Mulvey & Kaplan: Ageism & The Cleopatra Complex

One issue that stuck out to me is the ageism that comes with the repression that women experience through Hollywood films which proves to me a lot of points that Mulvey talks about in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. From watching films like Casablanca, High Noon, Rear Window, Vertigo, and The Misfits I have noticed that the “male movie star’s glamorous characteristics are [truly]. . . not those of the erotic object of the gaze, but those of the more perfect, more complete, more powerful ideal ego.” Humphry Bogart, Gary Cooper, James Stewart, and Clark Gable were, on the screen, ageless in comparison to their female co-stars. As long as they exuded a certain kind of charm and confidence that are a result of their possession of power, they represented the ideal man in western capitalist society. In short, it is not about how they look it is about the experience they have over the “lack” the woman has. This lack immediately offers up a vulnerability that is attractive to the possible use of power for the man, thus objectifying the woman. A subtle example would be when Ingrid Bergman walks into Ricky’s bar with all the men’s eyes on her, watching her. A more explicit example would be Kim Novak in Vertigo with her looks being the central concern of Stewart’s character.


A point that I found myself disagreeing with Mulvey on, and Kaplan talked about this in one of her articles, is the male gaze being necessarily male. Kaplan says that the gaze is a term referring to power and not specifically to man. With that, I could not help but think about how I, as a viewer, watched classical Hollywood films, without the idea of the male unconscious in mind, how did I feel with the typical storyline of a ‘femme fatale.’ The short answer is that power is subjective. When Kaplan talks about Gentlemen Prefer Blondes saying, “The images of Monroe show her fetishized placement. . . while Russell’s stance is a parody of the male position. The result is that the two women repeat, in exaggerated form, dominated gender stereotypes.” This is because we, as analysts, are looking at it from only the dominant perspective. We should look at it from the repressed perspective, the female. We will find that this can be a type of ‘female voice,’ a ‘female discourse.’ The scene in Vertigo where Stewart waits for Novak to style her hair the same way Madeleine did can be an example of this. Novak walks out of the washroom, finally transformed into Madeleine again, while Stewart just sits there struck by her beauty, the resemblance, everything. We can argue that Madeleine had power over him in that scene with her femininity. Femininity is not lost. It is simple; weaknesses (femininity) can be turned into strengths (power). If there is the Oedipus complex, there should be the Cleopatra complex. Cleopatra used seduction, and her beauty to ensure Egypt’s lasting power over the world. This is also known as any femme fatale’s ways to ensuring they get what they want.

To conclude this, men having a wider range of positions available, as Kaplan said, is true but we should explore our positions and broaden them, making them strengths.


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