The focal point in recent feminist film criticism is the controlling power of the “male gaze” as it works to relegate women to marginality, silence, or absence. Ann Kaplan takes four films from different decades from Hollywood’s “classical period” (1930-60), and a contemporary Hollywood film, Looking for Mr Goodbar, and analyses the traditional ways in which women have been represented in the cinema, pointing out the recurring patterns within patriarchal images that serve to objectify and degrade.
The second half of the book concentrates on the cinema that women have produced in response to these images, summarizing the decade about realism in feminist film criticism, and examining the work of contemporary European, British, and American female filmmakers.
The controversy over feminism and film has intensified over the last ten years, with various schools of thought emerging, from the sociological and political to the structuralist and psychological. Kaplan offers a synthesis of the opposing theories by focusing on social structures while simultaneously acknowledging the importance of an informed psychoanalytic stance.
Her analyses of individual films are accessible and lively, ably demonstrating in a concrete way the theoretical issues under debate. The work is an important contribuition to film theory, and to cultural studies in general, surveying the distance that feminist film criticism has traveled since 1970 and posing questions about its future.