The Male Gaze, Homosexualization, and James Bond Films

by Derek P. Rucas

 

Although 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.

 

Kenneth 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?

          

In 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)

           

Scorpio 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.

           

While 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.

           

Although 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 Bond character.

           

A 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.

           

It 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.

           

Mulvey 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.

           

In 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.

           

Similarly 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.

 

Bibliographical Information

 

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