teenagers, meaning that from all directions, the young people are listening, agreeing and willing to obey Hitler (figures 7, 8, 9, 10.) His speech is after intercut by longer shots, comprising progressively more and more people (figures 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18). The crowd is shot in different angles, all praising Hitler. This variation of the scale of the crowd (from the general to the particular individual and vice-versa) against the repetition of Hitler’s figure alone from different angles illustrates the scopic drive Neale talks about: the film spectators watch Hitler’s public watching at Hitler watching back at them and, by extension watching at the film spectator who identifies to the public, which is presented as massive crowds and particulars, through different scales (from very long shots to big close-ups).

The identification is crucial in Triumph of the Will, because as a propaganda film, and especially of Nazi ideology, the aim through identification is to assert an identity, physical and thus ideological since this ideology relies on the notion of “race.” The film had been shot in in 1935, meaning that many of the youngsters we see were in age to fight during wartime. The spectator assumes that Hitler’s shot are the spectators’ film’s point of view. However it is not verisimilar that they could see Hitler so closely. The editing creates the bond between Hitler and “[his] German youth”, yet highlights Hitler’s uniqueness and dominant figure as the leader.  I find those spectacularised shots of children and teenagers particularly relevant with Thomas Elsaesser’s remark as regards the display of the Nazi ideology:

Nazism, according to Mitscherlich, […] had encouraged the original attachment to the mother to transfer itself on to substitute love-objects, abstractions, such as nation, race, the State, in turn symbolically represented by the Führer. ‘[The mass-leader], surprising as it may seem … is much more like the image of a primitive mother-goddess. He acts as if he were superior to conscience, and demands a regressive obedience and the begging behaviour that belongs to the behaviour pattern of a child in the pre-Oedipal state.’”[24]

It echoes Neale saying that what counts about spectacle, here the spectacle of the ideology, is not the truth but rather what is visible, the appearance, the “lure,” which implies a “fascinated gaze [which] hovers constantly across the gap between the eye and the object presented to in the process of the scopic drive.”[25] Indeed the fascination for Hitler implies a fascination for themselves, since he glorify and flatter their core being, their blood. By spectacularising the Nazi ideology, Riefenstahl spectacularises the German spectators who feel superhuman by looking at Hitler and Hitler looking back at them, as a baby being his mother sole love-object.

 

Fig. 1  Fig. 2

Fig. 3   Fig. 4

Fig. 5    Fig. 6

Fig. 7     Fig. 8

Fig. 9     Fig. 10

Fig. 11   Fig. 12

Fig. 13  Fig. 14

 

Fig. 15 Fig 16

 

Fig. 17  Fig. 18

 

 

 

To conclude, I explained, with the examples of Gone with the Wind and Triumph of the Will that spectacle, narrative and ideology were imbricated. I explained how the spectator’s look was crucial in the display of the spectacle. Even though those films were made for different purposes in different contexts – the first, without denying its artistic quality, for commercial intentions and the second to support the ideology –, they use they use the same devices to attract the spectators thanks to spectacle.

 

[1] Tom Brown, “Spectacle/Gender/History: the Case of Gone with the Wind,” in Screen 49, no. 2, 2008: 157

[2] Brown, 158.

[3] Brown, 159.

[4] Brown, 159.

[5] Steve Neale, “Triumph of the Will: Notes on Documentary and Spectacle,” in Screen 20, no. 1 (1979): 66.

[6] Brown, 158.

[7] Paul Wake, “Narrative and Narratology,” in The Routledge Companion to Critical Studies, (London: Routlege, 2006): 14.

[8] Neale, 70.

[9] Neale, 83.

[10] Brown, 157.

[11] Neale, 168.

[12] Brown, 158.

[13] Neale, 159.

[14] Brown, 168.

[15] Darden Asbury Pyron, Recasting: Gone with the Wind in the American Culture, 137.

[16] Wake, 3.

[17] Reeves, 107.

[18] Wake, 17.

[19] Oxford Dictionary of Film Studies, s. v. “haptic visuality.”

[20] Darden Asbury Pyron, Gone with the Wind in American Culture, 185.

[21] Neale, 65.

[22] Neale, 65.

[23] Neale, 70.

[24] Thomas Elsaesser, “Returning Home to History,” in New German Cinema: A History, (London: BFI), 1989: 241.

[25] Neale, 85.

Classical Hollywood Cinema: most people get a picture of what it is at the mere evocation of this influential and extraordinary “machinery”. However, it is more difficult to put a word on what exactly defines classical Hollywood style and how it works.  David Bordwell, in the chapter “Classical Hollywood Cinema: Narrational Principles and Procedures,”[1] explains how Classical Hollywood Cinema works as a narrative system, deciphering the means by which Hollywood movies are constructed. It is a neoformalist approach, that is to say based on the devices used (empirical approach) rather than imposing a prior theoretical approach (sociological or historical). Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945) is a classical Hollywood film, that I will use it to illustrate some of Bordwell’s points. Linda Williams, feminist film theorist, questions Mildred Pierce’s meaning for the female spectator in a both psychoanalytic and poststructuralist approach in “Feminist Film Theory: Mildred Pierce and the Second World War”[2]. In other words, she studies the relation between the film and the viewer within sociological-historical context.

