A Cinematographic Threesome (REVISED)

A seemingly obvious yet hard to articulate (for those who haven’t studied cinema) pleasure attained from cinema is scopophilia. The very position of the audience member endows them with both an access to the privacy of characters (especially in the case of sexual encounters by these character), as well as a sense of anonymity and security in the very act of watching, a sense of comfort we are not allowed in “reality.” This pleasure, considered a perversion by its very definition, is deeply rooted in our psyche, probably stemming from a general castration anxiety that we experience as humans. In response to this, we overcorrect our own ability to maintain power, fantasizing about those we observe and thereby fetishize those subject. “At the extreme, it can become fixated into a perversion, producing obsessive voyeurs and Peeping Toms, whose only sexual satisfaction can come from watching, in an active controlling sense, an objectified other,” (Mulvey). For the less extreme case, i.e. the film audience member, this perversion is experienced on a smaller scale, putting the audience member in the seat of power (viewer), and the characters on the screen in the position of dominated (viewed).

Hitchcock is very aware of this perversion, and constantly uses it to his advantage. His films often rely on and call out the audiences own need to peek behind the curtain, which gives his audience a front row seat to the going-ons of seemingly every day people and reveals them to be just as twisted, perverted, and sick as the rest of us. However, this relationship of observer and observed doesn’t only reveal every day people to be sick and twisted, it also reveals an ugly characteristic in the audience: we are all Peeping Toms. This cinematic experience goes hand in hand with Psychoanalysic theory, which plays off of our own conscious and unconscious desires, resulting in our own Scopophila. Furthermore, as cinema grew and developed, so did the theory by which experts considered cinema as it relates to psychoanalysis. “One of the major differences between pre- and post-1970s psychoanalytic theory was that the latter saw the cinema as an institution or an apparatus. Whereas early approaches, such as those of Tarratt, concentrated on the film text in relation to its hidden or repressed meanings, 1970s theory, as formulated by Jean-Louis Baudry, Christian Metz, and Laura Mulvey, emphasized the crucial importance of the cinema as an apparatus and as a signifying practice of ideology, the viewer-screen relationship, and the way in which the viewer was ‘constructed’ as transcendental during the spectatorial process.” (Creed) Creed notes, just as Hitchcock and other Filmmakers understand, that, in the newer psychoanalytic theory, cinema creates a feeling of superiority for the audience over those they observe. Truly, we don’t only take pleasure from viewing characters on the screen, we desire it in our every day lives, and cinema satisfies that need.

The corollary to this rule is that we also desire to be watched just as much as we desire to watch. Own own narcissism and ego, as freud sees it, creates another strong desire to have our selves be seen by those around us. Further, we begin to identify, in other people and things, ourselves. Though, as Lacan laments in his examination of the mirror stage, as we identify ourselves in other people, we can never truly see ourselves as we don’t know our true “self.” All of this is true in the cinematic experience: “Similarly, the spectator in the cinema identifies with the larger-than-life, or ideal- ized, characters on the screen. Thus, as Mulvey (1975) later argued, the viewing expe- rience, in which the spectator identifies with the glamorous star, is not unlike a re-enactment of the moment when the child acquires its first sense of selfhood or subjectivity through identificaton with an ideal self,” (Creed).

