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Analysis Project #2: Formal Analysis

The introduction of the term “the male gaze” created by Laura Mulvey can be traced back to her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” that was published in 1975. In her essay, Mulvey states that in film, women are typically the objects rather than the possessors of gaze. We are shown different perspectives of both genders in films through formal techniques, such as camera placement, character movements, and sound. Females in most cases are able to use their bodies and charm to test a male’s attraction towards them. As a part of human nature, males have the tendency to be easily attracted to women, especially beautiful women. Depending on the female characters, in some movies, females are usually able to make the males fall for them with their tactics like their character, personality as well as how they talk to them.

The scene I have chosen to analyze is from “The Lady Eve” with Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. This scene from Preston Sturges’ romantic screwball comedy is when Jean brings Charles to her cabin to change her heels that he has broken when she deliberately tripped him. The music in the background also sets a romantic mood for us the audience to expect something romantic to happen.

The scene starts with her opening the door, turning on the lights and throwing a shirt that was on the shoe dresser to the side. He takes a few steps into the room, looks around and makes a comment that “It’s quite a cabin.” After sniffing around a few times, he said, “Holy Moses.” When she asked, “What’s the matter?” He answers, “That perfume,” claiming that there weren’t any perfume used in the Amazon. She then leads him to the shoe dresser where she said since he was so polite, he could pick one out and put them on for her if he likes. He once again says, “Holy Moses” when he saw all her shoes. When she asked, “See any you like?” He didn’t answer and paused for a bit just staring at her. We can notice how she stands with her elbow leaning on the cabinet door while he’s looking at the shoes, as if she’s posing for him.

She does a lot of seductive gazing at him while he’s picking out a pair of shoes, and keeping eye contact on him for almost the entire time. She goes to sit down on the chair, and crosses her legs and tells him he’ll have to kneel down to put the heels on for her. Although she can easily put the shoes on herself, this can be seen as Jean wanting to give a chance for Charles to touch her legs and be close to her. There is a shot where Jean is sitting and looking up at Charles, where he is cut off from the shoulders. The way I interpret this shot is that Jean wants to test her ability to make Charles do what she says. The moment Charles enters the frame is his willingness to go down on his knees to help her. When Charles puts the heels on her feet, he first stares at her face, then at her legs. They gaze at each other, and at one point Charles got blurry vision, which I assume he was mesmerized by her beauty.

She asked him what he was doing in the Amazon, and he tells her he was looking for snakes. He quickly explained the difference between beer and ale when she said she thought he was in the beer business. He then makes a comment that, “It’s funny to be kneeling here at your feet talking about beer.” When she helps him by fixing the straps of her heels by herself, he grabs her hands and stares into her eyes. They then gaze into each other’s eyes, and she deepens her voice when she says, “We better get back now.” Although we aren’t exactly sure how Jean is really feeling at this moment towards Charles, we were able to see her gazes at him moments before. So we can only imagine that she must at least want to attract Charles if not already be attracted to him as well. We can see how she looks down at his lips when he talks and occasionally glances back up at his eyes. They both get up at the same time, while he is still fixed on her eyes. We have to keep in mind that they have just met not too long ago, and yet he’s holding her hand and talking in a romantic tone to her already.

When Charles says, “Something about that perfume,” Jean asks, “Don’t you like my perfume?” Charles answers by saying, “Like it? I’m cock-eyed by it.” He then leans towards her lips, and she puts her hand on his chest pushing him back and walks away smiling and saying, “You ought to be kept in a cage.” This walking away gesture makes Charles even more attracted to Jean. At this point, the scene ends with Charles continuing to stare at her and fixing his bowtie, while still looking a little lost and helpless because of her beauty.

Costuming plays a significant part in this scene. Charles is dressed in a nice white suit with a bowtie that we see attracts Jean and causes her to be fixed on him when he’s in the room. Jean is in a tight black dress that reveals a bit of her stomach, which is an attractive article of clothing for most men like Charles to see. The way she stands leaning on the shoe dresser door also says something about her. She is standing as if she is sticking her chest out with one hand on her waist confidently trying to capture Charles’s attention to her body. The shot where we see Jean as a blurry image is Charles’s point of view, maybe caused by her beauty that makes him feel dizzy. These examples agree with Mulvey’s formulation of “the male gaze.”

Although this scene predominantly emphasizes “the male gaze,” we are able to tell that they are both some what attracted to each other. Jean reeled him in, with her beauty, her charm, as well as her ability to make him long for more of her. The gesture of Jean pushing Charlie back from kissing her might reveal that she’s playing “hard to get.”

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~ by Avah Au-Yeung on December 9, 2011.

One Response to “Analysis Project #2: Formal Analysis”

  1. A great scene to analyze as it challenges Mulvey’s model in many ways. Great attention to detail, and I think you’ve got a pretty good handle on at least part of Mulvey’s argument. Jean is definitely being visualized here as an object of desire. But in terms of questions of power in relation to the gaze, it seems like SHE holds all the cards here, rather than Charles being the one in control. Mulvey had argued that most classical Hollywood films encourage us to identify with the male position of power, since this is the position the camera and characters tend to reinforce. But here (and in many screwball comedies), it is the female character who actively controls the look, even if she does so by manipulating the predictable male interest in the female body as an object. It’s a challenging and complicated example!! Thanks for all your thoughtful posts all semester, I will miss reading them.

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