Laura Mulvey’s article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” is a study on our fascination for cinema. From the individual’s social molding, a preexisting fascination of film is created. Mulvey believes that women are the bearer of meaning rather than maker of meaning. Phallocentric theory has reduced the position of the woman to the point of observational interest, rather than creator of their projected image. Mulvey uses castration complex to examine woman’s image as bearer of a bleeding wound. If there is pleasure in looking, what visual interest does this have for women? Mulvey’s interest is to break from pleasure expectations, to conceive new ones.

Scopophilia is the pleasure to look, as well as being looked at. With cinema, we take people as objects, and subject them to a form of control through a curious gaze. Mulvey believes that in the extreme, we become voyeurs, whose sexual gratification comes from looking and controlling the “objectified other.”

“Woman as image and man as bearer of the look” has created a sexual imbalance in cinematic form. Males’ projected fantasy on women, has been problematic for harmonious interpretation of the sexes. The female has been “coded” as an erotic spectacle, which “freezes” the narrative for sexual consideration. Hetero-normative visualization seems to colonize the cinematic gaze.

There are three cinematic looks associated with cinema:
(1.) camera, (2.) audience, and (3.) character. Mulvey’s article believes that the neurotic needs of the male ego has created a one dimensional fetish of women presented as an image of castration threat.

Tom Gunning’s interesting article on the early film and the incredulous spectator, looks at early reactions to the new art form known as cinema. According to Maxim Gorky (a spectator from 1896), the mixture of realism and non-realism in film, “presents not life but it’s shadows.” Yet if the audience in watching in the shadows of the theater, does this shadowed life not become more magnified? Making our relationship to what we see on the screen all the more powerful? While the article explains that during the earliest showing of film (especially Lumiere’s Train) audience were terrified by the accosting images that were presented. Unable to grasp that film was not reality, many of the audience members screamed and ran for the exit doors. This knee-jerk response seems totally suitable to me though, for no one knew how to psychologically assess film yet. It also seems like a funny commentary on the way people feel that film can be dangerous, even at it’s most harmless.

“Excitement bordering on terror,” proclaimed a Montpellier journalist in 1896, seems to for-shadow future cinematic genres and explains our complicated relationship to film in terms of enjoyment. I myself am lured by the lurid, and transfixed by the objectionable, the psychological attraction to a cinema of terror is a complex one. The first decade of cinema is known as cinema of attractions, due to addressing the audience with an assaulting image. The are no dramas to be followed, just a presented moment meant as a “dose of scopic pleasure.” Yet the pleasure’s consisted of such things as railroad smash ups, elephant electrocutions and mug shots of female crooks, all quick and sensational viewing experiences. Yet there were also educational films that presented magnified insects, such as Charles Urban’s Unseen World series.

Another type of film, “curiositas” draw the viewer in with horrible sights as a means to excite, the act of seeing or the thirst of knowledge. These seem to act as a sort of precursor to exploitation cinema, or mondo documentaries of the 60s. The carny like presentation mixed with the repulsive attractions, were objectionable to many who found the entertainment vulgar or unrefined. Yet, I find most of these early films as merely a study on the relationship with humans and the need to watch things. Are we not attracted to what is shocking? Do we not slow down when we approach a car wreck, to witness what could be our own horrible destinies? Maybe there is something cathartic about viewing what could be our own personal fate in the dangerous world in which we inhabit.

I’d like my final research paper to be about an Italian film genre known as Giallo cinema (or as it is often referred to in the plural form Gialli). Giallo cinema is based on pulpy, paperback, mystery novels that were published in Italy in a distinctive yellow binding. Authors like Edgar Wallace, Agatha Christie, and Arthur Conan Doyle are examples of mystery writers that could be found beneath the salacious, sexy and lured yellow covers of these books. The word “giallo” means “yellow” in Italian, and it is a color often associated with sickness and illness, which could be associated with the mental state of a killer (or assassino). Though these mystery novels that were published in Italy were not necessarily written by Italian authors, the cinema that became closely linked to these books were definitely Italian in style.

