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Laura Mulvey (#110 of 7)

"You Mean, Like, Chasing Amy?" Maria San Filippo’s The B Word: Bisexuality in Contemporary Film and Television

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”You Mean, Like, Chasing Amy?”: Maria San Filippo’s The B Word: Bisexuality in Contemporary Film and Television
”You Mean, Like, Chasing Amy?”: Maria San Filippo’s The B Word: Bisexuality in Contemporary Film and Television

Immediately upon picking up a copy of Maria San Filippo’s The B Word, one can’t help but be skeptical of its survey-suggestive subtitle: Bisexuality in Contemporary Film and Television. Too often these sorts of book-length inquiries result in thin reasoning, a lack of sufficient theoretical foundation, and become, essentially, a cataloguing of film titles or scenes that help affirm the author’s central thesis. This brand of indexical scholarship is tired and, aside from a resource, ultimately worthless in terms of further explicating the trends and nuances of a given subject. Perhaps that’s why San Filippo’s book is a joy to actually read and not just glean information from. Much like Daisuke Miyao did with The Aesthetics of Shadow: Lightning and Japanese Cinema, released earlier this year, San Filippo structures her scholarship with storytelling sensibilities; the analysis is provocative and wholly considerate of its area of study, but also proceeds with a glee and determination that produces new, exciting avenues for future study within queer theory.

As such, San Filippo consistently relies on case studies to elucidate these viewpoints, but does so anchored under a few precise and playful lines of inquiry. For example, the book’s opening introduces San Filippo’s term “bi-textuality,” which involves the “negotiation of unfamiliar terrain by way of a familiar route,” and helps to enliven the book’s predominant thesis—that bisexual sensibilities are present in many mainstream American films, not just in terms of content but also marketing strategies—by way of wordplay. The term’s creation helps found exactly the ways in which San Filippo wishes to proceed and affirms that she’s looking for far more than merely instances of latent bisexuality; more compellingly, she demonstrates “the ways in which bisexuality is already present, if obscured—hidden in plain sight—by modes of representation and reading confined within monosexual logic.” The films/shows under examination are wide-ranging; even the staunchest of post-structuralists would have to raise an eyebrow at the book’s mentions of Pandora’s Box (1929) and A Shot at Love (2007-2009) in the same sentence! Yet, San Filippo is no fraud when it comes to effectively juxtaposing these kinds of texts. Whereas a lesser author might offer such a comparison to feign cosmopolitan interests, San Filippo’s deft navigation of how these texts do interact with one another borders on remarkable, in expressing macrocosmic cultural sensibilities as it relates to bisexual representations, both explicit and implied.

Death by Art Andrew Cooper’s Dario Argento

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Death by Art: L. Andrew Cooper’s Dario Argento
Death by Art: L. Andrew Cooper’s Dario Argento

“What the fuck is this bullshit psychoanalysis?” are the wonderful words spoken by Jeremy Irons’s Beverly Mantle in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988), and if you follow the arguments of L. Andrew Cooper in his new book, the films of Dario Argento often share a similar opinion. Cooper claims Argento, though labeled early in his career as the “Italian Hitchcock,” spent his early, gialli-focused years lambasting and lampooning “Freudian proclivities,” most notably in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1969), which positions itself as a Psycho (1960) homage, only to jest at Hitchcock’s insistence upon closure via psychological ends. In fact, Cooper argues that aesthetics, especially beginning with Deep Red (1975), become a replacement for both psychoanalysis and narrative in Argento’s films, leading him toward an interest in visual excess, which would culminate in Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980), films that “in their combinations of wild visuals and storylines that challenge storytelling itself, were unlike anything the world had ever seen.” If the previous claim reads slightly clunky and definitely hyperbolic, it’s likely because Cooper’s book, on the whole, is torn between its academic and populist inclinations. Unlike Maitland McDonagh’s revelatory Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento, which strikes an invigorating balance of analysis, theory, and historicizing, Cooper states from the onset his desire to “eschew a traditional auteur approach.” Necessarily, this leads him down a rather predictable post-structuralist path, replete with deconstructionist close-reading after close-reading—all of them informative and knowledgeable, certainly, but few, if any, of them truly illuminating the depths of Argento’s oeuvre, beyond relatively fundamental distinctions between form and content and Argento’s non-normative subversions.

Homosocialisms David Greven’s Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin

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Homosocialisms: David Greven’s Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin
Homosocialisms: David Greven’s Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin

In an early scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, the panning camera reveals a framed photograph of a young, smiling blond woman—except, the image is on negative film, which serves as a presumable correlation for disabled protagonist Jeff’s (Jimmy Stewart) outlook on women, which is tested in his gaze and projected desire from a lofty apartment window throughout the film. The well-known premise of Rear Window serves as a basis for David Greven’s Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin, a provocative monograph that examines often casually dismissed “negative” images of non-normative sexuality, while offering serious reconsideration of not just Hitchcock’s critical legacy as a misogynist filmmaker, but key works within the oeuvres of New Hollywood directors like Martin Scorsese, William Friedkin, and Brian De Palma, the latter of whom receives considerable analysis and discussion in relation to his intertextual engagement with Hitchcock, but also his treatment of women and use of melodrama. Primarily, however, Greven details how these New Hollywood filmmakers “seized upon Hitchcock’s radical decentering of heterosexual male dominance, devising contemporary narratives of heterosexual male ambivalence that allowed for, at time depended on, an investment in same-sex desire as well as an awareness of its dangerous, pernicious seductions.” The end result is a rigorously researched, personal, and passionate work, worthy in style and content of the frenzied films and filmmakers being engaged.

