Skjerdal against Mulvey

Laura Mulvey against the grain: a
critical assessment of the
psychoanalytic feminist approach to
By Terje Steinulfsson Skjerdal, Centre for Cultural and Media
Studies, University of Natal, 1997.
Since the middle 1970s, Laura Mulvey has been regarded as one of
the most prominent feminist film critic. Her critique of mainstream
cinema is built on Lacanian psychoanalysis, in which the
differences between male and female spectatorship becomes a key
component. In this paper, I argue that Mulvey's pscyhoanalytic
approach to a very little extent is successful in dealing with the
feminist dilemma. With references to "Thelma and Louise" (1991),
I attempt to show that the psychoanalytic approach to film has
three fatal weaknesses: (a) it is not easily applicable to film
reading, (b) it assumes an unproven dichotomy between the active
male and the passive female, and (c) it is simplistic in its
condemnation of all Hollywood film.
Mulvey's view of mainstream film: a typical feminist
Approaching cinema through psychoanalysis
Critical assessment: how Mulvey's approach fall short
The problem of applying psychoanalysis to film
The problem of the active male vs. the passive female
The problem of reading all Hollywood film as antagonistic
The main contribution to film criticism by Laura Mulvey, whom I
am about to assess in this paper, can be summarized as a challenge
to both the audience and the film-maker. The audience is
challenged in the way it assumingly reads film in a customary and
uncritical manner; the film-maker is challenged by the degree to
which he or she surrenders to the established norms of representing
gender. A theorist and practitioner of feminist film criticism,
Mulvey adopted and customized two central tools to analyse
gendered address in classical narrative film: psychoanalysis and
semiotic analysis. Following the publishing of her crucial essay
«Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema» (1988b [1975]), an
influential branch of feminist film theory was built on Mulvey’s
theories as a vehicle to empower the broader feminist movement.
This paper will trace the key elements of Mulvey’s theories, most
notably psychoanalysis and feminist views on spectatorship. I will
in this regard pay attention to the general theoretical significance
as well as to the particular relevance to film criticism, since
Mulvey throughout her writings seldom restricts herself to one
theoretical aspect only. My specific aim in this section is to make
clear what Mulvey’s critical theories have contributed to film
criticism the past 20 years. I will then go on to critically assess
Mulvey’s approach, with examples drawn from Thelma and Louise
(1991). I hope thereby to show how a critical approach can
question traditional film-making, but foremost I aim at proving that
Mulvey’s psychoanalytic approach is insufficient to provide a
sound modern film critique. The conclusion is twofold: firstly, that
Laura Mulvey has contributed greatly to the criticism of gender
representation in traditional Hollywood film [1]; secondly, that her
reliability on psychoanalytic methods nevertheless proves to be an
unfruitful approach to read films, both with regard to narrative
content and with regard to her preoccupation with the relationship
between film-maker and spectator.
Mulvey’s approach to mainstream film: a
typical feminist response
Mulvey’s critique of traditional Hollywood film falls into the
broad claim of feminist film criticism, as stated in «Visual Pleasure
and Narrative Cinema»: «Film reflects, reveals and even plays on
the straight, socially established interpretation of sexual difference
which controls images, erotic ways of looking and spectacle» (p.
57). Film is thus seen as a reinforcement of traditional gender
representation rather than a corrective. Crucial in this argument is
the claim that the interpretation on behalf of the viewer takes place
unconsciously, thus providing the basis for ignorance to gender
oppression and subordination. It appears somewhat unclear from
Mulvey’s writings whether she sees the portrayal of gender in
mainstream film as a deliberate act performed by the production
companies. On the one hand, the logical conclusion from the
Freudo-Lacanian approach would be that also the film-maker’s
thought is distorted through social learning. On the other hand,
Mulvey utilizes the expression «manipulation of visual pleasure»
to explain the magic of Hollywood style, as if the film-maker has a
hidden male-biased agenda in mind. In either case, it is exactly the
understanding of visual pleasure that is Mulvey’s project; in the
first place to explain why the viewer is subject to a male reading of
the film, and in the second place to propose solutions for an
alternative way of reading and producing films.
