Sally Bowles : fascism, female spectacle, and the politics of looking / by Linda Mizejewski
Includes bibliographical references (p. 290-303)
The fictional character Sally Bowles, created by Christopher Isherwood in Goodby to Berlin (1939) and recreated in four popular stage and screen adaptations, exemplifies a particular cultural representation of German fascism in relation to female eroticism. Within this coding, which includes the "camping up" of Nazism and the postulating of a "fascinating" fascist sexuality, the figure of the Weimar woman cabaret singer (modeled on the Marlene Dietrich character in The Blue Angel) has come to signify a certain kind of moral and sexual perversion popularly read as a psychosexual explanation of Nazism. This signification, which is both an historical misreading and a nervous disavowal of fascism in contemporary life, ultimately posits a phallic norm against which Nazism is positioned as Other because it is secretly homosexual or female. In each of the postwar adaptations of the Isherwood text--John Van Druten's 1951 play I Am a Camera, Henry Cornelius's 1955 film of the same name, Joe Masteroff's 1966 stage musical Cabaret, and Bob Fosse's film adaptation of the musical--political difference is read as sexual difference, and anxiety about sexual difference is mediated in various fetishizations of female sexuality. The Sally Bowles character is thus inscribed in a historically specific usage of female spectacle as fetish and displacement, a phenomenon often described in feminist film theory in semiotic analysis of visual pleasure in mainstream Western film. However, the relations of spectatorship in these texts are also grounded in specific cultural conditions--for example, postwar cultural reformulations of female sexuality in public representation and changing sexual codings within film and theater. The analysis of these texts therefore requires a careful negotiation between two levels of theory--the psychoanalytical and the materialist--and posits a double positioning of spectatorship within the dynamics of individual visual pleasure and historical awareness. These analyses further suggest that the basic tenets of semiotic feminist film theory can be likewise positioned in regard to analyses of literary and theatrical texts, to yield readings which consider the impact of mainstream film on representations of female sexuality.
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