The presence of a film audience is an integral part of the cinema concept. Jostein Gripsrud in his article “Film Audiences?” observes that the very definition of the cinema encompasses the notion of the audience as its essential part. Gripsrud refers to the definition of cinema as “the screening of moving images for a paying audience”, the one given back in 1995 at the 100th cinema anniversary (Gripsrud, 1998: 202). In film scholarship, the audience is viewed as a collective and an aggregate of individuals. While in the past the audience was perceived as a mass of anonymous and undifferentiated people, today film scholars tend to define audiences as networks of individuals that may potentially interact with each other about something that interests them in the media (Mayne, 1993). Just as audiences have been considered an essential component of the cinema production, various film theorists have attempted to explore the relationships between the audience and the film. This paper discusses the views of two film theorists in relation to their understanding of the audiences. Specifically, it focuses on Laura Mulvey’s vision of the audience and its relationship with the film, and on Christian Metz’s ideas on the audience and how it links to the cinema.
Laura Mulvey’s views on the audience are based on her feminist film theory. The major theorist in this domain, Mulvey bases her view of film audiences on understanding that films serve as a reflection of the society which is patriarchal. Mulvey’s major assumption is that audiences are made to view films from the point of a man, so the gaze of the camera is inevitably the male gaze (Chaudhuri, 2006: 31). This gaze of a man is necessarily active as opposed to the passive female gaze. This heterosexual man’s gaze constantly focuses on female body’s curves. In this context, whatever is portrayed in relation to them is portrayed from the perspective of a man. Essentially, the gaze of man deprives women of their human meaning and diminishes them to mere objects. As for the female spectators, their passive experience is secondary, since it identifies with the male gaze. Mulvey explains that a classical Hollywood film endows agency to the protagonist who is always male. He is both powerful and active, and the center of film’s dramatic action. At the same time, the character represented by a woman is passive and lacking power. The female character performs the role of the object of sexual desire by the film’s main hero and by the viewers. Mulvey suggests that the viewers perceive texts voyeuristically and fetishistically. Specifically, the audience turn out to be the voyeurs of the individuals they see on screen because they observe them without being watched. This leads to narcissism or objectification (Chaudhuri, 2006: 34). Voyeurism is about converting the chosen figure into a certain fetish, which becomes more and more appealing, yet more objectified, too. For example, Hitchcock’s films have been known to objectify their women characters by placing them in a position so as to arouse the viewers. Thus, the audience is constructed in a way as if everyone were male, with women being made to experience the text as if they were male both in optical and libidinal aspects.
Christian Metz’s views rest in the domain of the psychoanalytic theory. Christian Metz’s approach seems to depict the cinema as the medium that actively engages the audience. Adopting Freud’s ideas about fetishes, Metz contemplates on how the audience are pleasured by their watching experience. He also uses the mirror theory by Lacan to portray the kind of identification the audience are offered to experience (Hayward, 2006: 156). The major idea is that cinema as a form of art is mainly popular because it creates an “impression of reality” (Mezt, 1974: 4) and proposes the way to explore the dream state which is unconscious. Christian Metz posits the viewing process as the one that demands lots of subconscious awareness of perception and of what is true / untrue. In particular, the audience know that all that they see is unreal, which helps them to respond in a clam manner even to the harshest moments. Similarly to Laura Mulvey, Metz compares films to the mirror which incorporates everything (Chaudhuri, 2006: 34). In this context, it is important to identify what the viewer identifies with. This all-perceiving viewer gets into the position of some higher power. Nothing which can be seen on screen will exist without the spectator’s presence. Thus, it is the audience that makes the film. In addition, Metz believes that the audience identifies with the camera in an unconscious way. They tend to acquire the perspective that they are given through some character’s representation in the film and they never acknowledge that by using the camera to watch the lives of people on screen they actually rely on someone else’s perspective. Similarly to Laura Mulvey, Metz recognizes the active part of the audience whose engagement with the film is the product of their wish to see and to hear (Metz, 1974).
In summary, this paper has discussed the view of two film theorists Laura Mulvey and Christian Metz on the film audiences. It has been found that their views are common in that they acknowledge the active position of the audience and use the concept of the mirror to explain the essence of the audience’s relation to the cinema.