Readings/Representation of Women, Continued: Agnès Varda

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Readings based on Wikipedia articles about the representation of women and the films of Agnès Varda--particularly, Vagabond.

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Feminist film theory

Feminist film theory is a theoretical film criticism derived from feminist politics and feminist theory. Feminists have many approaches to cinema analysis, regarding the film elements analyzed and their theoretical underpinnings.


The development of feminist film theory was influenced by second wave feminism and women's studies in the 1960s and 1970s. Initially in the United States in the early 1970s feminist film theory was generally based on sociological theory and focused on the function of female characters in film narratives or genres. Feminist film theory, such as Marjorie Rosen’s Popcorn Venus: Women, Movies, and the American Dream (1973) and Molly Haskell’s From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in Movies (1974) analyze the ways in which women are portrayed in film, and how this relates to a broader historical context. Additionally, feminist critiques also examine common stereotypes depicted in film, the extent to which the women were shown as active or passive, and the amount of screen time given to women.[1]

In contrast, film theoreticians in England concerned themselves with critical theory, psychoanalysis, semiotics, and Marxism. Eventually, these ideas gained hold within the American scholarly community in the 1980's. Analysis generally focused on the meaning within a film's text and the way in which the text constructs a viewing subject. It also examined how the process of cinematic production affects how women are represented and reinforces sexism.[2]

British feminist film theorist, Laura Mulvey, best known for her essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, written in 1973 and published in 1975 in the influential British film theory journal, Screen[3] was influenced by the theories of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. Visual Pleasure is one of the first major essays that helped shift the orientation of film theory towards a psychoanalytic framework. Prior to Mulvey, film theorists such as Jean-Louis Baudry and Christian Metz used psychoanalytic ideas in their theoretical accounts of cinema. Mulvey's contribution, however, initiated the intersection of film theory, psychoanalysis and feminism.[4]

Other key influences come from Christian Metz in his essay The Imaginary Signifier, "Identification, Mirror," where he argues that viewing film is only possible through scopophilia (pleasure from looking, related to voyeurism), which is best exemplified in silent film.[5] Also, according to Cynthia A. Freeland in "Feminist Frameworks for Horror Films," feminist studies of horror films have focused on psychodynamics where the chief interest is "on viewers' motives and interests in watching horror films".[6]

Beginning in the early 1980s feminist film theory began to look at film through a more intersectional lens. The film journal Jump Cut published a special issue about titled Lesbians and Film in 1981 which examined the lack of lesbian identities in film. Jane Gaines's essay "White Privilege and Looking Relations: Race and Gender in Feminist Film Theory" examined the erasure of black women in cinema by white male filmmakers. While Lola Young argues that filmmakers of all races fail to break away from the use to tired stereotypes when depicting black women. Other theorists who wrote about feminist film theory and race include bell hooks and Michele Wallace.[7]

Recently, scholars have expanded their work to include analysis of television and digital media. Additionally, they have begun to explore notions of difference, engaging in dialogue about the differences among women (part of movement away from essentialism in feminist work more generally), the various methodologies and perspectives contained under the umbrella of feminist film theory, and the multiplicity of methods and intended effects that influence the development of films. Scholars are also taking increasingly global perspectives, responding to postcolonialist criticisms of perceived Anglo- and Eurocentrism in the academy more generally. Increased focus has been given to, "disparate feminisms, nationalisms, and media in various locations and across class, racial, and ethnic groups throughout the world".[8]

Key themes

The gaze and the female spectator

Considering the way that films are put together, many feminist film critics have pointed to what they argue is the "male gaze" that predominates classical Hollywood filmmaking. Budd Boetticher summarizes the view:

"What counts is what the heroine provokes, or rather what she represents. She is the one, or rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero, or else the concern he feels for her, who makes him act the way he does. In herself, the woman has not the slightest importance."[9]

