The Male Gaze, Homosexualization, and James Bond Films
by Derek P. Rucas
a stylistic convention of the classic Hollywood film format, the male gaze is
apparent in non-Hollywood films as well as in blockbusters.
More analytically, the homosexualized male gaze follows conventions
rooted within Hollywood origins. This
brings into question the difference between the heterosexual male gaze upon a
female and the homosexual gaze upon a male.
It would only be reasonable to assume that homosexual male filmmakers
capture the mis-en-scene differently than heterosexual male filmmakers.
And even within the classic Hollywood format of filmmaking conventions, a
homoerotic gaze can be focused from male to male in a heterosexual context.
Anger’s film Scorpio Rising is a perfect example of how a homosexual
filmmaker might appropriate the stereotypes of the gaze from classic filmmaking
and use it to exemplify the homosexual subject. Films such as Guy Hamilton’s Goldfinger will focus
on the subject—James Bond—gazing at either Bond girls or other female
characters within the film. However,
let it be known that an infatuation exists between Bond and his predominantly
male audience. What is the
difference between how males view Bond in comparison to the gaze casted by
female characters within this context?
Laura Mulvey’s article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” she
discusses the concepts of Freudian philosophy in accordance with filmmaking and
the male gaze. However gender
specific this analysis may be, Mulvey’s criticism can be applied to the
homosexual gaze as well. “As the
spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his look onto
that of his like, his screen surrogate, so that the power of the male
protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic
look…” (Mulvey 20)
Rising is a perfect example of a male spectator identifying with the male
protagonist onscreen. Although
Mulvey suggests this in a heterosexual context, it is apparent that gay male
audiences watching Scorpio Rising will identify with Scorpio as he gets
himself ready for the party, while both objectifying him and relating to his
character. Scorpio is being
objectified through the homosexual gaze. As
the camera pans up his body and lingers over his crotch, we are aware of the
fetishistic scopophilia that Mulvey defines as the pleasure in looking.
The audience is clearly forced to focus their gaze upon Scorpio.
Since Anger is a homosexual himself, it is apparent that he objectifies
Scorpio by shooting tight close-ups of his chest, stomach and groin area. Similarly, Hitchcock uses the same technique in the infamous
shower scene in Psycho. The
audience is focused on the female object who is about to get murdered in the
shower. The camera pulls in tight
on isolated female body parts in the shower.
Hitchcock uses this technique to emphasize the fetishistic gaze upon the
objectified female character.
Scorpio is looked at fetishistically, the gaze upon Bond is more conservative
and it is not usually as conspicuous from a female character.
We notice the passivity of a female noticing Bond, whereas fetishistic
scopophilia is overt and active. In
Goldfinger, the audience never takes on the gaze or the POV of a female
spectator. We notice that characters such as Pussy Galore and Miss
Moneypenny are attracted to Bond, but different conventions are used to
articulate this sense of attraction. For
instance, the change of intonation in both the voices of Galore and Moneypenny
signify an interest in Bond while Bond’s active gaze is the signifier of his
female interest. Sociologically
speaking, the reason for the subdued female gaze could be a result of prominent
ideologies present in the early 1960s. Since
the male figure was the dominant of the two sexes, his gaze will be active over
the passive one of the female.
the female gaze is present in Goldfinger, there is also a gaze casted
upon Bond from the male spectator. This
is not necessarily a homosexual gaze, nor a heterosexual gaze.
It is a gaze that could potentially meet both standards in the sense that
both homosexual and heterosexual audiences can identify with the Bond character.
For instance, males will tend to idolize Bond because of his smooth
McIveresque nature, whereas females will find sexual appeal in Bond.
When Bond is tied to the table with the threat of laser castration, the
focus is on Bond’s groin area. As
we can see, according to Mulvey, Freud’s analysis of the threat of castration
is a literal obstacle that Bond must overcome.
Although perhaps not consciously intended to be a homosexualized focal
point, a gay audience who reads into the Bond films could interpret this scene
from a fetishistic standpoint. As
with the lingering crotch shot in Scorpio Rising, the Bond crotch shot
has the potential to appeal to both a female and gay audience, sexualizing the
gay audience who reads into Goldfinger might also realize that Bond is a
“stand-alone” type of guy, meaning that he does not have any familial
commitments to keep. Moneypenny is
symbolic of the matriarchal figure in the Bond films who tries to implicitly
convince Bond to settle into the ideological family institution stereotypical of
the post War era. Bond rejects
these advances and stands alone as a John Wayne-type character while remaining
independent and confident without the sanctions of marriage and family.
