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Jane Campion's The Piano: The Female Gaze, the Speculum and the Chora within the H(y)st(e)rical Film

1 June 2002


Female specificity in narrative films is a topic as illusive and controversial as it is incredibly rich with potential for analysis and research. Particularly illusive is scholarly research on the female gaze in mainstream filmmaking. Male specificity in the movies is far less illusive and controversial. So pervasive is the male presence in mainstream film form that the term the male gaze1 has become institutionalized in theory and practice. The female gaze, perhaps unavoidably so, eludes institutionalization.2 My paper presents a glimpse into the traces (semios) of the female gaze in Jane Campion's historical film, The Piano. Campion's filmic text creates a space in mainstream movies where cinematic enunciation intersects with the linguistic and psychoanalytical innovations of the last half-century. I have chosen The Piano because it presents an overwhelmingly clear demonstration of the female gaze and does so within the limitations of mainstream film conventions.


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