MAN-EATER: CANNIBAL WOMEN IN FILM (NYC)

Date/Time
Date(s) - Wed. Feb. 12, 2020
7:00 pm - 9:30 pm

Location
Film Noir Cinema

Instructor
Kate Robertson

Admission
$12 advance / $15 door BUY TICKETS

A representation of crossing bodily and social boundaries, cannibalism exemplifies transgression. If it provokes revulsion in theory, then its enactment on screen is truly affecting, tapping into a deep horror. Drawing from my long-term project, ‘Man-Eater: Cannibal Women in Contemporary Visual Culture’, introduced in The Atlantic and the peer-reviewed Australasian Journal of Popular Culture, this lecture focuses on women cannibals in films from the past fifty years. These women devour – sexually, metaphorically and, sometimes, literally. Their excessive physical hunger, often tied to unrestrained sexual desire, disturbs the idea that they are objects, empty vessels to be filled. But these women cannot (or will not?) deny or contain their urges.

The type of the cannibalistic woman can be found in stories throughout history – Lilith, the Sirens, Snow White. But she is of particular interest right now by capturing ever-present social anxieties about the tense and endlessly complicated relationship between gender, hunger, desire, sex, autonomy and power. The characters in these films negotiate and subvert expectations for how women should look and behave. Drawing in particular from the legacy of the femme fatale, many of them actively deceive the men they intend to eat, using their beauty to seduce and then devour. They reflect the dangers of the female body, taken literally and to the extreme – mouths that swallow, teeth that bite, nails that tear. The presence of this type in cinema provokes an exploration of the idea of boundaries, interrogating distinctions between self and other, inside and outside, touch and penetration. In their pursuit of complete incorporation, these women reduce humans to their physical qualities, treating bodies like meat, provoking an experience of abjection which forces the question of what it means to be human.

Examples in this lecture are drawn from a lineage of women cannibals on screen, across a diverse range of roles: Mothers (Flesh Eating Mothers 1988; Parents, 1989; Macabre, 2009); Demons (Jennifer’s Body, 2009); Mermaids (The Lure, 2015); Women with a family curse (Frightmare, 1974; Raw, 2016); Cult members (Cannibal girls, 1973; The Perfume of the Lady in Black, 1974; We are what we are, 2013); Club-members (Femmine Carnivore, 1970; Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, 2017); Scientific test subject (Trouble Every Day, 2001); Autocannibal (In My Skin, 2002); Youth-seekers (Dumplings, 2004); Fame-seekers (Neon Demon, 2016). Though it is for a variety of reasons, the women in these films actually eat people, narrowing the focus from a much broader range of types, like vampires, werewolves and zombies.

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