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Do gender, genre and the gaze still matter? On a feminine road movie in women’s experimental film

Seen as historically masculine, the road movie has perpetuated its traditional patriarchal configuration and privileged the white heterosexual male. To counteract the genre’s gendered nature, some scholars have pointed to the growing need to study women’s road movies, yet never in the context of experimental filmmaking, which was institutionalized as thoroughly masculine with women’s work dismissed as peripheral or excessively lyrical. To fill this gap, Dr. Kornelia Boczkowska builds on feminist geography and automobilities research to discuss the “feminine” road movie aesthetics in contemporary experimental films, Sophie Calle’s No Sex Last Night (1992), Su Friedrich’s Rules of the Road (1993), Michaela Grill’s Carte Noir (2014) and Faith Arazi and Madeleine Mori’s Through a Field (2019). The results of her research, funded by a National Science Center post-doctoral grant (no. UMO-2018/31/D/HS2/01553), have been recently published in Feminist Media Studies.

Just like women’s experimental film practice, women’s road movies are diverse both in terms of representation and spectatorship and hence cannot be easily defined in definite terms. Resonating with certain sensibilities of the existentialist road movie of the 1970s, women’s journeys are often imbued with a deeper meaning and pay less attention to the fetishization of the automobile and driving, seen as a high-speed and action-oriented spectacle. In contrast to women’s road narratives and Hollywood classics, women in experimental road movies are rarely ill-suited to driving and use the car not so much to fulfill everyday household chores or escape domesticity and routine multi-tasking, as to immerse into an embodied, kinaesthetic experience of travel and reaffirm the self. Similarly, while Carte Noir and Through a Field construct a lone female nomadic story and No Sex Last Night and Rules of the Road embrace the couple road movie format, all works contest the road as a masculine space and question the genderedness of mobility through a strong emphasis on the (female) self and embodied practices of driving. This signals the cinematic transformation of women from a desired object to a creative subject, consequently denying the spectator the usual pleasures associated with voyeurism, fetishism and the (patriarchal) spectacle. Even though gender, genre and the gaze still matter, women makers are more concerned with exploring an affective, perceptual experience of driving and subjectivity, consequently de-contextualizing the road trip not only through the lens of feminisms, but also through the skin of the film, which works hand in hand with female self-production and resistance to objectification.

Boczkowska, Kornelia. Do gender, genre and the gaze still matter? Toward a feminine road movie in women’s experimental film.” Feminist Media Studies, published online.

This work is funded by the National Science Centre, Poland, under the project Lost highways, forgotten travels: The road movie in the post-war American avant-garde and experimental film through the lens of women and men filmmakers (grant no. UMO-2018/31/D/HS2/01553):