Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

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Looking at Herself: Cinema as Dream Screen – Le Mystère des Roches de Kador
Astrid Söderbergh Widding

Last modified: 2010-05-28


This paper attempts to analyse Le Mystère des Roches de Kador (Gaumont 1912, directed by Léonce Perret) from the perspective of gender, especially focussing on questions of viewing and doubling. The film introduces cinema as a kind of possible psychoanalytic cure, where the restaging of a trauma may liberate the patient; this also suggests a vision of cinema as memory. It should come as no surprise that, as Richard Abel puts it, “the ‘sick subject’ requiring this cure, of course, is not a man […] but a woman” (1994, 351). Thereby, Le Mystère joins with the numerous discourses of the period where woman is put forward as object to a medical gaze, as analysed e.g. by Giuliana Bruno (1993) or Lisa Cartwright (1995).


A central topic in the film is the act of viewing, especially in relation to Suzanne, who is repeatedly shown as looking; however, she is never allowed to master the gaze, but is rather staged as a passive spectator. This starts in the first sequences as she looks longingly at her lover Jean d’Erguy. It continues in the first part of the film as Suzanne misses the fact that her uncle Fernand de Keramic is putting a sleeping potion in her coffee while she is testing a pair of binoculars. The culminating sequence appears as she falls into a catatonic state by the traumatic discovery of her unconscious lover, whom she sees lying at her feet as she wakes up from her sleep.


In the second part of the film, Suzanne is presented to the cinematic reenactment of the whole sequence, and shown in silhouette in front of the screen; a scene where, finally, she faints. As she is delivered from her catatonic state, she once again returns to the initial happy gazing at her lover. Within the analysis of Suzanne as viewer, theoretical issues of female spectatorship are discussed, firstly on the textual level, as the “being-looked-at-ness” is here doubled by looking, and secondly by the introduction of the question of cinema as dream screen and its particular way of addressing a female audience.

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