Tuesday 1 October 2013

Celebrating Laura Mulvey: Or, Film Studies with Poetic License

A fascinating and informative excerpt from the audio commentary track on the British Film Institute's brand new Dual Format Edition of RIDDLES OF THE SPHINX (Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, 1977). You can find more information about this new video version of the film here and read a new interview with Mulvey about its making here.
Riddles of the Sphinx was made in 1976-7. The film used the Sphinx as an emblem with which to hang a question mark over the Oedipus complex, to illustrate the extent to which it represents a riddle for women committed to Freudian theory but still determined to think about psychoanalysis radically or, as I have said before, with poetic license. Riddles of the Sphinx and Penthesilea, our previous film, used ancient Greece to invoke a mythic point of origin for Western civilization, that had been critically re-affirmed by high culture throughout our history. [... S]ome primitive attraction to the fantasy of origins, a Gordian knot that would suddenly unravel, persisted for me in the Oedipus story, and its special status: belonging to very ancient mythology and to the literature of high Greek civilization, chosen by Freud to name his perception of the founding moment of the human psyche. My interest then concentrated on breaking down the binarism of the before/after opposition, by considering the story as a passage through time, a journey that could metaphorically open out or stretch the Oedipal trajectory through significant details and through its formal, narrational, properties. [Laura Mulvey, 'The Oedipus Myth: Beyond the Riddles of the Sphinx', PUBLIC, 2, 1989, FSFF's emphasis]

Film Studies For Free proudly presents an entry in honour of one the most important, most brilliant, most influential and hardest-working film and moving image scholars of all time: Laura Mulvey, professor of film and media studies at Birkbeck, University of London, a Fellow of the British Academy, and recently, co-founder of the Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image. Mulvey is the author of: Visual and Other Pleasures (Macmillan, 1989; second edition, 2009), Fetishism and Curiosity (British Film Institute, 1996; 2nd ed. 2013), Citizen Kane (in the BFI Classics series, 1996) and Death Twenty-four Times a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image (Reaktion Books, 2006). And she has made six films in collaboration with fellow film theorist and practitioner Peter Wollen including Riddles of the Sphinx (BFI, 1978) and Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti (Arts Council, 1980) and with artist/film-maker Mark Lewis Disgraced Monuments (Channel 4, 1994)

FSFF's author has a pretty good record in celebrating Mulvey's influence on film studies already, having been lucky enough to take part, earlier this year, in a day devoted to this activity at Birkbeck's Institute of Humanities - an event recorded by Backdoor Broadcasting. The happy occasion for today's eFestschrift, however, is the British Film Institute's release of a new DVD/BluRay disk of Riddles of the Sphinx, the hugely significant and original feminist film Mulvey co-directed and produced in 1976/77 with her partner Wollen (the disk also contains their first film together: Penthesilea: Queen of the Amazons [1974]).

To accompany this entry FSFF was honoured to be able to produce a short, exclusive extract of a sequence of its choice from the DVD audio commentary accompanied version (as embedded above). FSFF warmly thanks Laura Mulvey herself, as well as Hannah Maloco and the BFI, whose Production Board thankfully funded Riddles of the Sphinx, for kindly allowing this blog to create such a memorable and instrumental item of openly accessible film studies.

Beneath the BFI's own Riddles of the Sphinx clip (embedded below) -- a commentary free version of substantially the same sequence -- you can find a wonderful listing of links to openly accessible online scholarly work by and about Laura Mulvey. It provides ample testimony, were it needed, as to why she has been, is, and always will be, one of the true greats of our subject - as Michel Foucault probably would have put, a veritable 'founder of discursivity' for our discipline... 

Online written work by Laura Mulvey: 

Online written work by Peter Wollen about Mulvey/Wollen's joint work: 

Online video/audio work by or featuring Laura Mulvey:

Online writing about Laura Mulvey's work:

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