Marlene Dietrich Madonna And The Male Gaze

This essay has a total of 2473 words and 11 pages.

Marlene Dietrich Madonna and the Male Gaze

Marlene Dietrich, Madonna, and the Male Gaze
in Blonde Venus and Desperately Seeking for Susan

As audiences, we subconsciously identify the male protagonists and take female as spectacle during the film watching, due to the social function of narrative films. (Turner 72)1 Thus feminists have been slashing the objection of female body in :male gaze; in the narrative films over the decades. Male gaze is in term of the fetishistic scopophilia and sadistic voyeurism. Fetishistic scopophilia deals with male visual control over females for the aesthetic presentation, which influence the presence of female body in films. And sadistic voyeurism is the erotic gaze in pains, which shapes the female characterization in films. Thus, the female characters in narrative films share the common pattern { beautiful and fragile, in other words, not intellectual and dependent on men.
Nevertheless, Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus and Madonna in Desperately Seeking for Susan smash this pattern. They breaks the rule first by being the leading characters in films and such concentration of the female protagonist also means the depiction of male as peripheral to the plot. ( Turner 171)2 Another breaking-rule is their characterization different from the conventional female role. Marlene in the Blonde Venus as Helen Jones is intellectual and capable of men・s role of raising a family and Madonna・s role, Susan, :plays; with men, mentioned by Jimmy, Susan・s boyfriend. But the most alienated from the conventional female role in films is in their way of performing. And even though they all pose some challenge to male gaze, their ways of role-playing are at opposite poles.
Their role-playing can discuss from the three elements to shape their characters, camera movement, mise-en-scene and the performance of star.
The camera always shoots Marlene from a relative low angle when she・s with other male characters. The only two shots shooting her from high angle is when she・s questioned by the judge in court and she・s gazing her husband for rejoining the family again in the end. Plus those constantly close ups of her face with indifferent eyes all apparently indicates her aloofness and detachment except for her son, while in the Desperately Seeking for Susan most Madonna・s shots are packed up with some quick cuts of focus on her spicy body with fire in her eyes for searching something dazzling, like glittering shoes, gold earrings, etc.. While they all appeal to audience in same visual and sensational pleasures, the camera movements create different perspectives for Marlene Dietrich and Madonna. Marlene・s high angle shot indicates her relative superior position to male characters and Madonna・s :body; sequences carries one contradictory message, female body freedom or female body spectacle. The crucial reason is because that Marlene presents it by not looking sexy but being sexy and Madonna does it by looking sexy in dressing less and exposing herself.
Though in the opening sequences of the Blonde Venus begins with the naked blondes・ swimming, what audiences enjoy watching is not the stripped body itself but the way it is presented. The art is in seeming. This pattern carries tremendous pleasures through the Blonde Venus, we appreciate Marlene・s legs from the perspective of identifying
with the sense of beauty rather than actual sexually desire. Marlene is positioned as a sexual subject rather than sex object in the Blonde Venus. Audiences expect to see what・s she going to do or what happen to her next not which part of her body she・s going to expose. She・s being viewed and identified as sexy figure not a spectacle of sex.
Mise-en-scene is also important for Marlene Dietrich・s role-playing, especially costumes. Marlene・s cross-dressed figure is constantly showed in the films. Whether with top hats and tails moving her long cigarette holder, taking one dancing girl by the sleeve and pinching her on the cheek in a parody of phallic power (Kaplan126)3 and with fur-trimmed coat and stiletto heels in the conventional codes of female roles (Turner 81)4 work together for her cross-gender representation. And we never see Marlene shake her hips during the show time like what the other dancing girls do in film. When we see her performs on stage, she appears in gorilla suit singing :Hot Voodoo; or in male・s suit. As Tynan(Pam 81)5 puts it, :Her masculinity appeals to women and her sexuality (not femininity) to men.; Through acting out these male characteristics, Marlene・s toughness questions the conventional ideas about female nature and femininity in playing :like men; and demanding a uniquely feminine voice and experience. Even though Marlene Dietrich・s performance is mainly for entertaining male audiences, but she never use her body seductiveness to do the job but her natural disposition for being sexy.
Quite different from Marlene Dietrich, Madonna uses exact the same object of male desire to punish male gaze, female body. And that makes feminists celebrate and condemn her.
:Your body is a battleground.; Barbara Kruger・s motif fits for Madonna・s case.
Unlike Marlene Dietrich, Madonna defies rather than rejects male gaze, teasing with her own gaze in the display of her body on purpose.
We see she show off her body all over in the Desperately Seeking for Susan, even the almost transparent brassiere doesn・t stop her from changing clothes in public. Madonna・s Susan doesn・t care those men・s whistles or gazes when she passes them by on the street for her body. And she takes good advantage from such attention, which is also a form of punishment for male gaze, stealing men・s hearts and money. Dez warns Roberta not to :steal; anything when he mistakes her as Susan. Susan doesn・t mind to go over Gary・s place and lie down with him just for talk. She is sexually aggressive but it is Gary who feels uncomfortable or say sexual stirred when she asks him to lie down with her. Madonna plays off and mocks all male presumption (both Gary・s and audiences) that Susan is inviting Gary for sex but what really happens on screen has nothing to do with sex but Gary confides in to Susan.
Madonna searches for body freedom through her rebellious sexuality (Susan slept with whoever she wants to) and tries to get rid of male gaze by refusing to be obedient to dominant and normalized standards of female role, like Roberta. As Susan Bordo writes, :Madonna uses simulation strategically in ways that challenge the stable notion of gender as the edifice of sexual difference.; (Cathy 281)6
But her way of liberating female from conventional gender relationship by displaying body and her image as material girl still stir up condemnations, while feminists celebrate her resistance to embody any positioned subjectivity.
There is great contradiction. On the one hand, Madonna exposes her body for challenge male gaze to take female body as the sex object while she takes female body as nature and share the beauty of it. On the other hand, Madonna fulfills male gaze and their voyeuristic desire to see the object. She may fall into the trap of male expectation of female sexuality.
What・s more essentially is that Madonna・s representation of female body isn・t different from the other displays of female body as cinema spectacle from those Hollywood narrative films. Madonna・s image as material girl, who wears miniskirt and puts on lots of glittering accessor

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