Laura Mulvey expands on this conception to argue that in cinema, women are typically depicted in a passive role that provides visual pleasure through scopophilia,[9] and identification with the on-screen male actor.[9] She asserts: "In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness,"[9] and as a result contends that in film a woman is the "bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning."[9] Mulvey argues that the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan is the key to understanding how film creates such a space for female sexual objectification and exploitation through the combination of the patriarchal order of society, and 'looking' in itself as a pleasurable act of scopophilia, as "the cinema satisfies a primordial wish for pleasurable looking."[9]

While Laura Mulvey's paper has a particular place in the feminist film theory, it is important to note that her ideas regarding ways of watching the cinema (from the voyeuristic element to the feelings of identification) are important to some feminist film theorists in terms of defining spectatorship from the psychoanalytic viewpoint.

Mulvey identifies three "looks" or perspectives that occur in film which, she argues, serve to sexually objectify women. The first is the perspective of the male character and how he perceives the female character. The second is the perspective of the spectator as they see the female character on screen. The third "look" joins the first two looks together: it is the male audience member's perspective of the male character in the film. This third perspective allows the male audience to take the female character as his own personal sex object because he can relate himself, through looking, to the male character in the film.[9]

In the paper, Mulvey calls for a destruction of modern film structure as the only way to free women from their sexual objectification in film. She argues for a removal of the voyeurism encoded into film by creating distance between the male spectator and the female character. The only way to do so, Mulvey argues, is by destroying the element of voyeurism and "the invisible guest". Mulvey also asserts that the dominance men embody is only so because women exist, as without a woman for comparison, a man and his supremacy as the controller of visual pleasure are insignificant. For Mulvey, it is the presence of the female that defines the patriarchal order of society as well as the male psychology of thought.[9]

Mulvey's argument is likely influenced by the time period in which she was writing. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" was composed during the period of second-wave feminism, which was concerned with achieving equality for women in the workplace, and with exploring the psychological implications of sexual stereotypes. Mulvey calls for an eradication of female sexual objectivity, aligning herself with second-wave feminism. She argues that in order for women to be equally represented in the workplace, women must be portrayed as men are: as lacking sexual objectification.[3]

Realism and counter cinema

The early work of Marjorie Rosen and Molly Haskell on the representation of women in film was part of a movement to depict women more realistically, both in documentaries and narrative cinema. The growing female presence in the film industry was seen as a positive step toward realizing this goal, by drawing attention to feminist issues and putting forth an alternative, true-to-life view of women. However, Rosen and Haskell argue that these images are still mediated by the same factors as traditional film, such as the "moving camera, composition, editing, lighting, and all varieties of sound." While acknowledging the value in inserting positive representations of women in film, some critics asserted that real change would only come about from reconsidering the role of film in society, often from a semiotic point of view.[10]

Claire Johnston put forth the idea that women's cinema can function as "counter cinema." Through consciousness of the means of production and opposition of sexist ideologies, films made by women have the potential to posit an alternative to traditional Hollywood films.[11] Initially, the attempt to show "real" women was praised, eventually critics such as Eileen McGarry claimed that the "real" women being shown on screen were still just contrived depictions. In reaction to this article, many women filmmakers integrated "alternative forms and experimental techniques" to "encourage audiences to critique the seemingly transparent images on the screen and to question the manipulative techniques of filming and editing".[12]

Additional theories

Coming from a black feminist perspective, American scholar, bell hooks, put forth the notion of the “oppositional gaze,” encouraging black women not to accept stereotypical representations in film, but rather actively critique them. The “oppositional gaze” is a response to Mulvey's "visual pleasure" and states that just as women do not identify with female characters that are not "real," women of color should respond similarly to the one denominational caricatures of black women.[13]

