Commentary Track

The Gorgon (1964)

This week on The Spectator Film Podcast…

The Gorgon (1965) 10/4/19
Featuring: Austin, Maxx

Commentary track begins at 15:06

— Notes —

  • We watched the Indicator Hammer Volume One Box Set edition of The Gorgon for the show this week. Indicator seems to put a lot of resources into every release, and their box sets are fantastic – this box set is no exception. This release of The Gorgon looks amazing and also includes lots of supplemental materials, including its own insightful commentary track by Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger.
  • Terence Fisher by Peter Hutchings — An engaging and insightful book on the director of many of Hammer’s greatest movies, Terence Fisher. Peter Hutchings is a wonderful writer, and this book fits right in with a lot of his other writing. There’s a brief section here discussing The Gorgon, and Hutchings does a good job situating the film within the rest of Fisher’s work.
  • A New Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema by David Pirie — This study by David Pirie was one of the foremost academic examinations of the gothic tradition in British filmmaking. The book isn’t exclusively dedicated to Hammer, but Pirie still discusses Hammer films extensively, while also dedicating an entire chapter to Terence Fisher. Recommended for anyone looking to learn some more about Hammer.
  • The Medusa Reader Edited by Marjorie Garber & Nancy J. Vickers — We didn’t wind up relying on any material from this book for this episode, but it’s worth mentioning. It’s a terrific resource for anyone looking to learn more about the way Medusa’s been continuously re-interpreted and appropriated by different people, a process that’s continued for thousands of years.
  • The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis by Barbara Creed — A vital book for anyone interested in learning how gender operates within the horror genre, in specifically psychoanalytic terms. The psychoanalytic framework of Creed’s examination allows her to provide both insightful commentary on numerous horror films and re-examine the psychoanalytic concepts themselves – it’s a wonderful book. We didn’t reference any specific passage during our episode, but Medusa re-appears consistently throughout the book and clearly serves as one of the most significant images of monstrous femininity.
  • Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film by Carol J. Clover — One of the most substantial books discussing the horror genre. We’ve referenced it numerous times, and it certainly applies to our discussion of The Gorgon as well. The second chapter especially, “Opening Up,” can provide a lot of insight into how The Gorgon utilizes gender within its possession narrative and treatment of Clara. We’ll include a brief passage below:
    • “Whereas the female story traces a circle (she becomes again what she was when the film began), the excesses of its middle disappearing without a physical or psychic trace (Regan is explicitly amnesiac, Linda implicitly so), the male story is linear (he is at the end radically different from what he was at the beginning), public (he and the world know he has changed), and apparently permanent. In other words, hers is an ABA story of restoration in which she emerges unaware of what has transpired, whereas his is an ABC story of revision or conversion in which he emerges a “new man” fully cognizant of what has befallen not only himself but her as well. At the same time, his C is very much like her A. The man he becomes is a man who not only accepts the feminine against which he railed at the outset but even, up to a point, shares it. If he does not accept and share it, as in Don’t Look Now, he dies” (98-99)

  • “Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema” by Laura Mulvey — Here’s a link to a PDF version of the essay. Goes without saying that this is one of the most significant essays in film studies, and it was incredibly useful for our discussion of The Gorgon this week. We’ll include some of the relevant passages below:
    • “The first, scopophilic, arises from pleasure in using another person as an object of sexual stimulation through sight. The second, developed through narcissism and the constitution of the ego, comes from identification with the image seen. Thus, in film terms, one implies a separation of the erotic identity of the subject from the object on the screen (active scopophilia), the other demands identification of the ego with the object on screen through the spectator’s fascination with and recognition of his like.”

    • “In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness. Woman displayed as sexual object is the leit-motif of erotic spectacle…The presence of woman is an indispensable element of spectacle in normal narrative film, yet her visual presence tends to work against the development of a story line, to freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation.”

    • “Traditionally, the woman displayed has functioned on two levels: as erotic object for the characters within the screen story, and as erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium, with a shifting tension between the looks on either side of the screen. For instance, the device of the show-girl allows the two looks to be unified technically without any apparent break in the diegesis. A woman performs within the narrative, the gaze of the spectator and that of the male characters in the film are neatly combined without breaking narrative verisimilitude.”

    • “An active/passive heterosexual division of labor has similarly controlled narrative structure. According to the principles of the ruling ideology and the physical structures that back it up, the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification. Man is reluctant to gaze at his exhibitionist like. Hence the split between spectacle and narrative supports the man’s role as the active one of forwarding the story, making things happen. The man controls the film phantasy and also emerges as the representative of power in a further sense: as the bearer of the look of the spectator, transferring it behind the screen to neutralize the extra-diegetic tendencies represented by woman as spectacle. This is made possible through the processes set in motion by structuring the film around a main controlling figure with whom the spectator can identify. As the spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his look on to that of his like, his screen surrogate, so that the power of the male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic look, both giving a satisfying sense of omnipotence.”

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