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Free Media Essay: James Bond

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“Pussy Galore”, “Honey Rider”, “Plenty O’Toole”, “Xenia Onatoppe”, “Octopussy” and “Solitaire”: All of these names have something in common in that they are all the provocative names of James Bond girls and symbols of an extreme form of the “Male Gaze” as coined by Laura Mulvey: the passive recipients of a specifically male gaze embodied by the extreme masculinity of James Bond[1]. Neuendorf et al, in a study which examined 195 female characters from the James Bond films, sum up the “bond “formula” which has been the catalyst for one of the longest running film franchises in movie history:

“Espionage, innovative gadgets, alcoholic beverages, fast cars, a demonic villain and a plethora of attractive women were instrumental in moulding the “Bond formula” that matriculated from print to celluloid… The ongoing appeal of the fantasy world represented in the Bond films relies heavily on attractive female counterparts to the Bond character”[2].

I have chosen the films of James Bond to examine using Laura Mulvey’s “Male Gaze”.

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While the films from Dr. No up to Casino Royale would seem to be obvious demonstrations of what Mulvey might refer to as a “patriarchal unconscious”[3] hard at work and cultivated from the novels of Ian Fleming, the last Bond film, Quantum of Solace, has seen a minor revolt against the use of females as passive objects of sexuality. This revolt, albeit in a minor fashion and still, as we will see, framed against a powerful formula which has endured for over half a century, makes the James Bond of Daniel Craig a worthy object of study. The adoption of powerful and partially non-sexualised female characters in both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace represents a significant step towards Mulvey’s answer to the subordination of women through the lens of the male gaze: the destruction of cinematic pleasure[4]. This case study will also look at some more typical James Bond films such as From Russia with Love and conclude with why these films, so often the very epitome of patriarchal agendas and repressed women, are moving towards what many have perceived to be a feminist approach in Quantum of Solace which does not conform to the traditional James Bond formula[5].

Laura Mulvey first coined the term “Male Gaze” in 1975 with her seminal work Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema[6]. Mulvey uses psychoanalysis as a weapon to analyse the roots of patriarchal control within the pleasures of cinema. Her analysis is centred on the image of women as the castrated “Other” to the imaginary self of man the escape of which can only be accomplished by voyeuristic or fetishistic mechanisms. The female image acts as a signifier and is, in the words of Mulvey, “bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his own fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as a bearer, not maker, of meaning”[7]. The spectator, equipped with the “privilege of invisibility”, can observe without being observed and are drawn into the illusory world of looking at female characters through a male gaze which is constructed by the film maker and filters down even to the hands of those cameramen who are shooting the film: all are complicit[8]. In this world of sexual imbalance, in which the spectator is male[9], the pleasure derived from observing has been split between “active/male” and “passive/female” where the male gaze projects the fantasy upon the female form[10]. From here Mulvey’s analysis splits visual pleasure into two parts: a voyeuristic pleasure and a narcissistic pleasure. For the former Mulvey derives inspiration from Freud’s look at scopophilia[11] as a way of taking people as objects and subjecting them to what is described as a “curious and controlling gaze”[12] in the private world of the auditorium. The distance between the audience and the screen serves to reinforce the feeling of being a voyeur[13] and Mulvey’s analysis seals both the audience and the film within a “hermetically sealed” auditorium which serves to expose and highlight their fantasy of voyeurism[14]. On the latter Mulvey observes:

“The cinema satisfies a primordial wish for pleasurable looking, but it also goes further, developing scopophilia in its narcissistic aspect. The conventions of mainstream film focus attention on the human form. Scale, space, stories are all anthropomorphic. Here, curiosity and the wish to look intermingle with a fascination with likeness and recognition: the human face, the human body, the relationship between human form and its surroundings, the visible presence of the person in the world”.

As many theorists have noted[15] Mulvey’s analysis in this aspect are very much inspired by Jacques Lacan in developing his theories of the pivotal moment of a child’s self recognition in the mirror in the formation of ego and self. Mulvey find’s a resonance between screen and mirror, fictional characters and the child’s self and the ability of both to shape the ego. This resonance is particularly strong when considering the ability of cinema, in the words of Mulvey, to both deprive us of and augment our egos: a dichotomy which Mulvey identifies with “that pre-subjective moment of image recognition” first propounded by Lacan in children.[16]

The active/male and passive/female divide referred to above is important only as a spectacle and not as a driving force of the narrative as Mulvey observes: “The presence of women is an indispensable element of spectacle in normal narrative film, yet her visual presence tends to work against the development of a story line, to freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation”[17]. The image of women so constructed provides a neat mirror between the desires of the male characters in the film and the spectators in the audience. Using strong male leads is a quintessential ploy by Hollywood and for Mulvey allows the spectator to identify with this more perfect version of self. A male movie star, for example, creates the action and commands the screen space in a way the passive female is never allowed to. Cinema is unique, in Mulvey’s theory, in building the way a woman is looked at into the spectacle of the film itself as opposed to, for example, strip-tease where a spectator’s gaze is still very much under his/her own control. The distinctiveness of film derives from the ability to snap a person’s attention to a particular part and allow “a perfect and beautiful contradiction” to crystallise[18].

