The theory of the “male gaze” in cinema was first developed my Laura Mulvey in her book, Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema and has become one of the most well known film theories ever. In her study, Mulvey discusses the influence of patriarchal society on popular cultural and mainstream cinema. Mulvey approaches her theory from a psychoanalytical perspective and believes that Freud’s “castration complex” can help us understand this idea of the “male gaze” better.
Freud believed that male children develop a “castration complex” during their phallic stages. This occurs when the child becomes aware of the differences between males and females, which in turn causes them to develop an unconscious fear of becoming castrated, literally or symbolically (being degraded or looked down upon). Because of this the threat of women must be controlled, by means of punishment or fetishistic scopophilia.
Mulvey explains that this will eventually lead to two other Freudian complexes:
1. Voyeurism: Mulvey quotes “pleasure lies in ascertaining guilt, asserting control or subjecting the guilty person through punishment or forgiveness”. The male spectator essentially becomes the voyeur. This then links to scopophilic instincts or as Mulvey says ” the erotic basis for pleasure in looking at another person as an object. At the extreme it can be fixated into a perversion, producing obsessive voyeurs”.
2. Fetishism: To fetishize the female body in a way that it becomes an object of pleasure, rather than of fear. This is done to relieve the anxieties brought about by the castration complex.
Mulvey believed that the misogynistic nature of our culture encourages us all to identify with the male perspective. Since the film industry is dominated by men, we have no choice but to view things through the “male gaze”. It is even evident in films that are meant for a mainly female audience (chick flicks), to convey the male desires of women (ex. pretty women, legally blonde, sex in the city). Although women seem to be portrayed as more independent, they are still reliant on men for their happiness.
Films which don’t conform to the norms of mainstream cinema, are then placed in the category of Avant Garde. For example Kenneth Anger’s awesome short film, Kustom Kar Kommandos represents two unique aspects of film which were not common in mainstream cinema; the homosexual male gaze and the fetishization of automobiles, as means to relieve sexual anxieties.
Kustom Kar Kommandos
This short film was made by Anger to portray the male obsession with automobiles and the not so obvious sexual connotations related to these obsession. However through slow camera movements, music, pink backgrounds and fluffy sponges the spectator becomes well aware of Anger’s erotic portrayal of the Californian hot rod world.
The homosexual “male gaze”
The fact that Anger was gay, is not really a surprise once we watch Kustom Kar Kommandos. One of the first shots in the film is a slow motion shot of the lower half of the man washing the car. Later on we also get a shot of the guys butt. In a way we can tell that Anger was sexually attracted to the men fixing their hot rods in the first place, which led him to make this film.
Fetishizing Hot Rods
I really enjoyed this short film!! especially the way Anger displayed the sexual components of what seemed to be an ordinary car:
– The first shot is of the car, which is obviously phallic shaped.
– The seats resemble vaginas. (LOL this is hilarious)
– The man is caressing ever inch of the car with a fluffy sponge.
– The two carburetors on the top of the motor look like breasts.
– The vibration of the car is very sexual.
– There’s also an emblem of a fisherman on the hood of the car (also phallic shaped).
– The shifter (phallic shaped).
Kustom Kar Kommandos is an amazing short film. It truly goes against the norms of cinema and the typical “male gaze” we see in other films.