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Critical Analysis of the finished Part of "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema"

"Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" explores the concept of the male gaze.

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Laura Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" originated the idea of the male gaze. The male gaze is a theory which claims that cinema tends to present women as fetish objects for the pleasure of heterosexual male spectators (a phenomenon Mulvey links with scopophilia, or the deriving of aesthetic/sexual pleasure from looking at something). She references particular films, such as Hitchcock's Rear Window or Josef von Sternberg's Morocco, in order to illustrate her point. Her theory is rooted in Freudian psychoanalysis.

Mulvey argues that this scopophilic gaze provides pleasure solely to male viewers. Male characters look and are therefore active, while female characters exist to be looked at and are therefore passive. Using Rear Window as an example, Mulvey observes that the James Stewart character is the audience surrogate and he often observes the female characters, such as the curvy dancer across the street, with sexual pleasure. Indeed, Stewart's character only accepts his feelings for the Grace Kelly character when observing her from afar in his apartment-- in essence, he only desires her once he can turn her into an object to be looked at from afar. In Mulvey's view, this implies that Hitchcock is assuming his audience's "gaze" is that of the heterosexual male. She projects this idea onto all Hollywood movies, which she perceives as inherently patriarchal due to the number of male filmmakers in charge of these productions. Ultimately, Mulvey hopes to bring awareness to what she perceives as a dehumanization of women and an overlooking of female spectatorship by male-dominated studios.

While influential since its publication, not everyone agrees with Mulvey's essay. For example, some have noted there are films that are more oriented towards female spectators and their (presumably heterosexual) desires, and that her analysis ignores the "gaze" of same-sex-attracted women and men in relation to female characters on the screen. In her study of Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich's cinematic collaborations In the Realm of Pleasure, Gaylyn Studlar argues that the "gaze" is not gendered but rather masochistic, with both male and female audience members experiencing the same sense of powerlessness and pleasure from their voyeuristic relationship with the characters onscreen.