Mulvey claims that the main challenge for those who want to
promote alternatives to the establishment is to overcome a
patriarchal industry that has «left women largely without a voice»
(1989, p. 39). The genres of melodrama and the western are used
to prove this claim. With regard to melodramas, Mulvey argues
that the sense in which these supposedly are able to equip women
with a voice is contradictory. The female point of view will also
here surrender to the overall patriarchal structure of society,
Mulvey argues (1989). (Jackie Byars (1991) opposes this view, as I
will note later on.) Central to Mulvey’s critique of traditional film
is that popular culture discourages the audience from keeping a
critical distance to the content (Seton, 1997). Most notably,
however, is Mulvey’s assertion that the point of view that a camera
holds is essentially male. The female viewer must therefore adapt
to an identity other than her own, an argument that constitute the
foundation for the psychoanalytic approach to film criticism. In
this regard, Mulvey implicitly answers in the affirmative the
question that has become central to feminist film criticism debate:
«Is the gaze male?» Herein also lies Mulvey’s key to reading
films: by help from Lacanian psychoanalysis.
Approaching cinema through
One would not immediately think of psychoanalysis as a proper
tool to read films, and perhaps it was partly the unexpectedness
that made this approach popular after Mulvey presented it in 1975 .
I will shortly summarize the main elements of this theory as it
appeared in «Visual pleasure and narrative cinema» (1988b) [2].
The primary proposition of the psychoanalytic method, developed
by Freud and further elaborated by Lacan, is that the woman is
subject to personal and social depression through her lack of a
penis. Her existence is thus decided by her desire to escape
castration, an escape which turns out to be impossible.
Psychoanalysis subsequently sees the male as physically and
symbolically dominant, a dominance that is only threatened by his
adopted fear of castration. Mulvey draws in this respect more on
Freud than on Lacan, although she later goes on to use Lacanian
terms such as «imaginary» and «symbolic». In transferring this
theory to film analysis, particular attention is paid to the Freudian
explanation of scopophilia – control through gaze. Mulvey
contends that the scopophilic nature is evident in the way films are
watched. Through narrative structure and conditions of screening,
cinema provides a perfect climate for looking at another person as
an object of sexual stimulation. This is the scopophilic function of
sexual instincts. The ego function is also apparent, and develops as
the viewer seeks to identify with characters on the screen. A
central component in Mulvey’s adoption of Freud’s psychoanalysis
to film spectatorship is therefore voyeurism, the pleasure in
Further, Mulvey distinguishes between the active male and the
passive female. She argues that this dichotomy is further reinforced
by mainstream film which combines spectacle and narrative in a
speculative manner. The woman is in this view crucial to the
narrative (as an object); and at the same time, she freezes the
narrative in «moments of erotic contemplation» (p. 62). These
moments ‘apart from time’ are evident for instance when the
camera shows a close-up of Julia Roberts’ leg as she pulls on her
stockings in the opening sequence of Pretty Woman (1990).
According to Mulvey, such filmatic techniques are a result of the
male gaze, and only proves how feminine qualities are married
with the passive – both in the way the film is made and in the way
the spectator makes meaning of it. The masculine, on the other
hand, is perceived as more complex, more perfect. When reading
films, the female spectator is left with two options: She can either
identify with the male camera and the male object within the film,
or she can identify with the female object within the film in a
masochistic way (Man, 1993). Her destiny is that she cannot
escape the male gaze as she reads the film. From this, it is evident
that Mulvey’s psychoanalytic approach to film is a pessimistic one,
and indeed deterministic.
Mulvey also makes it a point to rediscover the three looks that are
associated with film: that of the camera, that of the audience, and
that of the characters. Her argument is that only the third of these,
the viewpoint of the characters, is present in mainstream film. The
two others are denied in order to strip the spectator of critical
thinking and suppress information that may question the ‘realism’
of the picture.
From the last argument in particular, it is no surprise that Mulvey’s
answer to the feminist challenge is to call for production methods
that extensively discard traditional film-making and instead pave
the way for alternative cinema. In other words, she becomes a
proponent for avant-garde film. Alternative film that challenges the
basic assumptions of mainstream film is possible in Mulvey’s
opinion, but «it can still only exist as a counterpoint» (1988b, p.
59). This adds to the theoretical pessimism that I will argue is
evident from Mulvey’s psychoanalytic approach. It leads in a sense
to a cul-de-sac where the male gaze penetrates not only cinema,
but also the fundamental way in which gender is represented in
society. To overthrow this patriarchal structure in a simple manner
is in Mulvey’s opinion inconceivable – which follows logically
from the psychoanalytic approach. Avant-garde cinema turns out
to be her only response to mainstream cinema which supposedly is
so structured by the male gaze that it is unable to accommodate
images of women without fetishism (Enciso, 1997). The only way
to facilitate a powerful feminist cinema is to disrupt traditional
viewing pleasure, so to speak.