As we begin to understand the nature of satisfaction when it comes to voyeurism, its opposite pleasure of being watched, and how they relate to the cinematic experience, we can reflect on one quote from Mulvey that summarizes this relationship well: “two contradictory aspects of the pleasurable structures of looking in the conventional cinematic situation. The first, scopophilic, arises from pleasure in using another person as an object of sexual stimulation through sight. The second, developed through narcissism and the constitution of the ego, comes from identification with the image seen. Thus, in film terms, one implies a separation of the erotic identity of the subject from the object on the screen (active scopophilia), the other demands identification of the ego with the object on the screen through the spectator’s fascination with and recognition of his like,” (Mulvey). This seemingly contradictory relationship, though extremely hard to fully grasp or visually represent, can be seen in one specific scene in Hitchcock’s Spellbound. Specifically, it can be seen in the scene where Dr. Peterson and John Ballentyne kiss for the first time. The meticulous camera placement and cuts put us in the perspective not only of Dr. Peterson (the receiver of J.B’s kiss), but also as an anonymous figure, just aside, both partaking and observing the whole thing. Expanding on this, the scene begins at 28:33, when J.B. first stares directly into the camera, talking to Dr. Peterson, thereby establishing us, the audience as her, Dr. Peterson. The scene then goes into a shot-reverse-shot of the conversation, continually coming back to a reverse POV of J.B., but keeping Dr. Peterson’s gaze just off the lens. This creates an interesting observer effect where we become both part of the scene and simply observers. This relationship continues until J.B. leans in for the kiss. When the camera cuts back to our mysterious observer position, the effect of leaning in from J.B’s POV is replicated, insinuating our involvement in this kiss not as J.B. but instead as a sort of anonymous manage a trios member.

Not only are we cinematographically being physically put in the scene, Hitchcock may also be layout out the exact concepts outlined above. In this sequence, the audience is more easily made aware of their own self-idendification within the scene and, therefore, within the characters. While it may not become fully obvious that that very self-identification stems from our voyeuristic drives, the sequence brings forth a cinematic and visual understanding of the psychoanalytic concepts that make cinema so pleasurable.

The Totem Replacing the Father

There is a particular notion that Lacan expressed which we heard during our very first class that I always find myself coming back to. Though I can’t remember verbatim how he put it, the general sentiment was that no matter how one opposes figures or structures of authority, there will always be something that replaces it. It is this very fact that, I believe, motivates the concluding sequences of Apocalypse Now. Now, as we can understand this final scene within the context of Lacan, we can also look at it in combination with a Freudian understanding of the Totem. As Freud discusses, the Totem in primal societies stands as a substitute for the Father. So, using these two understandings, what, then, becomes the significance of Willard’s killing of Kurtz?

I believe the significance takes weight in both a Freudian and a Lacanian fashion. Firstly, in the scene where Willard kills Kurtz (or rather slaughters him), it is cinematically paired with the sacrifice of the Totem Bull. Reflecting on Freud, we can understand the Bull as the Father (Kurtz). “Psycho-analysis has revealed that the totem animal is in reality a substitute for the father; and this tallies with the contradictory fact that though killing the animal is a rule forbidden, yet its killing is a festive occasion – with the fact that it is killed and yet mourned.” In the same way that killing the bull as a representation of the father is both forbidden and yet allowed, Willard killing Kurtz is seen in the same way. This is elucidated in his exiting the temple only to be met with emotional ambivalence and pseudo praise, demonstrated through the blank stairs of the followers, followed by them bowing to Willard. In this sense, now as Freud states it, Willard has not only followed the primal desire to kill what the Totem represents (i.e. the father) , but has also, as Lacan sees it, replaced the Father as an authority figure.

“Perhaps”

“Perhaps out of gratitude, she bore him sixteen children.” Kara Keeling takes particular care in handling this very sentence, quoted from Eve’s Bayou. The flow the sentence sparks particular intrigue for the same reason that Keeling spends so much time analyzing it. The word ‘perhaps’ brings forth some interesting reflections on the sentiment adult Eve explores in her narration at the beginning of the film. As Keeling notes, the qualification of ‘perhaps,’ while discussing the children the Eve bore to Jean Paul, “…highlights three things at once: (1) the story’s status as ‘folklore’ (as opposed to ‘official history’ with its claim to ‘accuracy’) or as an element of the common sense that glues the residents of Eve’s Bayou together as a ‘community’; (2) the affective (and hence subjective) character of the procreative exchange between Eve and Jean Paul; and (3) the indeterminacy that must be accorded to any attempt to measure the the value of that exchange apart from the quantity of its expressions (sixteen children).” The third issue raised by Keeling is one that I believe deserves further exploration, in addition to a potential fourth issue not noted but potentially created in addition to the former three; that fourth issue, which can be seen as a subset of the third, is Eve’s intentionality in adding the qualifier highlights her greater anxiety and skepticism about relationships in general, stemming from her own father’s adultery and sexual assault of her sister.