Janet Bergstrom’s article "Enunciation and Sexual Difference" (1979) uses Freud’s ideas of bisexual responses, arguing that women are capable of identifying with male characters and men with women characters, either successively or simultaneously.[14] Miriam Hansen, in "Pleasure, Ambivalence, Identification: Valentino and Female Spectatorship" (1984) put forth the idea that women are also able to view male characters as erotic objects of desire.[14] In "The Master's Dollhouse: Rear Window," Tania Modleski argues that Hitchcock's film, Rear Window, is an example of the power of male gazer and the position of the female as a prisoner of the "master's dollhouse".[15]

Carol Clover, in her popular and influential book, "Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film" (Princeton University Press, 1992), argues that young male viewers of the Horror Genre (young males being the primary demographic) are quite prepared to identify with the female-in-jeopardy, a key component of the horror narrative, and to identify on an unexpectedly profound level. Clover further argues that the "Final Girl" in the psychosexual subgenre of exploitation horror invariably triumphs through her own resourcefulness, and is not by any means a passive, or inevitable, victim. Laura Mulvey, in response to these and other criticisms, revisited the topic in "Afterthoughts on 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' inspired by Duel in the Sun" (1981). In addressing the heterosexual female spectator, she revised her stance to argue that women can take two possible roles in relation to film: a masochistic identification with the female object of desire that is ultimately self-defeating or a transsexual identification with men as the active viewers of the text.[14] A new version of the gaze was offered in the early 1990s by Bracha Ettinger, who proposed the notion of the "matrixial gaze".

Agnès Varda

Agnès Varda (Template:IPA-fr; 30 May 1928 – 29 March 2019) is a Belgian-born French film director. Her films, photographs, and art installations focus on documentary realism, feminist issues, and social commentary with a distinctive experimental style. She has spent most of her working life in France.

Film historians have cited Varda's work as central to the development of the French New Wave; her employment of location shooting and non-professional actors were unconventional in the context of 1950s French cinema.[16]


Early life

Varda was born Arlette Varda on 30 May 1928 in Ixelles, Brussels, Belgium, the daughter of Christiane (née Pasquet) and Eugène Jean Varda, an engineer.[17] Her mother was from Sète, France and her father came from a family of Greek refugees from Asia Minor. She was the middle of five children. When she was 18 Varda legally changed her name to Agnès. During World War II Varda lived on a boat in Sète with the rest of her family. Varda attended the Lycée Victor-Duroy and received a Bachelor's degree in literature and psychology from the Sorbonne.[18] She described her relocation to Paris as a "truly excruciating" one that gave her "a frightful memory of my arrival in this grey, inhumane, sad city." She did not get along with her fellow students at the Sorbonne and described classes there as "stupid, antiquated, abstract, [and] scandalously unsuited for the lofty needs one had at that age."

Photography career

Varda intended to become a museum curator and studied art history at the École du Louvre,[18] but decided to study photography at the Vaugirard school of photography instead.[19] She studied art history and photography at the École des Beaux-Arts.

Varda began her career as a still photographer before becoming one of the major voices of the Left Bank Cinema and the French New Wave. She has since maintained a fluid interrelationship between photographic and cinematic forms: "I take photographs or I make films. Or I put films in the photos, or photos in the films."[20]

Varda states of her beginnings with the medium, "I started earning a living from photography straightaway, taking trivial photographs of families and weddings to make money. But I immediately wanted to make what I called 'compositions.' And it was with these that I had the impression I was doing something where I was asking questions with composition, form and meaning."[20]

In 1951 her friend (and fellow Sète transplant) Jean Vilar opened the Théâtre National Populaire and hired Varda as its official photographer. Before accepting her position there, she worked as a stage photographer for the Theatre Festival of Avignon.[18] She worked at the Théâtre National Populaire for ten years from 1951-1961, during which time her reputation grew and she eventually got photo-journalist jobs throughout Europe.[19]

