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Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen

Mulvey's seminal text, "Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema" (1975) radically questioned the status of the male gaze in cinema at the height of feminist consciousness in North America and Western Europe. First published in Screen in 1975, the polemical essay had a wide and immediate impact for its theory of spectatorship and the examination of the unconscious structures underlying traditional cinema. (A few years earlier, Peter Wollen published his influential essay, "Godard and Counter Cinema: Vent d'Est" in Afterimage (1972), which clearly set out the mechanisms of counter-cinema (which Godard typified) and its oppositional relationship to conventional Hollywood devices. Wollen then attacked problems in Godard's recent films to point towards a more revolutionary cinema based on a deliberate engagement and countering of dominant aesthetic and ideological structures and fantasies.) By interrogating the gaze of the spectator that defined Hollywood cinema and objectified women, Mulvey sought a cinema that thrust towards liberation and away from the repetition of power and patriarchal structures that drive Hollywood. Mulvey's text was published the same year as French theorist Hélène Cixous's Le Rire de la Méduse, which was equally groundbreaking for its new (if possibly essentialist) vision of écriture feminine. Cixous's manifesto crystallized a practice where women's life, art, and subjective experience could be voiced through a careful writing of expository texts focusing on the body and psychoanalytic drives, citing 'woman must write woman.'. Mulvey's filmmaking was equally sensitive to a liberation of vision and voice, if more grounded by cinema history, narratology and concrete social and conceptual goals ('new forms for new content') which was informed in part by the Independent Filmmakers Association as much as the serious investigations of her women's theory reading group in early 1970's London called The History Group with members such as Mary Kelly, Juliet Mitchell and Sally Alexander. This group led her to a sustained interest in Freud and the implications of visuality and their psychoanalytic consequences for women.

Still from Riddles of the Sphinx (1977)
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