“How far, if at all, do the heroine’s masquerade as a male and the representation of a homosexual male subvert the traditional gender relations of looking/being looked at?” Victor/Victoria (1982) is a high-class obscure slapstick comedy about a British singer, Victoria, who is pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. In Paris of 1920’s she looks ultimately desperate as her career threateningly and warningly goes down. Possibilities for a new career unfold as a gay club performer, Toddy, is ceased by inspiration for Victoria’s new potentials and he becomes her new best friend and also her Pygmalion.The scenery is getting more enriched of farce including a macho gangster, his perfect match full of ‘bimbosity’ and his ‘sensitive’ bodyguard.
The world of Victor /Victoria seems an absolute chaotic combination of different styles and sexes and it is the jokes that put the things in order. Edwards’ vision here is quite sophisticated because he creates a system that can contain both the basest sort of spectacle gag and the most stylish sort of grace.He craftily sets a stage in which the sexual politics seem to come with the same fraudulently simplicity as the laughs, and in this way he succeeds in promoting the flexibility of gender. One issue is if this rebellious mindset that suggests comedy probably allows many of the best farces to be a subverting force in terms of a traditional looking / being looked at of the characters. Another issue is that if comedy is not the main ‘cover’ for the masquerade and the representation of a homosexual, to what extend we have the above.
In both cases we would better simply focus on the characters of both Victor/Victoria and Toddy and their relationship to their immediate environment.Victoria is a young Brit performer quite misfortunate in the French snowy set of 1920’s, as she needs something more than her big talent and her good looks just to be employed. To the audience seems that she has big potentials something that unfortunately cannot be recognized by the producers of the existing shows she auditions for. Also she looks visually ‘pleasant’ as her appearance is quite prominent and noteworthy.
Once again is not enough for a good start. At that turning point she meets her mentor, Toddy, who offers her an alternative, through which she can not only find a job but also start a remarkable career. Though she is hesitating at the beginning, she shows to relish every moment of it later. The master plan is to pretend to be a man, Victor, pretending to be a woman.We remember Mulvey’s ‘Visual and Other Pleasures’ and the dichotomy object/subject.
It is the bisection of who is looking and who is being looked at. Traditionally the woman is the enigma, the hieroglyphic, the image itself. She is constructed differently from the man, in relation to processes of looking. She is the one who is being passively looked at while the male is the one who dominates and controls the look over her. We also remember how that starts. It is because of the male’s ‘castration anxiety’ and his two ways of escaping it; the voyeurism and the fetishism.
So the female has to identify itself through and with the masculinity, the male, in a way that cannot be anymore dangerous but only reassuring. In Victoria’s case even though at the beginning the audience is introduced to a good-looking figure that can be passively looked at, later a big surprise occurs for both Victoria and the audience. It is when she masquerades as Victor/Victoria that she receives all the admiration but also in a remarkable way, desire. It is now that wearing a man’s clothes and adopting the appropriate attitude she signifies a different sexuality than her natural one.That mastery over the image brings her in the position of now, more than ever, to be desired and wanted from the male.
That is fully acceptable because a woman masquerading as a man is not a threat. She can slip into a man’s clothes easily, just pretending to be him. Even if it could be a habit it could not be a second nature for her. The new identity constructed as a mask and as a decorative layer conceals in reality her natural identity and that seems to be the ultimate challenge for the male as it is seen in the film.
Of course if we were talking about transvestism the things would be a lot different as that ‘habit’ would be a second nature based upon a hyperbolism on homosexuality and the things would be more complicated of who is looking and who is being looked at. But once again our main focus in on Victoria’s masquerade as Victor. Thus, we realise that Victor becomes an object who receives an active looking not only from the gangster macho male in the film but also by the audience. Victor/Victoria at the beginning is being demystified and investigated under the gangster’s voyeurism and later becomes the object of his fetishism as she turns out to be a reassuring force to him.In that way we dare to say that Victoria’s masquerade brings no subversion to the traditional looking / being looked at.
Moreover and remarkably, that imitation, that pretension seems to reinforce the traditional gender relation of who is the object and who is the subject. On the other hand, we have Toddy, a middle-aged gay club performer whose career is undermined by his lover.