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An Exploration of the ways in which Tom Ford uses the gaze in his advertising campaigns and film, A Single Man

Name: Hayley Buckle BA (Hons) Fashion Promotion University for the Creative Arts Rochester January 2011

Word Count: 8377


Contents Page 1. Title Page 2. Contents Page 3. List of Illustrations 4-8. Introduction 9-16. Chapter One – Theory of the Gaze 17-23. Chapter Two – Analysis of Advertising Campaigns 24-33. Chapter Three – Analysis of A Single Man 34-35. Conclusion 36. Bibliography 37-49. Illustrations


List of Illustrations Introduction: Ford, Tom. (2009) Anna Jagodzinska for Tom Ford Eyewear Fall 09 Source: Fig 1: Ford, Tom. (2009) Anna Jagodzinska for Tom Ford Eyewear Fall 09 Source: Fig 2: Ford, Tom. (2010) Nicholas Hoult and Carolyn Murphey for Tom Ford Eyewear 10 Source: Fig 3: Ford, Tom. (2010) Nicholas Hoult and Carolyn Murphey for Tom Ford Eyewear 10 Source: Fig 4: Ford, Tom. (2009) Karen Elson for Tom Ford Eyewear Spring 09 Source: Fig 5: Ford, Tom. (2009) Jon Kortajarena for Tom Ford Menswear Spring 09 Source: Fig 6: Ford, Tom. (2009) Jon Kortajarena for Tom Ford Menswear Spring 09 Source: Fig 7: Testino, Mario. (2003) ‘Public Enemy’ Gucci 03 Source: Fig 8: Ford, Tom. (2009) George – A Single Man Source: Fig 9: Ford, Tom. (2009) George – A Single Man Source: Fig 10: Ford, Tom. (2009) George and Carlos – A Single Man Source: Fig 11: Ford, Tom. (2009) George and Carlos – A Single Man Source: Fig 12: Ford, Tom. (2009) Charlie – A Single Man Source: Fig 13: Ford, Tom. (2009) Charlie and George – A Single Man Source:


INTRODUCTION Woman as image, man as bearer of the look (Mulvey, 1975.19)

Ford, Tom. (2009) Anna Jagodzinska for Tom For Eyewear Fall 2009

Since it’s first appearance in 1975, Laura Mulvey’s iconic psychoanalytic paper Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema has played the focal role in establishing the theory of the male gaze in visual culture. In this text Mulvey argued that through the male gaze women are being viewed as an object for men’s visual pleasure. The gaze theory has strong links with the idea of voyeurism and voyeuristic looking. It also connotes association to fetish looking and identification. These areas of interest will form the foundations of my topic and will be explored in relation to the fashion advertising and film by Tom Ford.


Tom Ford, hailing from America is an openly gay fashion designer and film director. Landing a design job at Gucci in 1990, within four years he was titled the creative director of the Italian fashion house and revolutionised the label into the renowned glamorous fashion brand it is today. Since then he has successfully launched his own label of perfumes, eyewear, menswear and womenswear under his name Tom Ford. His advertising campaigns are notorious for their raunchy, explicit and sexually challenging nature, as pictured above and on the surface would appear to personify Laura Mulvey’s male gaze theory. However, as this dissertation will explore, Mulvey’s theory can be challenged. Tom Ford, through his gay male perspective is an ideal subject in the way that he adapts and subverts the theory of the male gaze.

Since the beginning of cinema, this theory of men being the dominant sex that controls the narrative and women being the beautiful yet passive object to be looked at has been apparent. This has then been interpreted in to all forms of visual communication, most recognisably print media and advertising. These two forms of visual medium will each become the primary examples of reference throughout chapters two and three. Film and advertising image are such vast areas to explore in generalisation I have chosen for the purpose of my discussion to focus on the visual media work of designer Tom Ford. Iconic images of his advertising consist of a naked model, highly sexualised through provocative poses, hair, and make up against a plain background. He uses males and females individually as well as together in his images which will be interesting to discuss and develop the representations of each further on.


In 2009, Tom Ford produced and directed his debut film A Single Man, based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood. It tells the story of George (Colin Firth), a depressed and homosexual college lecturer, who still grieving the death of his partner Jim, has decided there is no reason to continue with his life, and plans to commit suicide that evening. The film follows George through his last day as he embarks on a series of encounters between friends, colleagues, neighbours and complete strangers. In the end, George is finally able to make peace with his grieve and learns to live once again, only to pass away from a heart attack. Tom Ford made this comment about the film during at interview on The Culture Show saying that

“(The film) This is the first purely expressive thing I have done. Fashion by its nature is surface, it’s about selling optimism, it’s about confidence. For me, film is a bit of a reaction against that.” A Single Man is presented in a beautifully constructed manner that replicates that of Tom Ford’s advertising campaigns. It displays similarities between the roles of gender and the themes of gaze and voyeurism in his images, therefore providing the focal comparison for this discussion.

Chapter One will examine Laura Mulvey’s Visual Please and Narrative Cinema essay in more detail, understanding her concept of the male gaze theory and how it can be broken down into different themes such as voyeuristic and fetishistic looking. This explanation will be aided by the work of Steve Neale, author of Masculinity as Spectacle, who discusses the themes of gaze, voyeurism and fetishism. The second half of this chapter will aim to challenge Mulvey’s male gaze theory, questioning the lack of a female gaze.


