The Idea Of The Glamorous Female Figure In Films

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In her essay titled Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema, Laura Mulvey explores the very idea of the Glamorous female figure in film. She defines the role of the female character as passive, and the male gaze it is destined to as active.

The costumes are used to create that “to-be-looked-at-ness”. Some of the most memorable scenes include that have the female figure on display – that’s where the showgirl model archetype comes in handy. The body is styled accordingly to create an impact – such as the extravagant pink satin gown of Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, or the one of Ava Gardner in Gilda. Isolated and subject to the surrounding gaze of men – in the case of Monroe, being courted by an array of male performers all dressed in the same tuxedo, as if they were to serve only as props – she is on display, as though her body is advertized both to the audience on film and the audience in the cinema room, before being assigned to the main male character becoming his property, and indirectly, says Mulvey, the spectator’s. Such is the concept of the sex symbol after all: providing the public with a fabricated object of desire that is there to stay in popular culture, giving the male audience a taste of what is desirable and the female audience, a reference to be themselves desirable. Of course, such extravagant looks are to be emulated mostly by performers, by means of direct quotation e.g. Madonna reenacting the very same show scene in her music video for Material Girl. Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Ava Gardner in Gilda: they are the epitome of Glamour, the first image that comes to mind. Glamour is a staple weapon, which takes its etymology from witchcraft, magic, charm, making objects appear different from what they really are. The definition, according to the 1902 edition of the Webster dictionnary, also brings about the concept of “artificial interest” solicited by the effort to “appear delusively magnified or glorified”. Hence the direct association of glamour with something that is exaggerated, enhanced to the point of artifice, in the case of a female figure, through opulent styling and dramatic lights and shadows, all to shape and reshape her into a fantasy.

Through which spectrum exactly? It is quite obvious the sex symbol is a representation of exarcerbated, unleashed male desire bottled up and packaged for direct visual consumption. It is soft and feminine, but not so much: in fact, the very original sex symbol is the vamp. She is made of sharp layers. Theda Bara, silent film star of the early twentieth century, is recognized as the pioneer for the vamp figure. Although very few footage of her remains, she is said to be cinema’s first sex symbol – with a rather different flavor than say, the Hollywood Golden Age’s soft voiced archetype, which leads to think that the only way a sex symbol had to be watched and consumed was with caution.

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