Feminist Film theory
the representations of the female gender
representation of female characters
the status of women in the film industry
A feminist film focuses upon the female gender and
experiences of women, rather than merely has a female lead
Feminist film theorists
• Laura Mulvey - ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (1975)
• Mulvey discusses the ‘Male Gaze’ - mainstream cinema is
constructed around a series of ‘gazes’ for male pleasure.
• This includes the characterisation, the camerawork and the
• Females are objectified for the (sexual) pleasure of the male
• Claire Johnstone (1975) ‘Women’s Cinema as Counter
• Argues that through conscious production and in opposition to
sexist ideologies, films made by women have the potential to
pose as an alternative to traditional mainstream films.
Marxist Film theory
• Karl Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto in 1948.
• He believed that the history of society was based on class
struggles and materialism
• He was in opposition to traditional Hollywood narrative
structure and was opposed to a singular protagonist
• but was in favour of group decision making. Marxist theory
films can also encode political views, with a belief that
Hollywood promotes capitalism by drawing you into the
propaganda/ marketing. For example, a shot reverse shot is
devised to make the viewer align with the
Marxist ideas are:
• Everyone is equal
• Capitalism is an evil and corrupting force
• The Government should protect its people, not oppress them.
This can be seen in film as:
• The individual can make a difference to the world, a group can
change the world
• The individual can improve themselves, by being part of a
• Good will triumph and effort will be rewarded
• The criminal returns to the scene of the crime and evil will be
• Corruption exists in isolated cases
• Financial comfort and stable marriage is the best reward/ do
not do drugs/ drink/ meddle with things you do not
Films relate to this by:
Supporting the ideology
Attacking the ideology / message
Subverting the messages and values
Attacking first and then endorsing
Looking like they endorse and then show weaknesses in the
• French New Wave films are an example of this
Postcolonialism and Race Studies
• Post Colonialism = the relationship between nations/ areas
that have been ruled / colonised.
• Postcolonialism refers to the time after the period of
colonialism, (mainly through flashbacks).
• It is often controversial and relates to identity politics.
• Postcolonial theory addresses identity matters, race, racism,
ethnicity and gender.
• It deals with resistance, conflict, challenges to western schools
of thought (including religion and law, creativity/ capitalism
Psychoanalytic Film Theory
• developed in the 1970-80s associated with critical theory
which analyses film from a psychoanalytical stand point.
• The viewer is identified as the subject of the ‘gaze’ what is
constructed by the text.
• What is on screen (mise en scene) is the object of the
• Identification is normally through the male protagonist for the
subject / viewer.
• The theory argues that the film seems to offer a completeness
to the subject / viewer, although this is always an illusion (as
films are merely constructions of reality).
Psychoanalytic Film Theorists
• Jacques Lacan (French - Freudian - Philosopher 1901-1981)
• The main idea is that the theory deconstructs both the
spectacle of cinema and the elements of film, which are both
shaped by the unconscious.
• The unconscious has been broken down into four areas:
• The Filmmaker’s Unconscious
• The Character’s Unconscious
• The Audience’s Unconscious
• The Unconsciousness of Cinematic Discourse.
• It is also worth looking at Freudian theory in relation to this.
Social Realist (British New Wave)
• representation and exploration of political and social issues.
• Social realist films represent true-to-life characters and
• The lighting is normally ‘naturalistic’, which means without
lenses or soft lighting
• Social Realist Film Theorists
• Raymond Williams (British Professor, 1921-1988)
• Samantha Lay
Common themes of social
Working class as heroes
Structuralist Film Theory
• The theory explores, or demystifies, how films create meaning
through codes and conventions (or semantics and content)
• denotation / connotation
• Sign / signified
• A shot of someone looking sad, then a shot to a glass of water
and back to the person, the audience would understand that
the person was thirsty.
• the use of editing, a particular shot or lighting technique can
all emphasise a meaning, emotion or reaction from the
Formalist film theory
• how the different elements create an effect and have a style
• film = art and therefore is not a reproduction of reality, it is a
• Auteurs create their own style - for example Quentin
Tarantino and his use of dialogue and close ups and how they
communicate ideas, themes and an emotive response to their
audience / fans.