Gender Meets Genre in Postwar Cinemas288
Gender Meets Genre in Postwar Cinemas288
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Contributors are Ira Bhaskar, Steven Cohan, Luke Collins, Pam Cook, Lucy Fischer, Jane Gaines, Christine Gledhill, Derek Kane-Meddock, E. Ann Kaplan, Samiha Matin, Katie Model, E. Deidre Pribram, Vicente Rodriguez Ortega, Adam Segal, Chris Straayer, Yvonne Tasker, Deborah Thomas, and Xiangyang Chen.
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|Publisher:||University of Illinois Press|
|Edition description:||1st Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.80(d)|
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GENDER MEETS GENRE IN POSTWAR CINEMAS
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESSCopyright © 2012 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.
Genre and gender representation, two key areas of Film Studies, have generated challenging theories and debate. However, bar some notable exceptions (Williams 2000; Clover 1992), these concepts rarely intersect. Studies of gender representation and sexed spectatorship largely subsume genre into narrative and visual organization. Studies of genre too often assume gender as a relatively unproblematic component of specific generic worlds. This anthology of largely commissioned critical essays asks what happens if genre and gender are run through each other. Does thinking about the constructedness and performativity of gender and sexual identity enable us to approach the production of film genres and the cultural-textual work of generic convention differently? Might reconceptions of genre as "genericity" (Collins 1993)—subject to shifting processes of industrial generation and public circulation—impact on approaches to representation and the politics of film culture? Put simply, this volume asks: How does gender get into genre, and what does genre do with it?
While Western film studies has theorized genre largely in terms of Hollywood, media globalization and postcolonial thinking raise questions about the transmigration of genres between national cultures and the intersections of gender with race, nationality, and class. Such intersections challenge the limitation of genre theory to Hollywood and of gender as a totalizing identity. Not only are the boundaries between Hollywood's genres highly permeable, but, their figures and tropes spinning off to form a transnational generic storehouse, they attract elements from production centers elsewhere. In the process, differently expressive gender signs commingle and transmute. Thus some essays in this collection, exploring the traffic between national cultures and cinemas, put Western concepts of genre and gender into dialogues "beyond" Hollywood.
This anthology's writers respond to its invitation from different perspectives and with different answers. At the same time, since its focus is the imaginary territory opened up by filmmaking, conceptual problems are explored through exemplary films. The aim is not definitive interpretation but to open up questions about the complex interaction of aesthetics, cultural meanings, and affect in mass-mediated cinematic fictions. For too long, represented gender has been taken as a means of ideologically assessing films. The challenge, then, is to open a perspective from the side of genre: to explore the aesthetic and imaginative power of gender as a tool of genre, and to explore what genre returns to the cultural sphere.
Genre and gender—deriving from similar etymological roots referring to "kinds" or "types"—have been identified in terms of discrete bodies of conventions, governed by rules of inclusion and exclusion. However, the industry's uses of genre, merging with postmodernist mixing of protagonists, actions, and settings from different genres, exploit the permeability of generic boundaries, refocusing critical attention on genre as cross-media, cross-cultural process rather than end product. Similarly, while poststructuralism deconstructs the unified self, and gender, ethnic, and sexual identities have become increasingly available as commercial style-choices, gender, decoupled from sex, is reconceived as mutable, diverse, transsexual. Thus both genre and gender theories abandon their focus on discrete identities. No longer conceived as bounded representations, their relationship may be refigured not in terms of social reflection, ideological misrepresentation, or subject positioning but as cinematic affect and discursive circulation between society and story, public and imaginary worlds. Such circulation focuses the genrification of gender, thus enabling us to think about the productivity of gender in genre in terms of aesthetic appeals and symbolic imaginings. This is not to do away with the referential dimension or the textual work of producing positions of reading or viewing, but to recognize their relativity in relation to the heterogeneous processes involved in textuality and the production, circulation, and reception of films.
