For this assignment I am required to look at the notion of ‘deviance’ in relation to Michael Powell’s films. The films which I will be looking at will be Black Narcissus (1947) and Peeping Tom (1959). I am going to look at the characters and concepts which are explored within each of these films; I will look in particular at the main characters from each of the films and discuss their portrayal of deviance and the ideas which surround it. I will examine how the women are portrayed, looking at their behaviour throughout the films and the reactions to this.
I will explore issues about sex and sexuality and how it is conveyed to the audience throughout each of the films. I will also touch on the concept of foreignness, in relation to Black Narcissus, and otherness, in relation to both of the films. I will also go into detail about fetishism, voyeurism and will also touch on the oedipal trajectory, especially relating to Peeping Tom.
I will also mention sadism and discuss this throughout Peeping Tom. I will also explore and discuss the phallic metaphors and sexual innuendos contained within both of the films.
The first film I would like to discuss is Peeping Tom. This has the most obvious cases of deviance. It contains many ‘deviant’ subjects; the main one being voyeuristic sadism, however there is also the fetishisation of the female object. As well as the deviance of flirtatious exhibitionalist women. The majority of Peeping Tom surrounds the deviant notion of “Scopophilia – Literally the desire to see” (Hayward, 2000: 318) and voyeurism, with the addition of sadism “domination through narrative subjugation, in which the woman is investigated and either punished or saved ” (Burgoyne, R.
nd Flitterman – Lewis, S. and Stam, R, 1992: 175) and also fetishism “overvaluation, in which the glamourised figure of the woman – or body part – is offered, luminous and spectacular” (Burgoyne, R. and Flitterman – Lewis, S. and Stam, R, 1992: 175).
The first I would like to examine is voyeurism, in relation to Mark, the main character. After being exposed to twenty four hour surveillance by his severely controlling father as a child, for scientific research. He becomes a scopophilliac, obsessesed with using another person as an object of sexual stimulation through sight.
As well as the obsession with fear. He also commits the ultimate act of scopophilia at the end of the film by watching his own death. Mark is the subject of the gaze and therefore is in the authoritative, commanding position. The women whom he watches are the object of his gaze. Men are reluctant to be seen as the object of the gaze. For example when Mark is getting ready to film Viv; she gets behind the camera and films him. This appears to disturb him as it shifts the boundaries of controlling and controller. “The male gaze probes and investigates her.
She cannot return the gaze because she is not the subject” (Hayward, 2000: 262). Mark is a Peeping Tom, who can only get sexual satisfaction from being the subject of the gaze, as well as watching people die. “Mark is using his camera to break boundaries, to probe into the unshowable” (Reading, A. et al, 1999: 231). This is evident with his filming of death and also with his fascination with the bruise on the young girls face. Everywhere he goes he takes his camera with him. When he does leave it behind, we see him with Helen walking through the alleyway and he encounters a kissing couple.
He immediately reaches for his camera. This shows that the camera is an extension of him; it could also be shown as representation of the penis. He is unable to cope with being turned on without being behind his camera. As Mark does not conform to the ‘normal’ conventions of how a man behaves sexually, he is a deviate. When he sees a woman who turns him on, he has to film her and whenever he films a woman he kills her “For him to film a woman is literally to kill her” (Reading, A. et al, 1999: 232). He then saves the filmed footage to watch by himself later.
As he is unable to express his sexual desire he is unsure of how to act toward Helen he knows that if he becomes turned on by her, he will have to kill her. Although Mark never has sex, the filming of the women could be seen as a metaphor for sex; the woman sexually excites him so he gets out the phallic object (the knife) and plunges it into his victim, the death being the climax for him. More evident in the first scene where he stands up in a very awkward manner during the viewing as if sexually aroused by the woman’s distress and as she is killed he sits down as if relieved, or worn out.
I will now move on to the fetishisation of the female during the film. “Phallocentrism depends on the image of the castrated woman to give order and meaning to its world” (Mulvey, www. maricamenmartinez. com/mulvey. html). Men realise at an early age that the mother lacks a penis, as the women lacks this phallic object they believe she has been castrated, and as women are seen as passive objects that are inferior to men, they then have the anxiety and fear of being castrated and therefore becoming inferior like the female.
The dominance of a male subjectivity whose gaze, motivated by a fear of castration, either fetishises the ‘threatening’, dangerous woman into the phallic and therefore unthreatening other, or seeks to control and punish the perceived source of this fear” (Hayward, 2000:118-119) Men therefore have to fetishise the women to compensate for the lack. This is done by various means, such as pointed shoes or spike heels, something that represents the phallus and cancels the threat of castration.
During the first scene when Mark is walking behind the prostitute, he glances toward her spike heeled stillhettos several times; this is repeated when he walks into the room above the newsagents, when he looks at the model, he glances at her shoes also. He also sees a woman putting on spiky heels whilst out walking with Helen. Helens blind mother is also fetishised by the point on the end of her walking stick. The women he chooses to kill are deviants themselves as they flirt with him and cause him anxiety. He becomes disgusted with women who behave in such a manner.
For example, his first victim offers him her body for money. This to him is something he cannot cope with. He does not conform to the conventions of ‘normal’ men. Instead of having sex with her he kills her in a sadistic manner. He punishes her for her behavior. The same applies to Viv, the film extra whom he asks to photograph. She dances for him in a very flirtatious way. She is consequently killed. The third he kills is the model who takes off her clothes for a living, each are exhibitionalists who are punished for their behavior.
