Toward a Queer Gaze

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0041416/00001

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Title: Toward a Queer Gaze Cinematic Representations of Queer Female Sexuality in Experimental/Avant-Garde and Narrative Film
Physical Description: 1 online resource (77 p.)
Language: english
Creator: Tobin, Erin
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2010


Subjects / Keywords: cinema, feminist, film, gaze, gender, lesbian, queer, representation, sexuality, spectatorship, women
Women's Studies -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: Women's Studies thesis, M.A.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
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Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: Cinematic representations of queer female sexuality prior to the 1970s relied on codes and innuendos to (mis)represent lesbian characters and emphasize their ?Otherness,? leaving the lesbian on-screen virtually non-existent. The 1970s saw an emergence of explicit lesbianism on screen in films by lesbian feminist avant-garde filmmakers, as well as the development of a new feminist film theory. This paper examines how experimental and narrative films from three decades (1970s, 1980s, 1990s) represent lesbian sexuality and work to reconceptualize the lesbian representation and spectatorship through destabilizing, reappropriating, or queering the gaze.
General Note: In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
General Note: Includes vita.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Statement of Responsibility: by Erin Tobin.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2010.
Local: Adviser: Mennel, Barbara.

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Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2010
System ID: UFE0041416:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0041416/00001

Material Information

Title: Toward a Queer Gaze Cinematic Representations of Queer Female Sexuality in Experimental/Avant-Garde and Narrative Film
Physical Description: 1 online resource (77 p.)
Language: english
Creator: Tobin, Erin
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2010


Subjects / Keywords: cinema, feminist, film, gaze, gender, lesbian, queer, representation, sexuality, spectatorship, women
Women's Studies -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: Women's Studies thesis, M.A.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: Cinematic representations of queer female sexuality prior to the 1970s relied on codes and innuendos to (mis)represent lesbian characters and emphasize their ?Otherness,? leaving the lesbian on-screen virtually non-existent. The 1970s saw an emergence of explicit lesbianism on screen in films by lesbian feminist avant-garde filmmakers, as well as the development of a new feminist film theory. This paper examines how experimental and narrative films from three decades (1970s, 1980s, 1990s) represent lesbian sexuality and work to reconceptualize the lesbian representation and spectatorship through destabilizing, reappropriating, or queering the gaze.
General Note: In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
General Note: Includes vita.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Statement of Responsibility: by Erin Tobin.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2010.
Local: Adviser: Mennel, Barbara.

Record Information

Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2010
System ID: UFE0041416:00001

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2 2010 Erin Christine Tobin


3 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ABSTRACT ..................................................................................................................... 4 CHA PTER 1 INTRODUC TION ...................................................................................................... 52 DESTABILIZING THE (MALE) GAZE IN FEMINIST LESBIAN AVANT-GARDE CINEMA .................................................................................................................. 11Early Feminist Film Theory and the Theor etical Development of the Gaze ............ 11Lacans Influence on Psychoanalyti c Feminist Film T heory .................................... 12Je tu il elle (1974) ................................................................................................... 22On-Screen Sex Acts and Les bian Represent ability ................................................ 27Hide and Seek (1996) ............................................................................................. 293 BLURRING (IN)DIFFERENCE IN THE (B I) SEXUAL MID LIFE CRISIS FILM ....... 34Lianna (1983) .......................................................................................................... 44Desert Hearts (1985) .............................................................................................. 494 QUEERING THE GAZE THROUGH TH E LESBIAN QUEE R NEW WAVE ............ 55New Queer Cinema ................................................................................................ 56Queering t he Gaze ................................................................................................. 60Go Fish (1994) ........................................................................................................ 65The Watermelon Woman (1996) ............................................................................. 695 CONCLUS ION ........................................................................................................ 72LIST OF RE FERENCES ............................................................................................... 74BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............................................................................................ 77


4 Abstract of Thesis Pres ented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulf illment of the Requirements for the Degr ee of Master of Arts TOWARD A QUEER GAZE: CINEMATIC RE PRESENTATIONS OF QUEER FEMALE SEXUALITY IN EXPERIMENTAL/AVAN T-GARDE AND NARRATIVE FILM By Erin Christine Tobin May 2010 Chair: Barbara Mennel Major: Womens Studies Cinematic representations of queer female sexuality prior to the 1970s relied on codes and innuendos to (mis)represent lesbian characters and emphasize their Otherness, leaving the le sbian on-screen virtually non-existent. The 1970s saw an emergence of explicit lesbianism on screen in films by lesbian feminist avant-garde filmmakers, as well as the development of a new feminist film theory. This paper examines how experimental and narrative films from three decades (1970s, 1980s, 1990s) represent lesbian se xuality and work to reconceptualize the lesbian representation and spectatorship through dest abilizing, reappropriating, or queering the gaze.


5 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Feminist film theory emerged in the ear ly-mid 1970s as an extension of second wave feminism, applying the politics and theories of feminism to fi lm studies. Employing psychoanalytic approaches to film, feminist film theorists in the 1970s argued that cinematic portrayals of women objectify them for the purpose of appealing to the male spectators desire, stripping them of agen cy and meaning outside of their significance as Other. A critique of the gaze was (and still is) central to feminist film theory. The cinematic male gaze, according to Laura Mulvey, positions male spectators as active voyeurs of the on-screen female image, which exists to fulfill a heterosexual male fantasy as object of desire (Mulvey 1975). Mulveys 1975 Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, arguably the foundational text for feminist film theory, employs psychoanalysis as a political weapon (6) in order to dismantle the overriding patriarchal and p hallocentric nature of film. Upholding the place of signifier of the male other requires a silent image of wom an in order to enable the fulfillment of male fantasy through ci nema. Grounded in Lacanian psychoanalytic thought, Mulvey argues that the spectators relationship to film is comparable to the relationship of the mirror to the child in Lacans mirror stage, at which point the childs ego and subjectivity are constituted through t he misrecognition of the recognition of the familiar, yet different, image of self. In the same essay Mulvey also estab lishes a male/active, female/passive dichotomy in which the position of the s pectator assumes an active masculine gaze, which the on-screen image that provokes desire yet represents lack constitutes a passive feminine object. Acco rding to Mulvey, womenor rather feminine subjects


6 are denied the agency in Classic Hollywood Cinem a to actively look at and desire the female object on screen while maintaining their own identification as (feminine) woman. Later, in her 1989 essay, Afterthoughts on Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Mulvey adds to and refines her argument from her original essay, recognizing the lack of discussion of the female spectator and ultimately allowing for two interpretations of female spectatorship: identification with t he women on screen or trans-sex identification (transvestitism) in which the female specta tor assumes a masculinist, active point of view (Mulvey 1989). Indeed, Mulveys essay transformed t he field of film theory and created possibilities to explore the gaze and spectatorship for feminist film theory. She has, however, been critiqued for overemphasizing t he male spectator and overlooking the possibility of diverse identities of spectators including difference in race, ethnicity, and sexuality. While her critique of the gaze is specifica lly directed at Classic Hollywood Cinema (in her 1975 essay) and melodrama (in her 1989 essay), Mulvey suggests that alternative film forms (eg. experiemental/ avant-garde) have both the potential and responsibility to free the look of the came ra into its materiality in time and space and the look of the audience into dialecti cs and passionate detachm ent (1975, 53). Early feminist film theory, which I consi der to include the sociological/ideological approach of scholars such as Molly Haskell (From Reverance to Rape, 1974) as well as the psychoanalytic approach by scholars su ch as Laura Mulvey, Teresa de Lauretis, and Mary Ann Doane who emerged in 1970s and early 1980s, remains prevalent and influential in feminist film criticism today. Early psychoanalytic feminist film theorys focus on the gaze and spectatorship serves as a foundation for more recent feminist


7 and queer film criticism on cinem atic representability. Recently, however, the very scholars who initially worked to propel feminist film theory in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, including Mulvey, Doane, Li nda Williams, and Judith Mayne, have challenged the usefulness and direct ion of early feminist film criticism on the gaze, for example in the Autumn 2004 issue of the fe minist journal Signs, entitled Roundtable Film Feminisms. The various essays in this issue of Signs acknowledge that societal conditions and social movements in the 1960s and 1970s allo wed for the emergence of a feminist film theory, which challenged existing filmic discourse through a feminist appropriation of psychoanalysis and semiotics. The issue s overriding theme, Beyond the Gaze: Recent Approaches to Film Feminisms, presumes that the gaze is an extensively (over) theorized early feminist film concept that may have overshadowed other relevant issues in film and media. It is therefore necessary to deviate and disembark from the singular focus on the theorization of the gaze. In this thesis I illustrate how feminist film theory on the gaze remains relevant today, arguing that feminist film theory, in correlation with elements of queer theory, can provide a unique analysis of lesbian representation in cinema. I argue that an analysis of lesbi an cinema is not complete without a consideration of the gaze and spectatorship. While the gaze is certainly not the only significant area of analysis for lesbian cinematic representat ion, an exploration of lesbian representation cannot confidently overlook the contributions and influence of the gaze on representability. Societal conditions and events prior to the 1970s sparked the emergence of the Womens Liberation Movement, often refe rred to as Second Wave Feminism.


8 Feminism influenced film theory a nd film studies in ways that incited a new discourse of feminist film theory, challenging exis ting theorizations of women and film. It is out of this context that Mulveys approach to t he gaze and spectatorship emerged. Her conceptualization of the male gaze in Classic Hollywood Cinema uses Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, which relies on binari es of male/female, masculine/feminine that pathologize any deviation from th is established and accepted hegemonic normativity. Mulvey theorizes the role of women and their lim ited agency within the structure of Hollywood narrative. My overarching argument proposes that an exploration of the gaze in films that depict queer, or lesbian, sexuality allows us to outline the power relations invested in cinema, representation, and spectatorship t hat influence the cinematic portrayal of lesbian sexuality. In chapters two, three, and four I examine two films by different filmmakers who emerged during the same time period or decade and who share a similar filmmaking aesthetic or style (narrative, experimental/avant-garde). Chapter two examines the work of filmmakers Chantal Akerman ( Je tu il elle 1974) and Su Friedrich (Hide and Seek 1996). Their films, I ar gue, demonstrate avantgarde films capacity to challenge traditiona l cinematic conventions (particularly the conventions of Classic Hollywood Cinem a), thus releasing the gaze from a masculine/active, feminine/passive dichot omy. Neither Ake rman nor Friedrich completely do away with narrative in their work. Rather, they mani pulate the traditional narrative structure by interweaving nonnarrative, experiment al, elements with narrative stories, thus c hallenging the necessity of the traditional narrative and cinematic structures. Akerman and Friedrichs work illustrates the complexity of lesbian


9 sexuality through a destabilizat ion of the gaze addressing a spectator who is neither necessarily male nor masculine. Chapter three considers the b isexual midlife crisis film that depicts lesbianism as an extension of female bonding a nd sexual indifference in tw o narrative films from the 1980s, Lianna (John Sayles, 1983) and Desert Hearts (Donna Deitch, 1985). In these films, lesbianism becomes a masquerade, wh ich acts as a mask that can be worn and removed. This blurring of lesbian sexualit y institutes a heteronormative gaze, in which female spectators may transition between a fetishization of the on-screen object, acting as voyeurs, or a narcissistic identificati on with the on screen image without questioning their own heterosexual identity. In these f ilms, the (male) gaze is reappropriated into a (heternormative) gaze. In chapter four I engage with tw o New Queer Cinema films, Go Fish (Rose Troche, 1994) and The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996) to examine how these filmmakers work to queer the gaze through t he manipulation of narrative and cinematic structure. These two films, I argue, promote the notion of a queer gaze as open to all spectators, regardless of thei r own identity. The filmmake rs of these films work to displace the spectator, coercing him or her into seeing the social, narrative, and filmic constructions that are embedded in het eronormativity and influence lesbian representability. Hence, a queer gaze opens up possibilities for non-heteronormative viewing. In the final c hapter, the conclusion, I connect the preceding chapters to discuss how each analyzes a specific film form (narra tive/experimental/avant-garde) from three consecutive decades (1970s, 1980s, 1990s) and examines the role of the gaze in


10 lesbian, or queer female, cinematic repr esentation. My ov erarching argument throughout the thesis suggests that the gaze, film structure, and narrative, influence the conceptualization of lesbi an sexuality and the r epresentability of lesbian identity. Through the use of varying conceptualizations of lesbian identity, sexuality, and film forms, the examples of lesbian film discussed in this thesis work to reappropriate the gaze, which impacts their portrayals of lesbian sexuality and identity.


