Unreal Nature

July 30, 2015

Male Sexuality Is a Bit Like Air

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… Just as whiteness has also done, it ‘secures its dominance by seeming not to be anything in particular’ …

This is from Men’s Cinema: Masculinity and Mise en Scène in Hollywood by Stella Bruzzi (2013):

… it falls to Hunt to don the hi-tech lycra climbing gear, goggles and a pair of computer-controlled sucker gloves with which he is supposed to scale eleven storeys up [they are already near top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai] and seven units along in 26 minutes to override the computer settings. After helping to remove one of the glass windows (wincing ‘Oh, that’s high’ as he carries it off), Benji explains the gloves’ simple colour-coded light system: ‘blue is glue,’ ‘And red?’ Ethan asks — ‘is dead,’ Benji replies as nonchalantly as he can. The next edit heralds excitement, anticipation and dread: framed from behind, Cruise steps gingerly on to the discarded window’s ledge; the smooth camera follows, goes up and over his shoulder and continues on until it is looking vertically down over his head. Vertiginous images of the heroes’ seemingly impossible feats or escapes from tall buildings are commonplace in the modern action film, couched within the technically audacious, visually complex sequences, made up of a rich array of images, angles, shot lengths that doubtless many spectators watch only with their eyes half shut.

In Ghost Protocol‘s rendition of this obligatory sequence, Cruise steps out into the whistling wilderness; the camera rolls behind him to get a better look, giving the impression that we — as we will feel at various junctures in the sequence — are stranded in mid-air with nothing to support us. Cruise attaches a sucker mitten purposefully to the glass windows that reflect back the surrounding scenery, thereby minimising still further any distinctions between building and atmosphere.

[following the usual numerous near-miss catastrophes capped by success, ‘Hunt’ returns down the face of the building]

… Making effective use of an anchored roll of cord (again, the precariously secured rope or cord has become a regular men’s cinema motif), he hurls himself through the window with the cord tied around his waist. The introductory chords of the Mission: Impossible theme tune start up as, like some anarchic virtual reality fairground ride, the camera throws itself smoothly out after Hunt, hurtling towards the ground. [ … ] The cord runs out and Ethan [Hunt] is stopped in his tracks, leaving Brandt to shout up helpfully (from yet another angle — this time from over Hunt’s shoulder looking down): ‘your line’s not long enough.’ Ethan replies, ‘no shit,’ looks (framed tightly now) over his shoulder and, as a robust, assertive, brass-led arrangement of the Mission:Impossible music blasts away, charges back the way he came, perpendicular to the skyscraper. As he gets to the building’s corner, Ethan, on the beat, releases himself into the sky in a perfect arc. The macho leitmotif is suppressed and gives way to altogether wispier and more tentative violins as, spanning a patchwork of short and diverse individual shots, Agent Hunt builds up sufficient momentum to launch himself at the window where Brandt and Carter are standing.


[ … ]

Richard Dyer outlines the possible reasons for the absence hitherto of critical writing on masculinity as a concept and a style when he remarks:

One would think that writing about images of male sexuality would be as easy as anything. We live in a world saturated with images, drenched in sexuality. But this is one of the reasons why it is in fact difficult to write about. Male sexuality is a bit like air — you breathe it in all the time, but you aren’t aware of it much. Until quite recently, what was talked about was the mysterious topic of female sexuality, or else, the subject of deviant male practices. Ordinary male sexuality was simple sexuality, and everyone knew what it was.

[ … ]

… Masculinity, as a concept and a style within film studies, was taken for a long time to be the universal, the known, not the ‘other’ which more urgently merited critical scrutiny and redefinition. Just as whiteness has also done, it ‘secures its dominance by seeming not to be anything in particular’ and yet, under scrutiny, ‘is often revealed as emptiness, absence, denial, or even a kind of death’ (Dyer, 1993). Similarly, in subjecting to scrutiny ‘masculinity’ in Hollywood movies, and not taking either masculinity’s or Hollywood’s invisible hegemony as givens, is symbolically to bring ‘a kind of death’ to both. Extending Dyer’s ideas, Nicola Rehling, in Extra-Ordinary Men: White Heterosexual Masculinity in Contemporary Popular Cinema, identifies her reasons for examining Hollywood films:

Popular films are often far more complex than they tend to be given credit for (rather like straight men) and frequently contain ruptures, gaps, tensions, and incoherencies that indicate collective anxieties and desires, as well as ideological conflict (as do straight men).

My study takes as its starting point the need to examine what ‘everyone knows,’ namely the most mainstream, omnipresent and ‘ordinary’ forms of cinema, and identifies within this universal what can positively be defined as ‘men’s cinema’ as opposed to what is merely taken for granted.

… Just as the ‘normal sexual aim,’ in its purest manifestation of heterosexual penetrative sex, is neurotic so heterosexual masculinity, in its most pared down form (Sylvester Stallone’s monosyllabic Rambo, for example), is hysterically two-dimensional, stripped of normality and ultimately perverse. Men might aspire to an ideal of masculinity but, unless they are odd and dysfunctional, they cannot embody it, for to do so successfully would be perverse. Masculinity, like ‘normal sexuality,’ is the sum of its perversions.




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