In «Afterthoughts on ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’»
(1988a [1981]), Mulvey reinforces her Freudian approach to film
interpretation. In particular, the distinction between the active male
and the passive female is further argued and extended. The
conclusion remains the same, «Hollywood genre films structured
around masculine pleasure, offering an identification with the
active point of view, allow a woman spectator to rediscover that
lost aspect of her sexual identity» (p. 71). The masculine
identification is thus evident both from the point of the female
character and the female spectator.
In addition to bringing psychoanalysis into film criticism, Mulvey
should be acknowledged for her application of semiotics in reading
gendered address. Her approach in this regard did not represent a
pioneer project in film criticism in general, yet it gave a new
direction for feminist film criticism in particular. As Seton (1997)
points out, the tools offered by linguistics and semiotics provided
insights into the spoken (i.e. the conscious articulation of
patriarchy), thereby filling in for the shortcomings of
psychoanalysis (which analyses the unspoken, i.e. the unconscious
of patriarchy). [3]
Overall, Mulvey’s contribution can be read as a shift in film
analysis from ideology critique to cultural forms critique
manifested through the dominant male viewing pleasures into
which everything has to conform. We have seen that the central
explanatory component in this theory is Freud’s assumption that
the female is rendered powerless through her awareness of a lack
of masculine genitals. The female, then, is in this view unable to
find ways of emancipation through a movie industry that only
reinforces the male gaze. Thus, Mulvey denies that traditional
filmic solutions are capable of destroying the male-oriented female
image, and she consequently calls for an avant-garde technique
that enables women to develop imageries that explore their own
fantasies and desires. Mulvey’s own films (notably Riddles of the
Sphinx (1976), which she co-produced with Peter Wollen), are
often referred to as successful avant-garde responses to the
challenge that stems from the psychoanalytic film criticism. The
clue in these films is precisely that they supposedly turns the
female passive spectatorial position to an active one. Mulvey’s
crucial importance to feminist film criticism is evident from
several recent commentators, for instance Elizabeth Wright (1992):
«All subsequent feminist film theory working within a
psychoanalytic tradition has begun with Mulvey’s articulation of
the patriarchal gaze of narrative cinema» (p. 120).
A critical assessment: how Mulvey’s
approach falls short
Having explained Mulvey’s main thoughts, we are now ready to
turn to a critical discussion of her approach. I will organize the
criticism in three broad categories: the difficulty that lies within
psychoanalytic theory itself and its application to film criticism,
the fatal tendency to dichotomize male and female natures, and the
simplistic view that all Hollywood film is destructive. The bottom
line is that Mulvey’s theories fall short of empowering the broad
feminist movement. I am not arguing against her aim, only her
method and theory. In so doing, I will draw on the reading of
Thelma and Louise, a film that in my opinion in fact gives women
a voice, although the film is highly marked by the Hollywood
stamp both in narrative structure, cinematography and mise en
The problem of applying psychoanalysis to
As E. Deidre Pribram (1988) points out, Freudian and Lacanian
psychoanalytic theories have been central to film studies because
they forge a link between cultural forms of representation (here:
film), and the aquisition of subject identity in social beings.
However, my argument is that this link has proved difficult to
establish in practice. Mulvey’s project is to search for a theory that
sufficiently explains why Hollywood cinema is a threat to women.
Her starting-point is thus fixed: She sees traditional narrative film
as being destructive in that it forces the female to submit to
established patriarchal norms. At this point, we already see a
fallacy to which psychoanalytic film criticism tends to submit. It
starts with the assumption that gendered address in traditional film
is destructive, and goes on to explain this phenomenon without
investigating the truthfulness of the initial presupposition. Then in
the second place, as we are blinded by the seemingly obvious
relevance of explaining a cultural representation through its
psychological significance, the psychoanalytical film critic will
utilize semiotic terminology partly derived from Lacan to explain
the link between sexual identity and social determination (through
the moving picture). The explanation seems convincing, yet it does
not prove its claim – precisely because the order of assumptions
and explanations/claims is reversed. There are too many
assumptions and too little proof, as it were.
