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Rakhee Balaram Click here to Print this Page
Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen

The 'heroine' for Mulvey and Wollen is a vehicle in which to consider the lives of women, their productions and their fate. If Penthesilea and the Greek Sphinx represent two facets of mythic womanhood, Amy Johnson, the daring (and darling) long-distance pilot in the 1930s signaled risk, reward and ultimate disenchantment for women. Trapped by both popular song "Amy, Wonderful Amy!" and public esteem, Amy Johnson struggled to remove the mask that society imposed on her (at one point she is seen applying make-up to herself and the camera) returning, as one critic has described, from the 'masculine' world of achievement to the 'feminine' world of the gaze. Here, Mulvey and Wollen complicate the perception of women's achievement by problematizing its reception both in her era and in the present. On the one hand, Amy represents a liberation, movement and mobility in the same way as the acrobats in Riddles of the Sphinx. The pleasures of flight resonate through visual maps, speed and radio voice-overs while at the same time her journeys are interspersed with evidence of real political troubles in these same mapped regions building towards decolonization.

Amy's story reflects the limits of women's role in society: heroine or victim. However, Amy's role as a producer of meaning (she first burns love letters on a fire that she later uses to make coffee) inspires Mulvey's respect for melodrama and the way in which a story is told. (The film itself fell victim to a funding cut that resulted in its shortened 33-minute format). Woman's competence in the traditionally masculine domain of technology and machines, as well as Amy's interest in engineering and maintenance of her plane, establish her as a creator of personal destiny, even if (due to societal pressure) she ultimately cannot control it.

Still from AMY! (1980)
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