11 CHAPTER 2 AMBIGUITY AND AMBIVALENCE: DESTABILIZING THE (MALE) GAZE IN FE MINIST LES BIAN AVANT-GARDE CINEMA Early Feminist Film Theory and the Theoretical Development of the Gaze This chapt er examines the dismantling of the (male) gaze by two feminist lesbian avant-garde filmmakers, Chantal Akerman and Su Friedrich, who emerged in the 1970s. I use the description feminist lesbian to describe Akerman and Friedrich in order to emphasize both their feminist and lesbi an agendas, their interest in feminist representations of lesbians, and to distingu ish them from lesbi an-feminists, whose political initiatives involved elements of separatism, By engaging the early theoretical arguments on the gaze, this chapter demonstrates how Akerman and Friedrich complicate the gaze by de-centralizing its location of the masculinist spectator position and by maintaining an ambiguity that does not assume an exclusively lesbian gaze. The feminist avant-garde that Mulvey presumed would dism antle the ideological and visual foundations of hegemonic cinema, I argue, has not necessarily fulfilled Mulveys expectations. Indeed, the feminist av ant-garde challenges t he dominant visual aesthetics that have restricted womens cinematic representation, however, the filmmakers do no create an exclusivel y female, or lesbian, gaze. Discussion of the gaze in feminist f ilm theory originates with Laura Mulveys Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Mu lveys work, like that of many early psychoanalytic feminist film theorists, is firmly grounded in Lacanian psychoanalysis, and her interpretation of the gaze relies on a Lacanian interpretation of the gaze in the mirror stage. For feminist film theo rists, the gaze bec ame equated with the male gaze, which is not necessarily the case in Lacans work. Feminist film theory on the gaze returns to Lacans mirror stage essay (The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I


12 Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Exper ience). Lacan initially introduced the concept of the mirror stage in 1936 at the Fourteenth Internatio nal Psychoanalytical Congress at Marienbad, and in the English translation of his 1949 essay, the term the gaze is not actually used. It is, howev er, the terminology that has been adopted by feminist film theorists and film studi es scholars who study spectatorship. Lacans Influence on Psychoana l ytic Feminist Film Theory The mirror stage, Lacan explai ns, first occurs in young children, and connotes the childs entrance into the Imagina ry order, constituting the child s formation of the Ego. Thus, it is through the mirror stage that the child formulate s himself as subject (and enters the Symbolic order) when he assumes identification with (his own) reflected mirror image and associates that image with the ideal (and enters the Imaginary order) (Lacan 2007, 75). Early feminist film theorists relate the mirror stage to the cinematic viewing experience of the spectator. With this, Mulvey compares the spectators relationship to film to the childs relationship to the mirror in the mirror stage. When viewing a film, the (male) spectator enters into the Imaginary order, which is structured by the Symbolic order. This posits the woman on screen as the objectified Other. Mulvey describes how t he position of the woman as si gnifier of the other in the Symbolic order, and the bearer of meaning, is manife sted in Hollywood Cinema: Woman then stands in patriarchal culture as a signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer, not maker, of meaning. (Mulvey 1975, 44) The presence and positioning of the wom an on screen allows for the fulfillment of male scopophilic desires where male spectato rs experience pleasure in objectifying the female image on screen through an active controlling gaze. However, this pleasurable


13 looking and narcissistic i dentification with the female image on screen can also be traumatic because the woman, as signifier of lack (of a penis), serves as constant reminder of the threat of castration (Mulv ey 1975, 46). Thus, for Mulvey, the male gaze is that which propels and enables the objectification an d simplification of women in film. Psychoanalytic t heory, Mulvey argues, relies on a male/female binary essentialism that manifests itself on scr een through the active/male and passive/female dichotomy: The determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displa yed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-belooked-at-ness (Mulvey 1975, 47-48, her emphasis) For Mulvey, cinema serves as a mirror for the male spectato r who reacts to the images on screen through narcissistic identification a nd (mis)recognition in the pursuit of scopophilic pleasure. Hollywood film, and particularly Classic Hollywood Cinema, positions the spectator so that he is able to actively gaze at and objectify the female imagethe otheron screen in order to sa tisfy the scopophilic desire for the other. In The Imaginary Signifier (1986), Christian Metz challenges the notion that the cinematic experience of the spectator can be assimilated to that of the child in the mirror stage, yet he still associates the spectator s cinematic viewing experience with the childs mirror stage experience. Metz make s an effort to compare, yet distinguish between the two experiences, whereas Mulv ey takes for granted that the two are essentially the same. For Metz the cinematic screen is not the same as the primordial mirror, but rather it is a screen whose image is not a literal reflection of the self, but a reflection of the perception of the self and other.


14 [Film] is like the mirror. But it differs from the primordial mirror in one essential point: although, as in the latter, everything may come to be projected, there is one th ing and one thing only that is never reflected in it: the spectators own body. In a ce rtain emplacement, the mirror suddenly becomes clear glass. (Metz 1986, 45, my emphasis) As Metz explains, a film is like a mirror. The experience of the cinematic spectator is like that of the child in the mirror stage, but not the same, because the spectators own body is never actually reflected. This absence of the spectators own body on screen posits the order of t he Symbolic where the spectator acknowledges his place as subject and, unlike the child in the mirror stage who has yet to grasp the dual relationship between ego and body, the adult s pectator, due to his inability to recognize himself as object on screen (because his own image is nev er on screen), is only ever able to be the bearer of the gaze. For Metz, looking is the only action permitted of the spectator and, moreover, the spectators are aware that they are perceiv ing and not imagining (Metz 1986, 45). Metzs conceptualization of the gaze does not deviate far from Mulveys, aside from his emphasis on the distin ction between the reflections in the primordial mirror and the cinematic screen. For Metz, the spectato r is still the bearer of the gaze who is actively looking at ad objectifying images on screen, however, Metz does not specify the gender of the spectator, whereas Mulvey argues that the spectator position is inherently male and masculine. For Metz, it is the position of the cinematic spectator that requires one to act as bearer of the l ook, not the spectators gender or masculinity, which implies that the bearer of the look could be female or male. Mulvey, on the other hand, argues that (Classic) Hollywood Cinema assumes the spectator position to be male, and reinforces this through cinematic structuring, framing, and editing that posits the male character on screen as the point of view of spectator and the female character as the


15 fetishized object of desire. With this, female spectators are only permitted in a masochistic identification with the woman on screen or a trans-sex i dentification with the masculinist position of t he male spectator. Other feminist film scholars have used t he metaphor of the mi rror to describe the screens relationship to the spectator. In And The Mirror Cracked: Feminist Cinema and Film Theory (1998), Anneke Smelik argues femin ism has undone the mimetic mirror of masculinist culture (185), using the mirror metaphor to convey cinema as a medium that reflects masculinist culture and excludes womens vo ices and perspectives. While Smelik emphasizes cinema as a mi rror, for her it is a partic ular mirror which filters its reflection. Unlike Mulvey, who perhaps ov eremphasizes the potential of a feminist avant-garde cinema to transgress the restricting conventional structures in Classic Hollywood Cinema, Smelik asserts the potential of feminism to transgress these binding film forms and structures. Fem inism did crack the mirror. Smelik insists, that gesture was necessary in order to open up the powerful camera eye to new fields of vision: to different angles, points of view, positi ons, images and represent ations (6). For Smelik, it is the sociopolitical project of feminism that has transformed cinema and incited an emergence of feminist (narrati ve) filmmakers who represent the signs and significations of woman and of femininity diffe rently from the codes and conventions of dominant cinema, while they still employ and deploy (rather than deconstruct) visual and narrative pleasure (2 ) and [process their] daily experience of belonging to the social and historical gender ed category of women, so as to change mainstream cultural representat ion of sexual difference [and] female subjectivity (3). Smelik departs from Mulvey when she insi sts on the potential of feminist narrative


16 filmmaking as a means through which female representation and subjectivity can weave together visual pleasure and politics. For Smelik, the demand for a feminist avant-garde and non-narrative cinema creates an unfruit ful and unnecessary opposition between politics and pleasure (2) which takes for granted the possibilities of a feminist appropriation of narrative cinema to extend it s capacity to convey visual pleasure. Kaja Silverman, another feminist film scholar, uses the mi rror metaphor in her book, The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema (1988). Using the 1960 film, Peeping Tom as an example of the cinematic apparatuss capacity to induce sadistic and voyeuristic pleasures Silverman emphasizes that the films remarkable structure suggests dominant ci nema is indeed a mirror with a delayed reflection (32). It is not a mi rror, but an acoustic mirror which filters its images and content to appeal to the presumed male spectator. In Mulveys 1981 essay, Afterthought s on Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, she addresses the main critiques of her original essay, which claimed she overlooked and simplified the male spectator, failing to recognize his complexity of sexual difference, and that she denied agency to the female spectator. Mulvey reformulates her initial male/active, female/p assive dichotomy in light of the melodrama film genre, which she claims allows an active female viewing position, but not a feminine active viewing position. The spectator position remains masculine, and a female may only occupy that position through a trans-s ex identification wit h the masculine male position. According to Mulvey, this trans-sex identification is a form of drag/transvestitism in which the female spec tator must identify in opposition with their


17 presumed femininity in order to temporarily assume the required masculinity necessary for the active-viewing spectator. Mulvey asserts that it is in the melodram a, also referred to as the womans film, where trans-sex identification for the female spectator is encouraged. This is because the melodrama (and specifica lly the womans film melodrama) places a female character at the center of the narrative and posits her in an opposition between the deep blue sea of passive femininity and the devil of regressive masculinity (2009, 32) so that she is unable to achieve a stable sex ual identity. This inability to achieve a stable sexual identity, Mulvey suggests, i s echoed by the woman spectators masculine point of view (32), and re sults from the central female characters positioning as the hero(ine) of t he narrative. The conventional narrative division of labour, Mulvey describes, relies on Freudian active/masculine structure which posits the hero as masculineand male and positions the male character as the hero of the narrative who saves the victimized female character (34). Because the gramma r of the narrative aligns the spectator with the hero, who is a masculinized figure, a female heroine must therefore work to balance between the masculinity required as hero of the narrative, and the femininity required as a female (35). If the spell of fascination for the female spectator is to remain in tact, she must then assume a trans-sex identification in order to account for the masculinization of the female (and feminine) hero (31). In her discussion of Duel in the Sun (1946) Mulvey explains how the function of marriage in the Western sublimates the erotic into a final, closing, social ritual, which is [sex-] specific, and the main rationale for any female presence in this strand of the


18 genre (2009, 37). The woman signifies t he eroticthe sexualand cannot serve as the central figure in the narrative, only the other character. When the woman is the main character of the film, Mulvey argues, th at her meaning is shifted and the film so that she does not serve as the signifier of se xuality, but rather the entire narrative is then about sexuality, and thus bec omes a melodrama (37). While Mulveys two essays provide an analysis on female representation and spectatorship in Classic Hollywood Cinema, the Western, and the Melodrama, she still does not address other possibilities of spec tatorship. Because she is trapped by the psychoanalytic polarization of essentializ ed heterosexual fema le femininity and heterosexual male masculinity, she is unable to address how, or if, a feminine female spectator may actively look at and desire a c entral male character, or hero, on screen, or how a female spectator may assume an active viewi ng position without trans-sex identification, or how a female spectato rwhether feminine, masculine, heterosexual, homosexual, or queermay actively look at other women on screen with desire, but not necessarily identifying with t hem. Even after Mulvey r eexamines her own initial argument from her 1975 essay, she still leaves women with only two viewing options: to identify with the women on screen, or to take on a masculinist, active (male) point of view through trans-sex ident ification/transvestitism. It is precisely at this point where the lens of psychoanalysis is limited. Its inability to escape essentialist notions of gender and sexuality and account for non-pathologized queer sexualities creates a barrier that hinders further exploration of lesbian spectatorship and the gaze. Nevertheless, it is necessary to ground a discussion of the gaze with Mulvey, whose argument is bas ed on Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis,


19 because it explains the projection of desire in spectatorship and cinematic structure, and although it takes for granted that gender and se xuality are a reflection of biological sex, it describes the relation between film structure, narrative, representation, identification, and desire that provides a foundation from which to build a discussion of the gaze. Since Mulveys initial work on the gaze, an abundance of feminist film theorists have emerged with critiques of the male ga ze as defined in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. E. Ann Ka plan, for example, challenges whether the gaze has to be male (and masculinist). Film can be structured, she argues, so that women can control the gaze too, without having to assume a masculinist position (Kaplan 1990). Teresa de Lauretis insists that the female spec tator is constantly involved in a doubleidentification with active and passive subject positions (D e Lauretis 1984). Likewise, Kaja Silverman suggests that the male/act ive and female/passive dichotomy does not always have to be in place, but rather, both male and female subjects (spectators) can act as bearer of the look, and that the spec tator position is not necessarily masculine (Silverman 1992). Mary Ann Doane critiques Mulvey for deny ing female spectators agency, and for limiting them to a position of victimization and failing to rec ognize that the power of the gaze works in more than one direction (Doane 1999). Doane proposes that women may choose to actively participate in t he masquerade (excessive femininity) as objectified images-on-screen, because they may experience a narcissistic pleasure in being looked at. In her critique of Mulveys oversimplification, Doane ultimately allows


20 the female spectator only two options: to over-identify with the women on screen (masochism), or to become their ow n objects of desire (narcissism). While most feminist film criticism today is in agreement that Mulveys male/active, female/passive dichotomy oversimplifies the spectator, another critique suggests that Mulveys argument does not allow for an active feminine or feminist spectator. Spectatorship is still limited to the masculine, which is equated with active viewing. Mulvey does not address the possibility of a feminine, or feminist, heterosexual female spectator, or the potential for a q ueer, or lesbian, female spectator. In their discussion of queer spectators hip, Caroline Evans and Lorraine Gamman challenge the heteronormative assumptions of mo st gaze theory. In their essay they oscillate between Foucauldian and Lacanian (psychoanalytic) film theorys notions of the gaze, which emphasize the connecti on between power and knowledge, and gender and representation, respectively. Most discussion of the gaze, they argue, conflates the notion of the look, which the authors associate with the eye, with the gaze, which they associate with the phallus (15). The popularization of the male gaze as a metaphor for patriarchy or voyeurism without acknowledging the scholarship and its context, has transformed the gaze into a misunderstood clich that excludes the possibility of a conceptualizat ion of queer looking (15). While Evans and Gamman recognize and discuss the limitations of a psychoanalytically-based understanding of the gaze, they also admit, as I also do in this paper, that it provides a model to formula te questions about agenc y and desire (20) that has not been done by other theor ies, and thus it remains us eful to consider (but not exclusively rely on) psychoanalysis in any discussion of the gaze and spectatorship.