The methodological approach of psychoanalysis is therefore a
highly problematic (and subjective) one. The problems of a
psychoanalytic film theory is also apparent from its preoccupation
with only one aspect of the human nature, sexual desires. E. Deidre
Pribram (1988) adds to this critique and claims that psychoanalytic
theories «fail to address the formation and operation of other
variables or differences amongst individuals, such as race and
class» (p. 2). This notion is a valid one, particularly when
considering the fact that most feminists will claim to be part of a
broader movement that questions every part of patriarchal
domination. Interestingly enough, Pribram goes on to argue that
psychoanalytic models are also weak in that they deny the
importance of the context; «no place is allowed for shifts in textual
meaning related to shifts in viewing situation», hence ignoring the
differences in viewership that might come about when people with
different social and cultural backgrounds read the same movie.
However, this position of psychoanalysitic film theory corresponds
with its major premise that the gaze is merely male. This criticism
will be further discussed under the next subheading.
Christine Gledhill (1988) contends that a weakness of the
psychoanalytic film approach (which she consistently calls «cinepsychoanalysis») is that it has derived its framework from the
perspective of masculinity. The theory thus characterizes the
feminine as «lack», «absence» and «otherness». However, Glenhill
notes that there has been a development from early cinepsychoanalysis, i.e. from the 1970s, and that more recent
approaches to the theory may be able to acknowledge feminine
qualities as more complex than «male subordination». This is a
valuable remark, and should be kept in mind as we examine
Mulvey’s theories; it should not be taken for granted that she still
supports all aspects of the approach as it appeared in the first
publishing of «Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema» in 1975.
However, in the introduction to the 1989 reprinting of the essay,
Mulvey does reinforce the psychoanalytic approach, though she
maintains that the practical side of the theory faced a different
social climate in the 1970s.
Teresa de Lauretis (1987) applauds much of Mulvey’s work, but is
critical of the psychoanalytic approach. Her concern is particularly
to prove the limits of this approach for film theory, and she argues
that semiotic theories of iconicity and narrativity would be of more
user to feminist film critics. De Lauretis’s critique seems to be
sound in the first place, but how does she go about distinguishing
semiotic theories from psychoanalysis, especially in the tradition
of Lacan? Her response to this question appears to be incomplete.
Zoe Sofia (1989), on the other hand, is easier to follow as she
argues that a main difficulty with psychoanalytic cultural criticism
is the inflexibility that results when the findings are generalized.
The difficulty arises as the researcher tries to map out a larger
theory from the analysis of the psyche; the problem is just that the
findings will inevitably gravitate towards sociological conceptions
already determined by the order of gender differences (which,
again, stems from the presuppositions of the psychoanalytic
One of the more solid critiques of feminist psychoanalysis is
provided by Jackie Byars (1991). Her argument is well-founded in
that it points both to inconsistencies within psychoanalysis itself as
well as to the problems of applying the theory to feminist film
criticism. Byars notes how Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis
sees the masculine as normative and the feminine as deviant, and
further argues that this theory indeed «cannot account for
resistance and ideological struggle; they represent, instead, the
psychic mechanisms for reinforcing dominant ideologies» (p. 137).
If true, this argument is all the more embarrassing to feminist
psychoanalysists when facing the fact that feminism’s major
project is exactly to reveal and overthrow dominant structures at all
levels. Byars also contends that recent developments in psychology
has discarded parts of Freud’s theories, whereas in film theory
orthodox Freudianism still prevails.
What, then, about the application of psychoanalysis to the actual
interpretation of films? In my view, the reading of films through
Freudian glasses proves how difficult it is to utilize psychoanalysis
as a tool to understand patriarchal structures in society. A few
examples from Thelma and Louise will illustrate my point.
In a psychoanalytic reading, Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise
(Susan Sarandon) are seen as objects of their traditional, domestic
world. Their ascribed task in life is to do the dish-washing, to
nurture and to love their husbands. No other world is known to
them. Thelma and Louise’s desire, however, is to escape and get
away. In particular, they seek independence, freedom and space –
qualities usually attributed to males. The psychoanalytic reading of
this is obvious: The female’s innate hatred of castration leads her
to worship masculine qualities. As the storyline develops and the
two women run away to free themselves from their domestic
environment, they indeed utilize masculine commodities to make
their escape possible: a car, a gun, harsh language. Yet the
psychoanalyst would not let the women get away with easy
solutions. Eventually, they will have to surrender to their female
destiny. I can therefore only think about one psychoanalytic
interpretation of Thelma and Louise’s decision to speed their
stolen car to the edge of the Grand Canyon in the end: They were
ultimately trapped by the powers of the male-dominated society;
the only way out – if not returning to their domestic world – was to
give it all up. A positive interpretation of this last sequence is
inconceivable in psychoanalytic terms.
