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Riddles of the Sphinx
dir. Laura Mulvey, Peter Wollen / UK 1977 / 92’
subtitles: Polish and English


Laura Mulvey, Dinah Stabb, Merdelle Jordine, Rhiannon Tise, Clive Merrison, Marie Green, Paula Melbourne, Chrissie Trigger, Mary Maddox, Mary Kelly

Film description

Filmed in seven sections, at the core of the film is ‘Louise’s story’ told in revolutionary 360° pans that spin slowly around the spaces of female life, creating a geography of the fantastic drawn from the protagonist’s everyday life. It is Mulvey and Wollen’s most celebrated and widely seen film, arguably their most explicit attempt to put their work as film theorists into practice. Louise, a young mother whose marriage is breaking down, takes a job at a telephone exchange to support herself and her daughter. Her encounters with female friends and family are enclosed by the rotating camerawork which challenges the formal structures of narrative cinema and the ways women are trapped as objects of the male gaze as well as in a circle of domesticity that is both ‘a prison and a nest’. In one scene, as the camera revolves around a woman’s bedroom covered in mirrors, camerawoman Diane Tammes is briefly revealed. Continuing Mulvey’s fascination with puzzles, myths and female identity, the Sphinx of the title is the film’s imaginary narrator, a questioning, paradoxical icon that eludes depiction as both a male fantasy and a figure that resists patriarchy.

Lara Thompson

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