21 Mulveys gaze, they note, is incapable of conceptualizing the effects of queerness, race, or ethnicity on spectatorship. In agreement with a statement Judith Mayne makes about the insufficiency of any (current) theor y of lesbian spectatorship, Evans and Gamman claim there is no such thing as an e ssentially lesbian gaze (36), but rather [lesbian] filmmakers and lesbian audiences br ing different cultural competences to bear on the production and consumption of lesbia n imagery (36). The authors suggest genderfuck, using June L. Reichs definition of the term as a process that involves the destabilization of gender as an analytical ca tegory (43), as a m eans through which one can convey the fluidity of identitie s and boundaries. Genderfuck challenges psychoanalytic conceptualizations of gender and sexual difference without retreating to a heteronormative, or heterosex ist, presumption of sexua lity. Evans and Gamman denounce the possibility of an essentially lesb ian or gay gaze, claiming they do not want to make the case for a queer gaz e either (43), arguing instead for a conceptualization of identifications which are multiple, contradictory, shifting, oscillating, inconsistent and fluid (43). In line with Evans and Gammans refusal of an exclusively (essentializing) lesbian gaze, the goal of the filmmakers discussed in this chapter is not to create a lesbian or queer gaze, but to destabilize the male gaze. Akerman and Friedrich challenge the conventional Hollywood narrative structure, exposing the subversive potential of the avant-garde to destabilize conventional repr esentations and notions of sexuality and queer female, or lesbian, repres entation. In working to des tabilize the male gaze, the filmmakers actually impose an ambivalent or ambiguousgaze which works to portray the lesbian characters on screen as agents of their own sexuality without being


22 subjected as objects of desire (which occurs through fetishization, fragmentation of the female body). In these films, lesbian sexuality serves the purpose of providing visual representation of the previously unrepresentable, and, unlike womens role in (Classic) Hollywood Cinema, the queer female characters do not serve as signifiers of the erotic, but rather they become vehicles through wh ich the erotic and queer are visualized. Je tu il elle (1974) Akermans Je tu il elle is arguably one of the first f ilms to depict lesbian sex on screen, and therefore signa ls a shift in cinematic lesb ian representation from coded, costumed, unspoken, and charac terized, to more explicit via a sex act or speech act. The film is comprised of three main segm ents, which entail three different locations, although we never see Akerman, the main char acter and je (I) in the film, transition from one location to the next. In the first shot of the f ilm, we see Akerman as the main character Julie, clothed and slouching in a chair with her back to the camera. In a small apartment furnished with a bed, tiny dresser, and chair, Julie pr oceeds to gradually stri p her apartment of its furniture and remove her clothing for nearly thirty minutes, and narrates in a displaced voice-over as if reading diary entries. Wi th long takes and wide shots, we watch as Akerman writes a love lette r, eats grain sugar from a bag, and lingers in her room, occasionally staring into the camera. Next, we see a high-a ngle wide shot of multi-lane highway with cars traveling across and Akerm an on the side attempting to hitchhike. A male truck driver picks her up and they eat in a restaurant without speaking to one another, stop to drink and smoke at several diffe rent bars, and listen to the radio in the car. At one point, the truck driver asks Ake rman for a hand job, to which she complies, and during this the camera focuses on the truck drivers face without showing the actual


23 action on Akermans part, only his reaction. For the third segment, we see Akerman arrive at the apartment of a former female lover who feeds her sandwiches and wine but tells her she cannot stay, however, after eating, Akerman and the other woman have sex. Lasting nearly fifteen minutes, the se x scene is divided into three segments: a wide shot, an eye level medium shot, and an off-center medium shot. The film culminates in a final shot of the lover sleeping in bed, after Akerman wakes up and leaves. The pronouns in the films title (I, You, He, She) refer to Ju lie (je), the truck driver (il), and Julies forme r lover (elle). The tu in the title has been debated (see Mayne 1990; Margulies 1996; Turim 2003), but generally has been considered a reference to the script/letter that Julie is writing, or a referenc e to the films spectator, in which case Akerman is intentionally workin g to force the spectator to realize their position and power as spectator and voyeur of the film. Akerm an incorporates the spectator into the film, as opposed to outside of the film, by creating a subject position for them in the films title, serving as a c onsistent reminder of the spectators presence within the film. The films structure creates a circular na rrative that traces Julies journey from isolation to sexual gratification. The fi rst two segments end abruptly with no transition into the next scene or location, and we do not see where Julie goes after she leaves the apartment in the final scene. In The Woman At The Keyhol e: Feminism and Womens Cinema (1990), Judith Mayne emphasizes the la ck of linearity in the film and how the narrative does not simply progress from part one to part three, lacking any smooth transitions. The segments ar e not connected to eachother (we do not see any visual


24 transitions from scene to scene), yet the segments are nevertheless in dialogue with each other (Mayne 1990, 132). Extending May nes analysis, Maureen Turim, in an essay on the film, discusses how the artificial stagings of the film are often misleadingly described as cinema-vrit realism, when in fact, the acting and staging is meticulously calculated and enacted (Turim 2003, 14). Turim notes t hat the films minimalist abstraction and artificiality constantly flirts with autobiography, however, like many of Su Friedrichs films which are similarly in terpreted as autobiographical (and some are confirmed autobiographical by the filmmaker herself), aut obiography is constantly blurred as the filmmaker distances herself from the film through use of third person narrators and different names for the main characters. Both Mayne and Turim discuss the role of lesbian authorship in Akermans film and the potential contradictions that surface when restricting Je tu il elle s categorization as a lesbian film. Mayne praises Akerm an for consciously avoiding the trap of lesbian triumphalism and reversing the duality without questioning it (Mayne 1990, 132-33). Instead, Mayne argues, Akerman conve ys the complexity of (female) sexuality and engages critically with the heterosexual fo rmula of cinematic representation (132) without replacing it with an equally problem atic heterosexual = bad / lesbian = good dichotomy that is reminiscent of lesbian-se paratist rhetoric from the 1970s. Indeed, Akerman avoids the glorification of lesbianism which simplifies, rather than complicates, female sexuality. Nevertheless, Akerman is susceptible to critiques of de-specifying lesbian sexuality and reproducing a cinematic representation of compulsory heterosexuality and the lesbian c ontinuum la Adrienne Rich.


25 Rich, in her 1980 essay, Compulsory He terosexuality and Lesbian Existence, suggests that lesbianism does not constitute a sexual identity, but rather, a feminist political identity and a refusal of patriarchy. The lesbian continuum, Rich argues, describes the connection (not necessarily er otic) among all women, and alludes to the bond women share when they unite against patri archy. This essay, published during the peak of the Womens Liberation Movem ent, is perhaps most critiques for its destabilization of the sexual category lesbi an, which lesbian (separatist) feminists worked to establish as a distinct, political and sexual category in the 1970s. By presuming that all relationships between women have the potential for lesbianism, Rich blurs the distinction between female-fem ale friendship bonding and female-female sexual bonding and erotic desire. While Akerman successfully avoids the trap of lesbian glorification, she quite possibilit y falls into anotherone in which female sexuality is presumably fluid so that sexual orientation and desire ar e not exclusive (not exclusively heterosexual or homosexual), but rather exist on a continuum of sexual desire. Although Je tu il elle does not insist on a compulsory heterosexuality, it does reveal sexuality to be a non-gender-s pecific continuum of desire. The frequent long moments of silence in the film signify an unfulfilled sexual longing and desire, which is compensated by excessive food consumption, drinking, and writing. During these moments of sil ence the camera rarely moves and we are forced to closely observe Akerman as s pectacle whose presence and (in)action on screen reminds the spectator of their lack of visual fulfillment due to lack of action, normative narrative sequence, or visual pleasure (objectifi cation). In the culminating sex scene between the two women, the spectator expects to receive gratification. The


26 spectator expects to be fulfilled through filming conventions used in sex scenes (whether in Hollywood cinem a, independent cinema, or pornography) that relies on codes used in pornographic depictions of lovema king, or sex, that cut from subject to object, and isolating body parts as fe tishized objects (Mayne 1990, 129). In Je tu il elle the spectator is denied this expected fulfillment of desire as the three shots of the sex scene resist fragmentation or isolation of body parts, showing the two womens entire bodies from a distance (aside from the second shot in which the womens heads are in clear and closer focus, and their bodies, while still in the shot, are more out of focus). The sex scene in the film is hardly edited; the camera remains distant, zooming in only slightly, in order to see the intensity of the facial ex pressions of the two women. The characters movements are awkwardl y rough and jagged, but meticulously and rhythmically coordinated. Although both women are nude, their bodies are not displayed as spectacle, as disengaged, fragmented objects to be looked at and fetishized. In fact, the typi cally fetishized female body parts (breasts, legs, lips) are hardly distinguishable; the distinction between the two womens bodies is blurred as they awkwardly, yet passionately, engage in a restless, wrestling embrace. Akerman resists typical filmic convent ions structured around the desire of the male voyeur. The film denies the spectator the pleas ure derived from, and supported by, the fragmentation and editing cuts from subject to obj ect that foster the male gaze. Hence, Akerman equates transgression of the male gaz e with the dislocation of male pleasure and female objectification on screen, and through a refusal to depict the visualization of male sexual gratification on screen, Ake rman destabilizes the male gaze.


27 Even the hand job scene, in which the truc k driver responds to the hand job Julie is performing off screen, the film withholds t he image of the female in its depiction of male sexual gratification. During this scene the sexual act is not shown on screen and Akermans voiceover is temporarily halted. Instead, we see a close-up of the truckers face, and hear his verbal instructions and reac tions to Akermans ac tions off screen. As Turim observes, the truck driver must direct Julies actions and supply her with specific instructions in order to experience pleasur e; he does not trust Julie to successfully do this on her own, without dire ction (Turim 2003, 16). On the other hand, Julie and her former lover do not need to direct each others actions; they already know how to induce pleasure for the other. W hereas most films depicting sex scenes on screen tend to focus the shot on the womans face at the height on male-induced sexual pleasure, Je tu il elle positions the camera on a close-up of t he truck drivers face while Julie is performing the hand job off screen, and dur ing the sex scene between Julie and her former lover, the film does not offer an equivalent closeup reaction of the womens faces. This is perhaps because Akerman is more invested in destabilizing the male gaze via a refusal of cinematic and narrati ve conventions, than in manifesting a specifically lesbian gaze. Julies sexuality in the film challenges lesbian-feminist essentializations of female-female sexuality and the specificity of an exclusively lesbian identity. On-Screen Sex Acts and Lesbian Representability Je tu il elle is recogniz ed as one of the first films to depict an explicit representation of lesbian sex on screen. Although precode and Code Era Hollywood Cinema prohibited the depiction of homosexuality on screen, th is invisibility incited attempts at queer female representation vi a characterization, clothing, looks, and


28 subtle use of lesbian subcultural codes (see Patricia White 1999). The coinciding feminist, civil rights, and gay liberation mo vements in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the abolition of the Motion Pi cture Production Code in 1968, allowed forand to an extent even demandedthat queer female representation mani fest itself on different terms. It is beginning with Je tu il elle, I argue, that a shift from coded lesbian representation to lesbian repres entation via a sex act or speech act, occurs. With this, it would seem that post-1970s representation in film is not lesbian until the sex act or speech act (pronouncement of ones queer sexual ity) is depicted on screen. In the case of Je tu il elle, the sex serves to validate Julies sexuality and reaffirms her identity as queer, or lesbian. Thus, Julies sexualit y remains assumedly heterosexual to the spectator until she engages in se x on screen with her former lover. The majority of contemporary (post-1970s ) films categorized as lesbian films depict lesbian sex on screen (that is, sex between two wo men), whereas older, pre1970s films did not, due to The Code and Holly wood restrictions on depictions of homosexuality and perverse sexuality, among other things. The feminist avant-garde film, or rather the feminist lesbian avant-garde cinema of which Akerman and Friedrich are a part, in which the first lesbian sex scene was depicted outside of pornography, liberated the lesbian character and enabled a di fferent kind of representationa more explicit representationwh ich no longer needed, or w anted, to rely on codes and innuendos to represent queer female sexuality. It would seem then that the combination of self-represent ation (lesbian-identified fil mmakers portraying lesbians) and an increasing number of f ilms depicting lesbian sex on scr een will incite better representation, that is, a less objectified, less stereotyped and stigmatized, self-


29 portrayal. This misconception of better representation, however, takes for granted that self-representation is not also influenced by societal conceptualizations of lesbian sexuality, and assumes that simply showing lesbian sex on screen will create better representation for lesbians. In Volume I of The History of Sexuality (1978), Michel Foucault explains that the notion that sexuality has been r epressed in Western society since the 17th Century is not accurate. Society was in fact preocc upied with sexuality, Foucault insists, and developed different ways to talk about it (ars erotica and scientia se xualis). Foucault critiques the notion of the repressive hypothesi s and Freudian psychoanalysiss insistence on confession and disclosing ones sexual desire and fantasies as a means of liberation. Thus, for F oucault, simply talking more openly and more frequently about sex does not free it from the power relations and constraints that bind it. Likewise, simply showing lesbian sex more explicitly a nd more frequently does not alleviate it from the power (and cinematic) structures that initially attempted to repress it. Hide and Seek (1996) Su Friedric h, another prom inent feminist and lesbian-identified avant-garde filmmaker whose career emerged concurrent with other eminent fe minist avant-garde filmmakers, began making films in the late 1970s. In her films, Fri edrich incorporates techniques of narrative, documentary, and ex perimental film to create a uniquely experimental, avant-garde style similar to th at of other lesbian-identified feminist experimental filmmakers su ch as Barbara Hammer and Cher yl Dunye. Not all of Friedrichs films focus explic itly on lesbian sexuality and desire: some of her more recent films focus on her per sonal struggle with cancer ( The Odds of Recovery 2002) and coffee works in the global economy ( From the Ground Up 2007). She has


