A Feminine Discourse: Representation, Seduction, and Identification
2.4 Masquerade Play of Identities
The filmic look, undoubtedly, is an essential ingredient of film language. However, the concept of filmic look and that of gaze are always interlaced with each other in media and film studies approaches. Some theorists make a distinction between the gaze and the look: they suggest that the look is a perceptual mode open to all, whilst the gaze is a mode of viewing reflecting a gendered code of desire.73 Here it should be noted that the
Catherine Lutz & Jane Collins, “The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic”, in Visualizing Theory, ed. Lucien Taylor (New York: Routledge, 1994), 373.
Joshua Meyrowitz, No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behaviour (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 67.
Hall, “Who Needs ‘Identity’?”, 4. 73
Caroline Evans & Lorraine Gamman, “The Gaze Revisited, Or Reviewing Queer Viewing”, in A Queer Romance: Lesbians, Gay Men and Popular Culture, ed., Paul Burston & Colin Richardson (London: Routledge, 1995), 16.
concepts of filmic look and gaze are different in this research: the filmic look refers to all the perceptual looks created by the camera lens and the links between the shots; the filmic gaze, by contrast refers especially to the looks which signal the psychological relationships of power (including the sex/gender code) between the viewer and the viewed. As I have mentioned, I try to adopt a gender-neutral standpoint in this research. What I probe is not the power relation between two sexes/genders, but how the post-fifth- generation filmmakers identify themselves through constructing their filmic representations within a particular historical and cultural discourse. Therefore, when analysing the films directed by men, I will not focus on the issue of the “male gaze” which implies the inequality between men and women, but, rather, use the term “filmic look” in which the “male gaze” is certainly partly involved.
Several key forms of look can be identified in filmic texts. They are characterised by who is the viewer: the spectator’s look, the intra-diegetic look (a character looks at an object in the text), the extra-diegetic look (a textual character looks out of the frame as if at the spectators), the camera’s look and the editorial look (the filmmakers’ look). All these forms of look often interlace with each other because viewers exist in different spaces, for example, an intra-diegetic look can also be a spectator’s and director’s look as well. What is more, an intra-diegetic look usually shows the audience what the director is looking at and what the director wants the audience to look at. Thus, besides the spectators and the director, every single character within the filmic narratives is possible to look, and his/her look is, in most cases, working as an agent for the look of the spectators and director. When a character is doing the looking, he/she is offered a subject- position simultaneously. This subject-position is offered only by the director who
manipulates the camera and the montage. That is to say, the director surrogates to this character his/her own subject-position, at the very least, temporarily – at that very moment when this character is doing the looking. In other words, the director identifies himself/herself with that character at that moment, though this identification is not (and never) fixed or complete. From this perspective, what I will examine within these male directors’ films is, exactly, who is doing the looking – more specifically, which sex/gender character is offered the viewer position by the director. The discussion here, therefore, does not stop at whether these men erotise the female images as sexual beings, or whether they speak on or from women’s standpoint, but, rather, it probes whether they identify themselves with the women protagonists in their filmic narratives. In a nutshell, I propose to probe these male directors’ identification through analysing the filmic look within their films.
However, before I start to analyse the filmic look in any particular films, I notice that as soon as the male directors construct a female-led narrative, their self-identification within the filmic representation is “doomed” to be paradoxical (whether they construct a male spectatorship or not). On the one hand, if they position the female protagonist as the bearer of the look, which means that they look at the female images through any men’s (or maybe women’s) eyes or through the camera lens directly, they simultaneously position the women as the Other in this look. Being looked at (no matter whether this look is eroticised, fetishist, voyeuristic or not), the female protagonists are not offered a subject-position in the filmic look though they are offered the centred position of filmic narrative. In a word, when a male director is looking at the female protagonist, he cannot identify himself with her. On the other hand, if the male director always looks from the
female protagonist’s eyes, which means he surrogates his subject-position to her, then where has his original male subject-position gone? It follows that in the female-centred filmic narratives, the male directors’ identification is constructed within more fragmented, sutured, and even contradictory discourses in contrast with their female counterparts. If so, why do these men obsessively centre a female protagonist in their filmic narrative at the expense of falling into an identification paradox?
