By Kriss Perras
Dominant Fiction being the formula which Hollywood cinema is based, it is not hard to see how modern cinema still has miles to go before it overcomes the problems of classic cinema in relation to women.
In the vein of feminist Barbara Creed, certain elements in the horror film genre are used as symbols of the ultimate abject – that is, the symbol of the thing we fear most, which is the monster in this genre. Elements such as female blood, saliva and vomit in the original films The Exorcist, or Alien, are used as frightful symbols of evil. In Alien, the monster’s blood is acid ooze that eats through the ship. In The Exorcist, the little girl’s menstrual blood is used as a dirty and alien component to the female body in a gruesome scene with her mother. In these examples, female blood is seen as corrosive and destructive to the symbolic – or patriarchal – order. Whereas, male blood on the ship’s battlefield in Alien or Christ’s blood in The Exorcist is used as a saving grace and pure, even holy.
“Cinema still has miles to go before it overcomes the problems of classic cinema in relation to women.”
The maternal body in Alien is a symbol of the monster, or the abject. The alien is inseminated through the human mouth and implanted into its host and “born” C-section style through the stomach. The maternal is thereby placed at the bottom of the symbolic order as monster. The alien’s voice is only the screams of a monster – the alien is mute, not unintelligent, but mute in the sense the female voice is not heard but only an utterance and therefore feared. Even in the progression of the Alien films, up to Alien V. Predator, the female alien is still the monster and male predator is humanized and hero.
For Hollywood to overcome the problems of classic cinema in relation to women, much work still needs to be done. A simple role reversal would be the same old dominant fiction formula, such as the male voice perceived as evil emanating from the girl in The Exorcist.
In cinema, there are the typical three looks: the look of the camera, the audience and the characters to each other. Narrative, conflict and perspective are created with these three looks. The old dominant formula was to deny the look of the camera and audience in favor of the male character to the female character creating a conflict of male dominance over woman.
Many feminist filmmakers find a common bond with the classic cinema directors in the idea of the three looks. A feminist lens opens cinema up to other perspectives and stronger conflict by utilizing all three looks to be more inclusive, most especially the look of character to character – woman at man in addition to the current dominant lens of male at female.
Society has repressed the idea of woman as leader or the symbol of good in favor of ideas of original sin placed on the woman in the symbolic order of things. Yet the idea of a more open lens might already be present in the progressing storylines of Hollywood cinema’s anxiety towards the female image. Screen ideas of woman vomiting on a patriarchal symbol like the Priest in The Exorcist might be Hollywood’s repressed conscious working out its fears so Western society can manage its dominant male ego.