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Tracey Moffatt on Heaven

By ACMI, 2010 0:00 minutes

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Heaven is a film made up of video footage of male surfers changing out of their wetsuits in car parks. The footage was shot by Moffatt and a number of other women as if they were making a birdwatching documentary. In assembling the footage without dialogue, Moffatt makes a comment on the female gaze that can be read across cultures.

Collection Screen Worlds

Discussion Points

Heaven challenges the convention of the male gaze that constructs women as the ‘looked-at’ object rather than the subject who does the looking.

As the objects of her gaze, Moffatt’s subjects are caught in a moment of powerlessness, whereby their strutting performances and attempts at bravado disclose a deeper unease about the exposure of their naked bodies before the camera. Tania Lusty, 2004

There is nothing unusual about celebrating the male surfing body, but generally such a body is actually surfing. By filming surfers in the process of changing, they are made vulnerable. In Australian culture there has been a longstanding connection between a particular type of Australian masculinity and surfing, and male surfers are usually depicted as active and very much in control.

  •     Find some of these more typical images of male surfers and consider the iconic place of ‘surfer boys’ in Australian culture.

The term ‘male gaze’ was coined by film theorist Laura Mulvey to describe the conventions of the classic Hollywood film, but it has become used more widely to refer to the objectification of women – that is, where a woman is denied her individuality by the way she is depicted, treated or viewed.

  •     For more information, read Mulvey’s essay ‘Visual pleasure and narrative cinema’ in Screen, 16:3, 1975, pp 6–18.

Go to Australian Screen Online to view clips from classic surfie movies like Morning of the Earth (Albert Falzon, 1972).

Puberty Blues (Bruce Beresford, 1981) is a mainstream feature film that highlighted the colonisation of the waves by (white) male surfers.

Us Deadly Mob (Samia Goudie, 2005) documents Indigenous surfing culture.

  •     Compare the images in some classic surfie movies with those in Heaven.