Dr Mireille Michel

Supervised by

  • Mandy Merck First/primary/lead supervisor


Personal profile

I have just obtained my PhD in the Media-Arts Department at Royal Holloway (January 2018) and have very much enjoyed working with my highly eloquent and excellent supervisor – Professor Mandy Merck. My dissertation is entitled: ‘Female Ventriloquism: Subverting the Silent and Talking Dolls of Western Cinema (the Synchronous Female Voice and Speech Performance)’. This research is a cultural and historical approach to the synchronous female voice in international films, which takes as its starting point Kaja Silverman’s insightful writings on the female voice and subjectivity in the cinema, in particular her seminal Acoustic Mirror (1988). Silverman demonstrates that the disembodied voice is the most resistant to patriarchy, but she has overlooked how cinema has also embodied the female voice in order to resist patriarchy. The patriarchal engineering of silent or silenced female subjectivities discussed by Silverman is indeed potently subverted through performance. Could an articulate female voice then be represented other than detached from the woman’s body and could its visual representation be summoned by sound theory?

Relating the asymmetrical voices described by Silverman to the unquestioned ‘guys and dolls’ dynamics of patriarchal culture, I thus decided to work on the female synchronous voice in cinema with female silent and talking dolls as the material mediators exposing such silencing. This launched me on my specific selection of films, in which women resist their representation as silent dolls, or their replacement by female talking doll surrogates. With attention to actresses performing doll characters, I decided to look more closely at what was being said, how, from where and by whom, as well as how the actress engaged the audience with her voice and performance. If Silverman was right and the female subjects were being spoken through, the ventriloquism implied in these narratives had to become a key object of investigation. The male voices, also ventriloquized by the cinema, at least enjoy a certain degree of authority, and if ventriloquist dummies are the male counterpart for the mainly female talking dolls, there are few known female ventriloquists. Focusing on literal and metaphorical ventriloquism, I set out to examine film’s manufacturing of voice for female characters which amounts to their silence or their repetition of the discourse of doll-like femininity. I found out that another asymmetrical ventriloquism is going on when the actresses perform their characters’ roles: unlike their male counterparts who may or may not subvert their characters’ lines, the actresses are more often than not forced to subvert theirs when they claim an independent subjectivity for their character. Traditionally, male ventriloquists are heard speaking for themselves, when they project their voices through their dummies. The ventriloquism performed by the female actresses is more complex: when they project their own voice through the feminine speech scripted for their characters, the women speak their repressed subjectivity, thus subversively overwriting their characters’ lines with new utterances through performance. It is this distinctively subversive female voice which is argued as female ventriloquism in this thesis. 

Below is the 300w abstract for my thesis:

The synchronous female voice has been overlooked in film studies. Women’s extreme codification and confinement in the image indicates a reluctance to represent them with an authoritative voice – a situation that Kaja Silverman challenges with her claim to ‘disembodying the female voice’. But this leaves unresolved the visual representation of women speaking with an independent voice, as well as the conflation of woman and body. To consider this conundrum, my thesis turns to films which have narrated this dilemma, featuring real women confronting life-size dolls or resisting their transformation into dolls.  Whether silent or talking, the speech of these female dolls stands for the discourse of idealized femininity, while another voice struggles to be heard. By displaying the double presence of woman and doll within the image, these films expose the technological disembodiment of voices and their problematic ideological re-embodiment. They show that this is most efficiently challenged from within the diegesis, wherein the actress uses the playing of her part to subvert its limitations.

Examining these films, my thesis argues that the actress gives her character a second voice.  As she performs her character’s agency, she resembles a ventriloquist, substituting a subversive discourse for her character’s scripted subjectivity. The talking (or silent) doll figure is the device which points to the sound – and not just image – transformation of woman into doll. There are two trends: when the woman resists her transformation, the doll and the woman are seen and heard as separate entities within the diegesis. When the woman adopts the doll’s speech, she is seen and heard becoming a talking doll-like figure. These two trends signal the various types of female ventriloquism performed in these films. The woman’s ventriloquism is here analysed with attention paid to actress, persona and character, employing Michel Serres’s theoretical notion of ‘productive parasitism’.




Contribution to conferences:

‘Real Dolls in International Cinema: from the Fetishisation of Sex Dolls to the Manufacturing of Silence’, 1st Italian ‘Fem Conference’, Rome (Italy), GenderErotica, Eyes Wild Drag, 31/2June2013.

‘Real Dolls in International Cinema: Challenging the Manufacturing of Silence’, Onscenity conference, Brunel University (London), 22April2012.

‘Rumors of Science: Edison and the Mysteries of Menlo Park’ in Villiers La Future Eve’, Roannes’ CIEREC, Université de St Etienne (France), 6-8 Oct 2011.

‘The Modern Magic of the Talking Doll in Villiers de l’Isle Adam’ La Future Eve’, ANILS, Florence (Italy), 13/14May2010.

‘Femmes of the Sun’, Roannes’ International Symposium on Popular Cultures : ‘Cherchez la Femme’, CIEREC, Université St Etienne (France), 5/7Oct2007.