30 produced several significant f ilms which contribute generously to the exploration of lesbian sexuality and desire ( Gently Down the Stream 1983; Damned If You Dont, 1987; Sink or Swim 1990). Friedrichs film Hide and Seek while produced in 1996, is classified as feminist avant-garde for the purposes of this paper be cause Friedrichs filmmaking style is aesthetically comparable to that of other feminist avant-gardists. Fr iedrich first began making films in the 1970s and early 1980s, w hen the feminist avant-garde was the dominant feminist cinema. Hide and Seek intertwines a narrative set in the 1960s with present-day interviews (conducted by t he filmmakers, although we do not see her interviewing, we can often hear her aski ng the questions), and archival documentary footage of sex education videos from the mid-twentieth century. The narrative plot focuses on Lou, a pre-teen tomboy on the onset of puberty who is beginning to feel societal pressure and peer pressure to be a girl and to conform to gender-prescribed activities and behavior. Lou enjoys time with her girl friends at sleepovers, at school, and in her tree house; however, she also enjoys the more adventurous outdoor activities she is able to do with her friends who are boys. Classroom scenes where Lou and her friends dist ractedly suffer through the ridiculously conservative 1960s sex education videos that warn against unnaturally close behavior between two girls are juxtaposed with the present-day interv iewees (and self-described lesbians) recollections of how and what they first learned about sex. The interviewees answer various questions about how they first learned about sex, whether they feel they were born gay or became gay, and whether they feel they had a gay childhood. While we see the faces of the interview ees on screen, their commentaries are often


31 juxtaposed with childh ood photographs and home videos of young girls. Although we do not know whether these ch ildhood pictures are of the women being interviewed, we are invited to look for evidence of lesbia nismof queernessin these pictures, which in turn forces us to question what such evidence would look like, because the proof is not there on screen. Judith Mayne emphasizes the ambiguity in Friedrichs work, since the figures that recur in her films [...] open up spaces for co ntemplation [and] for reflection on both the specificity of lesbian desire and the impossibi lity of fixing that desire to one specific image or narrative (Mayne 2000, 208). Friedrich thus presents a seemingly more truthful portrayal of lesbians because s he allows them to represent and explain themselves, recounting their own stories. As Mulvey emphasizes in her essay, Feminism, Film, and the Avant-G arde, the main goal of the fe minist avant-garde is to attack sexism by confronting the overriding oppressive dominant patriarchal ideology. They means through which to do this, Mulvey argues, is self-representation (2009, 115131). It would seem that Friedrichs goal is to convey that there is no one unifying lesbian experience, that ther e is no unifying lesbian chil dhood that explains ones queer sexuality. Through her ju xtaposition of childhood photog raphs with the interviews, Friedrich demonstrates a social constructioni st view of sexuality. The intertwining narrative of Lou encourages the spectator to question the social constructionist perspective when considering why Lou, who is immersed in the same environment as her feminine (and presumably heterosexual) sister and friends, would express her gender differently and desire, or be attracted to, her girl friend instead of a boy. Lous


32 disavowal of her femininity is perhaps most explic it when, during a tr uth-or-dare game at a friends sleepover, the girls ask her if she already has her period, and Lou, embarrassed and defensive, replies no, alt hough we have already witnessed that she in fact has. As Mayne notes, the film offers a tale of growing up that is not necessarily lesbian, but by situating that tale within the narratives of lesb ian identity told by lesbians, the film traces a narrative of lesbian desire (Mayne 2000, 193). Through the juxtaposition of a 1960s co ming-of-age narrative with 1960s sex education films and present-day interviews, Fr iedrich is able to convey the social construction of sexuality on screen. The f ilmmaker destabilizes what the sex education videos are attempting to instill in children: that same-sex desire is unnatural and homosexuality is a menace to society. In s howing the spectator the tools of societal indoctrination (sex education videos, teachers, media) from which spawn the notions of queer sexuality as perverse and harmful, Friedric h alludes to the real life testimonies of self-identified lesbians as evidence to the contrary. Unlike Akermans Je tu il elle Hide and Seek offers no visualization of lesbian sex on screen, which then requires t hat sexual identity be affirme d via speech act or verbal affirmation. In the films pr esent-day interviews, the women affirm their lesbian sexuality in their commentary, so their sexual ori entation is not ambiguous. Rather, what is ambiguous is the category lesbian. By illustrating the ambiguity of lesbian representation, Akerman and Friedrich work to destabilize the gaze, which relies on a stability of identity for both the on-screen characters and the spectators in order to function as the male gaze conceptualized by Mulvey. The next chapter examines


33 several films from the 1980s to show how two filmmakers reappropriate the male gaze within the structures of narrative film.


34 CHAPTER 3 BLURRING (IN)DIFFERENCE IN THE (B I) SEXUAL MID LIFE CRISIS FILM While the 1970s saw an emergence of films by feminist and lesbian feminist avant-garde filmmakers who worked to destabilize the dominant male gaze prevalent in Class ic Hollywood Cinema, the 1980s saw an influx of narrati ve films about middleaged (heterosexual) women who become involved in sexual relationships with other women and are forced to deal with the personal and societal consequences of their lesbianism and (bi)sexuality. The main fe male character in these films turns to lesbianism as an outlet from the restraints and discontent of unsatisfying heterosexuality (and normativity). The crisis to which I refer in thes e films reflects the central characters conflicting emotions, desires, and sexuality, as they are suddenly displaced from their stable sexuality and forced to re concile their blurred lesbian (in)difference within a heteronormative environment. Relying on traditional narrative structur e and plotlines, these films attempt to assimilate lesbian representation into exis ting narratives and cinematic conventions of the melodrama and Womans Film. These b isexual midlife crisis films of the 80s reappropriate Hollywood narrative conventions and reaffirm the heteronormativity of the hegemonic spectator position. Through the po ssibility of a masquerade of lesbianism for the female spectator, blurred with the (in) difference of lesbian se xuality of the central characters on screen, these f ilms challenge the male gaze, but ultimately reassert a heteronormative gaze. For the male gaze to successfully suture t he spectator into the filmic fantasy, the identity of the spectator is expected to be ma le, or masculine, and the on screen object of desire is assumed to be female, or femi nine. Through this blurring of lesbian


35 (in)difference, a concept that will be further addressed later in the chapter, these films resist an essentialization of lesbian sexua lity, which would mean to represent lesbian sexuality as inborn. With this, the filmmakers avoid appr opriating the (male) gaze into an exclusively lesbian gaze, which would requi re a stability of the identity category lesbian. Instead, t he films institute a heteronormative gaze in which there is no exclusivity to any non-heterosexuality. Rat her all lesbian sexuality is, to use Luce Irigarays term, hommo-sexuality (see further explanation in De Lauretis 1988, 156). In preventing the possibility of an explicitly l esbian gaze (because t heir representation of lesbian sexuality is de-specif ied and universalized) the female spectator is invited to wear lesbianism as a mask, which may be conveniently put on and removed so that the female viewer may identif y with the main character as protagonist, or identify with the other female character as object-of-desire. This depiction of lesbian sexuality as (in)difference lends itself to the representation of female (friendship) bonding rather than an account of distinct and specific sexuality. In Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Mulvey asserts that the spectatorsubject position is an exclusively masculi ne position (Mulvey 1975), which women can only access through trans-sex identi fication with the masculinist position (transvestitism). Years later in Aft erthoughts on Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Mulvey rethinks her original argument and allows for one other viewing option for the female spectator: identification with the female characters on screen (Mulvey 1999), which is provoked through film genres such as the melodrama, romantic comedy, and womens film. Doane, as well several other psychoanalytic feminist film theorists in the 1980s, acknowledges the lim itations of Mulvey s argument and its


36 implications for female spectators, and pr oposes another viewing option for the female spectator, asserting the necessity of spatial distance for active spectatorship: The supportive binary opposition at work here is not only that utilized by Laura Mulveyan opposition between passivity and activity, but perhaps more importantly, an opposition betw een proximity and distance in relation to the image. It is in this sense that the very logic behi nd the structure of the gaze demands a sexual division. While the distance between the image and signified (or even refer ent) is theorized as minima l, if non-existent, that between the film and the spectator mu st be maintained, even measured. (Doane 1991, 21). Doane refers to Christian Metzs asserti on that the voyeuristic spectator position requires a distance between the spectator and the image, which then becomes a sort of meta-desire (Doane 1991, 21). The female spectator lacks this necessary distance from the image because of her identification as a (femin ine) woman. The female spectator is thus unable to fetishize or a ssume a voyeuristic spectator position without first engaging in trans-sex identification. D oane ultimately allows the female spectator two viewing options: a masochistic over-identification with the woman on screen or to become their own object of desire, which resu lts in narcissism (31). The latter is only possible through the masquerade, which fl aunts femininity as a mask, creating distance between the female spectator and the female on screen. Through this destabilization of the image, Doane insist s, the masquerade confounds [the] masculine structure of the look (26). In Desert Hearts (Donna Deitch, 1985) and Lianna (John Sayles, 1983), the filmmakers use the cinematic conventions of the melodrama genre into which they insert the story of (bi)sexual mid-life crisis and lesbian se xual (in)difference. Because these two bisexual midlife crisis narrative films reinstate the hegemonic heteronormativity of Mulveys male gaze, they are unable to represent queer female


37 desire outside of notions of female friendshi p and normative sexuality. These films are unable to portray lesbian desire and sexual ity as distinct from heteronormative sexuality. Instead, t hey present lesbianism as an extr eme, exaggerated form of female friendship so that lesbian is not a distinct sexuality, but a form of female bonding that remains within the constraint s of hegemonic heteronormativity. Laura Mulvey and Teresa De Lauretis propose that narrative (Hollywood) cinema is incapable of representi ng the difference and specificity of lesbian sexuality and desire. Mulvey contests that only a femi nist avant-garde which is structurally and historically distinct from Classic Ho llywood Cinema is equipped to evade the objectification of women on screen (Mulvey 2009). Similarly, De Lauretis argues that mainstream (Hollywood) narrative film is unabl e to represent the specificity of lesbian desire because it is restricted by a cinemat ic apparatus whose purpose is to promote and perpetuate systems of patriar chy and heterosexuality (De Lauretis 1994). Thus, narrative (Hollywood) cinema, whose cinem atic and narrative conventions are derived from Classic Hollywood, is problematic for lesbian representation because its conventions are rooted in a systematic struct ure that aims to fulf ill (heterosexual) male desire through the objectification and fetishizat ion of women. Critiques that charge narrative (Hollywood) cinema with being unable to portray lesbian difference take for granted that lesbian, and even further, that all lesbian desire and sexuality is inherently different than male and heteros exual desire and se xuality. In her 1988 essay Sexual Indifference and Lesbian Representation, Teresa De Lauretis posits that through feminism and a rereading of psychoanalysis and Western discourse on love and sexuality, [in] the very act of assuming and speaking from the


38 position of subject, a woman could concu rrently recognize women as subjects and as objects of female desire (1988, 155). De Lauretis compares the liberal ideology of pluralism to the separate but eq ual rhetoric in racist and cl ass-biased practices. The rhetoric of separate but equal, she argues, offers a false illusion of equality, recognition, and representation while it r equires people to be simultaneously the same yet different, so that, as De Lauretis notes, s ocial difference is also, at the same time, social indifference (1988, 155). De Lauretis writes: It thus appears that sexual difference is the term of a conceptual paradox corresponding to what is in effect a r eal contradiction in womens lives: the term, at once, of a sexual difference (women are, or want, something different from men) and of a sexual indifference (women are, or want, the same as men). (1988, 155, her emphasis) It is this fluctuation between difference and indifference, specificity and sameness that problematizes the identity categor y lesbian and, in turn, affects lesbian representation. De Lauretis uses the term (in)difference to describe Luce Irigarays concept of hommosexuality: The object choice of the homosexual woman is [understood to be] determined by a masculine desire and trophism that is precisely, the turn of so-called sexual difference into sexu al indifference, a single practice and representation of the sexual. (a s quoted in De Lauretis 1988, 156) Desert Hearts and Lianna exhibit a similar (in)differenc e in their representation of lesbianism, wherein the (bi)sexual midlif e crisis is a result of discontent with heterosexuality that is solved through erotic female friendship bonding, as opposed to the revelation of a distinctly le sbian sexuality. I rely on th is notion of (in)difference when I discuss the (in)difference of the characters (lesbian) sexuality in Desert Hearts and Lianna I write the word as (in)difference in order to retain its meaning as a simultaneous difference and indifference. In agreement with De Lauretis (1988), I


39 suggest that lesbian representation cannot rely exclusively on depictions of queer female sexuality as sexual difference or sex ual indifference, but rather, manifestations of both conceptualizations are necessary in order to extend repres entation of lesbian to include a wider spectrum of possi bilities. De Lauretis explains, Lesbian representation, or rather its condition of possibility, depends on separating out the two cont rary undertows that constitute the paradox of sexual (in)difference, on isolating but maintaining the two senses of homosexuality and hommo-sexuality. (1988, 159) Thus, the goal of lesbian representation shoul d not be to convey lesbian sexuality as exclusively homosexual or exclusively hommo -sexual (which, as De Lauretis explains, is essentially heterosexual); however, it should also not conflate the two as the same. Mary Ann Doane discusses how a cl austrophobic closeness to the image on screen requires that theories of female spec tatorship consider transvestitism and a fluctuation between masculine and feminine viewing positions. This limited agency is both grounded in and perpetuated by cinematic narrative structures. According to Doane, identification with the active hero necessarily entails an acceptance of what Laura Mulvey refers to as a certain masculin ization of spectatorship (Doane 1991 24). Doane suggests a possibility for transgressing Mulveys masculinization of spectatorship: the (feminine) masquerade. The masquerade posits femininity as a mask, a mask of excessive fe mininity which conceals the non-identity of the woman (1999, 25). Masquerade allows a distancing of femininity, which prohibits the spatial proximity that is typical for t he female spectator, ultimately allowing the female spectator to escape the masculinization of s pectatorship. Doane explains: The masquerade, in flaunting femininity, holds it at a distance. Womanliness is a mask which can be worn or removed. The masquerades resistance to patriarchal positioning would therefore lie in its denial of the production of femininity as closeness, as presence-to-itself, as, precisely,


