Rosalind Galt, “Pretty: Film Theory, Aesthetics, and the History of the Troublesome,” Camera Obscura 71, Vol. 24, No. 2 (May 2009): 1-41.
Platonic binary of image and word, sublimation of image to the primacy of the word. Neo-classicism and Modernity give rise to a sublimation of the surface, an iconoclasm that elevates the beautiful and, in Postmodernism, even the ugly above the surface, which is merely “pretty.” The pretty is gendered, queered, and racialized. The excessive image is shiny, glossy, Baroque, adorned. A colonial approach toward color has predominated the cultural landscape, relegating the colored to the tribal, the feminine, and the Oriental. Films that feature a visual excess or saturation are, by those very terms, hard-to-classify or “cheap.” The image itself, in the Platonic and Neo-classical tradition, is feminized and feared, with an iconophobic culture more prone to value and appreciate those images that can be verbally situated. This is ironic in film studies, since Bazin and others have insisted on the primacy of the real, the actual object rather than one that is merely descriptive of reality. However, Bazin’s own approach can be considered iconophobic in the sense that the image itself, as a term, is rejected in favor of the object within the image. Galt calls for a queering of the discourse of film aesthetics, which have marginalized the image itself as well as the “pretty.” This is not, she insists to reverse the Platonic binary, but to reorient aesthetic discourse toward a less conservative and more politically active approach. She even critiques Mulvey’s own seminal and feminist essay, “Visual Please and Narrative Cinema,” as falling into iconoclasm by virtue of her reduction of “the woman as icon” into “icon.” In so doing, she feminizes the image and perpetuates a phobia toward it. One way that a politically active aesthetic discourse would operate would be to permit readings of “pretty” films that do not reductively feminize the image or elevate verbal discourse above it. She appeals to filmmakers like Derek Jarman, Peter Greenaway, and Pier Paolo Pasolini as marginalized against a patriarchal, authoritarian, and highly conservative aesthetic discourse that dominates the cultural landscape. The beautiful is a “safe” form and the ugly is a “provocative” form, but the pretty is a cheap and feminized form in the reigning paradigm. “…[I]mages [must] be read precisely at the point of their aesthetic exclusion, a practice that might reveal different shapes for the cinematic body” (31).