Mildred Pierce is a particularly interesting case study because it is a typical Classical Hollywood film (as it has all the ingredients explained by Bordwell) and an atypical film for its plot combines – as Williams says – two contradictory genres: film noir and melodrama. In a very schematic language, it imbricates the most masculine genre and the most feminine genre, yet the targeted audience was the female spectator. My point is that Bordwell’s and Williams’ readings are complementary, for Hollywood reflects the dominant ideology, and studying its forms as well informs on society of the time. Women are part of society, and they have to seen as spectator within a historical-sociological-ideological context, just as a film is a snatch of time and way of thinking and looking.

 

First, as I mentioned in the introduction, Bordwell has a very scientific approach to Hollywood narration. Indeed, the neoformalist reading is partly focused on the film’s narrative form and style. Bordwell defines three ways to study narrative[3]. The semantic reading refers to representation (a world or body of ideas), the syntactic reading concerns the structure, or how the elements of the narrative combine to create a certain world and the last one would be the study of the actual act of telling (here showing, projecting) a story to a viewer.

By analysing representation and structure, Bordwell wants to demonstrate how “Hollywood narration constitutes a particular configuration of normalized options for representing the story and manipulating composition and style.”[4] In other words, Hollywood narration has its own patterns and structure repeated in all its films, whatever the plot is.

One of the key rules is that everything in classical Hollywood narration has to be clear, defined and easily legible. For example, a classical character has to be stereotyped, with a quite simplistic psychology. The character struggles to solve a problem or to achieve his goals, and in the course of this struggle, he enters into conflict with an external element. The end is either a victory or a defeat, a resolution of the problem and a clear achievement or non-achievement of the goals. Usually, the main character is the most “specified,” he/she is at the centre of what happens in the story and the object of audience identification. The beginning of Mildred Pierce exemplifies these rules.

In Mildred Pierce, the main protagonist, as the title indicates, is Mildred, interpreted by Oscar-winning and star Joan Crawford. Mildred is at the centre of the plot first because it is the first word of the film:  it is the last word of a man after he is shot. The identity of the murderer is not shown, as there is no reverse shot. However, the next shot is that of Mildred driving away from the crime scene. We are led to think that she committed the crime. Later in the beginning, she is questioned by the police, and starts to tell the story of her life – there is then a flashback – and we learn that she was not happily married, as her husband (who is cheating on her) blames her for spoiling her daughters. Therefore we have the two intricate plot lines Bordwell mentioned: Mildred’s struggle in her personal life and this mysterious murder (the external element). She is both an object of identification as a mother and as a mysterious woman – the femme fatale. The femme fatale is an emblematic figure of film noir of the 1940s. She is “a mysterious, alluring, enigmatic female character in stories, who poses a threat to male protagonist, using her sexual power to entrap him and lure him to his downfall.”[5]

Bordwell divides the narration into fabula (story) and syuzhet (plot). The story is a construct of the spectator, as he puts the narrative events in causal chronological order. Mildred Pierce for example contains flashbacks, and the spectator is able to make a chronological sense out of them. The plot is how the events are presented. In Mildred, the film begins with an event that actually happens towards the end of the story (the murder). As said earlier, the plot has two plot lines usually heterosexual romance/another sphere (here work). The two lines coincide in the climax. It is the case in Mildred:  in the end she goes back to her husband Bert, meaning that she will stop working in her successful restaurant business and go back home.

Bordwell provides a closer dissection of the functioning of the plot (syuzhet). A scene, for example, is an independent segment which “continues and closes off cause-effect developments left dangling in prior scenes while also opening up new causal lines for future developments.”[6] If we look at the scene where Mildred is in the kitchen (the beginning of the first flashback), everything is already exposed. The voice-over specifies the time and the past of Mildred. She is baking in the kitchen and represents the archetypal housewife. As the voice-over mentions the two daughters (Veda and Kay), there is a close-up on a picture of them in a frame. Bert comes back from home (he is wearing a suit and a tie, embodying the typical working head of family, and they argue about the fact that Mildred spoils her kids too much. Mildred says that she “would anything for them. Anything.” It foreshadows the tragedy that will occur because of Mildred spoiling Veda. The phone-call suggests that Bert is having an affair, and that the couple will part for economic reason, as Bert cannot sustain for Veda’s extravagances.