40 imagistic. The transvestite adopts t he sexuality of t he otherthe woman becomes a man in order to attain the necessary distance from the image. Masquerade, on the other hand, involves a realignment of femininity, the recovery, or more accurately, simulati on, of the missing gap or distance. To masquerade is to manufacture a lack in the form of a certain distance between oneself and ones image. (Doane 25-26) This is of relevance for the films in this chapter because they demonstrate the capacity for a similar masqueradea feminine lesbian masqueradethat allows the female spectator to wear lesbianism as a mask in or der to distance herself from the lesbianism on screen. The filmmakers simultaneously distance the female characters via lesbian sexuality and (in)difference, while also portraying on-screen sex shot in a manner consistent with Hollywood Cinema so that spectators may also fetishize the female body and participate as voyeurs through the fam iliar, and thus accessible, cinematic structuring of desire and sexuality. Thus, for non-lesbian-identified female spectators, it is possible to assume a narcissistic specta tor position that does not threaten their own identity as heterosexual because of the (i n)difference of female homosexuality and homosociality on screen. The lesbian masquer ade serves a similar function to Doanes masquerade; it is a mask of that can be taken on and off by the female spectator so they may either identify with the character on screen without desiring the other female character, or they may participate as voy eurs as they desire the female character. Lesbian film scholars observe that narrati ve lesbian films are often well received by lesbian audiences (Hollinger 1998), pres umably because only a limited number of queer female representations exist. Lesbian audiences flock to them because they are thirsty for representation, w hether or not their representat ion despecifies or specifies lesbian sexuality. Then is it possi ble that lesbian sexuality and desire can exist within


41 the heterosexual/male model of desire and sexuality? If a ll lesbian desir e and sexuality is in fact distinctly different and unique fr om heterosexuality and he terosexual desire, then a cinematic structure created to pr oject heterosexual male desire cannot accommodate a distinct lesbian on-screen desire or spectator. The question lies in the location of desire, and whet her desire stems from the re cognition (assumption) on the part of the spectator, or fr om the on-screen desire of the characters on screen that is then recognized by the spectator? Karen Hollinger states that The subversive potential of the lesbian coupled subject position, as de Lauretis has theorized it, resides ultimate ly in its evocation of the lesbian look and in the investment of this l ook in two desiring women, the coupled lesbian protagonisys of the film, each of whom is simultaneously both subject and object of the look and consequently of female desire. (Hollinger 1998, 12) In her discussion of Womens Cinema, De Lauretis argues that an appropriation of existing formal processes of meaning produc tion, including the production of narrative, visual pleasure, and subject positions is not enough to transform the perception and representation of women. De Lauretis contends that [To] ask whether there is a feminine or female aesthetic, or a specific language of womens cinema, is to re main caught in the masters house and there, as Audre Lorde s suggestive metaphor wa rns us, to legitimate the hidden agendas of a culture we badly need to change. (De Lauretis 1994, 144) De Lauretis continues to propose that an analysis and experimentation of these established formal processes is still necessary, however, that it is the role of feminist theory and feminist filmmakers to engage precisely in the r edefinition of aesthetic and formal knowledges, much as womens ci nema has been engages in the transformation of vision (144). Thus, it is through a re structuring and redefin ing of aesthetic and formal knowledges, that a transgression of hegemonic (mis)representation is possible


42 and most likely. It is not possible to dr astically change representation or spectators reactions to lesbianism by simply inserting lesbian characters into traditional storylines or narrative structures; t he representation is still bound by the cinematic narrative conventions that are embedded and invest ed in a perpetuation of patriarchy and heteronormativity. This is not to say that t he integration of marginalized identities into mainstream indie and Hollywood films is not significant, however, it is necessary to recognize that traditional narrative cinema alone will not substantially change lesbian representation because it is embedded in a history of misrepres entation that has stigmatized marginalized groups through the use of certain cinematic techniques and conventions which are still used today. Critiques of films like Desert Hearts and Lianna as well as several films from the late 1990s and early 2000s, such as Chasing Amy (1997) and Kissing Jessica Stein (2001), contest that the ambi guity of the characters se xuality (that most of the characters have been in heterosexual relation ships) and the assimilation of their representation into existing conventional nar rative structures and genres fosters a lesbian representation that is devoid of any s pecificity and appropriat ed to stimulate and satisfy the desire of (heter osexual) male and heterosexual and lesbian spectators. It is important to note that t he (in)different sexuality of the main female characters in these bisexual midlife cris is films is different from t he ambiguity and ambivalence in the lesbian feminist avant -garde films discussed in chapter one. The formers ambivalence lies in the sexual ambiguity of the lesbian characters, while the latter instills an ambivalent gaze as a result of its representation of lesbian sexuality as (in)difference. Thus, bisexual midlife crisis narratives reproduce an appropriated


43 heteronormative gaze that denies the possib ility of a distinctly lesbian gaze and universalizes, or rather blurs, lesbian se xuality and desire, so that (heterosexual) women can participate as spectators. With this, both male and female spectators are able to assume an active viewing position that is not necessarily masculine. Hollinger further describes how the ambiguous lesbian film affects lesbian representation: The ambiguous lesbian film can, in fact, be seen as having both negative and positive effects on lesbian vi ewers[ambiguous] portrayals of homosexuality construct homosexual subjects doubtful of the validity and even of the reality of their desire. Ambiguous lesbian films tell their audience that what appears to be lesbianism is really only female friendship, thus seeming to deny the very existence of lesb ian identity. At the same time, however, they al so arguably possess certain lesbian affirmative qualities[they] at least avoid the overt homophobia that has for so long characterized mainstream representations of homosexuality. (Hollinger 1998, 7) While Hollinger acknowledges that there are both posit ive and negative effects of ambiguous lesbian representat ion, she does not discuss how an ambiguous film in which characters are not necessary explicitly identified as lesbia n can be affirming. Hollinger claims that ambiguous lesbian film s at least avoid the overt homophobia that has for so long characterized mainstream representations of homosexuality (7). However, Hollinger takes for granted that lesbian spectators will interpret the female characters relationship as lesbian and that heterosexual female spectators will interpret the relationship as friendship/bonding, so that ambiguous interpretation simply means that spectators will interpret the film in accordance with their own identity. Hollinger also discusses how ambiguous (or (in)different) lesbian films do not necessarily avoid homophobia. Earlier mainstream representations of homosexuality convey homophobia through stigmatization of homosexuals as villains, criminals, social deviants, or as mentally ill so that the spectator would not be likely to identify with the


44 homosexual character. Thus, homophobia in ambiguous lesbian films is shifted to an internalized homophobia on the part of the homosexual character, who is punished, either by herself or by society, for her deviant non-normative sexual desire. Lianna (1983) Lianna (1983), directed by John Sayles, is o ne of various films from the 1980s and 1990s to offer lesbian representation em bedded in a hegemonic heteronormative discourse [see Personal Best (1982), Chasing Am y (1997), Kissing Jessica Stein (2001)]. Lianna tells the story of Lianna, a late tw enties/early thirties wife of a English and film professor and mother of two who falls in love with her older female professor, leaves her husband, and embarks on a new life as a lesbian. Dissatisfied with her role as stay-at-home mother and housewife of a c heating Film Studies professor husband, Lianna decides to take a child psychol ogy night class with her friend and fellow professors wife, Sandy. Lianna begins sp ending more time with Ruth, her child psychology professor, and dev elops a crush on her. Liannas marriage to Dick becomes distant after she discovers his affair with one of his students, and she seeks solace in her time with Ruth. One night, when Dick is out of town, Lianna agrees to have dinner with Ruth, after which she goes back to Ruths house. After describing a child hood crush and sexual play with a childhood friend, Lianna reveals that she met Dick as a student and began an affair with him, eventually dropping out of school to get marr ied. Ruth initiates a kiss and the two eventually have sex, with Lianna revealing it is her firs t time sleeping with a woman. Lianna admits to Dick that she is having an affair with a woman, to which Dick responds amusedly and tells her to end it.


45 After a tumultuous fight, Lianna leaves Dick and moves out into her own apartment. Ruth eventually reveals that she is in a long-term, long-distance relationship with another woman and has to decide between that woman and Lianna. Ruth chooses to end her relationship with Lianna, and Li anna repairs her fri endship with homophobic Sandy and begins to date other women and frequent a lesbian bar, but ultimately remains unpartnered and living alone. The films depicts Liannas newly embraced lesbian sexuality as a cry for affection. After arguing with Lianna about not having enough time to fulfill his requests for research assistance, Dick awkwardly initiates sex with his wife to which Lianna begrudgingly comp lies by agreeing to go put the thing in, as if agreeing to perform her wifely sexual duties to compensate for not fulfilling secretarial wifely duties. Li annas crisis as an unfulfilled and unsatisfied housewife is temporarily solved by her newfo und lesbian se xuality. Female-female sex in Lianna is an extreme form of female bonding and a search for sexual and emotional fulfil lment. The films sex scenes depict Lianna with Ruth and other women talking and embr acing and gently kissing before, during, and after sex. For instance, when Ruth and Lianna have sex fo r the first time at Ruths house, the scene is slow and drawn out, with long takes, soft lighting, and an overriding quiet whisper of a womans voice in indecipherable French. Their sex scene is preceded by a heart-to-heart discussion of Liannas marriage, unfulfilled aspirations, and stories of childhood girl crushes and queer sexual play meant to imitate heterosexual sex with childhood girl friends. Ruth and Lianna gently kiss one another and pause to hug and embrace each other and look on e another in the eyes.


46 In the dvd commentary track for the film, Sayles discusses his decision to begin and end each take in the sex scene with one of the characters faces. The purpose for this, Sayles claims, was to emphasize the sex scene as an emotiona l love scene that was not intended to objectify the female bod y with close-up shots of fetishized female body parts. While each take does begin and end with a close-up of one of the characters faces, there are various clos e-ups of female body parts, and the scene is filmed with a similar structure and pattern that is utilized in Hollywood Cinema to objectify, fetishize, and co mmodify the (segmented) female body. Such shots without a womans face work to fragment the female body so that the object of desire is the body part and the spectators desire is stim ulated by a faceless, interchangeable, and dispensable female body part. After Lianna and Ruth have sex, they lay in b ed talking. Lianna reveals that it is her first time having sex with a woman, to whic h Ruth replies it is not her first time but that she really wanted Lianna. Lianna and Ruth continue their affair. However, Liannas intense desire for Ruth, which is embedded in Liannas desire to be wanted, is not reciprocated, as Ruth remains distant and disengaged. Ruth ultimately ends her relationship with Lianna and returns to her long-distance, long-term lover. Lianna ultimately works to blur lesbian sexual spec ificity so that Liannas relationship with Ruth is not based so much on a sexual desire for women, but rather a longing for attention and compassionate friendship. Heterosexual female spectators are allowed the possibility to identify with Lianna because her lesbianism is not really lesbianism; it is the result of an unsatisfying (and possibly abusive) heterosexua l relationship and a desire for friendship and attention. Lesbi an spectators may assume a voyeuristic


47 spectator position and/or fetishize the on screen image through the familiar cinematic structure and shots, particularly during the sex scene. Thus, Lianna is able to serve as that which the female spectator can identify as well as that which the female spectator can desire and fetishize because of her blurred sexuality and lesbian (in)difference enabled through her lesbian masquerade. In her 1989 Afterthoughts on Visual Pleasu re essay, Mulvey examines the effects of the melodrama and how a narrative centered on a female character influences spectator identification and female spectato rship. However, the melodrama Mulvey explores, is a particular melodrama, one in which the central character is female (female hero) who is unable to achieve a stable sex ual identity, torn between the deep blue sea of passive femininity and the devil of r egressive masculinity (2009, 32). Mulvey explains that the grammar of the story [in popular narrative ] places the reader, listener or spectator with the hero, and relates that popul ar cinema inherited traditions of storytelling that are common to other forms of folk and mass culture, with attendant fascinations other than those of t he look (2009, 34, her emphasis). In Lianna as well as Desert Hearts the film narrative and structure (the point of view shots, shots of the main character (heroine) alone and contemplating) encourage a gaze in which the spectator will identify with the female character (Lianna in Lianna and Vivian in Desert Hearts ). In her discussion of t he melodrama, Susan Hayward describes the (melodrama) genres ability to [play] out forbidden longings, symptomatic illness and renunciation (Hayward 2006, 240) She explains that psychoanalytic thought was later reflected in the melodram a, explaining the female characters behavior through psychology (241). The melodr ama is often set in a small-town with


48 confining structures and spaces that suffocate the character, a slow progression of time, and mise-en-scene that functions as symbolic of characters emotions and struggles (242). In female melodramas or womens films, there is a privileging of a mise-enscene of female desire where there is a pr ivileging of the female perspective via the main female character, although female desire is ultimately repressed as the character must retreat to her desi gnated role as reproducer and nurturer (244). In Lianna we see Lianna in nurturing roles as mother, caregiver, housewife, and lover. The slow progression of time th roughout the narrative, the quiet and solemn soundtrack, and the numerous shots of Li anna walking alone outside and alone in her apartment, which provides an overriding emotional sense of isolation, curiosity, and instability. Her sexual desire is presented as conflicting with her role as mother, so that active female (lesbian) desire becomes an impediment for her role as mother. Hayward cautions that a film s womans point-of-view does not necessarily indicate a representation of female fantasy or desir e on screen, but rather, in citing Mary Ann Doanes scholarship on female spectators hip and the womans film, Hayward asserts that two-way gazing canc els out real agency [of the wom an], resisting representation of female desire, and instead enacting male fantasy (245). The wo mans film, Hayward asserts, ultimately exemplifies Hollywoods capacity to produce a female subjectivity and then destroy it (245). Init ially, Liannas newfound (lesbian) sexuality is depicted as liberation from her unsatisfying marriage and her unfulfilling role as mother and housewife. Her non-normative sexuality s eemingly allows her to live outside the constraints of heteronormativity which repr ess her sexually. Ultimately, however, Liannas sexual (in)difference on screen allo ws for a lesbian masquerade in which the


