In the gendered hierarchy of male and female viewing that exists in the conventional cinema, women are generally suspect. In the classic film noir period of 1941-58, it was a world of male bonding. They were usually low budget films with lots of action, which explore the darker side of man’s nature. They were predatory, possessive and aggressive. They always had a femme fatale at the centre. She was bad but sexy, usually cleverer than the hero, but she invariably came to a sticky end. It was often the classic scenario of the temptress and her punishment. One of the best examples of this is the Fritz Lang film “The Big Heat” which starred the definitive film-noir anti-heroine, Gloria Grahame. In this film Grahame plays the moll who pays the price and her performance in this film far surpasses most other actresses in this genre.That women are the root of all evil permeates most major religions, especially Christianity, and the ‘evil’ that is generally referred to is sexual. This stereotype is often reflected in ancient myths and stories and of course, in the great narrative form of today, film. What causes the sense of guilt that in turn makes man hold women responsible for his downfall?

Even in current neo-noir films this myth is still perpetrated. In ‘Fatal Attraction’ the mythic female monster, the castrating Gorgon is played by Glen Close, and you remember what a box office hit that was. She meets the immoral, hedonistic character played by Micheal Douglas and has a violently sexual weekend. She becomes obsessed with Douglas and embarks on a compulsive pursuit of him. While her pursuit of him is essentially voyeuristic and therefore sadistic, her character is masochistic. Her real pleasure is obtained in the punishment of her lack, her lack of the company of Douglas. Think of the mad masochistic frenzy she was in when, while hiding in the bathroom of Douglas’ house clutching the usual phallic shaped knife, (also used to great affect in Hitchcock’s Psycho) she cuts herself rhythmically on her legs. Close here is portrayed as the classic, mythic castrating female monster. Her hair is always wild, she is often dressed in black (the good wife is always in white or pastels), she is always ‘watching or looking’. She is representative of the ultimate male fear of castration, of being pursued and trapped by a female monster into a corner. She is Pandora’s box and the temptress Eve and as such she has to die.

In the final scene it is the good wife who kills her, restoring the safe patriarchal norm, the daddy, mummy, me triangle, the safe, familial, controllable, capitalist constellation.

Although the role of women in current society has undergone great and cathartic changes, today’s society still perpetuates rigid rules and expectations about masculinity, which the media constantly reinforces. The fact that masculinity is mostly a state of being, -it is possible to photograph or film the male body-but it is far harder to capture the essence of a man. In the realms of combat, physical guts and audacious physical deeds our heroes have been almost entirely male. But what happens to all that strength, might and energy when computerising robots and not men assemble cars, and when there is hardly anything in today’s society that cannot be done by women?

Continues on next page

Back to Talking Pictures I Part 2 I Part 3 I Download article