The manipulation of space is important in the legibility of the narration. Bordwell calls it the “classical omnipresence”. The camera is an “invisible observer,” meaning that there is no trace of actual “making” of the illusion. The classical narration depends on the notion if “invisible observer,” as the narration pre-existed its representation. The aim is to give an illusion of reality, as if the fictional elements (characters, settings…) had their own existence before the camera came to film the disruption in their equilibrium (without them knowing).

The story (fabula) is a logical construct of the spectator. Classical Hollywood guides this construction in the spectators’ mind through different devices. As always, the strong causality is the priority of the story to avoid ambiguity. There is also a firm borderline between the subjective and objective POVs. For instance the flashback may be a subjective action of a character, yet it shows more than the character could know.

Lastly, Bordwell studies the relationship between the spectator and the classical Hollywood film. According to him, the classical spectator is not passive for the spectator performs cognitive operations (rational and conscious attempts to make a sense out of what he is watching) even though he is familiar with this style. Indeed, the spectator has internalized the schemata of Hollywood cinema (causality, defined characters, realistic motivation…). The spectator projects hypotheses on these schemata (e. g. they will fall in love with each other, he is going to die, etc…).

At the end the chapter, Bordwell sketches a more poststructuralist analysis of the film, as a film cannot escape ideological or economical context. “The goal-oriented hero (…) bears the traces of social-historical processes of production and reception.” Mildred is often seen by the feminist film theorists as the example of the working woman of the 1940s who has to go back to the kitchen when the GIs are back from war. Mildred Pierce would be therefore an expression of the patriarchal society, the latter having been upset by the war and the new opportunities it gave to women.

 

 

Before studying Williams’ text, we need to differentiate the notions of spectatorship and audience.  Spectatorship is the relationship with the film text; the spectator is an abstract notion. The audience implies sociological and cultural notions; there are therefore different kinds of audiences, as for example the male audience and the female audience. Feminist film theorists challenge the notion of spectatorship because it does not take into consideration how gender can influence the reception of a film. This is why Linda Williams refers to the female spectator – that is to say the target audience of Mildred Pierce – in her text.

Williams, influenced by feminist theory on psychoanalysis and visual pleasure, asserts that the female spectator has been denied access to male’s gaze pleasure, and woman as “a subject in her own right” has not been shown in films, notably classical Hollywood films.[7] Thus she wants to define the interaction between the female spectator of the 1940s and the way women were depicted in the films of that period. She introduces to two key concepts on representation of women upon which two traditions of theorists have argued.

The first concept is repression, “the often devious ways in which texts that supposedly represent women actually repress them.” That is why melodramas – here Mildred Pierce – are at the centre of feminist film theorists’ debates: are melodramas in favour of women or subtly inject patriarchal ideology to maintain women as inferior in women’s own minds? The other concept is reflection, “which establishes the connection between a given female image [e.g. Mildred] and the historical moment that produces such an image [e.g. the 1940s].”[8]

According to Williams, each tradition has something to learn from one another. Moreover they are based on feminist enlightenment and do bear in mind that the female spectator of the 1940s did not have their feminist hindsight (feminism became important in the 1970s). For Andrea Walsh, in favour of reflection theory, Mildred Pierce is a sign of nascent feminism consciousness, for it showed a strong woman, Mildred becoming a successful and independent businesswoman. Yet, Williams says that it is an optimistic point of view, and that treatment of Mildred in the film was not in her favour – she does everything for her ungrateful daughter (Veda) who happens to have an affair with Mildred’s husband, and kills him. It all happened because of Mildred who spoiled Veda too much.

Pam Cook (repression theory) argues that the double structure of the film makes Mildred guilty. The story she is trying to tell is intercut by the film noir scenes which contradict what she is saying and therefore destroy her credibility. The false structure – the murder at the beginning and Mildred getting away in a car) – suggests that Mildred is the murderer. All in all, Williams think that the reflection theory underestimates the power of patriarchy and the repression theory overestimate it. Williams’ point is that the reading of the film text should be more aware of the specificities of the historical moments in which the film was produced and the situation of its contemporary audience. We must look how Mildred Pierce reflects and represses the contradictions of its historical moment. This is the concept of the political unconscious by Frederic Jameson: the analysis of the collective denial of historical contradictions.

The female spectator of the 1940s was in a “contradictory situation,” as in the men were back from war, during which women had replaced them in the workforce. Mildred Pierce parallels this contradiction in itself, as it is both a melodrama and a film noir. The film shows the contrast and conflict of the gendered-genres: “the day-time filmic discourse of Mildred’s own story and the noir male discourse of a dangerous nocturnal underworld.”[9] Although Mildred Pierce was released in 1945, the film lacks direct political-historical references. By not anchoring the film clearly in history, it allowed to apprehend the gender upset less abruptly, and this upset is resolved at the end to a return of the patriarchal order. Moreover, the absence of patriarchal authority – an oblique reference to the war, suggesting that the father was fighting – “permits a more substantial reflection of the new opportunities for women in a wartime economy.”[10] The new female financial independence allowed by wartime was unacceptable to the dominant patriarchal ideology. Mildred’s financial success and independence lead to a murder: because a man did not guide her, she badly raised her daughters. Kay is dying after Mildred flirted with Monte Beragon and Veda becomes an obnoxious spoiled and materialistic woman. The film noir is repressive and dark, yet seeing Mildred Pierce as only a repression against women would be too simplistic, for this genre is “unbalanced and untriumphant genre” itself.[11]

Mildred Pierce is neither an expression of matriarchal power or a patriarchal power. It is rather a combination of contradictory identification: Mildred as a Depression-era wife, wartime mother, businesswoman and post-war femme fatale. The historical circumstances of the film create even more upset in the roles of wife, mother, worker and woman.