49 female spectator may assume and remove the mask of lesbian that accords a distance between herself and the lesbianism represented on screen. This distance, which is similar to the distance described by Mary Ann Doane in her discussion of the feminine masquerade (see Doane 1991), func tions as an alternative to trans-sex identification. However in Lianna and Desert Hearts, the blurring of lesbian sexual (in)difference encourages a heteronormative gaz e in which the spectator may oscillate between the mask of the lesbian masquerade (so that the fe male spectator may desire the main character), and narcissistic identification (with Lianna/Vivian). The main characters sexual (in)difference simultaneously accords the female spectator the necessary distance or closeness with the main character necessary to either desire, or identify with the character. The following discussion of Desert Hearts will provide an analysis of how another bisexual midlife cr isis melodrama depicts lesbian sexuality, providing an ending for the central c haracter different from Liannas. Desert Hearts (1985) Deserts Hearts (1985), directed by Donna Deitch, is set in 1959 rural Nevada and tells the story of Vivian, a 35-year-old liter ature professor who moves to Nevada for six weeks to establish residency in or der to file divorce from her professor husband of twelve years. Vivian stays on a ranch in Francess house, where she meets Cay, the daughter of Francess deceased male partner (Frances was never married to Cays father, but has a son, Walter, by him). For several weeks, Vivian is distant and remains cooped up in her room reading and preparing her lesson plans for the next school semester. One day Vivian offers to take Cays mail to her house and while inside admiring her collection of self-made sculptures and pottery collection, she is greeted by another woman, naked, in Cays bed in the other room. Vivian quickly leaves and


50 remains distant in the car with Cay and Gwen on the way to her lawyers office. Vivian and Cay start to spend more time together and form a bond that is fueled by their difference from others at t he ranch. Cays unspoken yet assumed lesbian sexuality distances herself from everyone at the ranch and at the casino, and Vivians education, career, and higher socio-economic status creates a divide between her and other women at the ranch and in the casino. After Vivian and Cay run off together fr om Silvers engagement party, Frances forces Vivian to leave the ranch, becaus e of her and Cays not normal behavior and closeness that has caused talk in the to wn. After Vivian leaves, Cay argues with Frances, telling her that wanting something wit hout loving it is greed, and that she knew Vivian meant something to her and forced her to leave because of that. Cay eventually visits Vivian at her hotel room, where the two have sex and seclude themselves for several days. At the end of Vivians six-we ek stay in Nevada, Cay brings Vivian to the train station and the two talk about visiting each other. As the train begins to depart, Vivian proposes that Cay come with her, to which Cay first responds with reluctance, but ultimately decides to hop on the train and stay with Vivian. Desert Hearts similar to Lianna depicts lesbianism as an extension, or extreme form, of female bonding. Cay, like Ruth, has a more stable albeit (in)different lesbian sexuality because, unlike with Vivian and Lianna, we do not know about Cay and Ruths past relationships. The relationships between Ruth and Lianna, and Cay and Vivian exist on a continuum of female bonding becau se of the instability of the central characters (Lianna and Vivians) lesbian sexua lity. In her discussion of the film, Karen


51 Hollinger suggests that Donna Deitchs attemp t to lure a crossover audience influences the films engagement with spectators (1998, 156). Hollinger explains: Although this strategy of spectatorial engagement fails to cast light on the specific difference that constitute le sbianism, it contains the advantage of being able to offer the im age of a desiring female subjectivity, not just to lesbian but to all viewers. Homosexu al and heterosexual female spectators alike are offered the coupled lesbian subj ect position that the film creates, and they are granted the discursive consent to adopt it. (1998, 156) The bathtub scene with Cay and Silver allows for the ambiguous lesbian reading described by Karen Hollinger, but the se x scene between Cay and Vivian disrupts the ambiguous reading and makes the lesbianism in the film explicit. There are various scenes in which female homosociality and homosexuality are blurred. Vivians (bi)sexual midlife crisis, like Liannas, is more influenced by unfulfilling and dissatisfying heterosexual relationships and a desire for friendship and bonding than a specificity in sexual orientation or desire. I refer to th is as a (bi)sexual midlife crisis because the central characters, who have lived their liv es as presumably heterosexual, bond with women who have had relationships with other women, thus exper iencing a crisis in their own sexuality and a questioning of their sexual desire. In the bathtub scene, for instance, Ca y and her friendfellow casino employee and recently engaged Silverare in Silvers bathtub together talking about Cays future and her attraction to Vivian. The shot-revers e-shot of Cay and Silver then reveals a two shot of Silver and Cay together in the tub, presumably naked. Silvers fiance, Joe, then walks in the bathroom and after an initial pause, he laughs, sitting down next to the tub, and jokes about the two beautiful women in the tub, reaching his hand over in a gesture to stroke Cays cheek. The presenc e of Cay and Silver in the tub together might otherwise imply a sexual attraction (o r possible sexual relationship) between the


52 two women, however, the scene is interrupted by Joes walking into the bathroom, and his casual and comedic conversation that follo ws impels the spectato r to resist such a reading. The sex scene between Cay and Vivian in Vi vians hotel room near the end of the film is shot similarly to the sex scene between Ruth and Lianna in Lianna There are close-ups and shots of segmented female body parts with added two shots and closeups of the characters sweaty faces and drip ping saliva as they babble whispers, kiss, and embrace. The scene simultaneously allows for the female spectator to adopt either the role of voyeur, or to assume a narci ssistic identification with Vivian through a blurring of homosexuality and homo sociality (female bonding), so that the films explicitly lesbian sex scene is ultimately a re flection of lesbian sexual (in)difference. In her discussion of the film, Karen Hollinger suggests that the film preserves the norms of masculine dominance and feminine submission associated with heterosexual sexuality (1998, 154), because Cay is coded as the more butch character who actively pursues and initiates a sexual relationship with Vivian, who is coded as more passive and feminine (154). The coded active/passive relationship between Cay and Vivian, Hollinger explains, has been read as both decidedly lesbian because of its butch/femme lesbian implications, and as a representation of het erosexual sexuality (155). The lovemaking scene is shot and enac ted in a manner described by critics as hygienic, painfully nave, sentiment al, and reactionary (155). Thus, the relationship between the characters is conv eyed more as a passionate friendship and emotional bond than a sexualized relationship.


53 While Lianna is left alone and un partnered at the end of the Lianna Vivian and Cay leave Reno together on a trai n heading for New York. Cay is reluctant at first, but ultimately decides to jump on the moving train to explore the possibility of a relationship with Vivian and a chance to pursue her artist ic endeavors in New York. The difference between Vivian and Liannas fate reflects not onl y Cay and Ruths different reactions to their lovers (in)difference, but also t heir age and career status. Ruth, a middle-aged and well-respected professor, has career securi ty and, as we later learn in the film, she has a long-distance loveranother academicwith whom she has been in a relationship for many years. In contrast, Cay works at a casino and aspires to attend art school, which is unfathomable, if not impossible, for her to do in Reno (or at least while she is still living at the ranch). Hollinger argues that the conclusion of Dese rt Hearts is a vict ory for its female characters not only because it is implied that they choose to be with each other, but because their relationship seems to be leadi ng them to greater personal development and self-fulfillment (1998, 156). Reno does not foster an env ironment livable for Vivian as an academic, nor is the ranch suitable for Cay as an aspiring artist. Thus, Vivian suggests Cay join her in New York, where they can also maintain the relationship they have developed during Vivians s hort stay, and Cay can pursue her artistic endeavors. After the train already begins moving, Cay deci des to accept Vivian s offer to go to New Yorkor at least to the next train station. Desert Hearts thus ends on an optimistic and positive note, whereas in Lianna, Ruth ends her relationship with Lianna and Lianna is forced to navigate her life and se xuality on her own. Ultimately, Cay and Vivian have more to gain from their relationship with each other, which provides


54 personal fulfillment for both women. As Ho llinger explains, Like so many female friendship films, Desert Hearts is ultimately about female affirmation. In spite of its flaws, it offers its viewers, both lesbian and heterosexual, much to attract them to its evocation of female connection as a means of personal development (1998, 158). While the films ending elicits a positive repr esentation of lesbianism and an optimistic future for the characters, it s depiction of lesbian sexualit y as (in)difference blurs the distinction between homosexuality and homosociality (female friendship). Desert Hearts and Lianna exhibit how Sayles and Deitch work within the narrative and melodrama to appropriate the (male) gaz e and represent lesbian sexuality as (in)difference. In chapter four I will examine how two Ne w Queer Cinema films work to queer the gaze through a manipulation of conventional narrative and a portrayal of lesbian sexuality via explicit ly queer lesbian characters.


55 CHAPTER 4 QUEERING THE GAZE THROUGH THE LESBIAN QUEER NEW WAVE This chapt er focuses on two films by lesbia n filmmakers that I categorize as New Queer Cinema chronologically and aesthetically, in that they were both made in the 1990s, involve explicitly queer characters and utilize a queer cinematic style that deviates from a traditional narrative structur e. This chapter also addresses how these two filmmakers queer the heteronormative gaz e through lesbian repr esentation. The previous two chapters focused primarily on the destabilization of the gaze, with the first chapter discussing the destabilization of the hegemonic male gaz e in the representation of queer female sexuality in lesbian fe minist avant-garde cinema, and the second chapter addressing the reappropriation of th e male gaze as heteronormative gaze, albeit in narratives about lesbian char acters. This chapter examines the queering of the gaze and the deliberate mani pulation of the hegemonic het eronormative gaze by openly queer-identified, lesbian experimental filmmakers through the deconstruction of the traditional cinematic narrative and structural conventions. Arguably one of the first films of the Q ueer New Wave to focus exclusively on lesbians, Go Fish (1994) is directed by Rose Troc he, stars Guinevere Turner, and is written and produced by bot h Troche and Turner. The Watermelon Woman (1996) stars Cheryl Dunye, who also wrote and directed the film, which is recognized as the first full-length film by a bl ack lesbian filmmaker. Both Go Fish and The Watermelon Woman address hegemonic cinematic norms, as they disrupt conventions of the Hollywood narrative by incorporating charac ters self-reflectivity into the films, interrupting the film narrative with conv ersations that analyze the characters, deconstruct the plot, and challenge heteronormative and racial stereotypes in the


56 lesbian community. Both films also act as political and educational tools that work to create cinematic visibility for lesbians and to educate both the lesbian and non-queer community about issues of ra ce, identity, and sexuality. New Queer Cinema Unlike the films discus sed in chapters one and two, the films I focus on in this chapter are considered part of the Queer New Wave. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, an influx of independent films that were being produced by openly queer filmmakers about queer characters began to appear at film festivals (see Rich 1992; Benshoff and Griffin 2005; Wallenberg 2004; Aaron 2004). B. Ruby Rich first coined the term New Queer Cinema in her 1992 essay, New Qu eer Cinema, in which she discusses the LGBT/queer films at the 1991-92 Toronto, Amsterdam and Sundance Film Festivals. These films, Rich claims, are united by a common style that is irreverent, energetic, alternatively minimalist and ex cessive (Rich 2004, 16). Maria Pramaggiore describes the political aspects of the move ment: New Queer Cinema rejects both humanist an d identity politics in favor of a social constructionist view (1997). Pramaggiore defines New Q ueer Cinema as a political and aesthetic movement, emphasizing the economic and financial factors that both influence and hinder the production of queer f ilms, and compares Richs New Queer Cinema label to that of Jonas Mekass categorization of N ew American Cinema in the 1960s (1997). This juxtaposition, Pramaggiore argues, illu minates some important issues regarding the politics of film representati on, and, more specifically, brings to light the way that the history and economics of independent filmmaking inform the aesthetic and political strategies of New Queer Cinema (1997, 60).


57 Also referred to as the Queer New Wave (I use the terms interchangeably), the films of this movement signal a shift in queer filmic representati on from invisibility through assimilation and stigmatization to explicit visibility in which characters are out and proud articulated in direct confession to the camera, other characters, or through sex acts on screen. In order to constr uct a loose description around New Queer Cinema in attempt to define in dividual films, ther e are several characteristics that are present in most of the films that help uni fy the movement and outline a genre. In general, the films are directed by LGBT or queer-identified filmmakers, their plots center around queer characters, they confront issues regarding the HIV/AIDS crisis, queer visibility, coming out, queer youth, and other issues within the queer community in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As Rich notes in her essay, the Queer Ne w Wave is almost exclusively euroand androcentric, with most of the earlier f ilms being produced by white gay male filmmakers (with the exception of filmmakers such as Gre gg Araki, Isaac Julien, Marlon Riggs, Rose Troche, and Cheryl Dunye) Some of the prominent and most recognizable films include Gregg Arakis The Living End (1992), Totally Fucked Up (1993), The Doom Generation (1995), and Nowhere (1997), Isaac Juliens Looking for Langston (1989), Marlon Riggss Tongues Untied (1989), Gus Van Sants Mala Noche (1985) and My Own Private Idaho (1991), Rose Troches Go Fish (1994), and Cheryl Dunyes The Watermelon Woman (1996). The New Queer Ci nema films by lesbians and gay black men are significant in that they weave together multiple film styles, fusing documentary with narrative, experimental, and autobiography to create a uniquely experimental style that challenges the spectator to acknowledge the traditional


