Welcome to Auteuse Theory

Welcome to Auteuse Theory. The purpose of this blog is to allow us to think about and write about a range of films made by women, from silent re-discoveries to the latest releases, from activist documentaries to mainstream Hollywood features, taking in examples from across the globe, whether famous or obscure. We have no desire to force ham-fisted links between very different films and very different filmmakers, to insist that they fit some pre-designated template of women’s cinema. Quite the opposite; we want to explore the diversity of forms taken by women’s filmmaking across different nations and eras. So why focus on women as a separate category at all? Why isolate their films from those of their male peers and think about them as some kind of exceptional or special case? Well, there’s still the matter of persistent inequality of opportunity within certain key authorial roles in the film industries. We all know the stats: even now, post-Bigelow Oscar win, women only constitute 10% of directors globally, and 15% of screenwriters. This is an improvement on previous years but it’s still (obviously!) a very minor proportion of the whole. As the British director Lynne Ramsay has commented, it’s ‘a bit like a country not being filmed – and that country not having a voice. It really does matter.’ And although we are very reluctant to make simple equations between the fact of there being a woman being at the helm of a film and that film offering a more complex picture of femininity (there have always been battalions of male directors who are very good at telling female-focussed stories), there is nonetheless plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that this is often true.

Our main subject is film but we will inevitably make forays into television and other media from time to time. We will be focussing predominantly on films directed by women, but we’re also interested in including films which demonstrate female authorship in other ways (writing, producing or performance). And we won’t be thinking about those films solely as women’s films. We don’t want to ghettoise them, so we’ll be connecting them to the time and place of their production, or their place within a genre or a movement, as much as we connect them to each other. There will be no rhyme or reason to the films that we discuss or the order in which they appear, instead we’ll be hoping for serendipitous connections, unexpected correspondences, sharp contrasts, strange juxtapositions; in other words, a blog that aims to be perpetually different and surprising. Most of the writing will be undertaken by the two main authors but interspersed with guest reviews from others who will each bring a fresh perspective.

And, finally, why the title Auteuse Theory? We were scouting around for a name that indicated a response to the old-fashioned auteur theory, and its insistence on ‘virility’ as a marker of directorial quality (all that Hawks and Ford worship). Women hadn’t only been marginalised in the making of films but the select few who had managed to break through were often given short shrift in the founding critical histories of film (with the exception of the highly problematic case of Leni Riefenstahl), until feminist scholars put Arzner, Weber, Guy-Blache, Lupino and Varda back into the picture. And this work of excavation and rediscovery continues – see the Women Film Pioneers and Women and Silent British Cinema websites for ongoing examples. We are aware of the problems of using the French feminised form of a professional name, drawing a gendered distinction between male and female practitioners (just as some publications reject the word actress in favour of actor for both men and women), but in the spirit of subversion, we wanted to occupy and feminise a word - auteur - which still sits at the heart of so much film scholarship and film appreciation. And although the blog is called Auteuse Theory, it might be more appropriate to think in terms of 'theories', the more intellectually generous plural form. These are some theories and thoughts and ideas arising from watching these films made by women. We hope you enjoy reading them…

Monday, 28 May 2012

More Andrea Arnold: Fish Tank (2009)


Fish Tank focuses its attention on fifteen year old Mia who lives in a flat in Essex with her mother and her younger sister. Mia is a rebellious loner whose relationship with her mother is antagonistic and mutually verbally abusive. But Mia has a secret passion: dancing, which she practices in an abandoned flat. Her mother’s charming handsome new boyfriend Connor encourages and praises her dancing and Mia is obviously drawn to him. As their relationship develops, it shifts from paternal to sexual. Connor leaves but Mia tracks him down and discovers he already has a wife and child. Mia is tempted to take a terrible vengeance but finally relents and returns home. She attends her audition but leaves without dancing, put off by the sexualised atmosphere. Offered a road trip to Cardiff with her on/off traveller boyfriend Billy, she leaves home, after a tentative but unsentimental reconciliation with her mother.
Writer-director Andrea Arnold is highly distinctive in contemporary British film culture in her yoking of a social realist aesthetic to a focus on the lives of girls and women in working-class communities. Her settings have ranged from her native Dartford for her Oscar-winning short film Wasp (2003) to Glasgow for the surveillance drama Red Road (2006) and finally to the high-rise estates of Essex for Fish Tank, but all three films are connected through their focus on female experience. Although the most obvious points of contextualisation for Arnold’s films are current work by the likes of Shane Meadows and veteran Ken Loach, there are also noticeable links with British cinema of the past. For instance, Fish Tank’s study of an awkward teenager’s sexual awakening and her antagonistic relationship with her sexually active mother echoes the exploration of a similar family dynamic nearly fifty years previously in the British New Wave milestone A Taste of Honey (1961).
Akin to the casting methods deployed by Loach and Meadows, Arnold wanted a non-professional actor for the central role in Fish Tank, someone who would not merely play the character of combative teenager Mia but understand her intimately through her own life experience. When Katie Jarvis was spotted arguing with her boyfriend at Tilbury railway station, she was hastily signed up and Jarvis exceeds all expectations of a complete newcomer to acting with a riveting debut performance which oscillates between sullen anger and heart-breaking vulnerability. Ambiguity is the keynote of Michael Fassbender’s performance as Mia's mother’s amiably sexy Irish boyfriend Connor, initially behaving towards Mia in ways that could be simultaneously interpreted as warmly avuncular or sexually loaded. Arnold, in this film as in her previous ones, evokes her heroine’s sexual desire through an aesthetic suggestive of a female gaze: examples include the close-up of Danny Dyer’s mouth from Nathalie Press’s lustful perspective in Wasp, the heroine’s tracking of her future lover via CCTV in Red Road, and Mia’s use of the video camera to record and play back a bare-chested Connor as he dresses, as well as her covert voyeuristic observation of her mother and Connor’s lovemaking in Fish Tank. However, the film also communicates sexual attraction in more sensual terms with slow-motion close-ups of Mia enjoying the physical closeness of a piggy-back ride or breathing in Connor’s freshly-spritzed aftershave when he bends over her.
Fish Tank refuses gushing sentimentality: Mia does not forge a triumphant career in dance, mother and daughter are not reconciled in a tearful embrace (a brisk smile when they spontaneously dance together in the flat is as warm as it gets) and although we empathise with her, Mia is also capable of cruelty, foregrounded in one stomach-churning sequence where we fear she may commit a terrible act of revenge. And lest we assume that Fish Tank is directly autobiographical, given Andrea Arnold’s own Thames Estuary upbringing and her early career as a dancer, the director provides an important corrective: ‘Those things have never directly happened to me. My mind goes places, I have an imagination.’


  1. nice opinion. thanks for posting.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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