 

 

To summarize: Bordwell analyses how Hollywood narration is constructed and says in the end of the chapter that construction is influenced by a given sociological-economical-historical context. Williams tries to explain what Mildred Pierce’s narration did to its female spectators, by taking into consideration the sociological-economical-historical context of the 1940s.  My point is that we should look at how classical Hollywood narration constructs its representation of gender, and what look it has on women.

But first, let’s have a deeper sight of the purely historical context to understand better the dominant ideology, which affects inevitably the production of films. Julie Weiss interestingly points out that we should study Mildred in a longer historical perspective and not only the 1940s.[12] Weiss goes back to the 1910s and 1920s in America, when feminists argued for women’s rights (voting, economic independence and sexual liberation) while women’s presence in the workforce was increasing. In the 1920s, the flappers represented the independent, sexually liberated women. During the Depression-era, more men were thrown out of work than women, as men’s work in industry was more affected by the crisis than feminine jobs. The Second World War was in a way a great hand to women’s independence, as they had to replace men, and thus question the patriarchal values of American society. This turmoil in gender roles gave rise to the “Mom-bashing” phenomenon: basically mothers were blamed for absolutely everything. It was epitomized by Philip Wylie’s best seller, Generation of Vipers (1942), which attacked American motherhood. According to him, American society was “veering towards matriarchy.”[13] This sentence underpins an important notion: male’s fear of castration, which in psychoanalytic film theory, has a direct impact on how women are represented in films.

Laura Mulvey, in her influential article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” argues that classical Hollywood cinema ensures the spectator to adopt a masculine point of view, notably on women who are objectified by the visual pleasure of the male gaze. “As an advanced representation system, the cinema poses questions of the ways the unconscious (formed by the dominant order) structures ways of seeing and pleasure in looking.”[14] The woman is the bearer of the meaning, not maker of the meaning. It is the case in Mildred Pierce: the detective makes the meaning out of what Mildred is telling.

Mulvey clarifies the notion of pleasure in looking (scopophilia). To look or being looked at can be both sources of pleasure. Hollywood, through its strong borderline between the screen and the audience, allows voyeuristic pleasure. The pleasure in looking is often in this one-way: active/male and passive/female. The spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, who controls events and possesses the active power of erotic look. He is therefore omnipotent. In Mildred Pierce, as it is a melodrama, the object of identification is a woman. So how does Hollywood manage to convey a male gaze through the point of view of a woman?

Mildred Pierce was aimed at female audience. The question is: do women enjoy films that seem to denigrate them?  Mulvey explains that women as representation provoke a castration complex, a threat that must be circumvented thanks to voyeuristic and fetishistic (even sadistic) mechanisms. Fetishism is “the quality of the spectator’s belief in the illusory world on the cinema screen and also to an over-investment in, or an idealization or worship of, the female form on the screen.”[15] Mildred, both as mother and femme fatale is beautiful. The fetishization of her body as a sex object is emphasized by the sexual advances of Wally Fay and Monte Beragon. As a femme fatale, she is punished in the end in being deprived of her two daughters (sadistic mechanism). How can female audience still identify? As I said, she is a mother. But I would not draw a clear and definite borderline between the mother and the femme fatale, for all she does is for her daughters. She uses her charms and traps Wally to make him accused at Veda’s place of the murder of Beragon. She eventually goes back to her first husband, giving up her business. I think that most of all she is a figure of self-abnegation and sacrifice to women, and this in the 1940s or nowadays. The only difference is the hindsight the female spectator has.

 

 

To conclude, Bordwell explains the workings of Hollywood narration, and I used Mildred Pierce to illustrate some of his points. It is characterized by its linearity, legibility and psychologically defined characters. The plot presents this rule: equilibrium/disruption/back to the equilibrium with a shift, hence a standardisation of the plots and only variations in the stories. Williams analyses the psychological impact of Mildred Pierce on the female spectator of the time by investigating on the social-historical-economical context.

[1] David Bordwell, Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology, ed. Philip Rosen (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986).

[2] Linda Williams, Female Spectators: Looking at Film and Television, ed. Deidre Pribram (London: Verso, 1988).