58 normative cinematic conventions through their manipulation in these films (for example, Tongues Untied Go Fish, The Watermelon Woman ). Scholars have argued that New Queer Cinema is directly linked to, and is a product of, the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In A Queer Time and Place Judith Halberstam discusses the impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis on the queer community and how it has created an emphasis on living for now (Hal berstam 2005). For Halberstam, queer time and queer temporality emphasize the now and revolve around different rites of passages. New Queer Cinema reflects this no tion of queer time, working to challenge heteronormative temporality and show the spec tator how traditional narrative film is rooted in heteronormative assumptions abo ut notions of time and place. Monica Pearl compares the narrative and cinematic construction of many New Queer Cinema films and the non-normative pr ogression of the AIDS virus, which had a horrific impact on the queer community in t he late 1980s and early 1990s. She situates New Queer Cinema films during the AIDS cr isis and AIDS activism, arguing, New Queer Cinema is AIDS Cinema (Pearl 2004). Regardless of whether or not the films are explicitly about AIDS, Pear l asserts that their queer c haracters are influenced by AIDS and AIDS activism (whethe r or not they have the disease) and that the disrupted narrative style reflects how queer conceptions of time have been influenced by AIDS and its non-normative progression. In her article on lesbian i ndependent film as transgre ssive cinema, Andrea Weiss differentiates between radical feminism and cu ltural feminism in lesbian film, arguing that radical feminists emphasized the importance of woman-identified-woman as a threat to patriarchy and as an antidote to male power, [whereas] cultural feminists


59 moved away from immediate political concer ns to explore ancient matriarchies and female forms of power (Weiss 2004, 44). Weiss problematizes lesbian films that assume a cultural feminist position, such as the early films of Barbara Hammer, because they ultimately work to essentialize a biologically-influenced female sexuality, taking for granted that all women are inherently femini ne and implying that gender expression is a reflection of biological sex. Weiss also praises the work of experim ental filmmakers like Su Friedrich for [imagining] lesbian desire outside of the pornographic pa rameters of the dominant cinema (Weiss 2004, 43). Experimental and avant-garde film, Weiss argues, [are] able to circumvent both the historical probl ems of documentary film and the repression of lesbianism by classical narrative film c onventions, which has insidiously found its way into independent narratives as well (Weiss 2004, 48). Because of their experimental approach, Go Fish and The Watermelon Woman are able to challenge heteronormativity by transgressing hegemonic cinematic conventions in which lesbian representation has typically been invisibl e, negative and demonize d, or fetishized. Go Fish and The Watermelon Woman are significant in t hat they are not comingof-age or coming-out narratives, as ar e many New Queer Cinema films and earlier lesbian films, but rat her they are stories about representation, out lesbian relationships that challenge norms. Because the films begin from the posit ion of already being out, they are able to further explore issues that complicate lesbian identity and utilize establish a queer gaze, signaling a shift from a destabilization of the male gaze to the establishment of a queer gaze that challenges heteronormative spectatorship debates


60 and problematizes early feminist film theory as well as r adical and cultural feminist assumptions. Queering the Gaze The lesbian feminist avant-garde films by Akerman and Friedrich destabilize the male gaze, creating an ambivalent and ambi guous relationship between the spectator and on-screen image. In contrast, these tw o New Queer Cinema films are able to queer the gaze, which forces the spectator to l ook at and acknowledge t he narrative filmic conventions and norms we take for granted. In order to discuss ho w these filmmakers queer the gaze through the destabilization of the hegemonic heteronormative male gaze, it is necessary to first discuss t he foundations of gaze and spectatorship theory that have allowed assumptions of heteronorma tivity to continue in discussions of the gaze without being challenged. It is equally important to acknowledge the social and political conditions during the late 1980s and early 1990s that incited filmmakers like Troche and Dunye to queer the gaze through identity politics and theory. A new queer discourse and theory emerged in the late 80s /early 90s. In t he 1980s the HIV/AIDS crisis incited LGBT activism, which provok ed an uprising of LGBT individuals to come out of the closet and publicly declare their gay sexual orientation. The motivation behind this mass outing wa s that a substantia l number of gay individuals (particularly gay men) were su ccumbing to AIDS and receiving little help or recognition from society as a result of the silence around the virus as well as the invisibility of the closeted gay population. Direct action groups such as the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) were established and advocat ed for the outing of closeted gays in attempt to create a collect ive and visible LGBT community that could create awareness and demand repr esentation and protection of the LGBT community.


61 The shift from gay to quee r reflected an attempt on behalf of the LGBT community to be more inclusive and establish a more united front and bridge divides between gay men and lesbians and other queer identities. The early 90s saw an extension and re-e xamination of the feminist theory and politics of the 1970s with the emergence of a queer theory by the work of theorists Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Judith Butler. While Sedgwicks work emphasizes the critical analysis of the homo/heterosex ual definition, Butlers oe uvre theorizes the social construction and performativity of gender. Q ueer theory deconstructs heteronormative binary interpretations of sexuality to destabili ze existing notions of identity categories. Queer identity politics emphasizes the collective identity and public affirmation of ones (sexual) identity (often essentialized), whereas queer theory destabilizes and resists collective classification and stability of ident ity categories. While these two approaches to queerness appear contradict ory, I treat them as co mplimentary to each other because one cannot exist without the other. In applying th is paradoxical pair to queer film and a queering of the gaze, it is useful to apply the queer identity politics discourse and queer theory rhetoric to Troche and Dunye s films, suggesting that the films attempt a negotiation between the two dominant positions in queer discourse. The films unveil the heteronormativity taken for granted in mainstream film, while simultaneously working to create on screen lesbian representation that relie s on a collective notion of the category lesbian. Early feminist film theory rooted in an interpretation of Lacanian psychoanalysis draws from Mulveys assertion that t he male gaze dominates Classic Hollywood narrative cinema. Critiques of Mulvey emphasize her lack of consideration or


62 discussion of race, non-heterono rmative sexuality, and socio-economic class. Queer film studies was only able to emerge after queer identity political discourse and AIDS activism established queer as a collectiv e identity, and after poststructuralist queer theory established a discourse that challenged hegemonic notions of gender by proposing that gender was not a natural reflection of ones biological sex, but rather a social construction that is performed. With the emergence of queer film studies, scholarship challenged Mulveys notion of the male gaze (see Benshoff and Griffin, 2005; Evans and Gammon, 1995; Halberstam, 2005; McHugh, 2007; Pick, 2004; Pearl, 2004; Weiss, 2004). Thus, the notion of t he queer gaze is rooted in queer identity politics and queer theory which both problematize hegemonic notions of heteronormativity, yet propose different ways to conceptualize queer identity and notions of gender and sexuality. For this chapter, I interpret the notion of the queer gaze as an oppositional (queer) reading of heteronormativity in cinema, in which case a queer gaze reads actively against heteronormative assumptions in film. In this case, it is the combined efforts of the filmmaker and the spectator that produce and allow for a queer gaze. The filmmaker manipulates and deconstructs t he traditional cinematic narrati ve structure and style that fosters the promotion of heteronormativity and enables the spectator to see the construction of traditional narrative and assu me a queer viewing position. For this interpretation of the queer gaze, which is exemplified by the films in this chapter, queer is fluid and denotes non-normative queer subjectivity. The queer gaze as an oppositional anti-normative reading assume s that gender and sexuality are social


63 constructions and implies an integrative defin ition ( la Sedgwick) of homo/hetero sexual definition and gender definition. I posit this interpretation of the queer gaze in opposition to notions of queer viewing which, like conceptions of a lesbi an gaze, or gay gaze, rely on a stability, exclusivity, and often an essent ialization of the category les bian, gay, or queer. Contemporary mainstream indie lesbian films, that is, narrative films that are often independently produced but utilize mainstream narrative and cinematic conventions, work to create a lesbian gaze by positing lesbian identity and sexuality as stable. Examples of such films include D.E.B.S. (Angela Robinson, 2004), Itty Bitty Titty Committee (Jamie Babbit, 2007), and the short and feature-length films produced by the non-profit organization POWER UP To evoke a lesbian gaze these films rely on the assumption that the lesbian specta tor possesses a unique, exclusively nonheterosexual, inherent positionality, from which a lesbian perspective is the normative viewing position. In this sense, specta torship becomes a fixed position determined by sexual orientation. Unlike t he notion of the queer gaze I de scribe, it is not necessarily the efforts of the filmmaker, but rather the positionality and identity of the spectator that enables a queer gaze. This essentialized queer gaze model assumes a biological essentialist notion of sexual orientation and, to again use Sedgwicks classifications, a separatist notion of hom o/hetero sexual definit ion and gender definition. The first interpretation, the queer gaz e as an oppositional reading-strategy enabled by the filmmaker, implies that we as spectators are init ially instilled with a heteronormative reading of the film and that to gaze queerly requires an intentional, active counter-reading that defies normative viewing practices. With this, the queer


64 gaze depends on the hegemony of the normative gaze because the (hetero)normative viewing practices establish that to which queer viewing takes place in opposition. In the second interpretation, the queer gaze presumes a natural and inherent positionality. The spectators queer subject position is ess entialized so that queer identity is just another natural identity like heterosexuality that predetermi nes the spectators gaze. Thus, with the second model, the queer gaze is only possible for queer spectators. In Epistemology of the Closet Eve Sedgwick argues that discourse on sexuality relies on the heterosexual/homosex ual binary that only allows fo r an either/or. Through a queering of this dichotomy and an explorat ion of non-normative sexuality, Sedgwick suggests that we will arrive at a more complex understanding of human sexuality (Sedgwick 1990). Applying this to film, I suggest a queering of the straight/gay spectator dichotomy (and it should be noted that queering in this sense denotes a destabilization and complexity) enables a q ueer gaze. Thus, a queer gaze is not synonymous with gay gaze, but rather, it is an active and deliberate reading-againstthe-grain that intentionally challenges normative viewing and hegemonic representation. Therefore, a queer gaze does not necessar ily require homosexual spectators or homosexual characters on screen (because homosexual is not synonymous with queer). Films that do incite a queer gaze, like Go Fish and The Watermelon Woman often include queer characters and address queer issues. However, queer content does not create a stable and coherent queer gaze. Instead, it provokes a queer and counterhegemonic reading. Both Go Fish and The Watermelon Woman are minoritizing (using Eve Sedgwicks categorizations in The Epistemology of the Closet ), in that they portr ay lesbian sexuality


65 as distinct from heterosexuality. They do not, however, essentialize or naturalize homosexuality; rather, they assume a social constructionist position that is conveyed through self-reflexive analysis and interrogation. Go Fish and The Watermelon Woman are films that recognize the lack of lesbian representation and work to increase awareness and visibility of lesbians on screen th rough their films. Both films incorporate street scenes in which the characters walk on city streets. Reminiscent of Agnes Vardas Clo From 5 to 7 (1962) in which the main charac ter Clo roams the city streets of Paris, Cheryl walks (and even dances in ) the city streets around Philadelphia in The Watermelon Woman and the characters in Go Fish roam the streets of Chicago, claiming public urban space for themselves and fo rcing lesbian visibility out of the closet and into the public sphere. Go Fish (1994) Go Fish is one of the few, and perhaps one of the most recognized, Queer N ew Wave lesbian films. Written by Rose Troche and Guinevere Turner who also directed the film, Go Fish s experimental narrative structure and its emphasis on queer characters is reminiscent of other Queer New Wave films. The film opens with a discussion in Kias Womens Studies class about lesbians in history. Because of the lack of evidence about their personal lives and about lesbian relationships, Kia explains that we begin to want to change history. We see names of famous actresses and public figures on the chalkboard as we hear Kia ask her students for names of famous lesbians in history. The st udents responses are almost ent irely based on speculation, which Kia explains is a reflection of historical lesbian invisibility. Thus, Go Fish is itself an active attempt to contribut e to lesbian history as an openly visible representation of lesbians on screen. Much like the juxtapositi on of childhood pictures with clips of adult


66 lesbian interviewees in Su Friedrichs Hide and Seek Go Fish thrusts the spectator into a film about lesbian community and visib ility by foregrounding the narrative with a dialogue on the difficulty of constructing a lesbian history because of the reliance on codes and unverified assumptions as opposed to concrete and explicit evidence of lesbians in history. As Kia explains, it is because of this sile nce and inexplicit visibility that we begin to want to change history and create a history of visibility. In attempt to make visible and self-represent the lesbian community, the f ilm focuses on lesbian relationships and the various expressions of lesbian identity and se xuality in the early 1990s, serving as a sort of lesbian relationship primer for the newly out or un informed lesbian. Thus, the purpose of this film is to create explicit lesbian visibility while educating the audience about the lesbian community, and addressi ng the debates about sexuality and gender that divide the lesbian and greater queer community. The main character Max is a young si ngle dykeish lesbian who wears her baseball hat backwards, dresses in baggy clot hes, and writes in her journal about her desire for a real relationship. Kia, Maxs roommate is a Womens Studies professor, and in a monogamous relationship with Evy, a Hispanic nurse whose family disapproves of her lesbianism. Kia tries to set Max up with Ely, an old school lesbian who is in a long-distance, long-term relati onship with another wom an. Max initially labels Ely a hippie and criticizes her for her unstylish plain clothes and old school hair. After unknowingly being set up by Kia, Max and Ely attend a film by an out queer filmmaker and in their discussion of the film afterward, t hey debate the responsibility of an out queer filmmaker, and whether or not they are responsible for portraying the


67 queer community in a positive light. Time pa sses, and Ely decides to cut her hair. Max later encounters Ely in a bookstore with her newly shorn hair and tells her it looks good, but that it looks butch. Max, Kia, Evy, Ely, Elys r oommate Daria, and their friends have dinner at Ely and Darias apartment and play a game of I Never, in which the incestuous nature of th e films lesbian community is re vealed, and Max asserts that she has not slept with Daria, the groups lesbi an lothario. Subsequently, Max and Ely begin talking on the phone and make plans to go on a date. When Ely arrives at Maxs apartment before going out, Max makes a co mment about Maxs lengthy fingernails, brings out a nail clipper, and begins to cut them. The two kiss an d eventually have sex (although we do not see Ely and Max have sex on screen, we see Kia and Evy questioning Max about the date and Ely recounti ng the story to Daria). The film ends with scenes of Max and Ely holding hands and kissing in public around town. In the opening scene we see Max take out her notebook (presumably a journal or diary) and begin writing. It is when Max is writing that we hear the first of her several The Girl Is Out There voiceovers throughout the film. Maxs voiceovers serve several purposes: (1) they function as a sort of spoken word that informs the spectator what Max is writing in; (2) they serve as trans itions between different scenes throughout the film; (3) they work to deconstruct and dem ystify the conventions of the traditional narrative. This third purpose is most signi ficant with Maxs first voiceover at the beginning of the film. The poem The Girl is Out There is reiterated several times throughout Go Fish and we first hear it when Max is wr iting in her journal. The poem demystifies the traditional love story narrative and the first meeting between two love interests. Maxs voiceovers as well as the four heads (Kia + Evy + Daria + Darias