This will consider Mulvey’s afterthoughts on Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, wherein she attempts to acknowledge the female viewer. Works from scholars such as Mary Ann Doane, Suzanne Moore and Jackie Stacey will provide theory for how the gaze can be interpreted by different gender and sexuality. These are taken from Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator (Doane, 1982) and The Female Gaze – Women As Viewers of

Popular Culture, edited by Lorraine Gamman and Margaret Marshment, both investigating feminist film theory.

Chapter Two will focus on the themes of voyeurism and gaze within Tom Ford’s fashion advertising images. This will draw upon definitions of the selected themes from Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema and contradicting theories that have been discussed in chapter one. The selected Tom Ford images will be analysed and discussed in context to the relevant theory and his sexual orientation in order to determine an association or subversion with the male gaze argument. Theory on magazine advertisements from Sex in Advertising: Perspectives on the Erotic Appeal will provide an understanding of the way in which sexual connotations are constructed in advertising, which will be applied to Tom Ford’s campaigns.

Chapter Three will focus on the same themes and compare them to scenes from A Single Man. A breakdown of cinematic identification by John Ellis will introduce this chapter in order to understand the notion of character and how they are represented, with particular reference to his paper Visible Fictions that contradicts the notion of homosexuality and men looking and men. Feminism


and Film by E. Ann Kaplan will also provide varied and detailed analysis of film theory that will be referenced, in relation to how the audience identifies with the character. This chapter will confront Laura Mulvey’s definition of patriarchal society and question Tom Ford’s use of the gaze in A Single Man to invite the audience to see from a gay male perspective.

This dissertation will therefore discuss the way in which Tom Ford uses the themes of gaze and voyeurism in his visual media work of advertising images and film, and if they correspond or subvert Laura Mulvey’s original theory of the male gaze.


CHAPTER ONE This chapter intends to explore the idea of the gaze and how it has been theorised and challenged in reference to visual culture. Firstly I want to start by exploring the idea of the gaze according to Laura Mulvey. This theme for my discussion evolves from the concept of scopophilia: pleasure in looking. To gaze is to ‘Look at steadily and intently, as with great curiosity, interest, pleasure or wonder’1. This definition has been taken by film theorist Laura Mulvey and applied to her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Written in 1975, Mulvey developed the idea of the male gaze theory and it has since been recognised as an iconic psychoanalytic media paper. The male gaze proposes that in narrative cinema, the woman is an object to be looked at and desired by the man. This is manifested through means of voyeuristic and fetishistic looking, ideas that I will explore further. What Mulvey makes clear is that when it comes to the spectator, they can only ever gaze as a male, regardless of their actual sex. She explains:

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 fantasy onto 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 they can be said to connote a to-be-looked-at-ness (Mulvey, 1989.19) It is important to make note of now the fact that Mulvey is primarily discussing the male gaze in relation to film, however from exploring her argument it can be seen how this theory can be placed in relation to visual media and advertising images. This I will develop further in the following chapters. The 1


above statement from Mulvey discusses the idea of the male gaze within visual culture, according to her the gaze of the spectator, protagonist, camera and control of the narrative are male. Whereas the female is the spectacle and is there to be looked at only, an erotic object for the male gaze. Mulvey uses binary opposites to describe the subject/object relationship: active/male signals that he is in control, as the bearer of the look while the passive/female has no power; she is an object there to be looked at. This idea can also be said to derive from the idea of sexual voyeurism: sexual gratification in secretly looking at sexual acts, or someone naked or undressing, by the way the male spectator is perceived as the audience/voyeur and while the female is the narrative/victim. Mulvey describes the notion of voyeurism as so:

Voyeurism… has associations with sadism: pleasure lies in ascertaining guilt (immediately associated with castration), asserting control and subjecting the guilty person through punishment or forgiveness. This sadistic side fits in well with narrative. Sadism demands a story, depends on making something happen, forcing a change in another person, a battle of will and strength, victory/defeat, all occurring in a linear time with a beginning and an end. Fetishistic scopophilia, on the other hand, can exist outside linear time as the erotic instinct is focused on the look alone (Mulvey, 1989.22) What Mulvey is illustrating here is the way in which voyeurism is expressed through it’s connotations with sadism: a sexual perversion in which gratification is derived from inflicting pain on others. This she states is presented in film narrative when the sadistic need to gaze at an ‘exhibitionist like’ (Mulvey, 1975) and thus place the erotic look upon them to affect a change in the story. In terms of fetishistic scopophilia (fetishistic looking) this can be applied more directly to print media advertising in the way eroticism is


portrayed through an image. Steve Neale sites John Ellis in his essay Masculinity as Spectacle and further develops the notion of fetish looking:

The voyeuristic look is curious, inquiring, demanding to know. The fetishistic gaze is captivated by what it sees, does not wish to enquire further to see more, to find out‌ The fetishistic look has much to do with display and the spectacular (Ellis, 1983.261) This statement by Ellis clearly explains the differences between both voyeuristic and fetishistic looking by the way in which the gaze interacts with the spectacle, in this case this would be the advertisement. While the voyeur is inquisitive by nature and looks beyond the image to seek a reason, the fetish look is concerned only with the image presented and the emotions it evokes. So far it is seen that there is a lack of sexual balance in the way that men and women are perceived according to Mulvey, in relation to film narrative and society she states this reason for being as follows:

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 fantasy 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 women as spectacle (Mulvey, 2000.41) This statement emphasises the point about the male protagonist controlling the narrative within a film and is portrayed as the hero while the woman disrupts the narrative and becomes a passive object to be looked at. Mulvey relates this to patriarchal society in where men are the decision makers and


they have the controlling power, she says that cinematic codes are patriarchal and the images are created for the male gaze.