Eve’s need to measure a relationship based on the number of children that have come forth between the people involved is an interesting thing of which to track the origin. The first suggestion of this mentality can be seen in her childhood, when she speaks to her father and asks him if he wants any other children. At this moment, she has already caught  him cheating and has seen the beginning of the destruction of his own marriage. Eve asks her father if he wants any other children. When he responds with no, saying he’s happy with the three he has with her mother, Eve follows up with, “No, I mean, other kids, besides us,” as if to suggest his own adultery may lead to step siblings. Eve, though she may not realize it at that moment, carries a sense of confidence in these questions, as if she knows she’s stirring the pot. Though, at the same time, this may be Eve’s own assessment of the seriousness of her father’s other relationships. Because, if we assume this is the beginning of Eve’s own formation of the metric of number of kids equating to the seriousness of a relationship, as long as there aren’t kids between her father and his mistresses, perhaps Eve’s family structure can hold.

Stemming from that, though not mentioned by Keeling, the word perhaps brings forth a separate issue of Eve’s own paranoia about love and relationships themselves. Let us not forget that Eve witnessed his father having sex with a woman other than her mother, and became the first to hear of her sister’s sexual assault by the same man. Eve’s preconceived notions of her own family, and thereby the lessons they’ve instilled about relationships, have been struck down and replaced by those much darker and yet more realistic. Now, acts of love, words of commitment, and barriers between children and adults have been completely stripped from Eve’s understanding of relationships, leaving only a paranoia about them. This, I believe, makes her need to add “perhaps” as a qualifier when talking about gratitude, and love.

Reconciling What We Don’t Understand

This, I must say, is the first time when I have empathized with Freud. Previously, I stood (or rather sat) at the receiving end of Freudian teachings filtered through the lenses of cinema, 21st century understanding, and, foremost, my own ability to consume such teachings. The first thing I was warned of this semester was that there were going to be times where I would be left completely in the dark, that I wouldn’t understand what was being asserted. And, though I was skeptical at first and cocky about my own ability to understand complex topics, I have found that to be absolutely the case. I say that not to lament about the class and its difficulty, but rather to note that I respect the immensity to which this class requires deep thought, and a fair amount of it, inherently with psychoanalysis, deals with my own understanding of topics.

Going off of this, I often find that some topics come easier to me than others, and sometimes I have to rely on my own creative interpretation of such latter topics. This, unless I am, again, misunderstanding, is what Freud expresses in his interpretation of art. “I may say at once that I am no connoisseur in art, but simply a layman… Nevertheless, works of art to exercise a powerful effect on me, especially those of sculpture and literature, less often of painting.” Freud understands and accepts his own inability to obtain pleasure and understanding in most artistic pieces, though I believe it frustrates him, “This has brought me to recognize that apparently paradoxical fact that precisely some of the grandest and most overwhelming creations of art are still unsolved riddles to our understanding.” Freud follows this statement with an in depth analysis of Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses, solely around his hand and beard placement, still trying to understand, in depth, what the artist was trying to portray.

Here we find a man, dowsed in intellectualism that has stood the test of time, finding himself stooped. Further, that same man cannot be comfortable with his own understanding, though he states the opposite, and in order to reconcile this, he goes into a deep analysis of what he can’t understand. I do the exact same thing. Not understanding doesn’t sit well in my stomach, and makes me motivated to try and figure ‘something’ out. I believe this is the case of humans, and such may be a byproduct of psychoanalysis. All this to say, we have seen psychoanalysis as the attempt to understand what the unconscious is trying to tell us in order to cure psychosis. In a way, our own unconscious sees our conscious not understanding something, and it tries to help. The conscious is Freud, the unconscious is Michelangelo, and the fact that is trying to be understood is Moses, with his hand strangely pitched so as to causes just enough understanding to be noticed, but not enough to overtly expose its meaning.