PART ONE: REFIGURING GENRE AND GENDER
Discussion begins by revisiting the history of feminist approaches to the generic, reorienting key concepts and introducing new ones. Given an association of generic repetition with reinforcement of stereotypes, and of Hollywood with a male-dominated industry, two issues became central for feminist criticism: how Hollywood addressed women—especially through the baggy, cross-generic category of the woman's film—and how women filmmakers might intervene. This raised the question of gendered authorship and aesthetics, linked by the search for subversion.
If genre was the enemy for early feminist criticism, film theory's discovery of melodrama opened new territory that in its use of familial relationships and high emotion seemed ripe for feminist appropriation as a site for the woman's contesting point of view. However, Jane Gaines, examining a two-minute melodrama by feminist film heroine, Alice Guy Blaché, demonstrates its several entry points for—mutually exclusive—readings. Crucially, such readings depend on familiar generically gendered possibilities. Thus against feminism's assertion of difference, rethinking gender as generic foregrounds the role of repetition and its dynamic of expectation. It is here, Gaines argues, that the woman filmmaker can work. Her "ingenuity" lies in responding to the "genius" of genre's play with expectation, working out of the past to stage permutations for future imaginings. Perhaps the true irony on which Blaché's film turns is the impossible choice between mother and fiancée posed not only for the hero but for female spectators—a type of binary thinking elucidated in the film's generic play and which feminism now challenges.
It was, perhaps, feminism's starting point in gender inequality that underpinned feminist film criticism's elision of the generative power of semiotic systems with representation, locking women into a segregated gender space defined by "women's culture." Revisiting her own contribution to the establishment of the woman's film as a critical focus, Pam Cook draws on poststructural conceptions of the mutability of gendered and sexualized identities to question cinematic identification with one's gendered like, an assumption underpinning categorization of genres by gender. Speculating that we go to the cinema to lose rather than confirm identities, Cook opens a conceptual space for male masochism and female violence, thus challenging a dominant binary in feminist thinking.
In questioning the gendering of genres, Pam Cook notes shared structures and affects between the western and women's picture, normally posed in antithetical terms. Arguably, such similarities can be traced to their common foundation in melodrama conceived as a mode underpinning Hollywood's genre system (L. Williams 1998, 2001; Gledhill 1987, 2000). However, melodrama has itself been subject to a gendered turf-war between presumed male action and female pathos-laden genres (Neale 1993, Altman 1999). Revisiting this binary, E. Deidre Pribram's study of Crash (2004) opens emotion to cross-generic and cross-gender analysis. Examining the generative role of anger as source of narrative development in the law-and-order genres, Pribram suggests how genres come to be historically gendered and racialized along an acculturated emotion-action axis that supports white, male power. In this respect, Pribram suggests that contemporary melodrama has shifted from its nineteenth-century equation of morality with the "feel-good"—culturally feminizing—empathy of pathos to an emphasis on hitherto male-associated retributive action and violence, driven by anger and oriented to guilt. We might speculate on the necessity of anger to the structures of feeling that sustained twentieth-century freedom struggles, including antiracist, feminist, and gay, lesbian, and transgender campaigns. However, later essays suggest, the violence that fuels and results from anger and the purging of guilt is now increasingly distributed across fictional genders.
Luke Collins's debate with constructions of Kathryn Bigelow as feminist auteur brings art theory's concern with "surface" to analysis of her quintessential action movie, Point Break (1991). Like Gaines, reinvesting value in repetition, and arguing against the search for "depth," Collins suggests that Point Break, rather than exhibiting an authorial agenda of homoerotic disruption, "fills out" the homosocial bonding already vested in the action movie. In this perspective, if "genius" lies in genre, Bigelow's full-on "repetition" stages the aesthetics and affects of an acculturated masculinity to cross-gender view and mixed pleasures.