Laura Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze has since been criticised by scholars for catering only for the male viewpoint and ignoring the possibility of the female spectator. This central flaw in Mulvey’s argument has provoked new theories that challenge the idea of the gaze, promoting the question; what happens when the woman looks back at the man? Is there a female gaze? The demand for Mulvey to balance out her original ‘male gaze’ analysis led her to write the follow up Afterthoughts on ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, inspired by Duel of the Sun, in which she reconsiders the notion of the female spectator. Mulvey proposes thus for the woman to identify with the male hero, she must adopt a masculine identity, resulting in a process of transvestism. Mary Ann Doane cites Mulvey in Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator:

As desire is given cultural materiality in a text, for women (from childhood onwards) trans-sex identification is a habit That very easily becomes second nature. However, this nature does not sit easily and shifts restlessly in its borrowed transvestite clothes (Mulvey, 1982.78) What Mulvey is suggesting here is that from a young age, females are able to identify with the opposite sex, but must do so through adopting a male persona in order to swap genders. The transvestite, who wears clothes that signify a different sexuality, is used as a metaphor by Mulvey to express the way in which the female wears the male identity to assume an active spectatorship. However Mulvey determines that the active female look is an


uncomfortable one as the look is ‘borrowed’ from the man. This still depicts the gaze theory as being unequal between the genders, with the male remaining the active controller of the gaze. Feminist film theory, Mary Ann Doane in the previously noted essay, has discussed this idea of the woman having to use a different identity, or be it a disguise, in order to look back at the man. Doane discusses the use of masquerade to distance the female spectator from the object, thus allowing for an active gaze to take place. Doane states that:

The transvestite adopts the sexuality of the other – the woman becomes a man in order to attain the necessary distance from the image. Masquerade, on the other hand, involves a realignment of femininity, the recovery, or more accurately, simulation, of the missing gap or distance. To masquerade is to manufacture a lack in the form of a certain distance between oneself and one’s image (Doane, 1982.79)

Here Doane makes reference to Laura Mulvey’s transvestite explanation for the female gaze, and challenges it by implementing the use of a masquerade. The masquerade, like the borrowing of the male identity, is another metaphor for the way the woman has to adopt a disguise in order to look back at the man. However instead of adopting the male ego that Mulvey suggests, the woman creates a mask that flaunts her femininity, an excess of femininity even, that disguises the true position of her active gaze. Her womanliness conceals the manipulation of masculinity that she possesses and uses to gaze back as the spectator of the object. What both Mulvey and Duane’s analysis on the female gaze conclude is that although they both recognise the need for the woman to look back at the man, to do so she has to adopt a disguise, be it a male or an overtly feminised identity. The notion on the


woman having to conceal her identity in order to look back still leaves the female gaze argument unbalanced, with the power remaining with the man. The lack of female gaze in Laura Mulvey’s patriarchal theory is a noticeable flaw in her otherwise celebrated essay and has aroused fierce feminist debate, challenging its somewhat sexist connotations. However, the binary opposition between male and female is no longer the only way that the gaze has been interpreted. A cultural awakening to homosexuality since Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema has led to the explorations of how gender look back at their own sex: how do men look at men, and women at women. Suzanne Moore, journalist and film theorist discusses the homoerotic representation of men and how it can become entwined with the notion of the female gaze. Her essay Here’s Looking at You, Kid! Is cited by Lorraine Gamman and Margaret Marshment in The Female Gaze – Women As Viewers of Popular Culture:

In the past, erotic images of men’s bodies carried with them the threat of male homosexuality and therefore had to be rendered powerless in some way by being feminised … it now seems possible to represent the male body as a pleasurable object on condition that this pleasure can be contained within a narcissistic/auto-erotic discourse (Moore, 1988.55) In this statement, Moore is expressing the concern that sexualised images of men presented. Being the dominant sex, in control of the look, the man as an erotic object challenges the rules of the male gaze by demanding to be looked at. In order for the objectified male to be viewed by other men, without accusations of homosexuality, rather ironically, is softened to produce a homoerotic image that becomes neutral to both genders. Non-threatening and both inviting to the male and female gaze, this new representation of men that


adopts a feminised persona to become available to all bearers of the look. As with the theories on gaze provided by Mulvey and Doane, it would be apparent that in this situation of men looking at men, the objectified male has to take on a role of homoerotic discourse to be willingly viewed by the spectator. On the contrary to the previously discussed themes of disguise, for a woman to look at a woman, a profound relationship between the female looking and the image receiving the look is formed. Feminist film critic Jackie Stacey discusses the idea of women’s desires towards other women in narrative cinema in her essay Desperately Seeking Difference, an analysis of the female relationships in films Desperately Seeking Susan (1984) and All About Eve (1950). In reference to the above films, Stacey notes that:

Women in cinema audiences prefer female stars. On explanation for this has been that women identify with the stars’ position as desirable to men. Another is the fascination between women ‌ the female spectator is invited to gaze with one female character at another, in an interchange of feminine fascinations. This fascination is neither purely identification with the other woman, nor desire for her in the strictly erotic sense of the word. It is a desire to see, to know and to become more like an idealised feminine other (Stacey, 1988. 115) What Stacey depicts here is the way that a female spectator can actively look at the female image, and consequently share her gaze at another female character. This female to female gaze does not necessarily have connotations with desire, nor identification with the image. What Stacey expresses is the way in which women can gaze at their equal, realising a connection and an aspiration to be more like their female ego. In relation to theories on the gaze, this relationship between the female spectator and female image is unique.


The gaze between male and female, and male on male does not form such an understanding as the use of disguise and masquerade is adopted to hide their true identities. Only when the female looks back at the female is their true self expressed, creating a balanced connection between the spectator and spectacle.


CHAPTER TWO This chapter intends to explore the use of the gaze in a selection of fashion advertising campaigns by Tom Ford for his own brand. These examples are taken from his designer eyewear, menswear and womenswear ranges and will feature images of male and female models. Throughout this chapter I will be discussing various theories on how desire and the gaze is coded into advertising media, with specific reference to Laura Mulvey’s argument. Through an analysis of his advertising images, I anticipate to establish the way that Tom Ford employs yet subverts Mulvey’s definition of the male gaze. Firstly I wish to consider the fundamental role that desire plays within advertising media. Feminist theorist Mary Kelly stated in her article Desiring Images/Images that is taken from The Feminism ad Visual Culture Reader:

Desire is embodied in the image which is equated with the woman who is reduced to the body which in turn is seen as the site of sexuality and the locus of desire (Kelly, 2003.72) This agrees with Laura Mulvey’s theory of the female being passive and an object of desire whilst the male remains the ‘bearer of the look’. This can be seen in the Tom Ford Eyewear advertising campaign from Spring/Summer 2009 (See Fig 1) where the female is portrayed as a desirable object, naked, sexual and staring outwards to be received by the male gaze. Her pose is modest, and strong that shows she is confident but still inviting. The look that she implies to be receiving would be that of the fetish one, as she is positioned alone with no narrative to be read only as a display and her direct link to her audience is representing the urgency to ‘be looked at’.


This point can be backed up by a quote from the book Sex in Advertising: Perspectives on the Erotic Appeal compiled by Tom Reichert and Jacqueline Lambiase that examines the nature of sex and sexual ideologies in advertising and the way in which they are represented.

Sexual behaviour can be woven into ads in two ways, as individual behaviour or interpersonal interaction. Models behave sexually in ads by making eye contact with the viewer, flirting, and moving provocatively. In these ways, models can communicate sexual interest with the viewer or attempt to elicit sexual arousal (Reichert, 2003.18) The point being made here evidently illiterates the behaviour in Fig 1 that we just discussed. Mulvey would say that the provocative image of the female is positioned to be looked at by the male, she is the object he is the spectator.

Briefly I wish to consider the way in which this type of advertising image is placed and portrayed in the magazine media and how the theme of men being the spectator of women can be applied. With particular reference to the glossy, fashion and men’s magazines, women are mostly presented as beautiful, immaculate, sexy and provocative. Although everybody knows that none of these images are true to reality and are airbrushed creations, it seems that they are still representing the way females should look for men and in turn men become the spectator in actively viewing these images. Carolyn M Byerly and Karen Ross have explored the many areas of feminism and the role of females in the media in the book Women and Media: A Critical Introduction. I found the following of particular interest:


Despite the hyper-unreality of these mostly male ordered constructions the persistence and regularity of their (re)production provides easy passage into everyday discourse, subtly defining the contours and limits of the ‘proper’ ways of looking and being female, thus maintaining gender inequalities without even being seen to do so (Byerly, Ross, 1990.37) This point of view proposes that men create the images of women we see in magazines, for men (in the case of magazines such as Nuts and FHM) however they are too created for women (Vogue, Elle). The authors make the point that these ‘constructions’ are brainwashing women into thinking that how they see females in magazines is the correct and proper way to look, while discarding the fact that none of these images are actually real. It also makes the point that as men create most of these images, it signifies that men are still the sex who is controlling the way the female is perceived and this can be related back to Mulvey’s active/male, passive/female and the patriarchal society. This point is also justified by Reichert’s statement about how sexual behaviour is constructed in to communicate with the spectator through eye contact and overt eroticism.