Very Different Sorts of Miracles Daniel Morgan’s Late Godard and the Possibilities of Cinema

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Very Different Sorts of Miracles: Daniel Morgan’s Late Godard and the Possibilities of Cinema
Very Different Sorts of Miracles: Daniel Morgan’s Late Godard and the Possibilities of Cinema

In his now canonical 2001 book The Language of New Media, Lev Manovich makes a connection between cinema and painting—how the kino-eye becomes the kino-brush—to explicate how digital imaging becomes an arduous process, to be carried out one frame at a time. Daniel Morgan makes a comparable claim in Late Godard and the Possibilities of Cinema, evaluating Jean-Luc Godard’s late oeuvre as a break from a Bazinian conception of cinema (photographic realism) and, in conjunction with his embrace of video, a move toward aesthetics—a cinema oriented around the creation of images over narrative, per se. Working extensively with four Godard films (though he mentions far more) and drawing from a plethora of theoretical and philosophical lines of argumentation, Morgan’s dense analysis seeks to function as the definitive work on Godard’s purportedly “post-political” foray into formalism, demonstrating that, contrary to prior critical work, Godard remains stridently political, investigating cinema as living history and consistently questioning what cinema is, was, and will become.

Also like Manovich, Morgan divides his book into six chapters, each with subheadings to organize the significant amount of topics pursued (“Reference Without Ontology” and “A Moving Image of Eternity” are my personal favorites). In lesser hands, the topic could easily become unwieldy. Morgan, however, wields just fine, navigating provocative claims (the critical turn against Godard’s 1980s work was due to a feeling of betraying the “political modernism” he had ascribed to just a decade prior) with clarity and, best of all, a rigorous logic that his lucid prose is able to explicate on both micro and macro levels.

Sundance Film Festival 2012: Shut Up and Play the Hits and V/H/S

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Sundance Film Festival 2012: <em>Shut Up and Play the Hits</em> and <em>V/H/S</em>
Sundance Film Festival 2012: <em>Shut Up and Play the Hits</em> and <em>V/H/S</em>

Shut Up and Play the Hits, Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern’s documentary about the emotional toll that LCD Soundsytem’s final live show had on frontman James Murphy, dances around the fact that the band was essentially a solo act. (Though Murphy performed all of the instruments on LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled debut, a number of people, Nancy Whang and Pat Honey among them, became an integral part of the band’s sound after Murphy took the album on the road.) This is presumably the reason why Murphy is the only person associated with LCD Soundsystem who’s interviewed in the film and therefore gets to tell us what the end of the band signifies.

Since we know Murphy isn’t retiring from making music, why are we seriously mourning the death of what was originally a one-man band? The answer is we’re not really mourning, because Murphy isn’t completely serious about burying the band. The doc starts with a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek epitaph: “If it’s a funeral, let’s have the best funeral ever.” Still, there’s genuine sentiment behind that opening intertitle. This is shown in footage of Murphy dazedly walking around after the band’s final performance and later during a lunchtime interview conducted by Chuck Klosterman. He also tells the crowd at Madison Square Garden that he wears his father’s watch while performing for good luck, which suggests he’s sentimental about the prospect of ditching the band. But isn’t it enough that Murphy will just move on to his next project?

Women, Art, and Revolution: An Interview with B. Ruby Rich

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Women, Art, and Revolution: An Interview with B. Ruby Rich
Women, Art, and Revolution: An Interview with B. Ruby Rich

In Lynn Hershman Leeson’s !Women Art Revolution, stalwart feminist film critic B. Ruby Rich says, “A lot of us who survived those fights, bloodied but relatively unscarred, are kind of like the old C.I.A. and KGB agents that get together for reunions. Who else knows what we’ve been fighting over? Who else is interested in these issues that have really been consigned to a sort of historic scrap pile that people really don’t seem that interested in anymore?” The subject of that hit documentary is its subtitle, A Secret History. At the opening of the film in NYC, I had a chance to speak with Rich so that she could unearth that buried past even further and explain why understanding that moment is particularly relevant now.

So this is a documentary on feminist art, but also the women’s movement. But you’re one of the most renowned feminist film critics. So I’ll start out by asking you about the connection between feminist art and the women’s movement, and also feminist film, during the high time of the feminist movement, the ’70s and early ’80s.

So this triangular relationship that you’d assume would be there? It wasn’t there very much. It was a pretty weak triangle. They tended to be three different routes that women took and there was a kind of shadowing of one upon the other, but there wasn’t much connection. You’d think that there’d be, for instance, a strong connection between the feminist art movement and the feminist film movement. But, in fact, if I think about it, the only people who really crossed over were Carolee Schneemann, who did see herself as very much a feminist, and was very happy to finally have an allegiance to make after so very long of being treated badly by the boys in the art world, and Yvonne Rainer, whose work was shown in some of those very early film festivals, who was just beginning to make film but was coming out of the performance art world. She, at that time, didn’t even really consider herself a feminist. She was coming much more out of that world of the performance art left, in terms of anti-Vietnam organizing in politics and dance.