The spectacle of gender : representations of women in British and American cinema of the nineteen-sixties /

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Roche, Nancy
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Middle Tennessee State University
Early feminist film critics asserted that cinematic narratives structure women's roles into images that serve to reinforce patriarchal agendas. To challenge these theories, cinema of the 1960s can be analyzed to emphasize historical events and to acknowledge the power of popular culture and mass media to affect film texts. The 1960s marked the beginning of identity politics, and films of the era illustrate new ways of thinking and being. Early feminist theory did not always register these seismic shifts, nor was the study of single films extracted from their context an adequate instrument to assess the changes taking place. This work therefore provides an overview of film texts of the 1960s to gauge their significance within the spectacle of the decade.
Representations of women in American and British 1960s cinema may be viewed as constructs which expose a changing culture and transitions in societal norms. Female characters achieved greater agency and were often represented in innovative and sometimes even astonishing ways. A liberalization of sexual mores led to previously untested images of women in film that dislodged meta-narratives while expanding the scope of acceptable behavior. The agents of gender "rupture" include Jo in A Taste of Honey (1961), Holly Golightly in Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961), Alexandra Del Lago in Sweet Bird of Youth (1962), Diana Scott in Darling (1965), Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966), Pherber in Performance (1968), and Gudrun Brangwen in Women In Love (1969).
The transformations charted in this study were fueled by the European New Wave, by art house, exploitation, and underground films, and were directly related to the demise of the Production Code Administration and a liberalization of the British Board of Film Censors. The decade of the 1960s witnessed the beginning of a new cinematic grammar that undermined the binary of social codes that relegated women to the status of other. Striking blows against censorship modalities and established constructs of femininity---and therefore the patriarchy---American and British filmmakers created new identities for women of their own era, and also for the future.
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