Varda's photography would sometimes inspire her subsequent films. She recounts: "When I made my first film, La Pointe Courte -- without experience, without having been an assistant before, without having gone to film school -- I took photographs of everything I wanted to film, photographs that are almost models for the shots. And I started making films with the sole experience of photography, that's to say, where to place the camera, at what distance, with which lens and what lights?" Furthermore, she recalls another example: "I made a film in 1982 called Ulysse, which is based on another photograph I took in 1954, one I'd made with the same bellows camera, and I started Ulysse with the words, "I used to see the image upside down." There's an image of a goat on the ground, like a fallen constellation, and that was the origin of the photograph. With those cameras, you'd frame the image upside down, so I saw Brassaï through the camera with his head at the bottom of the image."[20]


In 1958 while living in Paris, she met her husband, Jacques Demy, also a French actor and director. They moved in together in 1959. She was married to Demy until his death in 1990. Varda has two children - a daughter, Rosalie Varda with Antoine Bourseiller and a son, Mathieu with Demy.[21] Varda worked on Academy nominated documentary Faces Places with her daughter.[22]

Varda is the cousin of painter Jean Varda. In 1967 while living in California Varda met her father's cousin for the first time. He is the subject of her short documentary Uncle Yanco, named after Jean Varda who referred to himself as Yanco and was affectionately called "uncle" by Varda due to the difference in age between them.

In 1971 Varda was one of the 343 women who signed the Manifesto of the 343 admitting they had had an abortion despite the fact that it was illegal in France at the time and asking for abortions to be made legal.[23]

Professional life

Varda is a significant figure in modern French cinema. Her career pre-dates the start of the Nouvelle vague (French New Wave), and La Pointe Courte contains many elements specific to that movement.[24] While working as a photographer, Varda became interested in making a film, although she stated that she knew little about the medium and had only seen around twenty films by the age of twenty-five. She later said she wrote her first screenplay "just the way a person writes his first book. When I'd finished writing it, I thought to myself: 'I'd like to shoot that script,' and so some friends and I formed a cooperative to make it." She found the filmmaking process difficult because it didn't allow the same freedom as writing a novel; however she said that her approach was instinctive and feminine. In an interview with The Believer, Varda stated that she wanted to make films that related to her time (in reference to La Pointe Courte), rather than focusing on traditions or classical standards.[25]

Involvement in the French New Wave

The French New Wave movement was broken into two subgroups: the Cahiers du Cinema group and the Left Bank Cinema group.

Because of her literary influences, and because her work predates the French New Wave, Varda's films belong more precisely to the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) cinema movement, along with Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jean Cayrol and Henri Colpi. Categorically, the Left Bank side of the New Wave movement embraced a more experimental style than the Cahiers du Cinema group; however, this distinction is ironic considering the New Wave itself was considered experimental in its treatment of traditional methodologies and subjects.[26]

Left Bank Cinema was strongly tied to the nouveau roman movement in literature. The members of the group had in common a background in documentary filmmaking, a left wing political orientation, and a heightened interest in experimentation and the treatment of film as art. Varda and other Left Bank filmmakers crafted a mode of filmmaking that blends one of film's most socially motivated approaches, documentary, with one of its most formally experimental approaches, the avant-garde. Its members would often collaborate with each other. According to scholar Delphine Bénézet, "Varda has resisted norms of representation and diktats of production… She has elaborated a personal repertoire of images, characters, and settings, which all provide insight on their cultural and political contexts."[27]

Still, she is considered the godmother of the French New Wave. La Pointe Courte is unofficially but widely considered to be the first film of the movement.[28] It was the first of many films she would make that focused on issues faced by ordinary people. She has said that she doesn't want to film people in power, she would rather film people who are fighting and struggling whose stories need to be seen and listened to.[29]


Many of Varda's films use protagonists that are marginalized or rejected members of society, and are documentarian in nature. She did two short films on the Black Panthers (Huey and Black Panthers) after seeing their leader was arrested for killing a policeman. Their focus was on the demonstrations that people lead in support of him and the #freehuey campaign.[30]