[3] Bordwell, 17.

[4] Bordwell, 17.

[5] Oxford Dictionary of Film Studies, 1st ed., s.v. “femme fatale.”

[6] Bordwell, 20.

[7] Williams, 12.

[8] Williams, 12.

[9] Williams, 13.

[10] Williams, 23.

[11] Williams, 27.

[12] Julie Weiss, “Feminist Film Theory and Women’s Theory: Mildred Pierce and the 20th Century,” Film and History 22, no. 3 (1992): 80.

[13] Weiss, 82.

[14] Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen 16, no. 3 (1975): 7.

[15] Oxford Dictionnary of Film Studies, s.v. “fetichism.”

Violence is indeed recurrent in Contemporary Spanish Cinema, which is “frequently described as excessive in its graphic depiction of violence” because Spanish history “is marked by a fratricidal civil war [and] by a long period of Francoism that glamourized death.”[1] The two films I will discuss in my essay, Tesis (Alejandro Amenabar, 1995) and Te doy mis ojos (Iciar Bollain, 2003), make no exception. They present interesting similarities in their treatment of violence despite their opposed genre or tone. Both address violence against women and in both films violence is linked to fear and repression. In the thriller Tesis, Angela (Ana Torrent) writes a thesis on violence in the audio-visual sector. Her supervisor dies watching a snuff film, found in a secret location of the university library. Angela steals the video, actually featuring the torture and murder of a female student. With the help of snuff-lover geek Chema, they will try the resolves the murder and find the authors of the films. Te doy mis ojos is a social realist melodrama about domestic abuse. It tells the progressive independence of Pilar (Laia Marull) from her abusive husband Antonio (Luis Tosar). Its originality relies on the equal treatment of both aggressor and victim. Both these films treat about violence however they do not at first sight mention the Civil War or the dictatorship. This absence of direct reference to the dictatorship would actually be symptom of the Francoist violence, as contemporary Spanish films “incorporate a repressed historical memory, suggesting their reaction against Francoist ideology and oppositional cinema in the search for a contemporary identity.”[2]

How do those films refer to violence, or I might add, allude/avoid it?

I will first show that violence in Te doy mis ojos explained through social and historical factors. I will focus on the film’s mise-en-scène which relies partly on evocation of History and displacement of violence. In Tesis, violence is a pretext to question the viewer and media’s ethics. I will show that the film’s mise-en-scène relies on the deferral of violence and the pastiche of different genres. Lastly I will question the films’ relation to the representation of women as regards voyeurism and ethics.

Te doy mis ojos denounces domestic abuse in Spain, at a time where gender-based violence was at the centre of the political debate. B. M. Gross called the film “an intervention.”[3] In 2004, the Organic Law was set to protect the victims and reinforce the sentences against domestic abusers.[4] Indeed, Bollain argued that this film “is not simply a denunciation of domestic violence but rather an attempt to investigate and explain the reasons why couples remain together in spite of abuse.”[5] Bollain and her scriptwriter Alicia Luna did thorough researches and numerous interviews of both victims and abusers to have a deep understanding of domestic abuse.[6]

This sociological and documentarist approach à la Ken Loach (by whom Bollain was inspired) demonstrates that male chauvinism creates a pressure on men.[7] It projects the impossible ideal of an omnipotent man, referred to as “hegemonic masculinity,”[8] which domestic abusers fail to achieve. Therefore, to compensate their fear of failure, physical violence imposed on women is a way to feel strong and in control. Studies have shown that “less educated men, and men in low-status jobs [are] more likely to subscribe to an ideology of familial patriarchy [and are] also more likely to have beaten their wives.”[9] This profile corresponds to Antonio’s. Thus, the reasons for domestic violence are not only sociological but also economical. Antonio’s inferiority complex is due to a lack of recognition in a boring job (seller in an electric shop), a social inferiority (Antonio is humiliated by his successful brother) and an intellectual inferiority (his wife’s new job at the museum of Toledo). He denigrates what she does, which is a form of psychological violence.

The weight of Spanish history is evoked through the mother in the wedding dress scene. The mother’s implicit complicity to Antonio’s violence personifies the old Spanish patriarchal order. The injuries Pilar suffered from – tendonitis, temporary sight loss – are verbally expressed by her sister Ana during this scene. Pilar finds her way out thanks to art – intellectuality- understood as a means against violence. Antonio mistakes emotional vulnerability and weakness and is not capable of acknowledging it during his thrapy sessions. As Pilar was able to read his fear (“No tengas miedo/Don’t be scared”) stripping his feelings bare with good intentions, he therefore “had” to take revenge by literally stripping her naked and humiliating her, locking her outside on the balcony. This scene is psychologically incredibly violent: “The type of torture he uses on Pilar in this scene is symbolic in that he seeks to humiliate her precisely through exposure, what he himself fears most.”[10]

Te doy mis ojos was qualified as “timid realism” and even a “tragic case study”[11] because of its apparent absence of formalist style. However “Bollain’s tightly-framed shots conveys meaning, especially in connection with Antonio.”[12] Indeed, as in the scene I analyse, Bollain privileges a claustrophobic atmosphere, achieved through composed frame and close shots of Antonio, so as to express the constraints he imposes on his wife as well as the own social and psychological trap – explained earlier – from which he feels he cannot escape. As documentarist and realistic, the mise-en-scène relies mostly on the actor’s performance.

