Sam’s Project Proposal

Overview

In this class so far we’ve sampled from a number of different counter-cultural movements in film, including Third Cinema and New Queer Cinema, and while feminist themes have arisen in some of these films, we haven’t sampled from any movements in film that seem to be solely feminist, or part of a feminist agenda.  For a while now, one of the questions I’ve been trying to answer for myself is what a feminist film would even look like.  Clearly, there is not one view of what women are or how they ought to be; however, I think that what a feminist film ought to do first and foremost is reject the male gaze and perspective.  What I would like to for my project is look at films that are self-consciously feminist and analyze how they indicate a non-male perspective, and how these films differ from the mainstream in depictions of gender.  I would also specifically like to look at films that were directed by women; while I admit that a feminist film can be directed by a man, I think it is less likely, and I also think that female film directors are too few in number and suffer from lack of attention.  (Quick, list five female directors.) So, I’m interested specifically in women making films about women, and what difference that makes. 

Films

In searching for evidence of a feminist film movement, I encountered the (sort of meager) feminist branch of counter cinema, which grew out of second-wave feminism and had a decidedly avant-garde feel.  The films that are cited the most out of this movement are Thriller (Potter, 1979), Daughter Rite (Citron, 1978), Lives of Performers (Rainer, 1972), and Jeanne Dielman (Ackerman, 1975).  I am unsure if all of these films will be useful or only some of them.  I would like to use Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993), which is sometimes cited as coming out of counter-cinema despite being more mainstream.  It is frequently cited as a good example of the use of the feminine gaze in film (as well as being a really good film).  Campion wrote and directed the film, which was nominated for eight Academy Awards and stands as a rare example of a mainstream film with a clearly feminine perspective.  While I would really like to analyze this film, however, I worry that it is too separate from my topic, and too hard to include. 

Questions

  • How is a feminine gaze signified in film?  How, in other words, is the way that women are looked at in feminist films different than how they are looked at in most mainstream films?  I am especially interested in what different kinds of shots are used, the type of focus, etc. 
  • Is a feminine perspective necessarily a feminist perspective?  If not, does a feminine perspective at the very least make a film more feminist than a film from a male perspective? 
  • To what extent does perspective radicalize content?  In other words, does the plot and content of a film have to be extraordinary in order to have radical politics, or is changing perspective alone enough to do that, in what might otherwise be a mainstream kind of plot? 

Source List

  • Johnston, Claire, ‘Women’s Cinema as Counter-Cinema’, Notes on Women’s Cinema, (1973) SEFT, Glasgow: Screen Reprint, 1991: 24-31.
  • Bihlmeyer, Jaime. “The (Un)Speakable FEMININITY in Mainstream Movies: Jane Campion’s The Piano.” Cinema Journal 44.2 (2005): 68-88. JSTOR. Web.
  • Mayne, Judith, The Woman at the Keyhole. Feminism and Women’s Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.
  • Mulvey, Laura, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (1975), Visual And Other Pleasures. London: Macmillan, 1989: 14-26.

Plan

Clearly, any plan I make at this point is flexible, but first and foremost, as soon as possible, I intend to watch the films I have identified and take extensive notes.  Having watched these, I will then read the scholarly sources, and identify points therein which seem to have direct relation to aspects of the films.  I will then go back to the films and re-watch relevant scenes.  Also, if there are points that I feel the films bring up which are not addressed in the literature, I will try to expend my sources.  (I am loath to commit to too many sources at this point before I am completely certain about what I will be focusing on.)  Then, I should be able to determine relevant places which could be included on my Google Map.  I anticipate being able to complete that aspect of the project pretty quickly, so I might as well accomplish it first, prior to beginning the video project.  I will then mock up an outline of the paper, and start gathering appropriate footage for the digital video.  I should have this footage and have started sorting and editing it by April 9th, for the in-class lab.  Editing, I think, should be done as soon as possible, so I can have the finished product complete before the end of classes, so that I can dedicate the reading days to the paper. 

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One thought on “Sam’s Project Proposal

  1. channabach

    This sounds like a fascinating project, even in the early stages.

    I recommend contextualizing your discussion of gender and the gaze a bit more. How do race, sexuality, class, dis/ability, and citizenship shape constructions of feminism, femininity, and a “feminist film”? Oftentimes what gets represented as a “feminist film” is one representing the interests and experiences of white, middle-class, straight, cisgendered, non-disabled women (and thus a very limited understanding of feminism of use to a very select group of women). Feminists of color, disabled feminists, queer feminists, and transgender feminists have long critiqued this framework and insisted on intersectionality a more useful framework.

    The Piano would be a great film to focus on. There is a ton of feminist film scholarship on it that you’ll find helpful, and it is a rich film to analyze.

    As for more films directed by women that are about women and contain explicitely feminist politics, some you might find relevant: Jamie Babbit’s Itty Bittie Tittie Committee, Catherine Breillant’s work (Fat Girl in particular), Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, Agnès Varda’s The Gleaners and I, Deepa Mehta’s Fire, Cheryl Dunne’s Watermelon Woman, Rose Troche’s Go Fish, Jamie Babbit’s But I’m a Cheerleader, Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s Persepolis, Julie Taymor’s Frida, Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own, Katja Von Garnier’s Iron Jawed Angels, Nancy Savoca & Cher’s If These Walls Could Talk, and Jane Anderson, Martha College, and Anne Heche’s If These Walls Could Talk 2.

    There are also a ton of documentaries if you wanted to go that route. Some ideas: Aishah Shahidah Simmons’s NO! The Rape Documentary, Lourdes Portillo’s Señorita Extraviada, Vicky Funari’s Real live Nude Girls, Vicky Funario and Sergio de la Torre’s Maquilapolis, Kerri Koch’s Don’t Need You, Tracy Flannigan’s Rise Above, Julie Dash’s The Rosa Parks Story.

    As you can see, these films are all different genres, from different countries and historical periods, and address a huge variety of themes. You’d need to narrow this down to make a strong argument about how the gaze works in any of them with regards to gender, race, sexuality, and power.

    The question you ask about the difference between femininity and feminism is super interesting. Clearly masculine, genderqueer, butch, and other non-feminine people (including masculine, genderqueer, and butch women) can be feminist, and many feminine people are not feminist. But the divergences and overlaps here is intriguing, and might be an interesting question to flesh out in relation to a set of specific films.

    Once you narrow down which films you’ll be focusing on, I can recommend specific articles and books about those, but for now I’ll offer up the various feminist film studies anthologies I have if you want to borrow them. Let me know what films you decide on, and I can point you toward more specific texts as well.

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