Eyes of Desire: Mutual Gaze and Reflective Role-play

Candida Royalle’s Eyes of Desire (1998) picks up on the exchange of a desiring gaze, which she introduces in her early Femme Productions erotic rock videos; in this case involving the use of a telescope. The film focuses on the quiet photographer Lisa who is taking a break from her relationship with boyfriend Jamie by staying at the apartment of her friend Amy who in the meantime is staying with her boyfriend Tim. The film’s premise is that Amy has a telescope in her living room, which she uses to look at her boyfriend in the building across from hers. This is an erotic game the two play together; he also has a telescope directed at her apartment. In the film’s opening sequence, Amy leaves an impish invitation hanging in the air before leaving “ to take a peek around eight when Tim comes home.

Lisa is a seeking person — but shy, as she explains to her more sexually adventuresome friend. Craving space and time away from her boyfriend, we get the sense that Lisa’s relationship with him has failed to give her what she’s seeking for quite a while. A professional photographer, she is even considering a job offer that would involve a significant move.

What I like best about Eyes of Desire is how it is capable of capturing Lisa’s inner quandaries through the combination of a tantalizing soundtrack and the focus on the gaze “ how the pleasure in watching is underscored.

Cut to that same evening: Lisa is sitting with her legs curled up on the couch with a book in her lap, the living room dark aside from a lamp on the side table and flames from the fireplace. She looks at the clock: five to eight. Continues to read. Looks at the clock again. Hears the echo of Amy’s words. In the end, she gets up, goes to the telescope; and puts her eye to the glass. A close-up freezes her eye in the dark as the sound of a tentative melody begins to play; vibrating tones from a synthesizer with tickling piano strokes on top. Then dead silence. She withdraws from the telescope, reluctant to continue. But soon her eye is back on, and gets to see more; we get to see more. Dark shots of Lisa in the living room, looking through the telescope, and the warm light in the rooms she looks in on and the action there, charged with the vibrating tones. Another dead silence “ and she steps back again. Wavers. But then again the tickling piano strokes enter and, sighing as if exasperated with herself, she rests her eye on the telescope’s glass. “ Through it we see a blur of unfocused images as the telescope scans buildings and windows over the dark abyss between until she finds Tim’s apartment; all to the quivering vibration in the music that grows ever more intense.

Torn, Lisa continues to look in the days that follow. Day and night. And into more homes than Tim’s and the teasing sexual role-play and hot sex she watches take place there between Tim and Amy who casts knowing glances in the direction of her own apartment. One night she comes across the role-play of a couple getting ready for a party. First he: in front of the bedroom mirror, wearing a silver shining dress. Enter the woman. Upset that he has put on a similar dress to the one she’s put on, and not a tux as the invitation called for, they begin to argue. She blames him for ruining her underwear, which he has also put on, to which he replies that she seems to like it since she’s getting wet. The exchange ensues in laughter and steaming sex. When cuddling afterwards, she giggly reassures him that in the future he may borrow whatever he’d like from her.

Eventually Lisa realizes that she’s being watched too: she finds a telescope directed at her and discerns the contours of a man in his window. We see the flickers from the white in his eyes as he watches her who’s been watching others and who eventually accepts the invitation to pose, strip, and touch herself for his eyes. The film doesn’t end here, but continues to develop the tension between the two, first over the phone and ultimately in person.

In Eyes of Desire 2 (1999), Lisa’s sexual exploration takes the shape of an even more fearless experimentation with various lusts and fetishes. In fact, as I will discuss in posts to come, the Eyes of Desire films are valuable not just for their approach to the gaze, but for their featuring of a range of sexual preferences and reflective approach to role-play. Other Femme Productions films such as My Surrender (1996) and The Bridal Shower (1997) also focus on characters demonstrating a mindful appropriation and play with erotic fantasies without becoming reduced to the part they perform. On the contrary, role-play here becomes a way to expand the characters’ sexual play-field, suggesting how new porn by women can serve as a vehicle for women (and men!) to explore their sexualities, and even a radical, liberatory new language with which to approach heterosexuality.

(This post is an excerpt from my book After Pornified: How Women Are Transforming Pornography & Why It Really Matters, forthcoming fall 2012.)

Quizzical Mama

Quizzical mama, aka Anne G. Sabo, PhD, is a former academic turned public educator, author, speaker, freelance writer, and mama- and sex blogger. Her book After Pornified: How Women Are Transforming Pornography & Why It Really Matters (Zer0 Books, October 2012) has been called “a goldmine for all sex-positive women and men,” and a “candid, well-informed personal story of how a good girl became involved in porn." She writes mores about progressive porn and sex-positivity in her New porn by women blog and at her resource site Love, Sex, and Family, and she muses about life and parenting in her Quizzical mama blog. She lives in Northfield, Minnesota, a small college town just south of the Twin Cities, with her spouse and their preschooler daughter. You can follow her on Facebook or on Twitter @quizzicalmama.

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