Stuart Hall’s argument about identification enlightens me, again, about this issue. In his theories, identification is not “constructed on the back of a recognition of some common origin or shared characteristics with another person or group, or with an ideal”74 as it is understood in common language sense. On the contrary, since identities “emerge within the play of specific modalities of power”, they are more “the product of the marking of difference and exclusion, than they are sign of an identical, naturally- constituted unity”75
. That is, identities are constructed through difference rather than resemblance. I have said above that the Chinese post-fifth-generation filmmakers are a group without an agreed “name” hitherto. As a younger generation, they are desperate for identities – more importantly, identities exclusive for them – with which they can speak. Furthermore, the identities in a post-modernist context are positional and strategic ones constructed within representations. According to Hall, identities “are constructed within the play of power and exclusion”76
. Therefore, the post-fifth generation needs to construct their distinctive identities through composing filmic representations that are very different from the elder generations (especially the famous Fifth Generation) – different
Hall, “Who Needs Identity?”, 2. 75
Ibid., 4. 76
themes, different film languages, different visual styles, different cultural standpoints, different production modes, and maybe, different sex/gender viewpoints. From this perspective, is it possible to consider their choice of female-centred narrative as one of their identification strategies? If identities are “the result of a successful articulation or ‘chaining’ of the subject into the flow of the discourse”, does the female protagonist work as a clasp in this discursive chain? I will intensively discuss this hypothesis when analysing their earlier films (Chapter 6) and those films produced and distributed within an independent production mode.
On the other hand, to centre women in filmic narratives, to a large extent, gives access to the feminine aesthetics, notably as aesthetic awareness and modes of sensory perception.77 That is to say, similar to the female directors mentioned above, these men probably also attempt to present femininity in their films. (Certainly, I will analyse the other factors in their filmic representation, including visual and narrative style as well as the female images, so as to prove this issue while analysing particular cases.) If the feminine aesthetics exhibited in female directors’ artworks comes, at the very least, partially from women’s self-consciousness, then why do these men endeavour to present, construct, or rather simulate femininity?
In my opinion, it is also a power game played with filmic representation and identity performance. As argued in 2.3, femininity and masculinity, as power forms, are no longer determined within the sex/gender. Then, does it mean that men can also present
When talking about the question “Is there a feminine aesthetic?”, Bovenshen Silvia answered: “Certainly there is, if one is talking about aesthetic awareness and modes of sensory perception”. Silvia Bovenschen, “Is There a Feminine Aesthetic?”, trans. Beth Weckmueller, New German Critique 10 (winter, 1977): 136. Quoted from E. Deidre Pribram ed. Female Spectators: Looking at Film and Television, 174.
feminine discourse and benefit from it? Here I need to employ again Baudrillard’s theories about the power of seduction.
Baudrillard states that nothing is less certain than sex today.78 This statement suggests that the power of seduction never belongs to a sex/gender: “the feminine considered not as a sex, but as the form transversal to every sex, as well as to every power, as the secret, virulent form”.79
Since femininity is a principle of uncertainty, it is where it is itself uncertain, and this uncertainty is greatest in the play of femininity. That is to say, men can also play femininity and seduce with it. We can describe these male directors, who prefer to speak behind women’s images, as boundary-crossing transvestites playing with the indistinctness of the sexes, in the sphere of discourse. If so, what they love is to play the game of uncertain signs of sex. As Baudrillard says, “[w]ith them everything is makeup, theatre, and seduction”80. Therefore, to study their films with female protagonists is actually to verify that they do play this game of sexual signs/femininity, and to examine how they play it.
What is more, according to Baudrillard, to seduce is to appear and render weak. “We seduce with our weakness, never with strong signs or powers…. We seduce with our death, our vulnerability, and with the void that haunts us.”81
Besides adopting women’s stories, they can carry on to play femininity with other cultural, political, sociological and even biological codes, assuming roles such as the subaltern, the unprivileged, the
78 Baudrillard, Seduction, 5. 79 Ibid., 15. 80 Ibid., 13. 81 Ibid., 83.
“underground” filmmaker, the perplexed youth, the impotent man/boy, and so forth. I will particularly illustrate this argument in Chapter 7 and Chapter 8.