Mark is also very effeminate, he shows this side whilst out with Helen. This could happen because he does not have his camera with him, his metaphorical penis; therefore he is stripped of his masculinity. It could also be said that Mark has gender anxieties, and by killing off these women, he is killing off the femininity and regaining his masculinity. I will now look at Black Narcissus. This is one of the most erotic films to come out of British Cinema, especially in the 1940’s. Its subject is sexual repression.
The use of sexual innuendos and phallic metaphors is obvious throughout the film. As this film was made in 1947, this subject was not common. Powell and Pressberger were said to be “deliberately courting controversy” (Chapman, 2003: 225). The film is about a convent of nuns who go to work on a mountain in Calcutta; it looks in particular at two nuns, Sister Clodagh and Sister Ruth. This film has the binary structure of a horror film, with Sister Clodagh representing the pure and sexually repressed maiden; she is very restrained in her manner and has an air of decorum.
Sister Ruth on the other hand is seen as the deviant, she symbolises the monster that pursues the maiden. She is all of Sister Clodaghs hidden desires, and she acts them out, she is very melodramatic and unrestrained with her actions. Everything which Sister Clodagh hides, her sexuality, femininity, anger and other emotions, Sister Ruth displays these without a thought. Sister Clodagh often daydreams about things which she cannot have, jewels, a boyfriend, a free life something she cannot have because of her life as a nun.
The obviously deviant character apparent in Black Narcissus is Sister Ruth; she is the one who goes against the rules of being a Nun. The Reverend Mother admits to Sister Clodagh that she is a problem. When we first see Sister Ruth it is when she is given the job of ringing the bell. The way in which she completes this act, can be seen as a metaphor for masturbation. She grasps the rope, which represents the phallus and pulls it and appears to become sexually heated, she pants and smiles. This is one form of fetishising the female form, we compensate for the lack of penis by giving her the rope.
The next time we see Sister Clodagh ringing the bell, she also looks like she is masturbating, she is sweating, and panting, and she looks aroused as she pulls upon the phallic rope. This happens once again further on in the film with Sister Clodagh, who looks down upon Dean as she rings a bell. The man who she secretly desires, another metaphor for masturbation or even sex with Dean himself. Sister Ruth, unlike the other Nuns is very melodramatic, in the scene where she rushes in to tell Sister Clodagh of the bleeding women. She is very over the top.
The fact that someone is bleeding should shock someone, however she on the other hand gets more excited, and smiles more as she explains what has happened. She also does not hide her obvious desire for Dean. The scene, in which Sister Ruth goes to talk to Sister Clodagh, emphasises the fact that Sister Clodagh is refined and restrained and Sister Ruth is out of control. Showing they are binary opposites. Sister Ruth can see that Sister Clodagh has feelings for Dean and whilst Sister Clodagh plays with the most phallic of objects, a pencil, she confronts her about it.
Sister Clodagh then looks guilty. Sister Ruth shows absolutely no restraint over her emotions, in several scenes she shouts at the young children, and also has outbursts at Sister Clodagh. She is portrayed as unstable. The foreigners are exempt from deviant behaviour as they are seen as an ‘other’. They are not seen as being the same but rather looked upon as animalistic. They appeared to have sexual abandon and represented free sexuality. Therefore they could be gazed upon without the feeling of guilt which normally coincides with the gaze.
This is evident in the scene where the young girl Kanchi acts out an erotic dance for herself. Had this have been an English woman it would not have been looked upon in the same way. It probably would have been censored from the film. It is also alright for the Nuns to talk about how handsome the General is, however they are chastised for making such comments about Dean. Also Sister Clodagh simply smiles when the General speaks of Jesus Christ in a casual manner; however she becomes very angry when Dean speaks of him in such a way.
There are also constant shots of naked paintings of foreign woman, for the time this would have been as quite scandalous, however as the women are foreign, to gaze upon their bodies is OK. Voyeurism is apparent within this film in several scenes, however the role is reversed. The women do the majority of the gazing. The servant Kanchi, is seen several times to watch the General, she also watches herself dancing. Also Sister Ruth secretly watches Sister Clodagh and Dean whilst they stand alone.
In conclusion both of Michael Powell’s films all centre on the notion of deviance and both include deviate characters. However they portray it in very different ways. Black Narcissus, although an erotic film, most of the deviance is committed by foreigners, who are ‘others’ therefore their deviance doesn’t count. Also the voyeurism is slight, however it still occurs. The film however is full of phallic representations and sexual innuendos. It does not appear to be misogynistic, as there is no apparent discrimination toward women.
Peeping Tom on the other hand is full of deviant characters and subjects, mainly Mark and his voyeuristic tendencies. Black Narcissism also has elements of voyeurism, however the male is not doing the gazing, it is now the female who is the subject of the gaze and Dean is now the object of the gaze. She is the voyeur now. However she is ultimately punished for this, with her death at the end of the film. There is also the fetishisation of women, this isn’t apparent as much, within Black Narcissus. There are a couple of times where the nuns are holding the metaphorical phallus e. g. he rope or the pencil. However it occurs a lot more within Peeping Tom, emphasising the phallic representations which fetishise the female and compensate for her lack of a penis.
The Nuns within Black Narcissus are much unfetishised as they are covered up so there is nothing that can compensate for the lack of penis. Sadism is highly evident within Peeping Tom whereby the females are punished for inciting anxiety within Mark. This does not occur within Black Narcissus however. I believe that both films contain notions of deviance, some more than others, however by today’s standards they are very mild.
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