In the scene starting at (1:06:10) Antonio questions Pilar about where she had been. He is shot in a medium long shot (1). The door frame encloses him into a sharp, constrained place, echoing the anger that gradually takes control over him preventing him from thinking straight. Pilar, in reverse shot (2) is afraid. Bollain uses the shot revers shot to emphasize the conflict between the characters. Antonio is then shot in a closer shot, as to show the danger and oppression is getting more threatening to Pilar (3). The camera, behind Antonio, is hand-held, shaking, faithful to the documentary style but also illustrating the fury that consumes Antonio (4). This device makes Pilar appear even smaller since Antonio’s neck, back and shoulder occupies most of the frame. Her red suit and Antonio’s fury could remind of a bull charging into the red cape. When Antonio pushes her, Pilar immediately self-protect herself, it shows that she is used to being hit (6). Her shivers and panting (7) testifies of the horror she is daily put through. The actual physical violence is not shown but Pilar’s reactions and body language make the viewer imagine the worst. As Alberto Mira puts it, “ ‘not seeing [the acts of violence] only increases our perception of the horror.’”[13]

For Sally Faulkner, the film is not lacking formalist qualities, because, according to her, the film is not an example of social realism because “it is a film about physical violence in which we never see physical violence… the displacement strategies more commonly associate with melodrama.”[14] When Ana comes to Pilar and Antonio’s flat to pick up her sister’s possessions after her sudden leaving, we see from Ana’s point of view the kitchen wall spattered with tomato sauce, evoking spilled blood. The displacement of the violent act into mise-en-scène would be a melodramatic approach and not a documentary one. Therefore the mise-en-scène relies also on the displacement of violence through evocations of violence.

Other sublte evocations of violence can be found through the use of the architecture of Toledo, which is “the paragon of patriarchy,”[15] because this city is historically charged fro being the heart of the rise of Francoism. The siege of the military fortress of Alcazar is a symbol of Francoist victory. After Pilar and Antonio had sex in Ana’s apartment, he asks Pilar to return home. At this moment, there is a shot of Alcazar from the window, linking Antonio’s demands to “the militaristic and patriarchal values of the monument, which is a famous symbol of Nationalist resistance during the Civil War.”[16]

Anchoring Tesis in the Spanish historical background can seem farfetched but the casting of Ana Torrent is a direct allusion to the dictatorship. She played in two films (El espíritu de la colmena, 1973, Cría cuervos, 1976) shot a little before and at the end of the dictatorship both contesting the Francoist ideology. She was then a child, but the films and her famous profound questioning gaze marked Spanish audiences.[17]

Tesis is violent by its genre: a thriller film about violent films (snuff, slashers and mondo). This metafilmic approach is used to question the viewer’s and media’s ethics. The film was in part inspired by the Alcasser case in Spain, where three girls were kidnapped, tortured and murdered, possibly for snuff film purposes.  Amenabar sought to denunciate of the shameless exploitation and consumption of gruesomeness by Spanish TV and the audience.[18] Is it the media that forge what the public wants or is it the public that forges what the media produce? This issue – supply and demand- is directly addressed by the caricatural character Jorge Castro (Pilar’s professor and villain) during his bombastic speech to the students: “The filmmaker is obliged to do nothing expect deliver on the demands of the audience.” This sentence is an expression of the anxiety of the Spanish Cinema in the 1990s, which attracted only 7,64 % of moviegoers. According to Dolores Tierney, the recourse to violence in the 1990s was a commercial tactic to counter Hollywood box-office supremacy.[19] The film questions both the media and the audience’ ethics “by transforming his characters into spectators as well as protagonists and victims of their own voyeuristic spectacle”:[20] Chema and Angela watch snuff and then will be subjected to actual violence, Angela on the verge of being the object of Bosco’s snuff film. It is a voyeuristic mise-en-abyme as Chema and Angela both grow up from this experience; they encounter violence against themselves and not only through the screen.

The film includes humour and the unrealistic elements corresponding to the campus film/horror genre. Does this comical approach contradict Amenabar’s own statement since making this film enjoyable could be interpreted as making violent images acceptable? The spectator in the viewing process will inevitably identify to Angel, who is drawn towards violent images and the attractive Bosco – the killer. The ethic and disgust opposed to the voyeuristic fascination is illustrated by Angela’s reactions: first repulsed, yet getting gradually used to bloody images. First Angela only listens to the tape, then watch it through her fingers and finally watch it again and again: “with a little practice Angela learns to look and consume.”[21]

There is no explanation to why Bosco kills women. I would argue that we do not need one because the film does not aim to be realistic because it is a thriller/campus film, making the film not Hollywoodian copy but a pastiche of several genres.

