Womanliness as animal masquerade

Isabelle Freda, Mediarep, Philipps Universität Marburg
For thinking concerning the animal, if there is a such a thing, derives from poetry. -Jacques Derrida [1] We begin with two film stars of the first order: Catherine Deneuve and Isabella Rossellini, two actors as famous for their beauty as for their talent, but also, crucially, their innovative creativity in negotiating the treacherous terrain of film and media stardom. The interplay between femininity and masquerade in producing the public persona of each actor across their respective careers
more » ... , even at first glance, unique. Who can forget Deneuve's searing performance in Roman Polanski's Repulsion, followed by her portrayal of an elegant yet lifeless upper class beauty in Luis Buñuel's Belle du Jour, balancing the demure vacuity of the mannequin with bouts of sudden ferocious sexuality and perfectly complemented by the sensuous tactility of Yves St. Laurent's wardrobe? Two decades later Isabelle Rossellini would take mise-en-scène for an equally rough ride: like Buñuel, David Lynch takes the surface of the feminine masquerade to a level and intensity of signification that encompasses sexual fervor, longing, loss, and violence, threatening to collapse all narrative coherence in the film and bring it to a standstill. [2] In this case the objectification of the star's body is countered by the blue velvet which escapes its pedestrian role within costume and expands across the screen in opening credits that signal that blue velvet is a signifier of not only sexuality, but of a forbidden, perhaps bestial dimension of sexual desire now coupled with spectacular power.[3] These two films provide an index of the unique nature of both careers, balanced between satisfying conventional expectations of femininity (that is, functioning successfully as a commodity) and working on the cutting edge of cinematic style and narrative to undercut those same conventions (a balancing act most difficult, indeed). Inevitably, and most intensely, given their status as women, the challenge to convention, put broadly, must involve vision and the apparatus of objectification and desire of which they are inevitably a part. Both women took the chance to push these parameters even further, by undertaking roles which involve the intermingling of the animal and the feminine in masquerade, thereby destabilising the conventional relationship between dress and identity and with it the normative strictures which preserve the basic parameters, strategies, structures, and discourse through which the categories of femininity and the animal are sustained. One of the central ways this destabilisation occurs is in the confluence of overt sexuality, the active look, and the dissembling of the mechanisms of objectification. Quoting Jacques Derrida, he describes a series of metonymical associations between sexual difference and animal difference through which hierarchies are maintained that privilege man over animal and over woman. These metonymies revolve around the notion that man is distinct from animals in his upright posture or erect stance which recalls man's erection as being what distinguishes him from woman. [4] This ongoing, pervasive separation of man from animal and man from woman (and child) is philosophically embedded in our culture. Screen theory and its feminist formulations can provide a potentially refreshing new approach to the analysis of traditional structures of gender, identity, and performance and, alongside this, an opening to the 'animal' world. [5] The special confluence of femininity, animality, and masquerade is found in two unique instances of 'femininity as animal masquerade'. The first, Jacques Demy's 1970 film Donkey Skin (Peau d'âne) starring Deneuve, could
doi:10.25969/mediarep/3405 fatcat:ivrtqpov6vg6rpjfjsupfaqhze