At the end of her famous article Mulvey opines on the possible answers to the patriarchal nature of cinema but concludes that the real answer is to destroy pleasure:

“Women, whose image has continually been stolen and used for this end, cannot view the decline of the traditional film form with anything much more than sentimental regret.”

So what place does James Bond have in Laura Mulvey’s male gazeThe applicability of the famous franchise to Mulvey’s theory is at first sight so compelling it would be no surprise to find out that Mulvey developed all her theories from a single viewing of Goldfinger. As outlined above Bond films have a certain tried and tested formula which, in the words of Neuendorf, serve to reinforce that which Mulvey sought to destroy:

“Western society’s patriarchal, individualistic culture is demonstrated in Bond films. For example, the lead character, James Bond, promotes stereotypical, sex-typed male attitudes, especially when interacting with women. In the Bond world, Bond single-handedly takes on any “bad guy,” saves the world and always gets the girl.”[19]

The ability of Bond films to dehumanise women is well exemplified in From Russia With Love. In this film two gypsy girls must fight for the affections of the same man and ultimately end up in Bond’s bed with the prospect of a sexual battle having to take place before either of them can be worthy of his attentions. It was these films in the 1960s (From Russia With Love was 1963) which exemplified what Yan calls “tittilation” and no more with the most excruciating example being “I think he’s attempting re-entry” in Moonraker[20]. As feminism spread its wings in the 1970s the Bond women seem to shrink in terms of character depth. The femme fatales then underwent an independent phase, often bestowed with PHD’s but this was, in Yan’s opinion, just a divertion from real subordination[21] and the 1980s and 1990s followed the formula with few exceptions.

The Daniel Craig era of Bond films have produced a different kind of Bond: grittier, tougher and with less of the traditional formula which had relegated the franchise under Pierce Brosnan. Peter Bradshaw sums up the plot but the story, much criticised, takes a back seat to the role of women[22].

The female characters serve both to reinforce and destroy the traditional view of Bond women as being surplus to plot requirements and subject to Mulvey’s “male gaze”. The two female characters, Strawberry fields and Camille[23] represent such contrasts as to be compelling. While Fields, working for the CIA, succumbs to Bond in a 1960s throwback fashion with the usual witticisms and appears in a trenchcoat like “some sort of MI6 strippogram”[24], is typical Bond fair, Camille is arguably an equal of Bond and driven by a desire to avenge the rape and murder of her sister and mother. She does not succumb to Bond at all and importantly the actress has said that her character does not exist because of Bond but exists in her own right. Using Mulvey’s analysis this character advances the story and doesn’t simply provide a spectacle in the way that Strawberry Fields undoubtedly does.

In conclusion the Bond films of the Daniel Craig era present a somewhat confusing picture of women: at first glance conforming to a tried and tested formula which is simply the quintessential expression of the male gaze and a formula born of the 1960s and Ian Fleming, but at a deeper glance is indicative of a move away from the patriarchal grip on cinema and tried and tested female submission. The character of Camille, in the same vein as Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale, is a plot driver and offers hope that the moment for a female James Bond is close:

“Camille shows that Vesper was no lucky one-off. Fields shows that not everything has changed and that the same speculation must exist for “Bond 23” on whether the next film will have a realistic female lead or something more formulaic.”[25]

Bibliography

Balducci, Temma (2010) ‘Gaze, Body and Sexuality: Modern Rituals of Looking and Being Looked At’ in Kromm & Bakewell (eds) A History of Visual Culture: Western Civilisation from the 18th to the 21st century Berg: Oxford & New York

Bradshaw, Peter (2008) Guardian Film Online accessed on 28th March 2011 and available from:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2008/oct/18/jamesbond1

Kuhn, Annette (1994) Women’s Pictures: Feminism and Cinema (2nd ed) Verso: London, New York; Penley, Constance (1989) The Future of an Illusion Routledge: New York, London

Mulvey, Laura (1999) ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ in Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings pp833-844

Neuendorf et al (2009) ‘Shaken and Stirred: A Content Analysis of Women’s

Portrayals in James Bond Films’ in Sex Roles vol 62 pp747-761 see also Brosnan (1972), Dodds (2005) and Pfeiffer and Worral (2000).

