Unreal Nature

August 6, 2015

Natural Bedfellows

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… Normality and perversity are … natural bedfellows and, contrarily, the latter is frequently deployed to recalibrate and stabilize the former instead of vice versa.

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

… The strains, the repressive instincts, the disavowals and all the other attendant strategies deployed to hold up the ‘normality’ and hegemony of white, middle-class, heterosexual masculinity emerge furtively but frequently within classical Hollywood cinema, at a time when the explicit questioning of masculinity’s status would have been more problematic.

… A prominent element of the melodramas, especially, is not merely that the elaborate visual style and the use of barriers compensate for the male characters’ repressive instincts and lack of introspection or self-knowledge, but that the male characters — whose bodily gestures often act in tandem with the films’ visual excesses — are also conscious of, but are disavowing, the tensions and anxieties voiced within the mise en scène. The ‘strain’ and anxieties in these examples are, almost, palpable.

There’s Always Tomorrow is one of the most melancholy of Douglas Sirk’s melodramas and, in terms of its portrayal of male unhappiness and desperation, one of the most depressing. Alongside The Wrong Man, Bigger than Life and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, There’s Always Tomorrow is one of a cluster of Hollywood films from 1955 to 1956 in which the breadwinner patriarch, the supposedly hegemonic male of 1950s America, is shown not to be as content and secure as might be expected but, conversely, to be miserable, desperate and insecure. The pervasive and enduring malaise of these films is far from alleviated by their tacked-on and deeply implausible ‘happy endings’; the hopelessness by this point is woven into the films’ fabric and has been signalled from the outset on the level of mise en scène.


[ … ]

… The determining male ‘anxiety’ is not that masculinity is foolish or easily mocked, but that, having thought it was the identity position against which its ‘Others’ were defined, it discovers, in fact, that it is the most precarious and unsustainable of identity positions.

… To be ‘a man’s man’ (John Wayne, Charlton Heston, Peckinpah’s ‘wild bunch,’ Jean-Clause Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Wesley Snipes, Will Smith) is not to be a man’s man at all when it comes to sexuality. It is only on a superficial level that heterosexual masculinity operates in binary opposition to homosexuality, as this segregation is virtually impossible to enforce, an awkwardness that resonates through much Hollywood ‘men’s cinema,’ in which normative masculinity is so frequently enriched by a complex dependency on its unspeakable, unconscious, repressed Other. … [I]n so many ways and in so many films, hegemonic masculinity is understood through, and not in contradistinction to, homosexuality, a realization that endlessly enriches studies of men’s cinema.

[ … ]

… Even Hitchcock’s more heteronormative films (it is dangerous to place any in this category, but perhaps Rear Window, or To Catch a Thief?) contain perverse irruptions; as a highly perceptive former student asked in his dissertation on Rear Window: ‘When is a pervert not a pervert? When he solves a murder.’ L.B. Jeffries is saved from perversity through solving a crime, as his obsessive voyeurism of his backyard becomes the tool with which he achieves this (although what he is doing with a collection of old slides of the flowerbeds — taken before he suspects Thorwald — is never quite explained away).

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Hovering on the brink of perversity is where many of Hitchcock’s heterosexual men find themselves, a precarious symbolic position consolidated by Hitchcock’s alternation between a flatter, more functional style and his penchant for visual excess: the distended shadows in Rebecca, the scarlet haze that engulfs the screen in Marnie, the use of the subjective inverse zoom in Vertigo. Normality and perversity are, in Hitchcock’s films, natural bedfellows and, contrarily, the latter is frequently deployed to recalibrate and stabilize the former instead of vice versa.


… perversity, however strenuously denied or disavowed, comes to haunt the text and merges on the surface of the films [discussed in this chapter] through their visual style and within the mise en scène, so forcing a redefinition of Hollywood’s portrayal of, and narrative attachment to, hegemonic masculinity. [ … ] The effect of this reassessment occurring on the levels of mise en scène and visual style is that ‘masculinity’ becomes a more mutable concept, accessible to a diverse range of spectatorships or points of view.

My previous post from Bruzzi’s book is here.




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