|Applying Shannon's Model to the film experience|
|what this paper discusses|
Since the beginning of film, females have been forced into the periphery or background. If they were ever placed in the fore, it was usually as a helpless victim or perhaps an amusing child; Mary Pickford or Shirley Temple for example (of course this was not for lack of good female writers at that time, namely Francis Marion.). Somewhere along the way, the powers that be came out of their stupor, and realized that women comprise half of their viewing audience. And, so began the [painfully slow] progression of the presentation of females in film.
The films of the 30’s and 40’s offered some seemingly stronger female roles enacted by some of the greats; Hepburn, Garbo and Bergman. In spite of their chain-smoking and pacing purposefully if not forcefully across the screen even in (gasp!) trousers at times, these characters still resumed their position a little to the left/right of, and a few steps behind the men. The 50’s brought interesting if not more dimensional roles for women proving that not only can they be daughter, wife and mother but emotionally imbalanced, alcoholic adulteresses as well. With the 60’s and 70’s came an insurgence of action and violence in film. Once again women were forced crouching into the corner or cowering behind their more aggressive and powerful male cast members. For these females, entering into the fray was not an option. If there were no hero to save the day, they were required to run away, in high-heeled shoes no less. The 80’s did little to improve the situation of the portrayal of women in film. These women seemed to be running on screen shrieking ‘I am woman-with a knife or gun-hear me roar.’ Some might argue that there were female characters who stood with their feet planted firmly in the foreground, sharing this space equally with the lead male character or perhaps even on their own; Bonnie and Clyde or Thelma and Louise for example. A closer inspection of these films however, presents some fatal flaws with this notion. Perhaps it would be better to suggest that these films offer the first legs of a progressional journey of the female character in contemporary American film. By examining these two contemporary road films, as well as another film True Romance, one can note a definite progression of the portrayal of women in film. What better way to chart a movement of this sort, than with a genre (the road movie) that both literally and figuratively symbolizes some form of progression be it either emotional, mental or physical. This inspection, coupled with a theory of the ‘subject’ according to Jacques Lacan, could emphasize this progression. By comparing Bonnie to the ‘imaginary-self’, and both Thelma and Louise to the ‘symbolic’, and Alabama to the ‘real’, this growth or progression of the female character as presented in the contemporary American road film becomes quite visible.
This analysis will focus on film form and structure. It is my belief that the film
in its entirety: character, image, narrative, camera work, montage sequences, point
of view, metaphors; forms the rhetoric or discourse of the filmmaker and comprises
the first four elements included in Shannon's model. This discourse, in addition
to speaking to the intended aesthetics of the filmic process also engages in many
levels of communication with the audience. There can be a very complex relationship
between the director, the film and the audience and this discourse often works as
an intermediary between the experiences of the filmmaker (making the film) and the
experiences of the audience (viewing the film/catharsis). This process creates
something in excess of the original filmic experience, or rather something beyond
what the visual image and narrative work to construct. I would suggest that this
product is noise. And, at the heart of this paper is my concern with a specific
noise; or how some contemporary American road films have communicated female
characters and given them an active and leading voice in this genre.