All four pieces represent shifts in conceptualizing the genre-gender duo. Rather than one side represented in the conventions of the other—whether reconfirmed or subverted—genre offers a "constellation" of cultural, aesthetic, and ideological materials, containing, as Jane Gaines and Pam Cook suggest, a more inclusive range of possibilities than allowed by ideologically driven "readings." Not only can we speculate that audiences respond beyond, as well as within, gender, but a new sense of what the generic brings with it is opened up, which involves recognition not of authorial depth but of its grounding in cultural history and practice. Thus the generic—the basis, argues Mikhail Bakhtin, of all human communication—involves maneuvers with the past for work in the present: "all our utterances [are] filled with other's words, varying degrees of otherness and our-own-ness" (1986b, 89). Thus film genres, as larger fictive constellations of the generic, already contain possibilities that it takes the questions of succeeding generations to perceive, put into play, and perhaps refigure, not only by "going-against," but in Gaines's terms, "going with," or, as Collins from a different perspective suggests, "filling out."
PART TWO: POSTFEMINISM AND GENERIC REINVENTIONS
These new ways of conceptualizing genre and its relation to gender provide the context for parts 2 and 3, which repose in different ways questions about the registration of feminism in a mode of generic production now conceived as a condition of—resource for—creative imagining, cultural engagement, and political remaking. This work unfolds in the era, following the demise of Hollywood's studio system and the intensification of globalized, digitized cross-media circulation, that is noted for intersecting, sometimes dissolving, generic and gendered—as well as ethnic and national—boundaries associated with postmodernity, postfeminism, and postcolonial practices.
While the early phase of feminist film culture invested in a counter-cinema that in opposing was effectively tied to a mirror reversal of Hollywood's practices, the incorporation of feminist campaigns into equality legislation, the demise of film collectives, and a growing concern to impact on the mainstream rather than politically aware minorities combined to shift attention to "popular" cinemas, stimulating "independent" filmmakers to seek crossover access to wider audiences. At the same time, the "director-auteur," earlier established and then challenged in film studies, has been refocused institutionally as the figure recognizable to the funding sources, festivals, and mainstream distribution outlets through which independent films circulate. In these changed conditions, then, how does a "postfeminist" generation of filmmakers use the genericity of filmic storytelling to engage purposefully not only women's lives and the discourses of sexism, homophobia, and racism filtered through the generic, but postmodernist awareness of the "social constructedness of everything" (Gaines, 19) and of everything's mediation through or as image?
All the filmmakers discussed in part 2 work to the side of Hollywood, either in European art cinema/television, the American independent sector, or in international coproduction. They all set out to tell women's stories: of class and racial oppression and sibling love or of tensions between sexuality and motherhood (Kaplan); of making it in male-dominated fields or resisting placement in traditionally female spheres (Tasker); of historical women positioned precariously between private and public domains (Matin); and finally, of the aging woman, autobiographically recording the body's decay (Fischer). While these stories bear witness to the difference that social gendering makes, they all, in different ways, draw on tropes and motifs of Hollywood genres or twentieth-century popular culture. Markedly different, then, from earlier feminist criticism, is the acknowledgment here of the generic formations that occupy the field of the imaginable. Even realist endeavors pass through the relay of rites-of-passage and coming-of-age narratives (Tasker).
Central to Ann Kaplan's opening chapter is the productive energy of criticism itself. Reclaiming as a founding tradition for women filmmakers Rick Altman's account of feminism's "invention" of the woman's film, Kaplan shows how the strategies and tropes it identifies enter the contemporary field of boundary-crossing and genre-mixing practices to draw from conventions associated with presumed "male" genres. Rather than undoing genre, the films explored in part 2 activate the generative force of Hollywood's genres in the service of women's stories. Horror and film noir (Kaplan), boxing film and teen picture (Tasker), costume drama (Matin), and Hollywood's antithesis, the autobiographical documentary (Fischer), provide female protagonists aesthetic access to the violence and anger released in previously assumed male genres (Kaplan, Tasker), or renew validation of presumed feminine modes of being: interiority, material being, and contemplation (Matin, Fischer).