With regard to spectatorship, the psychoanalytic approach faces
however difficulties. One of the problematic question is this: How
can the male – who assumingly watches movies mainly for
pleasure (voyuerism) – have pleasure in watching two women
gaining power over other men? (Our presupposition here is that
males actually did enjoy Thelma and Louise, which is evident from
the popularity of the movie both among men and women.) The
castration fear would certainly make this a painful watching
experience for men as well as women. To this I simply reply that
the psychoanalytic approach appears to be unable to deal with such
The problem of the active male vs. the
passive female
My second objection to Mulvey’s film theory arises from her rigid
distinction between the active male and the passive female. In her
view, woman is the object and man is the bearer of the look (the
gaze is male). This dichotomy can to a certain extent be explained
by the tendency for tying gender to biological determinism rather
than to social development. Yet the psychoanalytic theory fails to
account for differences within each gender, as I am about to argue
In her argument against this dualistic model of gender identity,
Sofia (1989) points out that the woman remains almost without any
sexual identity in psychoanalysis since she is entirely defined in
relation to the man. Sofia espands her argument by denying that
symbolic language (as defined by Lacan) is adequate to masculine
self-representation. Likewise, Sofia argues, textual excess or
indecidability should not always be regarded as a feminine quality.
Indeed, she concludes her paper with a crucial precaution that is
highly relevant to a critical assessment of feminist film theories,
namely that a failure to distinguish between feminine and
masculine femininities and maternal figures can result in
misreadings of masculine perversity as feminist progress. Such
misreadings would of course go against the aim of the entire
Mulveyian project.
The fallacy of defining the genders as dichotomous categories
becomes similarly clear from Mulvey’s assumption that the male is
the bearer of the look. She expands this assumption to an
application of the narrative film industry in order to show that both
characters, film-makers and audience take the male gaze for
granted. But how then, we must ask, is it possible to account for
the differences that we apparently see in female characters within
the same film? Mulvey’s answer is that there only appears to be a
difference, a lesser or larger degree of masculine/feminine acting,
but in reality all such individual characteristics are constructued to
perfectly suit the overall notion of the man as the bearer of the
look. The female spectator, then, unconsciously has to shift
between an active masculine and a passive feminine identity.
Pamela Robertson (1996) agrees with the assertion that female
spectatorship is characterized by an oscillation between the active
and the passive, but she also argues for a model that more
accurately can account for «the overlap between passitivity and
activity in a viewer who sees through, simultaneously perhaps, one
mask of serious femininity and another mask of laughing
femininity» (p. 15). Robertson’s solution is the position of camp,
which she argues for extensively throughout her book, but it
ultimately appears to be just another separatist ideology – which I
doubt is a fruitful answer to the feminist challenge.
Since Mulvey approaches the feminist gaze as utopic, how will she
read Thelma and Louise? We can only guess. Because the
psychoanalytic starting-point is that the female spectator is forced
to read every action as either passive submission or active
identification, it is likely that the critic will ignore the complexity
of Thelma and Louise’s characters. Such a view becomes
problematic because, as Glenn Man (1993) points out, Thelma and
Louise generates a complex narrative process that can create «new
fantasies for spectator appropriation» (p. 37). Man goes on to state
what is exactly the core of my argument here: «What the narration
of Thelma and Louise attempts to do then is to inscribe both
women as subjects and agents of the narrative, give authentic voice
to their desires, and mute the discourses of the male characters» (p.
39). If this is a sound observation, and I believe it is, then
Mulvey’s assumption of the silent woman in Hollywood film is
The problem of reading all Hollywood film
as antagonistic
We have seen that Mulvey argues for a feminist film-making
practice that goes against traditional narrative film as much as
possible. The assumption behind this argument is that the audience
is so surrounded by traditional patriarchal norms that it is not able
to critically read films unless an entirely different approach is
provided. Mulvey’s response is to call for the avant-garde cinema,
which she sees as a possible alternative to Hollywood, but «it can
still only exist as a counterpoint» (1988b, p. 59). There is truly a
sense of pessimism in that statement, a sort of Mulveyian «realistic
dissidence» (cf. Theodor Adorno).