Following on from this, I now wish to compare two images both from the Tom Ford Eyewear Spring/Summer 2010 range. (See Fig 2) This advert depicts a male and a female model that alters the set up from the previous campaign image. Following on from his previous statement in Sex in Advertising: Perspectives on the Erotic Appeal, Reichert discusses the use of male/female casting:

A second form of behaviour in sexual ads involves two models – sometimes more – shown engaging in sexual contact. The degree of the explicitness and progressiveness of the encounter vary from portrayals of


voyeurism, to simple displays affection to inferred intercourse (Reichert, 2003.18) In Fig 2, the female is highly sexualised with slicked back hair, dark make up and is posed naked, carefully positioned behind the male. She may be stood above him, but the positioning of him in front of her still depicts that of Mulvey’s patriarchal society in which he is the dominant sex, protecting the female and at the same time restricting her. The fact that the male is dressed in formal attire shows his importance and also adds emphasis on the naked woman thus evoking a voyeuristic role in looking at her standing naked behind a fully dressed man and the notion of fetishistic looking (Ellis). Her action of grooming her male counterpart shows she is under his control yet is still victim (if this were narrative) to the outside male gaze. However she does not receive it through eye contact as she is focused on the male, it is in turn the male who is as Reichert sites ‘flirting with the viewer’ which questions against Mulvey’s argument, changing the rule of the male gaze theory to active/female, passive/male. The image Fig 3 presents the same set up as Fig 2 but we can identify that the roles have been slightly reversed. The female, still positioned behind the male, now has a domineering arm over his chest and the other posed quite comfortably and determinedly around his shoulder and head. The male is now avoiding eye contact with the viewer, and instead is looking away as if the roles of protection have been reversed and now the woman has the power. Her direct stare at the spectator and playful expression connotes that she is still a willing object to be desired, however as Mary Ann Doane quotes in Film and the Masquerade (taken from Feminism and Film introduced earlier)


After all, even if it is admitted that the woman is frequently the object of the voyeuristic or fetishistic gaze… what is there to prevent her from reversing the relation and appropriating the gaze for her own pleasure? (Doane, 1982.422) This image subverts Mulvey’s notion of the male gaze, as the female now becomes owner of the active look, looking back at the man and the audience, she is in possession of the female gaze. Here, the subversion of the gaze that Tom Ford has manufactured is visually evident, yet it still begs to question whether Ford has truly given power to the woman as we know that the female gaze is consequently disguised by masculinity. What is particularly notable in Tom Ford’s advertising campaigns is the use of glasses, and how this simple fashion accessory can manipulate the direction of the gaze. The previously quoted Mary Ann Doane, in her essay Film and the Masquerade – Theorizing the Female Spectator, cited in The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader by Amelia Jones, has brought this point of interest to attention. Her critique of the film New Voyager (1942) considers the cliché of glasses in cinema and how they are used narrative to express a transformation in character. The woman who wears glasses signifies intelligence, knowledge, repressed sexuality or be it a prudish attitude. When she removes the glasses, the woman is transformed into a desirable and sexualised image of herself. Doane discusses:

Glasses worn by a woman in the cinema do not generally signify a deficiency in seeing but an active looking, or even simply the fact of seeing as opposed to being seen. The intellectual woman looks and analyses, and in usurping the gaze she poses a threat to an entire system of representation. It is as if the woman has forcefully moved to the other side of the specular


(Doane, 2003.80) What Doane suggests here is that glasses are not only used in cinema as a cliché for transformation, but can in fact form a means in the way that gaze is interpreted. The glasses upon the woman form a barrier that reverses the gaze, allowing her to look back as though she possesses the active male gaze. This object that is supposed to undermine the attractiveness of the woman, Doane proposes, now embodies her with the power of the gaze to look back at the audience. This notion is apparent in the previous Fig 1 and Fig 3, wherein the female is looking back – controlling the gaze through the metaphor of the glasses. This is a common theme that runs through several of the Tom Ford advertising images for eyewear, Fig 4 provides a furthermore example. The female model is positioned more central in the frame than that of Fig 1, yet her face and ultimately her gaze is positioned in the right hand side. Her body, turned sideways on, repels the camera however her face turned towards the spectator invites the active gaze, as she is the alone image. In accordance to Doane’s theory, this active gaze is turned back onto the audience unnoticed by the female image that holds the eye contact between both parts of the look. When it comes to the menswear advertising images, Tom Ford’s own sexuality can be seen to be embodied in the dominant yet sexualised portrayals of the man. In Fig 5 and Fig 6, the male model who unlike the females used in the previous Tom Ford images, is fully clothed. This already presents a representation of importance and splendour evoked in the male image. The positioning of the model’s look makes direct contact with the


audience, inviting them in to gaze back at the glorified male object. What Tom Ford does here, that rather contradicts Suzanne Moore’s theory of feminising the male object in order for it to be viewed safely by another man, is he makes the male image an excess of beauty that shows of to both genders of spectator, the magnificence of the male form. I would like to finish this chapter by looking at an fashion advertising image by Gucci, that with Tom Ford as creative director, connotes his erotic yet beautified envision of the gaze. In Fig 7, the right hand side of the frame in consumed with an erotic scenario of a woman, whose identity remains unknown, revealing herself to a male lover. Her strong, legs parted pose, and stiletto heels signify her dominance over the male know kneels below her, touching her leg and looking lustfully at her. What is significant in this image is the way that it invites the spectator to look on at the spectacle in a voyeuristic manner. The male and female objects are unaware of the active gaze of the audience, watching them in secret so that Laura Mulvey’s notion of voyeuristic looking comes in to play. This idea of looking and voyeurism is not only apparent in Tom Ford’s advertising campaigns, but has also been portrayed in the his film A Single Man, which will become the focus of the final chapter.