Like many other French New Wave directors, Varda was likely influenced by auteur theory, creating her own signature style by using the camera "as a pen." Varda describes her method of filmmaking as cinécriture (cinematic writing or "writing on film"). The term was created by merging "cinema" and "writing" in French.[24] Rather than separating the fundamental roles that contribute to a film (cinematographer, screenwriter, director, etc.), Varda believes that all roles should be working together simultaneously to create a more cohesive film, and all elements of the film should contribute to its message. She claims to make most of her discoveries while editing, seeking the opportunity to find images or dialogue that create a motif.[31]

Because of her photographic background, still images are often of significance in her films. Still images may serve symbolic or narrative purposes, and each element of them is important. There is sometimes conflict between still and moving images in her films, and she often mixes still images (snapshots) in with moving images.[24] Varda pays very close attention to detail and is highly conscious of the implications of each cinematic choice she makes. Elements of the film are rarely just functional, each element has its own implications, both on its own and that it lends to the entire film's message.[24]

Varda as a feminist filmmaker

Varda's work is often considered feminist because of her use of female protagonists and creating a female cinematic voice.[32] Varda has been quoted stating, "I'm not at all a theoretician of feminism, I did all that—my photos, my craft, my film, my life—on my terms, my own terms, and not to do it like a man."[19] Though she was not actively involved in any strict agendas of the feminist movement, Varda often focused on women's issues thematically and never tried to change her craft to make it more conventional or masculine.

Notable films

La Pointe Courte (1954)

Varda liked photography but was interested in moving into film. After spending a few days filming the small French fishing town of La Pointe Courte for a terminally ill friend who could no longer visit on his own, Varda decided to shoot a feature film of her own. Thus in 1954, Varda's first film, La Pointe Courte, about an unhappy couple working through their relationship in a small fishing town, was released. The film is a stylistic precursor to the French New Wave.[33] At the time, Varda was influenced by the philosophy of Gaston Bachelard, under whom she once studied at the Sorbonne. "She was particularly interested in his theory of 'l'imagination des matières,' in which certain personality traits were found to correspond to concrete elements in a kind of psychoanalysis of the material world." This idea arrives in La Pointe Courte as the characters' personality traits clash, shown through the opposition of objects such as wood and steel. To further her interest in character abstraction, Varda used two professional actors, Silvia Monfort and Philippe Noiret, combined with the residents of La Pointe Courte to provide a realistic element that lends itself to a documentary aesthetic inspired by neorealism. Varda would continue to use this combination of fictional and documentary elements in her films.[34]

It was edited by friend and fellow Left Bank filmmaker Alain Resnais, who was reluctant to work on the film because it was "so nearly the film he wanted to make himself" and its structure was very similar to his own Hiroshima mon amour (1959). While editing the film in Varda's apartment, Resnais kept annoying her by comparing the film to works by Luchino Visconti, Michelangelo Antonioni and others that she was unfamiliar with "until I got so fed up with it all that I went along to the Cinémathèque to find out what he was talking about." Resnais and Varda remained lifelong friends, with Resnais stating that they had nothing in common "apart from cats."[19]

The film was immediately praised by Cahiers du Cinéma. André Bazin called it "a miraculous film. In its existence and in its style" and François Truffaut called it "an experimental work, ambitious, honest and intelligent." Varda said that the film "hit like a cannonball because I was a young woman, since before that, in order to become a director you had to spend years as an assistant." However the film was a financial failure and Varda only made short films for the next seven years.[19]

Cléo from 5 to 7 (1961)

Following La Pointe Courte, Varda made several documentary short films; two were commissioned by the French tourist office. These shorts include one of Varda's favorites of her own works, L'opéra-mouffe, a film about the Rue Mouffetard street market which won Varda an award at the Brussels Experimental Film Festival in 1958.[19]

