Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen: Theory and Practice, Aesthetics and Politics, 1963-1983

Nicolas Helm-Grovas

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This PhD is a genealogy and critical examination of the writings and films of Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, spanning the period from the early 1960s to 1980s. Despite the prominence of their texts, there has not been a book-length study of either body of writing, nor an overview of their overlap and mutual influence, in what was their most productive period. Nor has there been an extended account of the important connection between their theory and their practice as filmmakers. My thesis undertakes these tasks. I interpret and challenge existing scholarship, while simultaneously examining in detail for the first time lesser-known works, drawing on archives and interviews. Through close readings I elucidate Mulvey’s interrogation of the patriarchal fantasies structuring cinematic and artistic forms and her feminist appropriation of classical Hollywood melodrama; I map the related issues Wollen’s texts activate, of cinematic signification and materialism, the buried potentialities of the historical avant-gardes, and their connection to the avant-garde film contemporaneous with his writings. Their moving image works, I demonstrate through detailed analyses, bring these ideas into dialogue and work them through in a more open, exploratory vein. I trace key notions like ‘counter cinema’ across films and writings by both authors. Shifting between writings and films allows me to investigate authorship and collaboration, while their designation of their films as ‘theory films’ opens the question of the interconnection of theoretical and aesthetic discourse. I track their output through the era’s pivotal intellectual movements (semiotics, structuralism, psychoanalysis and Marxism) and political currents (the New Left, May ’68 and its aftereffects, the women’s movement). In doing so I also provide a picture of the radical, experimental film culture that thrived in Britain from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, and the broader left-wing counter-culture of which it was a part.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Merck, Mandy, Supervisor
Award date1 Sept 2018
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018


  • film theory
  • experimental film
  • avant-garde
  • feminism
  • semiotics
  • 1970s
  • visual pleasure
  • counter cinema
  • theory film
  • structuralism
  • psychoanalysis
  • Marxism
  • New Left
  • women's movement

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