Film in the Second Degree: Cabaret and the Dark Side of Laughter1
TERRI J. GORDON
Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature The New School
ARLY FEMINIST FILM CRITICISM focused on the representation of women as commodities, as objects of exchange and objects of the male gaze. In her groundbreaking 1975 essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Laura Mulvey undertook a psychoanalytic reading of film, reading visual pleasure as a scopophilic pleasure, a process in which the (male) spectator abets the castration anxiety associated with the (female) object of the gaze by exerting control over the object or disavowing it and turning it into a fetish.2 The fetishization of the female body takes many forms, such as the reduction of the female form to parts or the cult of the star. Film criticism in the decade following, work by Mary Ann Doane, Tania Modleski, Kaja Silverman, and Teresa de Lauretis, among others, sought to complicate the duality of male subject and female object by paying attention to the position of the female spectator, to the enunciation of female desire, and to the possibility of fluid subject positions and multiple points of identification.3 Contemporary theories of performativity stress the processes
1 Read 8 October 2004. I am grateful to Richard and Mary Dunn for hosting the first German-American Frontiers of Humanities symposium and for the thoughtful feedback of the participants, whose comments were extremely helpful in the revision of this essay. Special thanks to Alan Lareau and Randi Gunzenhäuser for organizing the “Cultural Studies/Media Studies” session and for their careful reading and editing of this essay. I would also like to thank the curators at Photofest and the Billy Rose Theatre Collection of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts for providing invaluable research material and Laurence Maslon for sharing the original transcripts of the documentary film Broadway: the American Musical (New York: Ghost...