CHAPTER THREE Chapter Three aims to examine the themes of the gaze and voyeurism in context to the motion picture A Single Man (2009) directed and produced by Tom Ford. I plan to begin analysing the film by breaking down the binary elements of identity through the representation of men, and representation of women. The reason for focusing on these representations are to relate back to the Tom Ford advertising campaigns, with the hope to distinguish a relationship between the way the images and film spectacle are viewed. Also, the deconstruction of gender will allow for individual interpretation on how voyeurism and gaze theories can be applied through character and identity in A Single Man. The representation of gender within film is generally categorised into masculine and feminine identities. Masculinity is defined as: having qualities traditionally ascribed to men, as strength and boldness2. Femininity is phrased as: the quality of being feminine or the nature of womanliness3. These definitions immediately depict the patriarchal society quoted by that of Laura Mulvey in 1975, stereotyping the characteristics of men being strong and women being the weaker sex. It will be interesting to see how these stereotypes are tackled in theory later on in this discussion when the lead protagonist of the film is introduced, a depressed homosexual man.

Firstly, before beginning an analysis of the introductory scene of the lead character, George Falconer, I wish to consider the notion of identity and how it

2 3


is constructed in cinematic language. To acknowledge this subject matter I have regarded Steve Neale’s thesis on Masculinity as Spectacle, a pioneering text on the representation of males in film narrative, and one that I will be exploring further on. In explaining identification in film narrative, Neale sites John Ellis’s Visible Fictions who examines:

Cinematic identification involves two different tendencies. First, there is that of dreaming and phantasy that involve the multiple and contradictory tendencies within the construction of the individual. Second, there is the experience of narcissistic identification with the image of a human figure perceived as other. Both these processes are involved in the conditions of entertainment cinema (Ellis, 1983.255)

What Ellis deconstructs here is the way in which the audience identifies with the character on screen. Dreaming and phantasy connotes that the spectator identifies the character as his or hers ‘ideal’ self, what they aspire to be. Narcissistic identification implies the erotic gratification derived from identifying one’s self with the (for example, more perfect) character. As he continues:

Identification involves both the recognition of self in the image on the screen, a narcissistic identification, and the identification of self with the various positions that are involved in fictional narration: those of hero and heroine, villain, bit part player, active and passive character. Identification is therefore multiple and fractured, a sense of seeing the consistent parts of the spectators own psyche paraded before her or him… (Ellis, 1983.255) This point summarises the way in that the audience identifies with the character. This can be seen through aspirational desire identified in the image of ideal self and the recognition of own self in character, thus creating a


relationship between spectator and spectacle. Pam Cook supports this explanation of identification in the publication Contempory Hollywood Cinema, where in she states:

The invitation to the cinema is based on the promise that spectators may experience the thrill of reinventing themselves rather than simply having their social identities bolstered (Cook, 1998.234) What Cook expresses here is the way in that identifying with the character or image allows the spectator to alter their own identity to fit their ‘dream’ or ‘narcissistic’ vision of themselves, thus utilising Cook’s concept of reinvention.

Through the exploration of the subject of identity in cinema narrative, this will now lead on to focus in on the opening scene of A Single Man discuss how the identity of the central character, George Falconer, is constructed. We are first introduced to George as he wakes up from a nightmare involving his deceased partner (See Fig 8) He is naked on the bed with only a white bed sheet covering him, the camera cuts between various viewpoints of his side, feet, close up of his face and birds eye view to demonstrate that in this position he is bare and has nothing to hide. What follows is a montage sequence of George getting up and dressed for the day. The scene uses a selection of close ups and fast paced edits to signify the journey this process takes. We observe George in the shower, taking his medication, selecting a new unworn shirt from his drawer of new, unworn shirts, buffering his shoes and fixing his tie and cufflinks. The final scene of this sequence sees George face to face with himself in the mirror (See Fig 9), observing the transformation he has just carried out, as he narrates


“It takes time in the morning for me to become George, time to adjust to what is expected of George and how he is to behave. By the time I have dressed and put the final layer of polish on the now slightly stiff but quite perfect George I know fully what part I'm suppose to play� This demonstrates to the audience that the character of George has to dress to become the person, the person he believes he should be. It is a contrast from the exposed, vulnerable George we see on first witnessing the character, consequently highlighting his need to form a separate identity that allows him to be someone other than himself. This approach can be said to evoke the idea of voyeurism, with George regarding himself in the way a spectator would regard the spectacle, and by doing this he is able to dress and identify himself in a way that he wishes to be perceived by others. The act of disguising his true self to present a more perfect image can therefore be linked to Ellis’s theory on narcissistic identification.