68 girlfriend at the time) serve as commentaries that interrupt the film at different points in order to analyze the previous scene and co ntemplate a predicti on for the next. The trial scene, in which Daria is interr ogated in the street on her way home from having sex with a man by mem bers of the lesbian community, begins with Daria being kidnapped and the sound of a gavel striking resonating as the trial begins. The lesbians interrogate Daria and question whether or not she can call herself a lesbian after having sex with a man, to which Daria responds that she loves women and still identifies as a lesbian after having sex with a man. This scene is reminiscent of the numerous hate crimes in wh ich queer people have been atta cked on the street when the attackers are incited to strike because they feel threat ened by the sexuality of the victim, because it does not fit into the exis ting heteronormative box, and because the victims sexuality incites the attacker to question and reflect upon their own sexuality. For the lesbians who interrogate Daria, her having sex with a man challenges the definition of lesbian and disrupt s the security they feel as lesbians if they sleep with someone who has also slept with men. Similar to the attacke rs in gay hate crimes who feel emasculated if a gay man is attracted to them (with the faulty notion of gay by association), or feel their sexuality and masculinity is thr eatened if a woman chooses to sleep with another woman, the lesbian interr ogators fear that Da rias sleeping with a man would threaten the st ability of lesbian as an identity category. This scene in Go Fish articulates the fluid and cons tructionist notion of gender and sexuality. Because Daria st ill claims her identity as lesbian after sleeping with a man, the category and identity lesbian in the film is not about the actual act of engaging in same-sex sex. Rather lesbian in the film constitutes an identity that is non-normative


69 and actively resists hegemonic heteronormativi ty, not an essential inevitable sexual orientation. The films active resi stance to hegemonic heterosexual norms and conventions is further demonstrated in the wedding dress scene in which through a voiceover, Max considers the notion of lesbia nism as a phase and contemplates the fluidity of sexuality and the necessary active resistance to prevalent hegemonic heteronormative conventions in order to live as a lesbian in society. The Watermelon Woman (1996) In The Watermelon Wom an Cheryl Dunye wants the spectator to see how the viewer looks. She wants to show us that how we look is always limited by what the camera allows us to see, t hat what we see on screen in film is not necessary the truth or reality, but rather it is one version of reality. History as depicted in film, Dunye demonstrates, has misrepresented and/or excluded marginalized groups. In The Watermelon Woman Dunye is specifically concer ned with the lack of visibility and negative stereotypical roles for black (and queer black) women in film. Dunye, arguably the first black lesbian feature-length filmmaker, earned an MFA from Rutgers University, and made several short narrative and experim ental documentary films in the early 1990s. Her 1994 short film, Greetings From Africa garnished attention that allowed for the funding of The Watermelon Woman in 1996. The Watermelon Womans narrative revo lves around the character Cheryl, a 25year-old black lesbian filmmake r played by Dunye. Cheryl works at a video rental store with her black lesbian porn-wa tching, sex-obsessed friend Tamara who also works with her on the side as a wedding videographer. Cheryl, a struggling filmmaker searching for a topic for her next film, discovers the f ilms of Fae Richards, a black actress from the 1930s and 40s who is credited only as The Watermelon Woman in 1930s mammy and


70 black films. Cheryl decides to embark on an investigation to learn more about Fae and document her findings on film. Cheryl discovers that F ae was a Sapphic sister and romantically involved with Martha Page, a white female director with a striking resemblance to director Dorothy Arzner. A fter this discovery, Cheryls romantic life starts to parallel that of F aes, as she becomes involved with Diana, a white yuppie-type lesbian. After an interview with Faes bla ck lesbian lover falls through, the film ends with Cheryls statement that Fae Richards and The Watermelon Woman are completely fictionalized. Dunye confe sses that she fabricated The Watermelon Woman because she wanted to see someone like herself on screen. With this, these words about (re)writing history appear on the scr een: Sometimes you have to create your own history. The Watermelon Wom an is fiction. Cheryl Dunye, 1996. The films conclusion and Dunyes powerfu l final statement illustrate how people, and particularly marginalized people, are thirsty for on screen representation; they want to see themselves, or a version of themselves, on screen. Mammy roles and black superwoman representations provide representation, but the question should no longer be whether any representation is better than no representation. Any representation that involves negative stereotypes to the exclusion of more positive, real, or selfrepresentation is problematic. While what constitutes positive and real is relative, and self-representation does not necessary equate with real or positive representation, films that consistently typecast marginaliz ed groups to the exclusion of any non-typecast role or representation do not improve representation. They perpetuate the existing societal stereotypes that infl uenced the typecast role in the first place, continuing a vicious cycle of discrimination, misrepresentation, and stereotypes.


71 Dunyes response to whether any representation is better than no representation is that while all representation is significant, it remains necessary for marginalized groups to self-represent and that for lesbians naming is vital. Dunye does not denounce or discredit early black films or mammy characters in film; rather, she uses them as justification for the need to self-represent and the need to name oneself in order to represent oneself. Dunyes work and filmic style is comparable to that of other le sbian experimental filmmakers, including Su Friedrich, who al so incorporates confessional-style direct address to the camera, voiceovers intertwined with historical footage, and a fusion of documentary, narrative, and semi-autobiographi cal genres. Both Dunye and Friedrich emphasize the significance of naming as ke y to improved representation because the lack of out lesbians is viewed as the reas on for past misrepresentations. Dunyes The Watermelon Woman and Friedrichs Hide and S eek, which were both released in 1996, utilize a displaced auto-biographical technique in which the main characters (Cheryl for Dunyes film and Lou for Friedrichs) are stri kingly similar to the directors, yet not explicitly intended to be the directors. Thro ugh this indirect dis placement of Cheryl and Lou, Dunye and Friedrich distance themse lves from traditional autobiography, which allows them to be self-reflexive and challenge the spectator to engage past the initial assumption that the film is an autobiography simply telli ng and showing the truth. For Troche and Dunye, queering the gaze implies a deliberate m anipulation of the spectator position and requires a deconstruc tion of traditional cinematic narrative structure.


72 CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSION I began the research for this thesis wit h an overriding argument in mind: the gaze influences lesbian cinem atic representation. As I worked to refine my argument, I realized that I had to acknowle dge that the gaze and spectato rship are neit her the only perspective of analysis from which to evaluat e queer female sexuality in film, nor the only lens through which to examine cinematic representations of lesbianism. Despite my insight that the gaze does not always provide the most insightful or perceptive approach to questions of sexuality on the scr een, I propose that it is nearly impossible to thoroughly discuss filmic repres entation of lesbian sexuality without a consideration of the gaze. Thus, the gaze, t he relationship between the spec tator and the characters on screen, cinematic and narrative structure offers us insight into how lesbian sexuality is conceptualized and portrayed in film. In this thesis I explored how filmmake rs utilized different cinematic styles and formsavant-garde, experimental, narrative to represent non-normative queer female, or lesbian, sexuality in different ways. Furthermore, my overarching argument that emerges from the sum of t he individual chaptersthe gaze is destabilized by Akerman and Friedrich in chapter two, appr opriated by John Sayles and Donna Deitch in chapter three, and queered by Rose Troche and Cheryl Dunye in chapter fouris not indicative of some natural progression from destabilizing to appropriating to queering. Instead, my overarching argument reflects the differences between the films representations and how filmmakers working within different cinematic styles diverge from the gaze in Classic Ho llywood Cinema, as conceptualized by Laura Mulvey, in order to depict a more visibl e lesbian sexuality. A return to Mulveys influential essay


73 Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema and her notion of the male gaze enables an account of how feminism has influenced theori zations of the cinematic spectator. The limitations of Mulveys analysis, wh ich focused on Classi c Hollywood Cinema, encourage further exploration of how spectators hip are conceived through different film forms and genres in light of an emerging di scourse on lesbian sexuality and identity. Further investigation into contemporary ma instream indie lesbia n cinema, as well as lesbian representation in modern Hollywood Cinema, w ould allow for a continued exploration as to how the identity category lesbian has developed in the past decade and how this has affected filmic representat ion and contributed to ex isting notions of lesbian cinema. In considering the influenc e of social movements and socio-political climates on theorizations of women and lesbians in cinema, an analysis of lesbian filmic representation in the late 1990s and 2000s coul d reveal the effects of globalization and global capitalism on the commodification of a hegemonic lesbianism in cinema.


74 LIST OF REFERENCES Benshoff, Harry M., a nd Sean Griffin. 2005. "Hollywood is Burning: New Queer Cinema." Queer Images: A History of Ga y and Lesbian Film in America New York: Rowman & Littlefield, Inc. 219-246. Butler, Judith. 1999. Gender Trouble 2nd ed. Routledge, Damned If You Dont. 1987. Directed by Su Friedrich. De Lauretis, Teresa. 1984. Alice Doesn't: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema Bloomington: Indiana University Press. De Lauretis, Teresa. 1988. "Indiff erence and Lesbian Representation." Theatre Journal 40(2): 155-77. De Lauretis, Teresa. 1994. The Practice of Love: Lesbian Sexuality and Perverse Desire Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 81-148. Desert Hearts 1985. Directed by Donna Deitch. Doane, Mary Ann. 1991. "Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator." Femme Fetales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis. Routledge. 17-32. Evans, Caroline, and Lorraine Gamman. 1995. "The Gaze Revisited, Or Reviewing Queer Viewing." A Queer Romance: Lesbians, Gay Men and Popular Culture. Ed. Paul Burston and Colin Richardson. Routledge. 13-56. Foucault, Michel. 1990. The History of Sexuality Volume I: An Introduction Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage. Go Fish 1994. Directed by Rose Troche. Halberstam, Judith. 2005. In a Queer Time and Place New York: New York University Press. Hayward, Susan. 2006. Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts 3rd ed. Routledge. Hide and Seek. 1996. Directed by Su Friedrich. Hollinger, Karen. 1998. "The Erotic Female Friendship Film: Lesbianism in the Mainstream." In the Company of Women: Contem porary Female Friendship Films Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 139-178. Je tu il elle 1974. Directed by Chantal Akerman. Kaplan, E. Ann. 1990. "Is the Gaze Male?" Women and Film Both Sides of the Camera Routledge. 23-35.


75 Lacan, Jacques. 2007. "The Mirror Stage as Formati ve of the I Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience." crits Trans. Bruce Fink. W.W. Norton & Co. 75-81. Lianna. 1983. Directed by John Sayles. Margulies, Ivone. 1996. Nothing Happens: C hantal Akermans Hyperrealist Everyday. Duke University Press. Mayne, Judith. 2000. "Su Friedrichs Swimming Lessons." Framed: Lesbians, Feminists, and Media Culture Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 115-146. Mayne, Judith. 1990. The Woman at the Keyhole: Feminism and Women's Cinema Bloomington: Indiana University Press. McHugh, Kathleen. 2007. "The Experimenta l 'Dunyementary': A Cinematic Signature Effect." Women's Experimental Cine ma Critical Frameworks Ed. Robin Blaetz. Duke University Press. 339-359. Metz, Christian. 1986. The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Mulvey, Laura. 1999. "Afterthoughts on Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Feminist Film Theory: A Reader Ed. Sue Thornham. New York: New York University Press. 122-130. Mulvey, Laura. 1975. "Visual Plea sure and Narrative Cinema." Screen 16(3): 6-18. Pearl, Monica B. 2004. "A IDS and New Queer Cinema." New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader Ed. Michele Aaron. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 23-35. Pick, Anat. 2004. "New Queer Cinema and Lesbian Film." New Queer Cinema: ACritical Reader Ed. Michele Aaron. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 103-18. Pramaggiore, Maria. 1997. "Fishing for Gi rls: Romancing Lesbians in New Queer Cinema." College Literature 24(1): 59-75. Rich, Adrienne. 1980. "Compulsory Hete rosexuality and Lesbian Existence." Signs 5(4): 631-60. Rich, B. Ruby. 2004. "New Queer Cinema." New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader Ed. Michele Aaron. New Brunswick, New Jers ey: Rutgers University Press. 15-22. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. The Epistemology of the Closet University of California, 1990. Silverman, Kaja. 1992. Male Subjectivity at the Margins Routledge.


76 Silverman, Kaja. 1988. The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema. Bloomington: Indi ana University Press. Smelik, Anneke. 1998. And The Mirror Crac ked: Feminist Cinema and Film Theory. Palgrave Macmillan. The Watermelon Woman 1996. Directed by Cheryl Dunye. Turim, Maureen. 1991. "Gentlemen Consume Blondes." Issues in Feminist Film Criticism Ed. Patricia Erens. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 101-11. Turim, Maureen. 2003. "Personal Pronouncements in I...You...He...She and Portrait of a Young Girl at the End of the 1960s in Bru ssels." Identity and Memory: The Films of Chantal Akerman. Ed. Gwendolyn Audrey Foster. Southern Illinois. 9-26. Wallenberg, Louise. 2004. "New Black Queer Cinema." New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader Ed. Michele Aaron. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 128-143. Weiss, Andrea. 1994. "A Q ueer Feeling When I Look At You: Hollywood Stars and Lesbian Spectatorship in the 1930s." Multiple Voices in Feminist Film Criticism. Ed. Diane Carson, Linda Dittmar, and Jani ce Welsch. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 343-357. White, Patricia. 1999. Uninvited: Classic Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.


77 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Erin receiv ed her Bachelor of Arts in S panish from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2007. In May 2010, she received her Master of Arts in Womens Studies from the University of Florida.