Riddles of the Sphinx (Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen 1977, UK), Guild Cinema, 7 April, 15.00-19.00, with Q&A with Laura Mulvey (via Skype)
Excerpt from Programme Notes
Riddles of the Sphinx (Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen 1977, 92 mins)
‘The “voice” of the Sphinx has special significance, speaking from a distinct place with a distinct form of language. The riddle is metaphoric, interrogative, and incomplete; it involves wordplay, enigma, and disguise. It is, however, important to stress that the Sphinx is not outside language as she is outside the city of Thebes, the realm of patriarchy, but is able to offer a different discourse, potentially the nucleus of a non-patriarchal symbolic, based on a different Oedipal structure-or, perhaps it would be better to say, a different mode of entry into language, kinship, and history. Language is the component of film that both threatens to regulate the spectator and also offers the hope of liberation from the closed world of identification and the lure of the image. Language, therefore, is both a friend and a foe, against which we must be on our guard, whose help we need but whose claims we must combat. Hence the body of language in our films is fractured and dislodged.’ Source: ‘Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen: “theory” film as essay film?’, Nora Alter and Timothy Corrigan, eds., Essays on the Essay Film (Forthcoming, Columbia University Press, 2018).
Laura Mulvey (b. Oxford in 1941) studied History at Oxford University. In 1975 she published Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, a highly influential psychoanalytic feminist polemic on the voyeuristic systems of spectatorship found in Hollywood film. Mulvey made six films with Peter Wollen that attempted to counteract these patriarchal structures including Riddles of The Sphinx (1977), Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti (1982) and The Bad Sister (1983). She has written extensively on Sirk, Godard and Hitchcock, and remains a pre-eminent authority on film theory. Her recent book Death 24x a Second looks at the impact of new media technologies on shifting modes of film spectatorship. She is currently Professor of Film and Media Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London.
Peter Wollen (b. London, 1938) studied English at Oxford. His influential book Signs and Meanings in Cinema (1969) constitutes a reflection of his interests in the politics of the New Left, semiotic film theory, Russian avant-garde, the French New Wave and Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis. Wollen remains one of the leading theorists on avant-garde film and he also co-wrote Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger (1957). Between 1974 and 1983 he made six films with Mulvey. His own feature, Friendship’s Death (1987), is a futuristic story set in Amman in September 1970, during the battles between Palestinian guerrillas and the Jordanian army.