As George Falconer is a homosexual male, his representation in the film narrative begs to challenge that of the traditional heterosexual male stereotype, that of which Laura Mulvey describes in through her explanation of patriarchal society. John Ellis establishes this point in Visible Fictions, quoting that:

In a heterosexual and patriarchal society; the male body cannot be marked explicitly as the erotic object of another male look: that look must be motivated in some other way, its erotic component repressed (Ellis, 1983.258)


What Ellis is stating here is that in accord to the ideologies of patriarchal society, a male cannot look at another male with sexual interest. The look has to be justified by another means and the attraction, ignored. A Single Man challenges this belief by allowing the male character to erotically look at another male through the notions of voyeurism and gaze, disregarding patriarchal society and positioning the male as a passive object as well as an active voyeur. Through an encounter with a male Spanish prostitute (Carlos), a relationship between the fetishistic and voyeuristic looking in Tom Ford’s advertising campaigns can be interpreted into the film narrative and visual display. As George is picking up some gin from a store, a younger handsome male prostitute can be seen standing in a phone box watching George enter the shop. Carlos purposely sets up a collision between himself and George as he exits the store, creating a scenario in which they are forced to interact with one another (See Fig 10). In this scene the act of voyeurism takes on its traditional definition in the way that Carlos is watching an unsuspecting George through the barrier of the phone box that separates them. In purposely creating an encounter between him and George, Carlos has (going back to Ellis’s thesis on looking) moved between a fetishistic look at George displaying his initial attraction, to a voyeuristic look in where he has followed through with his curiosity and created a scenario. After their sudden meet, the two men introduce themselves and take time to share a cigarette (See Fig 11). The action of Carlos smoking is sexualised through a series of extreme close ups of his facial features which cut back to George’s reaction to the man, observing his gaze. The eyes that flirt and


connect with the camera, pursed lips emphasised through increased colour saturation, chiselled cheekbones and a slow motion shot of smoke being blown out of his mouth. All these action signify what Reichet described as sexual behaviour in advertising images in the previous chapter. This presents evidence of the similarities of the way voyeurism and gaze cross over between Tom Ford’s advertising campaigns and A Single Man.

At this point it would be adventurous to consider the way that Tom Ford invites the viewer to respond to the on screen action. In its entirety, A Single Man is a highly stylised film that clearly demonstrates Tom Ford’s background in designer fashion and photography. Already possessing a creative eye, Ford weaves together the film narrative as though they were a series of photographic stills, each one as beautiful and picturesque as the next. In fact it could be argued that the visual look of the film takes over from the narrative itself. This creates a direct parallel between the construction of both the film and the advertising campaigns in the way that they invite the viewer to look at the image. In A Single Man, Tom Ford invites the audience to gaze at the beauty of men, regardless of sexual or gender orientation, through the notion of the gaze.

The central role of desire and looking during this scene through the use of extreme close ups brings me back to a point made in Steve Neale’s Masculinity as Spectacle. Whilst referencing Paul Willenmen’s thesis on the films of Antony Mann, Neale states that:


The anxious ‘aspects’ of the look at the male to which Willemen refers are here at the both embodies and the allayed not just by playing out the sadism inherent in voyeurism through scenes of violence and combat, but also by drawing upon the structures and processes of fetishistic looking, by stopping the narrative in order to recognise the pleasure of display (Neale, 1983.261) The example being referenced in this passage is of Western film genre, discussing the way in which voyeurism and fetishistic looking is shown within the combat scenes through the use of extreme close ups. Despite evolving around western films, this theory can be applied to the scene described previously in A Single Man. The way in which Carlos watches George walk into the store and then follows him with a hidden intent displays the sadism in his voyeuristic look that Neale and Mulvey both recognise in their definitions of the look. In the same scene the fetishistic look that Neale describes above as bring able to ‘stop the narrative in order to recognise the pleasure of display’ manifests itself through the extreme close ups of Carlos smoking the cigarette. The narrative does not necessarily move forward in this scene, it is purely for visual pleasure and display between the spectator and spectacle, mimicking that of the Tom Ford advertisement images.

From this point onward the chapter proposes to move on from the male representation in A Single Man, and explore the representation of women. On reading about women in film, the iconography that allows the audience to identify with the character is discussed by Claire Johnston in Women’s Cinema as Counter Cinema, taken from Feminism and Film by E. Ann Kaplan. The quote summarises the stereotyping of women and men in cinema, and leads suitably onto this next area of exploration:


Iconography as a specific kind of sign or cluster of signs based on certain conversations within Hollywood genres has been partly responsible for the stereotyping of women within the commercial cinema … as the cinema developed, the stereotyping of man was increasingly interpreted as contravening the realisation of the notion of ‘character’; in the case of women, this was not the case; the dominant ideology presented her as eternal and unchanging, except for modifications in terms of fashion etc (Johnston, 1973.23) What Johnston begins with here is Panofsky’s analysis on how iconography and stereotype was formed in cinema. Fixed iconography was formed by the use of symbols and signs in Hollywood cinema in order for the audience to identify with the character. This can be said to be the inception of patriarchal society in film, masculine men and feminised females. The representation of women in A Single Man however contradicts this rule as although the women are visually beautiful, the male character and audience (whom naturally identify with George) does not desire them according to patriarchal society. This is derived from the gay male perspective that Tom Ford portrays through George, which is then relayed on to the audience and relates back to the way that Ford is exhibiting the beauty of the male image, allowing us to see what he sees. Ford once again subverts the traditional Mulvey male gaze approach, as the binary opposition of active male/passive female does not work when the components are changed to homosexual male/straight female.

