Document Type

Dissertation

Publication Date

Spring 4-26-2004

Abstract

Conventional movies tend to reflect the dominant ideology of the culture in which they were made. Movie making is a major industry in the United States and has tremendous influence over viewers, helping to shape images that emphasize established norms and roles in American society. Hollywood, as a microcosm of a larger patriarchal Western culture, perpetuates cultural values that define acceptable behavior for women. The moving image evolved from photography at the end of the 19th century. At the same time, psychoanalytic theory was born. Film eventually emerged as a male dominated industry, while psychoanalytic theory reinforced the idea that women are inherently passive, and feminist or assertive tendencies are abnormal. Women who chose a nontraditional path that bypassed domestic life (wife and motherhood) and/or included independence (sexual, reproductive, financial, intellectual, etc.) could conveniently be diagnosed as mentally ill. Female protagonists in movies have been routinely punished and subjected to an unhappy ending or reprogrammed to conform in order to live happily ever after. Because experimental filmmakers don’t aspire to make blockbusters, they are less concerned with appealing to a mass audience. They can thus be critical of their own culture without worrying about repercussions in the box office. Experimental films often lack narrative coherence and language. Like dreams, they tend to concentrate on visual image. One type of experimental filmmaking consists of collecting images from pre-existing works and reediting the images into a compilation. This is called associational montage. Sleep Paralysis is an experimental film utilizing associational montage. Like a dream, it is layered with meaning. The film presents a collection of images of women appropriated from several decades of cinema. The characters in the film represent the universal female protagonist, the filmmaker herself, and anyone who opts to reject conformity. The film is meant to suggest a waking nightmare. Sleeping is a metaphor for lack of consciousness/awareness. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus suggested, most of humankind is just as unconscious of what they do while they are awake as they are of what they do while asleep. The title “Sleep Paralysis” refers to a psychological and physiological condition in which a person becomes trapped in limbo between waking life and deep sleep. The victim is intensely cognizant of impending, l nightmarish danger, but lacks the control to take action because of an inability to move or speak.

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