University of Tasmania
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Only a trickle? Blood in detail and three women's films

posted on 2023-05-26, 09:48 authored by Field, E
This thesis constructs an analysis of the representation of blood in a selection of American films. This analysis does not aim to construct a representative theory of blood, rather, it examines discrete instances and certain relationships between a mainstream discourse of blood and various resistances presented by women film directors. In particular these films present critical approaches to blood at the level of mise-en-scene. The specific presentation of blood works in ways that resist a realist and masculinist tradition that codes blood as a marker of the feminine. An analysis of blood in mise-en-scene is used to reflect upon wider questions of narrative. I use this methodology in the absence of film criticism identifying blood as a specific object of extended analysis. Three theoretical essays form a general backdrop to the project: Barbara Creed's influential study of horror, The Monstrous Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, where blood indicates abjection, castration and the femme castratrice; Steve Neale's essay 'Masculinity as Spectacle' that reads blood as indicating disavowed homoeroticism and doomed narcissism in the Western; and Teresa de Lauretis's essay 'Desire in Narrative' where blood is a marker of the story of the mythological male subject. I isolate two films; Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and Martin Scorsese's 'Taxi Driver'(1976) as inaugurating certain mainstream aesthetics of libidinal violence. Blood here is the paint of penetration and distorted pleasure, however blood also serves to erase a female narrative. In the three films that form the focus of the project, blood is frequently an intertextual key that undoes the overdetermined patterns it speaks to. Bette Gordon's Variety (1983) and Kathryn Bigelow's Blue Steel (1990) evoke scenes from Taxi Driver and Psycho. In Variety sex and blood are the red herrings to an open ended investigation into the scene of pornography. Blue Steel explores the allure of the gun for a female protagonist while detaching the gun from blood as libidinal. While both Variety and Blue Steel intervene into existing structures and genres, Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) is an experimental film and defines itself in opposition to Hollywood cinema. However, this film serves as a postscript to the project in its poetic displacement of mise-en-scene and a female subject position. This film speaks to de Lauretis's concerns in 'Desire in Narrative' in its evocation of the myth of Perseus from the Medusa's point of view. Blood functions as a literal condensation of dreamed and lived events: it is ambivalent realisation of woman's figuration within cinematic myth.


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