Quantum of solace script: accessed on 28th March 2011 and available from: http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/q/quantum-of-solace-script-transcript.html

Sherwin, Miranda (2008) ‘Deconstructing the male gaze: masochism, female spectatorship, and the femme fatale in Fatal Attraction, Body of Evidence, and Basic Instinct.(Critical essay).’ In Journal of Popular Film and Television vol 35 issue 4 p 174

Stacey, Jackie (1994) Star Gazing Routledge: London and New York,

Thornham, Sue (1997) Passionate detachments: an introduction to feminist film theory Arnold: London, New York, Auckland;

Yan (2009) from Lucire website ‘ Releasing from Bondage’ accessed on 28th march 2011 and available from: http://lucire.com/2008/1030ll0.shtml

[1] Balducci, Temma (2010) ‘Gaze, Body and Sexuality: Modern Rituals of Looking and Being Looked At’ in Kromm & Bakewell (eds) A History of Visual Culture: Western Civilisation from the 18th to the 21st century Berg: Oxford & New York

[2] Neuendorf et al (2009) ‘Shaken and Stirred: A Content Analysis of Women’s

Portrayals in James Bond Films’ in Sex Roles vol 62 pp747-761 see also Brosnan (1972), Dodds (2005) and Pfeiffer and Worral (2000).

[3] Mulvey, Laura (1999) ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ in Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings pp833-844

[4] Thornham, Sue (1997) Passionate detachments: an introduction to feminist film theory Arnold: London, New York, Auckland

[5] Yan (2009) from Lucire website ‘ Releasing from Bondage’ accessed on 28th march 2011 and available from: http://lucire.com/2008/1030ll0.shtml

[6] Thornham, Sue (1997) Passionate detachments: an introduction to feminist film theory Arnold: London, New York, Auckland; Stacey, Jackie (1994) Star Gazing Routledge: London and New York, Kuhn, Annette (1994) Women’s Pictures: Feminism and Cinema (2nd ed) Verso: London, New York; Penley, Constance (1989) The Future of an Illusion Routledge: New York, London

[7] Mulvey, Laura (1989) Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema in Visual and Other Pleasures Macmillan: Basingstoke and London p.15

[8] Stacey, Jackie (1994) Star Gazing Routledge: London and New York

[9] And females are compelled to look through a males lens with their choice of either adopting a masochistic stance or adopting the gaze and becoming “spectatorial transvestites”. See Sherwin, Miranda (2008) ‘Deconstructing the male gaze: masochism, female spectatorship, and the femme fatale in Fatal Attraction, Body of Evidence, and Basic Instinct.(Critical essay).’ In Journal of Popular Film and Television vol 35 issue 4 p 174

[10] Mulvey, Laura (1989) Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema in Visual and Other Pleasures Macmillan: Basingstoke and London p.41

[11] Freud, Sigmund Three Essays on Sexuality

[12] Mulvey, Laura (1999) ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ in Braudy & Cohen (eds) Film Theory and Criticisms: Introductory Readings : New York: Oxford Uni Press pp833-844

[13] Stacey, Jackie (1994) Star Gazing Routledge: London and New York

[14] Mulvey, Laura (1999) ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ in Braudy & Cohen (eds) Film Theory and Criticisms: Introductory Readings : New York: Oxford Uni Press pp836

[15] Thornham, Sue (1997) Passionate detachments: an introduction to feminist film theory Arnold: London, New York, Auckland; Stacey, Jackie (1994) Star Gazing Routledge: London and New York, Kuhn, Annette (1994) Women’s Pictures: Feminism and Cinema (2nd ed) Verso: London, New York; Penley, Constance (1989) The Future of an Illusion Routledge: New York, London

[16] Mulvey, Laura (1999) ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ in Braudy & Cohen (eds) Film Theory and Criticisms: Introductory Readings : New York: Oxford Uni Press pp836

[17] ibid p.837

[18] Ibid p.843

[19] Neuendorf et al (2009) ‘Shaken and Stirred: A Content Analysis of Women’s

Portrayals in James Bond Films’ in Sex Roles vol 62 p 759

[20] Yan (2009) from Lucire website ‘ Releasing from Bondage’ accessed on 28th march 2011 and available from: http://lucire.com/2008/1030ll0.shtml

[21] Yan notes wryly that even the self-employed Octopussy, steward of a huge empire, still succumbed to the Bond formula in the end.

[22] Bradshaw, Peter (2008) Guardian Film Online accessed on 28th March 2011 and available from:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2008/oct/18/jamesbond1 – He observes: “In theory, he is out to nail a sinister international business type: Dominic Greene, played by French star Mathieu Amalric, who under a spurious ecological cover plans to buy up swaths of South American desert and a portfolio of Latin American governments to control the water supply of an entire continent. As Greene, Amalric has the maddest eyes, creepiest leer, and dodgiest teeth imaginable.”

[23] Gemma Arterton and Olga Kurylenko respectively

[24] Bradshaw, Peter (2008) Guardian Film Online accessed on 28th March 2011 and available from:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2008/oct/18/jamesbond1

[25] Yan (2009) from Lucire website ‘ Releasing from Bondage’ accessed on 28th march 2011 and available from: http://lucire.com/2008/1030ll0.shtml

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