If Kaplan argues the "invented" woman's film as a retrieval of women's cultural perspectives, Samiha Matin sees in the costume drama's crossing between present and past configurations of femininity—between the excessive publicness of the postfeminist world and the confining intimacy of an earlier private sphere—a drama of epistemological loss and recovery: the staging of a "once and future feminine" (100). Here, echoing Kaplan's analysis of Meckler's Sister My Sister (1994), femininity is understood less as a gendered identity than a cultural repository for alternative modes of being, of subjective experience of time, and material existence absent from both the political agendas of second-wave feminism and the economic agendas of consumer capitalism.
This move to retrieve what is culturally embedded in generic femininity concludes part 2 in Lucy Fischer's study of Agnès Varda's The Gleaners and I (2000), an elision of documentary with autobiography that connects—through Varda's own working life, spanning feminist and postfeminist generations—to women's early film practice. Here, noting Varda's extension of the significance of "gleaning" for food to a woman's practice of collecting, Fischer delineates an encounter between a sensibility culturally defined as feminine with the feminized throwaway culture of mass consumerism. Authorship figures, then, as a form of creative recycling or bricolage.
In different ways these essays explore the generic as it dialogizes past and future, functioning not only as a constraining interpellation but as a dynamic site of fantasizing and remaking. Genres, then, not only constitute an imaginary horizon within which protagonists' life stories are made, but contribute to remaking a feminist imaginary. In particular, the impossible binaries confronted by second-wave feminism—now made visible in Alice Guy-Blaché's 1906 melodrama—give way: female fatale and mother, female sexuality and maternity, can be imagined in triumphal alignment; staking a claim in the masculine world of contact sports or on intellectual life need no longer proscribe romance or fashion. And if the violence now appropriated by women filmmakers lends a dystopic dimension to the feminist imaginary, recovery of intimate femininity, earlier rejected in its association with patriarchal domesticity, challenges the gendered division between subjectivity and publicness, returning sensuous experience and affectivity to conceptions of the public sphere.
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Table of Contents
Introduction Christine Gledhill 1
Part 1 Refiguring Genre and Gender
1 The Genius of Genre and the Ingenuity of Women Jane M. Gaines 15
2 No Fixed Address: The Women's Picture from Outrage to Blue Steel Pam Cook 29
3 Circulating Emotion: Race, Gender, and Genre in Crash E. Deidre Pribram 41
4 100% Pure Adrenaline: Gender and Generic Surface in Point Break Luke Collins 54
Part 2 Postfeminism and Generic Reinventions
5 Troubling Genre/Reconstructing Gender E. Ann Kaplan 71
6 Bodies and Genres in Transition: Girlfight and Real Women Have Curves Yvonne Tasker 84
7 Private Femininity, Public Femininity: Tactical Aesthetics in the Costume Film Samiha Matin 96
8 Generic Gleaning: Agnès Varda, Documentary, and the Art of Salvage Lucy Fischer 111
Part 3 Gender Aesthetics in "Male" Genres
9 It's a Mann's World? Adam Segal 125
10 Up Close and Personal: Faces and Names in Casualties of War Deborah Thomas 135
11 Gender Hyperbole and the Uncanny in the Horror Film: The Shining Katie Model 146
Part 4 Genre and Gender Transnational
12 Emotion, Subjectivity, and the Limits of Desire: Melodrama and Modernity in Bombay Cinema, 1940s-'50s Ira Bhaskar 161
13 Woman, Generic Aesthetics, and the Vernacular: Huangmei Opera Films from China to Hong Kong Xiangyang Chen 177
14 Homoeroticism Contained: Gender and Sexual Translation in John Woo's Migration to Hollywood Vicente Rodriguez Ortega 191
Part 5 Generic "Trans-Ings": Between Genres, Genders, and Sexualities
15 Trash Comes Home: Gender/Genre Subversion in the Films of John Waters Derek Kane-Meddock 205
16 Femme Fatale or Lesbian Femme: Bound in Sexual Différance Chris Straayer 219
17 "The Gay Cowboy Movie": Queer Masculinity on Brokeback Mountain Steven Cohan 233