Rear Window (1954) and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) have very different plots but still have many striking similarities, such as the manipulation of the spectator?s gaze. Gaze is the transaction between the screen and a spectator. Two examples of the types of gazes used in these films are voyeuristic and fetishistic. The use of voyeuristic and fetishistic gazes reinforce movie viewing and gender roles during the 1950?s by featuring manipulative and frivolous women as sex objects.
Rear Window is a film about obsession and human curiosity. The film further reinforces this point in its plot and through its voyeuristic gaze. The film is about a man named Jeff, a wheelchair-bound photographer, who out of boredom and curiosity spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced that one of them has committed murder. The movie also draws ties between movie viewing and voyeurism. Voyeurism is when someone likes to watch an unsuspecting person. And this is what Jeff does; in fact he even has a voyeuristic job as a photographer. While watching this suspenseful movie, you can?t help but like you are in the movie, which is ironic because it shows that we are doing the same thing as Jeff–we are voyeurs sitting in a dark movie house engrossed in this film. This voyeuristic gaze is shown mainly through Jeff?s eyes. Hitchcock forces us to only see the movie through the eyes of a man. There are females in the movie, but they aren?t in every scene like Jeff is and they do not control the gaze of the camera, but instead are the subjects of the gaze. Also, the camera is kept in Jeff’s apartment (except for a couple of shots near the end), which limits the audience’s view to what Jeff can see and hear from his viewpoint. When he is looking through his camera lens and binoculars, we have no choice but to see the film through Jeff?s eyes. He is free to take in the spectacle of the events in the apartments around him, but he is powerless to intervene. Why he looks, however, is the larger question, and maybe we (the audience) can identify with that common urge to peep. The supporting female character, Stella, reinforces the idea of the voyeuristic gaze when she says, ?We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change.?
Since the male character controls the gaze, we are shown a representation of the female characters through this gaze. This is where Lisa comes in–a beautiful fashion-model who is a spectacle. Mulvey argues that women in film are only shown as spectacle. Lisa is established as a spectacle by her early obsessive use of fashion. She enters Jeff?s apartment in expensive ball gowns, looking perfect. We first see her controlling the gaze by turning on lights in the room and spotlighting herself. And whenever we see her in a new scene, she is posed. Her skirts are always billowing out around her, or else she is standing like a sculpture, not a human. Like Mulvey says, she is the typical female character of the time–?She holds the look, plays to and signifies male desire.? She is shown as a sexual object for the characters in the film and for the spectators as well. She is a sex object for women spectators, too, because we see her as an ideal of the way a woman should look. Through a Narcissistic viewpoint, we wish we looked/acted like she does and, in turn, could control the gaze like she.
However, her character is so annoyingly perfect and feminine, it makes me disgusted. Lisa is depicted as a shallow woman who loves fashion and is dying to land a husband. In the plot, she only helps with the murder case by the use of her feminine mind. She points out things like a woman would never leave without her wedding ring or her favorite handbag. She argues her point by further representing women as shallow nitwits by saying the only time a woman would leave the house without makeup, jewelry and her handbag would be to the hospital. Her desire to be married to Jeff scares him and the only way she is able to land him in the end is by conforming to his ideals. She has to be taken down a peg. She goes from ball gowns to jeans; from reading magazines to travel books. The plot shows women as nags like when Jeff looks into the other apartments that shows women complaining to their husbands or being manipulative. She is also sexual but not overpoweringly so–she is shown as innocent as well.
In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes the plot revolves around two female characters, but men?s viewpoints are still represented by the constant fetishistic gaze and their constant representation as a spectacle. In this film the gaze is fetishistic, which is when women are shown as spectacle, and parts of their body are put on display. It is masochistic, instead of sadistic like voyeurism is. The two female characters are beautiful showgirls. We are first introduced to them through spectacle–they are performing a song and dance number to a male audience. Just like Jeff?s job reinforces the fact that he is a voyeur, the fact that these women are showgirls shows us that they are fetish objects. We are shown men fawning over them and checking them out. We also see that these women are actively aware and in control of the male gaze and they chose to flaunt it. This film also uses a brief voyeuristic gaze, when Malone, a detective spies on the girls.
This film lacks any strong masculine characters and any sort of traditional morals, instead it’s dominated by the superficial. The two main characters are sex symbols who have their sex-appeal turned on its head. These women may control the plot, but they are just shown as shallow women and sex objects. They wear revealing clothing and are part of male fantasies. Monroe?s character, Lorelei, is shown as the typical blond- dumb, sexy and manipulative. What the plot may give these strong individuals it takes away by having them and their objectives revolve around men. Lorelei?s only objective is marring a millionaire and getting diamonds, thus the song she sings, ?Diamonds are A Gils Best Friend.? There is dialogue but the film uses its spectacles, like the song numbers to move the plot along. Despite the fact that these women are dominating the screen in these musicals, we are also shown, by the mise-e-scene, that they will be controlled. In Lorelei?s song number, ?Diamonds are A Gils Best Friend? the background is very cryptic. We are actually shown female bondage–the extra women in the scene have their faces hidden by a dark veil and females being bounded. Women are physically tied to a chandelier with their hand above their heads, as if they were part of the decoration or an ornament. The song itself is demeaning to women and castrating to men. In her song she declares that all she cares about is jewelry (diamonds) and that she doesn?t care about the man. She says she?ll only be there for the good times–she even condones sexual harassment in the work place as long as she is given jewelry.
The other female character is Dorothy. She is also a showgirl and very aware of the male gaze. She is sexual and is looking for ?love,? not marriage or money. However, Lorelei is sexual, too, but she comes off as innocent, because she is dumb and naive, which makes her non-threatening, despite her attempts at seducing men for money. These women are also shown as very manipulative, by wanting to control men. In the end however, they are shown as being somewhat controlled because they become married women. This shows the end of their free sexuality. Also, Lorelei isn?t able to get her man until she at least admits that she loves him. She doesn?t say without his money, but here the audience can at least feel a little better about the situation, thinking she does care for him. The plot could not end without this, because narratively the plot needed to control the threat women make to male?s castration.
The films Rear Window and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes both take place during the 50?s where women?s roles were trying to be contained, and women were basically seen as sexual objects. These views can be represented in the use of gender by the manipulating gaze- voyeuristic and fetishistic. Gender roles are also formed by the films representation of female characters as shallow and dumb.