However from a gay audience’s point of view, Bond is the symbol of
sexualized singleness that continues to perpetuate throughout the rest of the
Bond series. His single-night
promiscuity with female companions are in conflict with the action and reactions
Bond displays onscreen.
is not to say that Bond is a homosexual. However
there are certain hints of implicit homosexuality when watching Bond’s
onscreen performance. For instance,
in the first Bond film Dr. No, Bond’s captivating gaze is not only
focused on the female characters, but his gaze lingers on some of the male
characters in the film. When Bond
checks into the Jamaican hotel, a male server is already in his room mixing him
a martini. As the server leaves the
room, Bond’s gaze follows him out the door.
Similarly, when Bond first comes into contact with the Jamaican special
agent affiliate, his gaze also lingers as the unknown agent leaves the frame.
The receptionist in the hotel also appropriates the gaze.
As Bond enters the hotel, the receptionist tells Bond that he has a
telephone message. As Bond leaves
the frame, the receptionist’s gaze not only lingers on Bond, but her eyes move
up and down, scanning Bond’s body while objectifying it in the meantime.
emphasizes the body as object within a heterosexual context when she states,
“Traditionally, the woman displayed has functioned on two levels: as erotic
object for the characters within the screen story, and as erotic object for the
spectator within the auditorium…” (Mulvey 19) But within both Goldfinger
and Dr. No, it is not only the female who becomes fetishized.
Both Bond and Honey Ryder become objectified in these films.
In Dr. No Mulvey’s case stands true. As
Bond is escaping Dr. No’s collapsing lair, he searches for Ryder in hopes to
save her. He finds her lying
horizontally trapped in chains as a pool of water collects while the threat of a
slow and tortuous drowning ensues. However
in Goldfinger, it is Bond who is trapped and shackled with the slow and
tortuous threat of laser castration. Both
of these scenarios present similar situations, yet depending on the sexual
orientation of the audience and factoring in the gaze, the outcome of
objectified sexualization will differ.
Honey Ryder’s case, she is the submissive who has become objectified and thus
fetishized through the mis-en-scene. The
camera isolates her body in close-up as Bond attempts to rescue her from the
threat of death. By being the
submissive, Ryder is at the mercy of Bond.
The notion of this unrelenting situation puts the powerful male character
in control, while perpetuating post-War stereotypes of the dependent female
figure. Nevertheless, in Goldfinger
the sex roles are reversed. Bond is
now portrayed as the submissive. He
is chained to a plank while his manhood is threatened with laser treatment.
A crotch shot fetishizes Bond while objectifying him for a homosexual
audience at the same time. As Bond
tries to escape the potential of laser castration, it is evident that a
homosexual audience may interpret Bond’s submissiveness as a sexual fantasy.
in Scorpio Rising, it is one of the boys at the party who playfully
becomes the submissive in a torture ritual reminiscent of the Nazi concentration
camps. The boy is held by two of
his peers, one grabbing his arms while the other grabs his legs.
A third boy then reaches into a jar of mustard and proceeds to smear it
down the pants and on the groin area of the pseudo-tortured boy.
Since Scorpio Rising was made with gay intentions, the tortuous
ritual of male bondage projects the gay male fantasy to its audience while a
heterosexual audience would not mistake this for anything but a gay gaze
of fetishized desire upon the boy who is being tortured.
While watching Bond films, a gay audience can appropriate the male gaze, which according to Mulvey is stereotypically appropriated by a heterosexual audience. In contrast to this, the gay gaze of Kenneth Anger’s film Scorpio Rising is overt in nature, assuming the role of the homosexual male spectator. However in the Bond films, a gay reader must actually dig for sub-textual interpretation in order to homosexualize and fetishize James Bond. This is done through the mis-en-scene and stylistic camera techniques that utilize tight close-ups in order to cast a fetishized gaze upon a seemingly heterosexual male protagonist. Thus, depending on how one reads the narrative of a James Bond film including Dr. No or Goldfinger, one can decipher whether or not the Bond character is the object of a homosexual fantasy or simply the object of the straight female gaze.
Rucas, Derek. P. "The Male Gaze, Homosexualization, and James Bond Films." Film Articles and Critiques. 26 Feb. 2003 <http://www.angelfire.com/film/articles/bond.htm>.
transcribed by Derek P. Rucas