“Visual and other pleasures” by Laura Mulvey

This post is contributed by Dr. SE Barnet, an artist and Associate Lecturer at Central St. Martin’s

BIH Celebrates Laura Mulvey, Saturday 9 February 2013

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this event was the informal atmosphere of the day.  Laura Mulvey’s friends and colleagues gave a series of introductions, each introducer introducing the next introduction, acknowledging their near parody in doing so. Familiar names and faces filled the room, and of course, references to pleasure were not overlooked.

The other delight of the afternoon was seeing Mulvey’s films and videos, most of which can be difficult to find, outside of ubuweb. Seeing her videos Marilyn and on Imitation of Life were a treat, as was her extemporaneous commentary over a clip from Godard’s Le Mépris (Contempt). Her wealth of cinematic knowledge opens up film scenes to richer readings and interpretations. The term palimpsest cropped up frequently in her presentations and for good reason. Mulvey highlights what is hidden in plain sight. Commenting on a background of movie posters papering the wall behind Fritz Lang’s character of the director in Le Mépris, she enlightens us to Godard’s own influences and cinephilia of the 1950s Hollywood studio system. The film as palimpsest is not the pentimento of the painting. These traces are intentional, not reversed or negated.

Brecht’s influence was a central theme over the course of the event as well.  In Mulvey’s video on Douglas Sirk’s film Imitation of Life, she shows us the Brechtian gesture of Sirk’s mise-en-scène. Not only does she focus on the camera’s lingering close up of Lana Turner’s legs in the crane shot at the beach and the subsequent emphasis on Turner’s breasts, but through her slowing down and stopping of the scene, Mulvey shows us something quite extraordinary. With this viewing technique she demonstrates Sirk’s contrasting representations of women; white/black, spectacle/ordinary, negligent/maternal. And then she stops the scene on a frame that viewed in normal time would last less than a second. Behind Turner, in the background, a young, well-dressed black woman has taken Turner’s previous position on the stairs. And just as Turner was photographed by the man at the foot of the steps, so is this woman. Is Sirk covertly suggesting a black woman may assume a sophisticated role comparable to a white woman? This would have been a radical presentment for 1950s America. Then Turner sweeps back to the steps, knocking into the photographer as she does, re-instating her place.

The access Mulvey provides to these hidden gems comes as a result of what she describes as her preferred viewing experience. She insists a first viewing should be linear, from start to finish. But then, the viewer should let her instinct guide her viewing, lingering over those moments that pervade and prickle. Slow down and stop. Repeat. Reviewing as a methodology of informing the viewership. And then she should return to the linear viewing, now educated into the language of the film, able to derive fully the pleasure offered.

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2 thoughts on ““Visual and other pleasures” by Laura Mulvey

  1. Pingback: Visual and other pleasures | SEBarnet

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