Around the early sixties, the beginning of Giallo cinema is often associated with director Mario Bava. One of his earliest films “The Girl Who Knew Too Much” is often considered the very first Giallo. Yet it would be Bava’s film “Blood and Black Lace” that really set the standard for this genre, with an unknown killer dressed in a black overcoat, fedora and gloves, killing beautiful women in a fashion house. Though, in the 70s American grindhouses were often playing slasher films in the Halloween and Friday the 13th vein, these films were highly influenced by the Italian genre. Though despite some similarities, Giallo cinema raises certain stylish expectations. Where the American films were shot on zero budgets, the Italian films were often widescreen presentations, with baroque settings, interesting camera movements and angles, kitsch fashion statements, lush, exotic and erotic music soundtracks, a bevy of beautiful European starlets, and  the occasional American actor who has fled to Europe when their career had died. Often another component of the genre is (a sort of throwaway) Freudian theory or psychological-sexual reasons, which tries to make sense of the killer’s motives. Often shown is the killer’s primal scene of what sets off his murderous inclinations, these usually are connected to a child witnessing his mother having strange sexual relations, or a mistaken gender identification, or a victim who has identified with their own attacker (that triggers the recreation of those actions), or often times the killer’s excuse is just good old impotency. The less sophisticated reasoning behind killer motivation is greed, and these films tend to feel a bit of a letdown in their denouncement. The most objectionable reasoning for the killer is “moral avenger,” which has a murderer killing wanton or loose women that break conservatively moral codes or practices. It is often that these films are seen as the most sexist and misogynist in the genre.

My papers proposal is to look at the Giallo genre, examine its conventions, psychology, sexuality and violence. The directors that I’ll highlight are Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Sergio Martino, and I’ll look at the films: Blood and Black Lace, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh. This is a very controversial genre, yet due to its influential style I believe the genre deserves closer examination.

“The Close-Up” by Bela Balazs, breaks down the importance and poetry of the cinematic close-up. In the days of the silent films, the close-up revealed hidden things of life that we thought we already knew so well. From a general to a particular, the close-up transforms. The close-up deepens and widens our vision of life, while revealing new things and  the meaning of old things. Emphasis can be found in the quality of a gesture, a speechless face, or an object and it’s importance in a visual life. The close-up has a “lyrical charm” that effects the heart perception rather than visual. They can be used for dramatic revelations for what is happening underneath the appearance. It shows us the facial expression as more subjective then speech or grammar. Balazs believes that “most subjective and individual of human manifestations is rendered objective in he close-up.”

Physiognomy is the dimension an isolated face can take us, when taken out of space and consciousness of space.  We see not the make up of facial construction as much as moods, emotions, intentions and thoughts. The psychological effect of a facial expression are picture like, yet seem outside space. Like a “silent soliloquy”, it “speaks instinctively and subconsciously.” An uncontrolled and unsuppressed language, the face reveals what is concealed. Through the close-up, film can offer the possibilities of an expression that the stage cannot. We can see the bottom of the soul through tiny movement of facial muscles or the moisture in an eye.  Deeply moving tragedy can be expressed through the “microphysiognomy” of the close-up. Near the end o the silent era, the human face had grown more visible and more expressive. We saw conversations built of facial expressions and gestures. We could follow duels and attacks through the faces of the combatants. The silent film close-up presented drama in a subtler and more realistic way than that of stage play.

In response to my last post of the close-up, I agree with you Prof. Herzog that Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests are VERY hypnotic, and mesmerizing. Though Epstein may agree with me on a film like Walkabout, I’m still a fan of other films that take on a more tourist quality. Most Italian films of the 70s took on qualities of travelogues and to nice effect. Landscape like the face takes on different guises throughout the years, and it’s nice to see how things once were, just as seeing the youthful expression of a once beautiful actor or actress. In response to Msbeatty, I myself have not given up on the long-shot either, for I still believe that both are needed for cinematic balance. I agree that Leone did both to perfection, hence why all his films are masterpieces of cinema. Like the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, I never tire of the director’s gaze when illustrating the pain, wonderment or psychology of a great actor. It is then that the close-up is at it it’s most lyrical and poetic.



In Bazin’s article “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema,” he breaks down the progression of cinema after the silent era. Bazin believes that by 1928, the silent era had reached its artistic peak, and that sound was not there to destroy cinema but to fulfill it’s potential. Between 1928 and 1930 a new form of cinema was being created, through the introduction of sound a new form of editing was also being revolutionized. Certain aesthetics of the silent era were to be carried over to the sound era, though not so much of “setting silence over against sound than of contrasting certain families of styles, certain basically different concepts of cinematographic expression.” Between 1920 and 1940 there were two opposing trends, of the director who put faith in the image or the director who put faith in reality (or one can relate to the “plastics of the image” or relate to the “resources of the montage”). With the invisible use of montage, the scenes are broken down for analytical purposes. The three montage processes are:

a.) Parallel Montage: A sense of the simultaneity of two actions taking place at a geographical distance by means of alternating shots from each.

b.) Accelerated Montage: A multiplicity of shots of ever-decreasing length.

c.) Montage by Attraction: The reinforcing of the meaning of one image by association with another image not necessarily part of the same episode.