The film is inspired by three film tradition: snuff, mondo and gore films. As a thriller, it is defined by its form: sharp and fast, e.g. the montage sequence when Angela watches the snuff film for the first time: it is a fast juxtaposition of close shots. The snuff film would be an urban legend (no “real” snuff film would have been found/seen)[22], featuring the torturing and death of a random victim. These films would be characterized by one single shot, one room, one camera and bad editing.[23] The mondo film is dedicated to filming of genuine and sudden death (executions, attacks, accidents…) as the mondo film Fresh Blood owned by Chema. Finally, the gore film is a fiction film, based on outrageous and exaggerated plots and effects, often featuring the murder of a young woman.

In the first scene of the film, Amenabar uses a black screen with an intra-diegetic voice, “which appears to address the spectator and the character(s) simultaneously,” implying either way an effect of destabilization and stimulus. The low-angle shot in slow-motion of Angela’s face, dying to see the mutilated body and the reverse high-angle POV shot of the metro platform, emphasises the Angela’s morbid curiosity and ours by the same occasion. Our senses are aroused (sight and sound) yet frustrated since, as it is from Angela’s point of view we do not get to see it. This deferral of violence will be used continuously during of the film. We actually only get to see snippets of violence; thanks to the use of sounds linked to snippets of violent images: the viewer’s imaginative and cognitive causality logic do the rest.

Tierney’s argument is that the illegal recording of a real event that fascinates the viewer more than the violence itself. According to Jean Baudrillard, this “tension between real and false images of life (and death) crystallizes diffuse postmodern anxieties as to whether the real can be accessed at all through media / ted images.”[24] This meets André Bazin’s concern about capturing an aesthetic of reality, and therefore accessing to the truth thanks to the cinema. It is the very illegality and unsophistication of the snuff which make it “real.” Catching death in real-time fascinates the viewer. This tension between reality and images is expressed by Angela who asks Chema “Have you ever seen a real dead person?” “This is real,” he replies, referring to the mondo film they are watching. The snippets we see of the snuff film are film in low-definition, with dull colours, giving a terribly banal aesthetic of violence. This aesthetic of realist violence contrasts with Angela’s fantasies. When Bosco slightly cuts her throat in her dream, the blood is unrealistically red and shiny. There is therefore a code of fictional violence and real violence. It is a an example of cinema of attraction: however the banal aesthetic renders the spectacle of death paradoxically more spectacular since the rustic forms gives an impression of reality.

When Angela is in Bosco’s garage, she recognize the setting (7). The bright red line made by the wall tiles allusions the blood (stylistic mise-en-scène), whereas in her recording of the snuff (8) the blood is literally splattered on the wall and the red of the wall tiles appear dull. Bosco shuts the garage door (9), leaving the screen black (10), as in the beginning. This time we literally “enter” the making of the snuff film, Bosco setting the tripod (11), the crude lightning (12). In a loop effect, Bosco will die both through Amenabar’s camera (13) and through his own camera (14). This is a fusion of the diegetic violence and the snuff; it might be a reflection on the fact that real death cannot be never be real through an image. Nonetheless, we feel pleasure watching Bosco dying.

These films underline the dangerous power of the gaze. “Te doy mis ojos” means “I give you my eyes,” Angela’s teacher literally dies watching a film. Are these films voyeuristic or denunciative towards women’s bodies and violence against? In both films, violence is directed against women. From Laura Mulvey’s perspective, it is due to the fetishistic pleasure of punishing the woman (threatening because of her “lack,” personifying the anxiety of castration) on screen. Both Pilar and Angela are sexually objectified in the films and subjected to male violence with different approaches. Bollain argued that more than a denunciation the film sought to explain the factors favouring domestic abuse. The sex scene between Pilar and Antonio could be reproached of being a typical example of Mulvey’s female looked-at-ness: Pilar’s body, entirely naked, is in the foreground, while Antonio is hidden by the shadow. However, I would argue this scene is not simply voyeuristic. I think Bollain wanted to show the powerful bond linking Pilar and Antonio. In a way, Pilar is also guilty of accepting this treatment. In that scene, Pilar enumerates parts of her body she gives to Antonio and lastly says: “Te doy mis ojos/ I give you my eyes.” She finds herself a role by being completely possessed by Antonio. But when starts standing for herself and not living through his eyes but through her own eyes (which she has symbolically given up), she finds her independence.

