Bayonetta, the Camera, and the Audience

What is Bayonetta’s relationship with the camera?

For this week’s blog post, I wanted to continue  to talk about camera work in Bayonetta but this time from her perspective. I immediately thought of these two quotes from John Berger’s Ways of Seeing.

“You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting “Vanity,” thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for you own pleasure.”

“Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.”

I think they both relate well with Bayonetta (and other female characters in general) and her awareness of being watched by outsiders be them males in the game or the player.

With last week’s post I talked about the “male gaze” and how that can change the players perspective of Bayonetta without really thinking of her as a character or as more than just an object. I continued to do more research on camera work and the flow between the spectators – camera – subject. For this week, I decided to read the first chapter of Tom Brown’s book, Breaking the Fourth Wall. In the introduction to the book, Brown talks about direct address and its history in film which to me is applicable to game studies, mostly because film and games have those three things in common. What interested me the most in this chapter was his citation of Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Studies  and the three looks she defines:

“There are three different looks associated with the cinema: that of
the camera as it records the profilmic event, that of the audience as
it watches the final product, and that of the characters at each other
within the screen illusion”

Mulvey’s, who coined the term “male gaze”, three looks do not allow for an analysis of the breaking the forth wall so Brown cites Paul Willemen who built on Mulvey’s model by suggesting:

a ‘fourth look’, one at the viewer: ‘it must be stressed that the fourth look is not
of the same order as the other three, precisely because the subject of the look is
an imaginary other, but this doesn’t make the presence of the look any less real’ (Brown 8)

And this “fourth look” is what I what I want to relate to Bayonetta the most and video games in general, especially when it comes to empowerment. This fourth look is the direct address and a way for the subject to interact with the audience. Brown breaks down how direct address can be more than “just the blunt, verbal communication of
themes and feelings”  into 7 categories and the ones I want to focus on are intimacy and agency which are very much related (13). When it comes to intimacy, “it is clear that having a character address the audience directly is a very particular gesture towards intimacy with that audience”. This intimacy can be threatening, for sympathy, for a special connection, or ” to make us feel we are ‘intruding’ on the fiction’s
private sphere” (13). Direct address and agency “will be the province of a single character and that character is often the protagonist or the principal agent of the narrative” and this interaction is “often a marker of the character’s particular power within the fiction” (13).

Besides clear moments when Bayonetta is posing and other parts of the game where Luka is trying to take pictures of her, there a movement in which Bayonetta has another relationship with the camera and that is her dance/combo moves:

As her combo comes to a finish, Bayonetta looks directly into the camera and winks, a movement of breaking the fourth wall. There is even a camera shutter and noise to accompany this moment. This small detail can mean so much more in relation to Bayonetta’s character when looking at it through Brown’s framework. This wink to the audience or whomever is on the other side the camera clearly falls into the direct address of intimacy. The wink doesn’t seem to be for the purpose of the threat but I can definitely see it as a way for Bayonetta to tell people that she acknowledges us and maybe even a sort of invitation to keep looking. With her acknowledgement, this relates to the agency category. Not only is Bayonetta the protagonist, she is also pretty damn powerful, and breaking the fourth wall gives her even more, especially when it comes to her sexuality. She is letting you know she is in control and posing because she wants to.  I think the fourth wall can be a very powerful tool for empowerment especially because it gives more control to the character but it needs to be talked about more and perhaps even used more. It is a great way to counter or play with the idea of the biased camera angles (or “the male gaze”).

 

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