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Joan of Arc

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In her essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Laura Mulvey argues that Classical Hollywood cinema encourages spectators to look at women and identify with men. Female stars receive the look, while male stars control the narrative and dominate space. She writes, “In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness,” (205). What kind of looks, gazes, or points of identification structure (or destabilize) The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1928)? Your response should engage Mulvey’s claims.

The Passion of Joan of Arc is a silent film directed by Carl Th. Dreyer made in France in 1928. In Laura Mulvey's essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” she argues that the female stars receive the look, while male stars take control of film space. She also points out that the women’s role in the Classical Hollywood cinema is to satisfy the viewer and to be a passive character, i.e. being pleasant to look at. This essay will argue Mulvey's analysis such as: active/man and passive/female, a woman/actress being looked at as an attractive object and the female role in the cinema industry depicted by The Passion of Joan of Arc film. I will try to prove that Mulvey's claims cannot be related to this film. First of all, because the film is concentrated on the form, Dryer's goal is not to show Joan as a sexual object, but to demonstrate the power of the close-up and facial expressions. Secondly, La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc is an independent film made in France, outside Hollywood environment, and that Mulvey's essay is mostly concerned on Hollywood films and their characteristics.

The cinema's goal is to pleasure the audience by the view on the screen. Mulvey talks about the Freud's scopophilia theory (p.8). Literally the word scopophilia means 'love of looking'. It is associated to the pleasure of looking, which takes an actress, as admirable object, not as a subject. Mulvey appeals to the Freud theory that the woman's purpose in the film is to be "to-be-looked-at-ness" - to create an aesthetic view on the screen. She argues that Classical Hollywood cinema puts the viewer in a man's point of view, which she calls 'male gaze'. Women placed as the exhibition, the thing you can look at, but never have. However, The Passion of Arc is not a Hollywood film. Because the film is made outside of a Hollywood environment, it stands out with its differentness. La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc concentrates on the form – cinematography, not on the satisfaction or pleasure for the men audience. Dreyer uses camera-work, close-ups, rapid cuts to draw attention to the tension between Joan and the judges. The camera moves fast in the film space, back and forward from Joan to tormentors. The close-ups help to enhance the vision, to divert attention to facial expression, body language and assist the viewer to feel a part of the film. The camera's work makes the viewer disorientated, it is hard for the audience to be focussed and not get lost between many cuts and faces on the screen. Dreyer used 1500 cuts, 30 continue figure and 15 matches on action. In The Passion of Arc, Renée Jeanne Falconetti (Joan of Arc) is being looked from the judges and tormentors perspective. The camera angle changes with the cuts. Most of the time low-angle is used when Joan of Arc looks at the judges. Meanwhile, the way judges look at her is filmed using a high-angle. Roger Ebert in an article “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” says that close-ups and medium shots create 'fearful intimacy between Joan and her tormentors ' (1997). The camera works closely to the human faces in the film, paying particular attention to Joan of Arc's face. It seems to the viewer that he/she hears Joan's breath and almost touches her face. Such camera work suggests more soul and spirit; makes the viewer’s feel uncomfortable and embarrassed to look at such an innocent, pure and fragile creature. According to Mulvey such feelings as discomfort could never be related to the pleasure of the viewer, because woman purpose is to be an object, which satisfies the audience and has to be seen as a sexual person. Joan of Arc's face shows a lot of different emotions: fear, confusion, believing, regret, guilt, etc. Also, the viewer notices her gaze of the anxiety and agony. At the same time, the close-ups, camera angles and editing let the viewer to put themselves into Joan's position. Dreyer's idea to focus on human faces and refuse the language, making a silent film, shows that the picture can say a lot more than the words could. That is the beauty of the cinema, to invoke cinematography power and tell the story without any words being said.

Furthermore, Mulvey points out that the men take the lead of the narrative film. They are dominant, they have the power. At first, the viewer might think that the judges and tormentors have control; the truth is Joan is the person who holds back all the film space and narration. Even though they are asking her questions, later they need to wait for the answers and their decision depends on what she is going to say. Also, the writer of the text says is very important to understand male and female roles in the film. That leads to the idea that looking is seen as an active male role, but because woman are an object the audience looks at, it would appear to be a passive role. Mulvey highlights that an actress can never take the leading role in the Classical Hollywood film. A woman is like a supplement, background of a man. However, in Dreyer's film Joan is not just a 'prop', maybe because it is made not in the Hollywood and it did not have a significant influence on the film. The whole film is centred on Joan and without her the film would lose its meaning; so in this case woman takes the leading role, not men. Joan of Arc is at the centre of attention, she is the main character of The Passion of Arc, not the judges, not the tormentors.

In the end, Laura Mulvey's claims in her essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” cannot be related to The Passion of Arc. The writer argues about women being portrayed as an object should satisfy the viewer. Furthermore, that an actress is should assume a background role in a film and that a women are taking a passive role and men are active, contrary to what is found in this film. La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc is a film orientated to the cinematography and facial expressions.

Bibliography

Books:

Béla Balàzs, “The Close-Up” and “The Face of Man”, in Leo Braudy and Cohen Marshall (eds.) Film Theory and Criticism (London: Oxford UP, 2009)

Mary Ann Doane, “The Close-up: Scale and Detail in the Cinema” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies , 14:3 (2003), pp. 90-111.

Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” Screen 16.3 (Autumn 1975), pp. 6-18.

Miriam Hansen,"The Mass Production of the Senses: Classical Cinema as Vernacular Modernism", Modernism/Modernity 6.2 (1999) 59-77

Websites:

Roger Ebert (1997). 'The Passion of Joan of Arc'. Chicago Sun-Times. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19970216/REVIEWS08/401010350/1023 [Accessed 9 November 2011]

Landon Palmer (2010). 'The Passion of Joan of Arc'. Film School Rejects. http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/features/criterion-files-62-the-passion-of-joan-of-arc.php [Accessed 9 November 2011]

David H. Schleicher (2008). 'A Review of Carl Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc”'.The Schleicher Spin. http://theschleicherspin.com/2008/06/15/a-review-of-carl-dreyers-the-passion-of-joan-of-arc/ [Accessed 9 November]

Daniel Garrett (2006). 'The Evidence of Things Not Seen: Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc'. Cinetext. http://cinetext.philo.at/magazine/garrett/joanofarc.html [Accessed 9 November 2011]
André Bazin (1952). 'Carl Theodor Dreyer - The Passion of Jean d'Arc'. EUROSCREENWRITERS. http://zakka.dk/euroscreenwriters/interviews/carl_dreyer.htm [Accessed 9 November 2011]

Electronic journals:

Robert A. Rosenstone. (2003). 'The Reel Joan of Arc: Reflections on the Theory and Practice of the Historical Film'. The Public Historian, Vol. 25, No. 3 pp. 61-77. http://www.jstor.org/pss/10.1525/tph.2003.25.3.61 [Accessed 9 November 2011]

Film:

The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, Denmark, 1928)

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