Montage can substitute a vision of an event to alluding to an event. Montage can create a sense or meaning not contained in the image but derived from the juxtaposition. Bazin believes that, “the meaning is not in the image, it is in the shadow of the image projected by montage onto the field of consciousness of the spectator.” Bazin believes that Soviet cinema “carried to its ultimate consequences the theory and practice of montage, while German school did every kind of violence to the plastics of the image by way of sets and lighting.” (I question if he is referring to German Expressionism, ie: “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”?) Bazin then points out that it does not appear that cinema was at a loss of ways of saying what it wanted, in place like France, Sweden or the U.S.

In America from 1930 to 1940 seven major types of film were being made; (1) Comedy (2) Burlesque Film (3) Dance & Vaudeville (4) Crime & Gangster (5) Psychological & Social Dramas (6) Horror & Fantasy (7) Western. The French however were making stark somber realism, or poetic realism. By 1938 or 1939, (especially in France and the U.S.) had reached a level of perfection, through technical process and the maturing of different kinds of drama. By 1930, Panchromatic stock was being commonly used as well as a growing understanding for microphone potential and the standard use of the crane.  It is believed that all the technical requirements were in place by 1930, for the art of cinema.

The standard pattern for editing was in a universal standard state by 1938.  There was a verisimilitude of space in which the position of the actor is determined, even during close-up. And the purpose of the editing was dramatic or psychological. The typical procedure with sound films by 1938 was shot-reverse-shot, where in the dialogue scene, the camera followed the order of the text, showing the character who was delivering the speech. Orson Welles is cited for changing some of the rules with “Citizen Kane.”

Jean Epstein’s article “Magnification” seems to be a love letter to the cinematic close-up, and I am in agreement with his central sentiment. When Epstein describes “the close-up” as “the soul of the cinema,” he is absolutely right. It’s the one moment in the film when you see beneath the surface and get into the interior psychology of the character. It is the moment when actors act, not in the broad theatrical way, but in the subtle flexes of the facial muscles or the ocular reaction that gives away what the other characters of the film may not see. The close-up on the face can show the manifestation of pain or the joy in humor; the face is like a landscape that alters with mood rather than a cut or edit.

Though Epstein’s article presents a compelling declaration of love to the close-up, I do not agree in every aspect of the article. When Epstein writes, “If it (close-up) is too long I don’t find continuous pleasure in it.” Where I feel that in some of the longest close-ups are the most pleasurable as in the Western epics of Sergio Leone. In the film Once Upon A Time In The West, the end has an extremely long edit of close-ups that I find extremely exciting. When the showdown with Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda takes place (very similar to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly), long close-ups build to a satisfactory climax, while the viewer is subjected to the sweat and grit of the face of fear and the nervous twitch of the trigger finger.

 When Epstein writes that the “landscape film is, for the moment, a big zero” I again disagree. One needs landscape like one needs an establishing shot. Without one, the close-up is meaningless. It’s like a magic trick of an appearing rabbit, without the hat. The landscape has a poetry all of it’s own. Like the face is just one part of the body, the landscape expresses the painful results of war or the joyful successes of harvest. In a film like Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout the landscape is like a character in the film. The beautiful scenery of the Australian landscape can be at times inviting and dangerous like the close-up of a face of our hero or villain. When Epstein refers to landscape as “zero” he is plainly not seeing that landscape and close-up add up to something far more than their isolated parts.

 The art of cinema is referred by Louis Delluc as “photogenie,” which Epstein “describe as photogenic any aspect of things, beings, or souls whose moral character is enhanced by filmic reproduction.” But I find just about anything is enhanced by filmic reproduction provided it’s shot nicely. When one sees a telephone in normal life it is merely a phone, but when one sees a close-up of a telephone in a film the item carries with it a certain weight. Will this item deliver good or bad news? Will it transport secrets of a rendezvous or that of a threat of blackmail? Filmic reproduction enhances some of the most mundane of household items into the most significant plot points of a film. The art of cinema is its ability to mirror our lives in to forms of escapism. What is escapism when we are so held captive by the close-up.

Can anyone guess who this film director is? Clue: Very famous in Italy.

I’ve been trying to catalog my DVD film collection on a blogspot called Le Drugstore 1968, so that I can begin to write reviews. I’ve listed about 1,800 of the 1,900 titles that I have, and I’m in the process of adding film poster art to each title as a means to help describe the rather rare and obscure films . If there are any cinephiles in class looking for any rare 60s or 70s European films, you may find what you are looking for in my inventory. The list is quite long and takes a bit of time to go through, but hopefully the film posters will add as a sort of eye candy to the process.

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