Cléo from 5 to 7 follows a pop singer through two extraordinary hours in which she awaits the results of a recent biopsy. At first glance, the film is about a woman coming to terms with her mortality, which is a common auteurist trait for Varda.[35] On a deeper level, Cléo from 5 to 7 confronts the traditionally objectified woman by giving Cléo her own vision. She is unable to be constructed through gaze of others which is often represented through a motif of reflections and Cleo's ability to strip her body of to-be-looked-at-ness attributes (clothing items, wigs, etc.). Stylistically, Cléo from 5 to 7 borders documentary and fiction as La Pointe Courte had. Although many believe that the ninety-minute film represents the diegetic action, which occurs between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., in real time, there is actually a half-hour difference.[34]

Vagabond (1984)

In 1984, Varda made Sans toit ni loi (known in most English-speaking countries as Vagabond), which is a drama about the death of a young female drifter named Mona. The death is investigated by an unseen and unheard interviewer who focuses on the people who have last seen her. The story of Vagabond is told through nonlinear techniques, with the film being divided into forty-seven episodes, and each episode about Mona being told from a different person's perspective. Vagabond is considered to be one of Agnès Varda's greater feminist works in how the film deals with the de-fetishization of the female body from the male perspective.[36]

Jacquot de Nantes (1991)

From 1962 until his death in 1990, Varda was married to the film director Jacques Demy, with whom she had one son, Mathieu Demy. Jacques Demy also legally adopted Rosalie Varda, Varda's daughter from a previous union with actor Antoine Bourseiller, who starred in her early film Cléo from 5 to 7. In 1991, shortly after Jacques Demy's death, Varda created the film Jacquot de Nantes, which is about his life and death. The film is structured at first as being a recreation of his early life, being obsessed with the various crafts used for filmmaking like animation and set design. But then Varda provides elements of documentary by inserting clips of Demy's films as well as footage of him dying. The film continues with Varda's common theme of accepting death, but at its heart it is considered to be Varda's tribute to her late husband and their work.[35]

The Gleaners and I (2000)

Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse, or The Gleaners and I, is a documentary made in 2000 that focuses on Varda's interactions with gleaners (harvesters) who live in the French countryside, and also includes subjects who create art through recycled material, as well as an interview with psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche. The Gleaners and I is notable for its fragmented and free-form nature along with it being the first time Varda used digital cameras. This style of filmmaking is often interpreted as a statement that great things like art can still be created through scraps, yet modern economies encourage people to only use the finest product.[37]

Faces Places (2017)

In 2017, Varda co-directed Faces Places with the artist JR. The film was screened out of competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival[38][39] where it won the L'Œil d'or award.[40] The film follows Varda and JR traveling around rural France, creating portraits of the people they come across.

Annette Kuhn, Women's Pictures: Feminism and Cinema

Excerpts from Kuhn's book, which was published by Routledge & Kegan Paul (1982).

"Real Women" chapter, page 133: "Documentariness"

Documentary film thus always makes implicit reference not only to its profilmic event, but also to the 'real world' in general. While this visibility is constituted as 'truth' by the apparent naturalness of the representation, this very 'naturalness' is itself an outcome of the operation of a certain set of cinematic codes. Cinematic signifiers such as monochrome image, apparently haphazard mobile framing (the mark of a hand-held camera), focus shifts, editing which is rather more 'free' than would be the case with fictional cinema, and direct gaze at the camera by protagonists of the film, all currently tend to mark a film as a documentary. Further sets of codes relating to sound may also connote documentariness. Many documentary films have voice-over: a voice from a source outside and apparently 'above' the world of the film speaks a discourse which directs the spectator's reading of the film. The documentary voice-over is typically marked as authoritative, as a mctadiscoursc which orders the potentially erratic signifiers of image and diegetic sound. In this case, the guarantee of the 'truth' of the film lies in the relationship between voice-over and image, in that the latter may be read as 'illustrating' the former. The notion of the visible as evidence is still at work here, of course, but the specificity of the classic voice-over documentary lies in the fact that the image somehow serves as evidence of the truth of the commentary rather than as direct and visible evidence of events in the 'real world'.