The focal female character in the film is Charlie (Charlotte), George’s oldest and closet friend. She has had previous intimate relations with George in the past before his homosexual relationship, and has since longed for more from their friendship. She is presented as an independent woman, beautiful and confident although it becomes apparent that since the breakdown of her


marriage, she is weak and in constant need of attention and approval. This she seeks from George, in hope to spark up their past love. Already she is portrayed as the weaker woman, with the male gender controlling ‘film fantasy’. The scene in which Charlie is preening herself for George’s company later that evening is a key example of woman passively objectifying herself to the fetish and voyeuristic male gaze. We observe Charlie from behind, sat at her dressing table decorated with perfumes and charming powder puffs (See Fig 12). French music is playing in the background, connoting the mood of sexiness that is emphasised by her being dressed only in provocative underwear. Extreme close ups of Charlie applying her make up allow the spectator to connect with her sexualised image, thus initiating fetishistic looking. The camera pans in on Charlie from behind her and we see her reflection in her dressing table mirror, this immediately signifies the notion on voyeurism in the way in that Charlie does not know she is being watched as the spectator sits behind her line of vision. This can be seen to suggest the idea of sadism through voyeurism and narcissistic identification in the need to perfect her own self for the viewing pleasure of George. However, George is not interested as he does not view her as a desirable object (See Fig 13), his gaze is not one that objectifies her femininity and it is in this instance that we can distinguish the gay male perspective of the gaze. Instead, George’s gaze along with the viewers is inclined to objectify the male body. It is in this that Tom Ford manifests the non beauty of women, confronting Mulvey’s theory of women as an object of desire for men through presenting them as tragic and


undermined. A Single Man ultimately conveys the beauty of the man to the man and to the audience.



What this exploration concludes are the ways in which Tom Ford uses the idea of the gaze in his advertising campaigns and film, A Single Man. This process has developed from a breakdown of the definition of the gaze and the theory that characterizes it, and ultimately criticises it. The central theory for this dissertation was the male gaze argument, developed by Laura Mulvey in Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema (1975). What Mulvey defined was the idea that in film, the woman is a desirable object positioned to be looked at by the man. She notes that the audience assume a male viewpoint to become the spectator and objectify the female image. Although originally developed for cinema, Mulvey’s theory can and has been referenced throughout all forms of visual communication.

The themes of looking that are crucial to the male gaze theory aroused a deeper investigation into the notions of voyeurism and fetishism. I considered theory on these ways of looking, as they would consequently be personified through the examples of Tom Ford’s visual work. Along with setting down the predominant ideas of the gaze, chapter one also challenged Laura Mulvey’s one sided argument by asking what happened when women look back at men. What I discovered through analyse of contrasting gaze theories is that there was a strong argument for the lack of gender and sexuality imbalance in relation to the gaze. Yet what was interesting was that despite fierce debate from feminist theorists such as Mary Ann Doane and Suzanne Moore, the


argument for a female gaze was left undermined as the theme of having to adopt a disguise in order to ‘gaze like the man’ was overpowering. Throughout an analysis of Tom Ford’s fashion advertising campaigns, the characteristics of the original male gaze theory are evident. The highly sexualised images generally feature a single image, be in a woman or man. Positioned against a plain background, the connection between the spectacle and spectator is intensified through direct eye contact, a directed gaze. Despite his homosexuality, Tom Ford’s advertising images in contrast can be seen to evoke the stereotypical qualities of heterosexual desire and pleasure.

In A Single Man, through an exploration of the ways in which we identify with character, I am able to analyse the representations of the central male and female characters and argue how they contradict the concept of patriarchal society. The film itself is overtly stylised and provocative, reminiscent of the advertising images. What was interesting to discover was the way that in A Single Man, Tom Ford subverts the male gaze theory and invites the audience to view from a gay male perspective by displaying the beauty of men. This utilizing of the gay male gaze in the film is a contradiction to the traditional ‘Mulvey’ gaze represented in the advertising campaigns. I believe that A Single Man, through the use of the gaze, ultimately expresses Tom Ford’s personality and his vision of beauty. This leads me to finish with what the designer quoted himself about the film, addressing it as “The first purely expressive thing that I have done”.


Bibliography Bruzzi, Stella. Undressing Cinema: Clothing and Identity in the Movies: Routeledge, 1997. Byerly, Carolyn M. Ross, Karen. Women and Media: A Critical Introduction: Blackwell Publishing, 2006. Chaudhuri, Shohini. Feminist Film Theorists: Routeledge, 2006. Doane, Mary Ann. Femme Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis: Routeledge, 1991. Dyer, Richard. Now You See It: Studies on Lesbian and Gay Film: Routeledge, 1990. Gamman, Lorraine. Marshment, Margaret. The Female Gaze: The Women’s Press, 1988. Jones, Amelia. The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader: Routeledge, 2003. Kaplan, E. Ann. Feminism and Film: Oxford University Press, 2000. Lambiase, Jacqueline. Reichert, Tom. Sex In Advertising: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003. Mulvey, Laura. Visual and Other Pleasures: Palgrave Macmillan, 1989. Neale, Steve. Masculinity as Spectacle: Reflections on Men and Mainstream Cinema: Routeledge, 2004. Neal, Steve. Smith, Murrey. Contemporary Hollywood Cinema: Routeledge, 1998. A Single Man, 2009 Director: Tom Ford The Culture Show, Spring 2010, Episode 4 BBC2



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Tom Ford and the gaze theory - dissertation  
Tom Ford and the gaze theory - dissertation  

An Exploration of the ways in which Tom Ford uses the gaze in his advertising campaigns and film, A Single Man