Byars (1991) strongly objects to this claim that narrative film is all
bad. Quite contrary to Mulvey, Byars sees the American
melodramas of the 1950s as a creative tool rather than a destructive
force. She shows that the Hollywood dramas not only encouraged
the audience (both males and females) to interpret the filmic
material, but also extended debates around issues of sexual
divisions of labour, gender roles, and family structure.
The kind of view that Byars advocates has gained more recognition
in feminist circles in recent years. Film-maker Michelle Citron
(1988), for instance, openly argues for a feminist use of
Hollywood. In her opinion, the entry into mainstream narrative
film-making will «broaden the work we [feminist film-makers] do
and expand our understanding of visual culture and of ourselves»
(p. 62). She even contends that traditional narrative film has more
potential than alternative film in some areas because it opens up
for contradictions, paradoxes and uncertainties. Another major
point she raises against avant-garde advocates such as Mulvey, is
that alternative cinema is inaccessible to many viewers. It contains
an unfamiliar style and communicative form, and thus creates a
gap that many viewers cannot overcome. Nuria Enciso (1997) adds
to this critique, and maintains that radical films like Mulvey’s
«have remained on the fringe and therefore have not contributed as
greatly as they could have to altering the position of women within
A main concern of Mulvey’s is the question of whether it is
possible to obtain a true feminist gaze. By means of traditional
narrative film, her answer is negative. On the contrary, Mulvey
argues that only an alternative film method in the hands of
feminists can possibly turn the gaze around. However, reality
seems to be more complex than what Mulvey seems to suggest.
That the film-maker is female does not of course ensure that the
gaze will be feminine. And what is a feminine gaze? Film critics
disagree on this point; many will say that there is no essential
difference between a male and a female gaze. Furthermore, as
Enciso (1997) points out, there are within each gender vast
differences between individuals (there are blacks, older, younger,
working-class, etc.). Such differences will often override gender
differences as well, and makes the whole notion of gender
separations highly questionable. It follows from this that Mulvey’s
theories hardly can be said to have universal validity.
Lastly, I will pay attention to the fact that contemporary
mainstream cinema utilizes filmatic techniques and strategies of
narration that would have been considered alternative only one
decade ago. It is enough here to refer to Romeo and Juliet (1996)
and Natural Born Killers (1994), which both have attracted large
audiences although they in some ways break significantly with
established narrative film. In the same manner, Thelma and Louise
has been able to put on the agenda a traditionally marginalized
issue, the issue of women emancipatoin. The last statement should
be qualified to a certain extent; some commentators, such as
Elayne Rapping, «certainly don’t think it’s a feminist movie»
(1992, p. 30). However, I am not so concerned here with
classifying what is a feminist movie and not. My argument is that
the main concern for feminist film should not necessarily be to
oppose mainstream film in all aspects. Rather, the focus should be
on the issue itself, namely the struggle for women’s liberation. In
this struggle, I contend that mainstream film may very well be a
helpful tool, because, as Enciso (1997) points out, «the situation
for women intellectuals and artists is already difficult enough
without women discouraging their own participation in popular
In conclusion, I ought to give credit to Laura Mulvey for her
important role in paving the way for a modern feminist film
criticism whose main concern has been to give voice to
marginalized sub-groups in society. I think here not only of the
feminist movement itself. Nevertheless, I wish to maintain that
Mulvey’s psychoanalytic approach has not been fruitful to an
understanding of gendered address in traditional cinema.
1. By «traditional Hollywood film» I mean mainstream movies
which to a very little extent seek to challenge established norms
and underlying societal ideologies. «Hollywood film» is always
produced to reach a large audience, but needs not necessarily be
made in Hollywood. The central claim in feminist film criticism is
that Hollywood film fails to question dominant patriarchal
structures in society.
2. Two other scholars who contributed to the development of
psychoanalytic film theory in the mid-seventies were Christian
Metz and Juliet Mitchell. More names could have been mentioned.
However, this paper concentrates merely on Mulvey’s work since
she appears to have been the most influential in developing a
feminist film criticism based on psychoanalysis.
3. We may also speak of semiotics within psychoanalysis. Indeed,
it is difficult to explain Lacanian psychoanalysis without using
semiotic terminology. Lacan sees the phallus as the «signifier of
signifers», the representative of signification and language.
Moreover, the phallus signifies distribution of power and
possession; a notion which in turn becomes a crucial element in
Mulvey’s use of psychoanalysis. Lacan’s significance for feminist
theory is extensively traced by Elizabeth Grosz (1990).