As I continue to work my way through the UCA film collection I’m discovering more interesting subjects and themes. The films viewed this week have covered subjects as diverse as disability, education, tourism, motor racing and brewing beer. One of the things I find so fascinating about archive film is its ability to communicate the social and political preoccupations of that period. As a modern day viewer it’s not only the fashions, cars and lifestyles that seem outmoded but also the social and political viewpoints and in this context for example the way women are represented in some of the films.
The 1970s could not be seen as a high point for the depiction of women on film. Laura Mulvey’s seminal essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1975) argued that classical Hollywood cinema positioned the woman as the subject of “the male gaze”, there to be looked at and little else. Although we are not discussing Hollywood cinema here this certainly rings true in the depiction of women in some of the films I have viewed. “A Seasonal Matter”, a film about the struggling Devon resort town of Ilfracombe, uses saucy British postcards in its credits sequence showing women in various risqué situations on the beach very much for the titillation of men. In “Fresians of the Future”, a travelogue capturing a student trip to France and Spain, attractive women and their body parts are very much the focus as the camera captures the beautiful sites of the countries visited. “The Incredible Shrinking Existence of Norman Clough” is a fictional story about roommates Rod and Norman. Rod is a lothario who treats women as conquests and Norman is hopeless around girls and needs Rod’s help to “pull”. When they go out on a double date Norman inevitably messes everything up and when one of the girls says she wants to enter politics he is condescending.
Viewing these films from a modern day perspective greatly alters how the films are appreciated and what it is about the films that make the viewer take notice even if it was not the original intention of the film maker. I look forward to seeing what else I uncover in the coming weeks.
Carryl Church – Assistant/Film Archivist