calling bullshit: on the supposed bisexuality of viewership
Aaron Cutler at Slant Magazine opens an essay on a Cary Grant retrospective at the Brooklyn Academy of Music — which is, for the New York neophyte, a major forum for film, too — like this:
Viewership is by nature bisexual. It compels us to take on the perspectives of men desiring women, of women desiring men, of lesbians and gay men desiring each other, and of the omnipresent (a-)sexual outside observer.
In a more egalitarian world, this might be true. In a more egalitarian world, as many films would look upon men with desire as look upon women. But in the real world in which we go to the movies and watch what the movies give us, it’s not true. Viewership is by custom and practice male-heterosexual 95 percent of the time. It compels straight women and gay men to assume a bisexual attitude — it compels anyone not a straight man or a lesbian woman to find sexual attraction in women… which we do, on a regular if temporary basis.
Perhaps Cutler is gay, and so he is personally compelled to assume a bisexuality when he watches films that typically assume a straight-male gaze. I suspect, however, that Cutler is straight, and is perhaps slightly uncomfortable at being asked to find Cary Grant sexually attractive in the films BAM is featuring. This makes me suspect that:
Alfred Hitchcock, Grant’s other great director (jaunt through North by Northwest July 11), also understood pace. A masterful example of their work together: One of the most celebrated kisses in movie history lasts a bittersweet, agonizing length. Grant and Ingrid Bergman meet in Notorious‘s (July 25) hotel room. They embrace, and then he pulls away, slowly, to answer the telephone; she follows, her head resting on his shoulder, and the camera follows them, slowly (Hitchcock said that he wanted the audience to be part of a ménage a trois). They kiss again, and again, but Grant places the telephone between them as a physical barrier. It suggests an emotional one as well.
Or maybe the I’m-guessing-straight Cutler isn’t actually uncomfortable to confront a scene that may well be interpreted not as male-gazey but as universally voyeuristic in that it wants us to be titillated not by looking at a woman but by looking at a mixed-sex couple kissing — and so, by extension, by finding Grant as sexually attractive as we find Bergman. Maybe Cutler is in fact surprised to see a film by a major Hollywood filmmaker that doesn’t subconsciously assume its viewer is a straight man.
Whatever the case though — even if every Cary Grant movie ever made just happened to be made by straight male filmmakers who managed to avoid being all male-gazey — viewership will not by nature be bisexual until filmmaking on the whole is.
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