Laura Mulvey asserts that mainstream films are products (both with regard to their content and structure) of the social themes that are promoted by various social institutions, which remain sexist, racist and ageist despite our pretentions on political correctness. In particular, the usual pattern of women portrayed as passive objects in contrast to men; as ego ideals who can and do act upon the world described within the film promulgates the subjugation of women in modern society. She asserts that only by understanding how cinematography has developed and getting to the bottom of how it gives us pleasure can we perhaps try to reinvent it in a way that better promotes equality.
“The first blow against the monolithic accumulation of traditional film conventions (already undertaken by radical film makers) is to free the look of the camera into its materiality in time and space and the look of the audience into dialectics and passionate detachment. There is no doubt that this destroys the satisfaction, pleasure and privilege of the “invisible guest”, and highlights the way film has depended on voyeuristic: active/passive mechanisms. Women whose image as continually been stolen and used for this end, cannot view the decline of the traditional film forms with anything much more than sentimental regret.”pg65
According to Laura Mulvey, her explanation of our fascination with narrative cinema is at multiple psychoanalytical levels: that of scopophilia, narcissism and identification. Cinema therefore has strongly influences its audience as it reemphasizes and strengthens the views and structures that are inbuilt into the society, which engendered the films in the first place.
Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright¹s add to this psychoanalytical understanding of concepts of gaze and spectatorship by pointing out that it is influenced by repression of various emotions and characteristics also.
The accuracy of Mulvey’s dissertation on visual pleasure and narrative cinema is exemplified by the original response of audiences to Michael Powell’s 1960’s film entitle “Peeping Tom” . This British psychodrama is about a serial killer who is obsessed with the camera and uses an adapted camera to kill his victims whilst simultaneously filming their dying moments. The director’s use of the view from the “killing camera” throughout the film forced the audience to identify with the killer. This extreme of almost bludgeoning the audience into being aware of the voyeuristic nature of cinema and our identification with its central characters, made the audiences of this film extremely uncomfortable because of the films content. The audience were confronted with how they normally associate with films and their characters and trapped into associating with a fetishistic serial murderer. The film was met with uproar and was slated by audiences and critics alike, so much so that it ruined the career of its director, who had hitherto been hailed as one of the golden directors of mainstream cinema. This film is now seen as a masterpiece of avant-garde cinematography.