"Real Women" chapter, pages 148-49

These transformations operate across texts to produce certain codes and modes of address which constitute a specific set of signifiers for feminist documentary cinema. By this 1 mean that certain sets of textual operations have, for various political and historical reasons, become defining characteristics of this type of cinema. These operations may be seen at work in the three films which I have selected as representative examples of feminist documentary cinema: Janie's Janie (Ashur, New York Newsreel, 1971), Women of the Rhondda (Capps, Kelly, Dickinson, Ronay, SegravcandTrcvelyan, 1973), and Union Maids (Klein, Reichert and Mogulescu, 1976).

If there is any structural principle governing the organisation of feminist documentary film, it is that provided by autobiographical discourse: 'Film after film shows a woman, telling her story to the camera' (Lesage, 1978, p. 515). Protagonists of these films are women who talk about their own lives, and their autobiographies tend to be organised in the linear manner characteristic of the plots of fictional narratives. The speaker begins her story at a point in her earlier life and works through to her own present and the 'present' of the film. The plot order of the film will usually reflect this linear chronology. This 'consistent organisation of narrative materials', argues Lesage, is structured in a manner analogous to the process of consciousness-raising and functions similarly in political terms. Lesage takes for granted a degree of transparency in cinematic representation, assuming that its 'truth' will be accepted by the spectator in processes of identification with the 'narrative' trajectory of the autobiography on the one hand and the protagonists and their lives on the other. She also suggests that the contents of the autobiographical accounts which structure the films are, like those brought forward in consciousness- raising, selected and ordered by their subjects.

Given that autobiographical discourse structures feminist documentary films, and if protagonists order their own discourses, then clearly the enunciating voice of these films belongs to the female protagonists themselves. This point is underscored by the fact that voice-over is invariably absent from feminist documentaries. When there is a voice-over, it does not come from outside the diegetic space set up by the film, but is spoken by the subject or subjects of the autobiography.

"Textual Politics" chapter, page 160: Deconstruction

As the term suggests, deconstructive cinema works by a process of breaking down. On one level, the object of the deconstruction process is the textual operations and modes of address characteristic of dominant cinema, the aim being to provoke spectators into awareness of the actual existence and effectivity of dominant codes, and consequently to engender a critical attitude towards these codes. Provocation, awareness and a critical attitude suggest in turn a transformation in spectator-text relations from the passive receptivity or unthinking suspension of disbelief fostered by dominant modes of address to a more active and questioning position. Deconstructive cinema aims therefore to unsettle the spectator. But there is more at stake in deconstructive cinema than simply a challenge to the textual operations of dominant cinema. After all, many forms of avant-garde and experimental cinema may be read as doing just this, without - except in the very broadest sense - being defined as deconstructive. The distinguishing mark of deconstructive cinema, as against other non-dominant or anti-dominant forms, is its recruitment of the spectator's active relation to the signification process for certain signifieds, or areas of substantive concern.

"Textual Politics" chapter, page 169: Feminine Voices

...I shall look at four specific examples: Thriller (Potter, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1979), Lives of Performers (Rainer, 1972), Daughter Rite (Citron, 1978) and Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Akerman, Paradise Films/Unite Trois, 1975). My argument is that these films share a discourse which sets up the possibility of sexual difference in spectator-text relations by privileging a 'feminine voice'. They pose the possibility of a feminine writing which would construct new forms of pleasure in cinema. The areas through which the 'feminine voice' speaks in these films include relations of looking, narrativity and narrative discourse, subjectivity and autobiography, fiction as against non-fiction, and openness as against closure.



Because these references were copied from Wikipedia articles, they may be broken.


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