Tesis is very much self-conscious of the gaze and the viewer’s ethics, it is less about the patriarchal structures underlying in the film.[25] Although the film denounces the viewer’s morbid curiosity and the abjection of snuff movies, it does not denounce the violence against women. The heroin is Angela but the motor of the plot is Chema. She is what Buckley call the “final girl” of the slasher movies. She is not threatening because not feminine or obviously sexual. Her androgyny makes her actually a double of the young male spectator and her “exception proves the rule of female weakness.”[26] The traditional patriarchal structure is intact.

The gaze is a means of possession. In Antonio’s perspective, looking is possessing (Pilar). Her presentation of the Danaë painting drives him mad because she is looked-at by other men, who “may possess her through vision.”[27]. The gaze has thus the violent power to parcel out the subjects and dehumanize them. Similarly, Angela only starts to exist for Bosco when she is accidentally shot by his camera. By being “virtualised,” Angela can become objectified.

To conclude, I have shown that violence in Te doy mis ojos is explained through historical and sociological factors which have a direct impact on the characters’ psychology. In Tesis, violence is used to question the media and viewers’ ethics. Amenabar uses an aesthetic of the banal and rustic to recreate an impression of the real, which both fascinates and disgusts the viewer. Both films have tried to deal with the spectator’s conscious or unconscious need to watch violence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1) 2)

3) 4)

5) 6)

7)  8)

9)  10)

11) 12)

 

13)   14)

Bibliography

Begin, Paul. “Regarding The Pain of Others: The Art of Realism in Icíar Bollaín’s Te doy mis ojos.Studies in Hispanic Cinemas, 6 no.1 (2009): 31-44.

Buckley, Christina A. “Alejandro Amenábar’s Tesis: Art, Commerce and Renewal in Spanish Cinema.” Post Script, 21 no. 2 (2002): 12-25.

Faulkner, Sally. A History of Spanish Film: Cinema and Society 1910-2010. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.

Hallam, Julia and Margaret Marshment. “Space, Place and Identity: Reviewing Social Realism.” In Realism and Popular Cinema, 184-196. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000.

Jordan, Barry. “The violent image: Tesis.” In Alejandro Amenábar, 44-84. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013.

Kinder, Marsha. Blood Cinema: The Reconstruction of National Identity in Spain. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1993.

Smith, Jennifer. “Violence and Hegemonic Masculinity in Historias del Kronen, El Bola and Te Doy Mis Ojos.” In Prisma Social 13 (Dec 2014-May 2015): 217-256. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1648338598?accountid=11862

Thau, Eric M. “The Eyes of Ana Torrent.” Studies in Hispanic Cinemas, 8 no. 2 (2011): 131-143.

Tierney, Dolores. “The Appeal of the Real in Snuff: Alejandro Amenábar’s Tesis.” Spectator – the University of Southern California Journal of Film and Television, 22 no. 2 (2002): 45-55.

Filmography

Amenabar, Alejandro. Tesis, 1995.

Bollain, Iciar. Te Doy Mis Ojos, 2003.

Erice, Victor. El espíritu de la colmena, 1973.

Saura, Carlos. Cría cuervos, 1976.

[1] Marsha Kinder, Blood Cinema: The Reconstruction of National Identity in Spain, (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1993), 1.

[2] Christina A. Buckley, “Alejandro Amenábar’s Tesis: Art, Commerce and Renewal in Spanish Cinema,” Post Script, 21 no. 2 (2002): 13.

[3] Paul Begin, “Regarding the pain of others: The art of realism in Iciar Bollain’s Te doy mis ojos,” Studies in Hispanic Cinemas 6, no. 1 (2009): 31.

[4] http://www.velascolawyers.com/en/civil-law/143-domestic-violence-in-spain.html

[5] Begin, 33.

[6] Begin, 33.

[7] Begin, 34.

[8] Jennifer Smith, “Violence and Hegemonic Masculinity in Historias del Kronen, El Bola and Te Doy Mis Ojos,” Prisma Social 13 (Dec 2014-May 2015). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1648338598?accountid=11862

[9] Smith.

[10] Smith.

[11] Marina Harss, quoted in Begin, 32.

[12] Sally Faulkner, A History of Spanish Film: Cinema and Society 1910-2010, (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 248.

[13] Mira quoted in Faulkner, 248.

[14] Faulkner, 248.

[15] Pascale Thibaudeau quoted by Faulkner, 249.

[16] Faulkner, 249.

[17] Buckley, 13.

[18] Jordan Barry, “The violent image: Tesis,” in Alejandro Amenábar (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), 51.

[19] Dolores Tierney, “The Appeal of the Real in Snuff: Alejandro Amenábar’s Tesis,” Spectator – the University of Southern California Journal of Film and Television, 22 no. 2 (2002): 45.

[20] Jordan, 59.

[21] Jordan, 76.

[22] Tierney, 46.

[23] Tierney, 41.

[24] Jean Baudrillard, quoted in Tierney, 45.

[25] Buckley, 20.

[26] Buckley, 20.

[27] Begin, 39.