The Variety of Gazes in Vertigo

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Book Chapter

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Though in this memorable statement Virginia Woolf had in mind a sea change in painting (she was responding in part to the revelations and revolutions in an exhibition of Post-Impressionist art about what constituted “reality” and how to capture it visually) and novel writing (offering the modernism of James Joyce as an alternative to the conventional realism of Arnold Bennett), the above passage can be applied to a later dramatic development in our understanding of film and its sense of “human character”. On or about the autumn of 1975 the study of film changed momentously with the publication of Laura Mulvey’s paradigm-breaking and paradigm-making essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, describing the male gaze in film as an emblem of patriarchal power over women, a look that controls women, objectifies and fixates them, and configures them as passive images for men. This gaze registers and enables, among other things, men’s selfish desires (for sex and power, which tend to be intermingled) and their hysteria and anxiety because women signify a frightening other, inevitably calling to mind loss (involving not only castration anxiety but the disappearance of short-lived infantile unity with a nurturing mother).


Chapter 10 in Haunted by Vertigo: Hitchcock's Masterpiece Then and Now, Gottlieb & Martin, Eds.