A Cinematographic Threesome

A seemingly obvious yet hard to articulate pleasure attained from cinema is scopophilia. The very position of the audience member endows them with both an access to the privacy of characters (the example of this most evident in the case of sexual encounters by these character), as well as a sense of anonymity and security in the very act of watching, a sense of comfort we are not allowed in “reality.” Hitchcock is very aware of this perversion, and constantly uses it to his advantage, giving his audience a front row seat to the going-ons of seemingly every day people and reveals them to be just as twisted, perverted, and sick as the rest of us.

The corollary to this rule is that we also desire to be watched just as much as we desire to watch. Usually, as stated, cinema gives us satisfaction for the scopophilia, but in Spellbound Hitchcock satisfies its corollary as well. Specifically, in the scene where Dr. Peterson and John Ballentyne kiss for the first time. The meticulous camera placement and cuts put us in the perspective not only of Dr. Peterson (the receiver of J.B’s kiss), but also as an anonymous figure, just aside, both partaking and observing the whole thing. Expanding on this, the scene begins at 28:33, when J.B. first stares directly into the camera, talking to Dr. Peterson, and thereby establishing us as her. Secondly, the scene goes into a shot-reverse-shot of the conversation, continually coming back to a reverse POV of J.B., but keeping Dr. Peterson’s gaze just off lens. This creates an interesting observer effect where we become both part of the scene and simply observers. This relationship continues until J.B. leans in for the kiss. When the camera cuts back to our mysterious observer position, the effect of leaning in from J.B’s POV is replicated, insinuating our involvement in this kiss not as J.B. but instead as a sort of anonymous manage a trios member.

As far as this cinematographically created trio has to do with psychoanalysis, I cannot yet fully say. As far as I can extrapolate, Hitchcock is playing on the relationship of Doctor and Patient, and how the positionally of the two during this scene is switching, exposing Dr. Peterson as no longer being the intermediary psychoanalyst but rather simply a woman who reminds J.B. of aspects he desires (the miscommunication of love as we have read).

Film as a Dream

Deconstructing how Psychoanalysis relates to cinema, and how thereby it can be represented through the medium, has been a challenging mental feat to say the least. However, though constant reading and discussion, there is a part of me that believes some understanding of that very relationship is starting to be gained. But in unpacking my understanding thus far, I can only recount, as one can only see their given fantasy world in hindsight, how the relationship of cinema and psychoanalysis originally presented itself in my mind. After reading “Cinema and Psychoanalysis: Parallel Histories,” and trying to read between the arguments of that of Freud against the very existence of a psychoanalytic film, and that of Pabst for his own work in representing the science, cinema started to take the shape of the dream in my mind.

If dreams stand as the manifestation, evident of the action of the unconscious, then it is, or it is now but is subject to change, my belief that film can be seen in the same way: the evidence of the action of the unconscious, able to be interpreted and analyzed by way of language by the analysand. In our first reading, BLANK reflects that “The transformation of dream-thought into dream depends on ‘considerations of representability,’… – for the most part, that is, representability in visual images… those thoughts will be preferred which admit of visual representation.” All of this to say, the same words used to describe a dream are often used to describe film, as they both stand as products of representability, the dream using mental images and representations, film using visual and audible representation.

This brings me to the conclusion that, though Freud may disagree, film, particularly psychoanalytic film, can be considered the dream itself. Though Freud laments that the closer one gets to following the rules of film, the further one gets from the rules of psychoanalysis (and thereby, as he sees it, a psychoanalytic film), when those rules are met one may find that they are not falling into the label of psychoanalysis itself or even a representation of the unconcious, but rather a dream.