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Film Bodies: Genre, Gender and Excess Essay

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Film scholar and gender theorist Linda Williams begins her article “Film Bodies: Genre, Gender and Excess,” with an anecdote about a dispute between herself and her son, regarding what is considered “gross,” (727) in films. It is this anecdote that invites her readers to understand the motivations and implications of films that fall under the category of “body” genre, namely, horror films, melodramas, (henceforth referred to as “weepies”) and pornography. Williams explains that, in regards to excess, the constant attempts at “determining where to draw the line,” (727) has inspired her and other theorists alike to question the inspirations, motivations, and implications of these “body genre” films. After her own research and consideration, Williams explains that she believes there is “value in thinking about the form, function, and system of seemingly gratuitous excesses in these three genres,” (728) and she will attempt to prove that these films are excessive on purpose, in order to inspire a collective physical effect on the audience that cannot be experienced when watching other genres.
Williams juxtaposes the three genres together, to reveal similarities and differences, and, in turn, their similar and different desire effects on the audiences. Specifically, she points out the physical reaction of characters in the films, and how the audience members mimic them. Firstly, in regards to the physical body, Williams discusses the similar uncontrollable “convulsion or spasm,” that comes with the different genres; a body on the screen is “’beside itself’ with sexual pleasure, fear and terror, or overpowering sadness.” (729) Next, she dissects the sound of these bodily reactions – the overpowering moan, scream, or sob that the chara...


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... imagination is sometimes more excessive than the action on the screen. After the application of Williams’ “theory” to David Creonenberg’s film Shivers, it is apparent that the spectator’s personal perception of the action (or inaction) is more the cause of the bodily reaction that Williams is referring to, rather than the objective excess on the screen. Ultimately, various characteristics of Williams’ arguments are true, but as a film theory in general, “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre and Excess” needs further research and flexibility in order to be both relative to all “body” genre films, and applicable to all unique spectators.


Works Cited

Williams, Linda. "Film Bodies: Genre, Gender and Excess." Braudy and Cohen (1991 / 2004): 727-41. Print.

"Shivers (1975) - IMDb." The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 08 Feb. 2011. .


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