I recently checked out Feminist Film Theory and Cleo from 5 to 7 written by Hilary Neroni and enjoyed it thoroughly. Being a fan of the French New Wave cinema movement and movies by directors involved indirectly with the Wave, I had never managed to watch a film by Agnes Varda, who was a part of the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) movement along with Alain Resnais and Chris Marker. Reading the book became the impetus to watch Cleo from 5 to 7 directed by Agnes Varda in 1962. In a refreshing approach and a jargon free language Neroni walks the reader through the arc of feminist film criticism and theory, and then having done so, employs Varda’s classic film examining how a (feminist) female oriented movie operates.
The book informs the reader that feminist film criticism was initially inspired by the second wave of feminism and postcolonial theory. Neroni talks about the influence of Freud and Lacan and conditions under which Laura Mulvey wrote her seminal essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” in 1973 analyzing the “male gaze” and objectification of the female body in classic Hollywood cinema. Later theoreticians criticized Mulvey for only relying on a Eurocentric and heterosexual lens(es). For example, bell hooks, the African American academic, pointed out that black women viewed those films with an “oppositional gaze” instead of identifying with the white male gaze. Other theoreticians asserted, also, that viewers were capable of a “dialectical gaze” and may assert bisexual desires. Lesbian desire and gaze, too, complicate male/female power paradigm. Issues of race, class, and sexual preference have also been layered upon Laura Mulvey’s initial thesis.
San Francisco Public Library has a very good collection of books on film criticism and feminist film criticism. Interested patrons can also do a Subject search under: Homosexuality in motion picture. In recent times, Queer theory has also gained prominence when understanding the issue of “male gaze”.
For basic reading, we recommend the following titles:
Feminist film theory and Cléo from 5 to 7 / Hilary Neroni
Feminist film theorists : Laura Mulvey, Kaja Silverman, Teresa de Lauretis, Barbara Creed / Shohini Chaudhuri
Chick flicks : theories and memories of the feminist film movement / B. Ruby Rich
Theory of the image : capitalism, contemporary film, and women / Ann Kibbey
The Routledge encyclopedia of film theory / edited by Edward Branigan and Warren Buckland
Paris is burning : a queer film classic / Lucas Hilderbrand
Framed : lesbians, feminists, and media culture / Judith Mayne
Postcolonial theory and Avatar / Gautam Basu Thakur