Biographical notice:

I teach French full-time at UCL (University College London) and between 2005 and 2009, I enjoyed teaching French Film History seminars (‘Poetic Realism and Popular Front Films of the late 30s’). In addition to the module of French for Academic Purposes, I currently teach ‘French Cinema of the late 80s-early 90s’ as part of the module of French for Current Affairs and Culture at UCL CLIE (Centre of Languages and International Education). Future directions for research include a further exploration of the relationship between voice and listening, as well as further research on ventriloquism and feminism with the figure of the female cyborg in the cinema.



Since 2002, I have been acting as London correspondent and writing critical reviews, interviews, translations, as well as photographing for Parisian contemporary art magazine Area Revues  www.areaparis.com :

« Leigh comme Lui-même (spécial Leigh Bowery) », Area Revues( La Fête), nr. 4, mars 2003, p.108-109 + photographie p.84-85+ p.136-137 ;

(English translation of the above essay + photography for Swedish art review : Paletten 253-254 (3-4-2003), p.60-64).

« La Maternité triomphante et l’expérience Minty ; Le Jeune Marié posant pour Lucian Freud  (double entretien avec Nicola Bowery) », Area Revues( La Fête), nr. 4, mars 2003, p. 123-125 + p. 127-130.

« Les Tableaux-Lucioles de Philippe Enrico », Area Revues (Leurres), nr. 6, déc.2003, p. 157.

« Le Singe, le Primitif et plus encore (les sculptures de Jake and Dinos Chapman) », Area Revues (Scènes primitives), nr. 8, hiver 2004, p. 132-134.

« Dans le Ventre de l’Architecte (le Musée Sir John Soane) », Area Revues (L’Esprit de Collection), nr. 9, printemps 2005, p. 114-117.

« L’Ange Vengeresse (texte-entretien avec Paula Rego) », Area Revues (Vénus), nr.10, été 2005, p. 96-100. + « La Bibliothèque d’Aphrodite (texte-entretien avec Marie Plant) »,  Area Revues (Vénus), nr. 10, été 2005, p. 193.

« Elégantes et éclairées, les Machines de Joost Rekveld / entretien », »,  Area Revues (Da Vinci aujourd’hui), nr. 11, printemps 2006, p. 149.

« Le vrai Nord d’Isaac Julien », Area Revues (Art et Eau), nr.12, été 2006, p. 84. + « Les Eaux vives de la Mémoire chez Dani Karavan », Area Revues (Art et Eau), nr. 12, été 2006, p. 103.

« Nuit du Noh (de la nuit dans la tradition du théâtre Noh japonais) », », Area Revues (Art et Nuit), nr. 13, automne-hiver 2006, p. 163-164.

« Materiasibona : Le Poète, l’Archer, le Potier », Arearevues (Design/No Design), nr.15, automne-hiver 2007, p. 168-169 +  «Réel Surréel : Les Objets de l’Exposition Surreal Things au V&A Museum, Londres», Arearevues (Design/No Design),  nr.15, automne-hiver 2007, p. 42-45.

« Flâneries dans la Cité du Futur de Patrick Keiller », Arearevues (Caprices des Villes), nr.16, printemps 2008,  p. 114-115.

« L’Arche de L’October Gallery, Londres », texte-entretien, Arearevues (Pluralité des Valeurs de l’Art), nr.18, printemps 2009, p. 157-158.

 «Sue Tilley, Chair Modèle (texte-entretien avec Sue Tilley, modèle de Lucian Freud) », Arearevues (Artistes, Vos Papiers !), nr.21, printemps 2010, p. 36-42.

« Wellcome Collection : The Identity Project », Arearevues (Artistes, Vos Papiers !), nr.21, printemps 2010, p.48-53.

« Je t’ai dans la peau (les tatouages de l’exposition Skin, Wellcome collection)», Area Revues (Tenus par L’image), nr. 23, automne-hiver 2010, p. 155-159.

« La Peau des Murs de Rachel Whiteread », Area Revues (Patrimoine : Quelles Utopies ?), nr. 25, automne-hiver 2011,p. 158 -159.

« Les Chéris à L’Oeuvre’, Area Revues (Le Couple à l’Oeuvre), nr. 27, automne-hiver 2012, p. 51-54.


Publications for French bi-annual literary review Chroniques du ça et là : www.chroniques-du-ca-et-la.fr

« Sous le masque Noh, la supplication sublime du revenant damné », Chroniques du ça et là (Japon), nr.6, hiver 2015, p.127-133.

 « Les cyborgs rêvent-ils d’un devenir humain ? », Chroniques du ça et là (Vivant/Non-Vivant), nr.18, printemps-été 2018 (pending publication).


Online publications in French for: form-idea.com

« Aphrodite, née à Chypre… » Article/anthropologie:


« Clair de Ciels » – Interview du photographe toscan Luciano Scarpa


« ‘Hell’ – quand la nuit incendiaire des Chapman se poursuit sur terre » – Article.


« Marche amazone » - Interview et Carnet d’images :



Other writing projects include a collaboration with photograph/artistic director Isabelle Vigier, based in Amsterdam, on a manuscript (text/dialogue+photos) entitled La Même Différence (The Same Difference; 1997-99) on the photographic representation of women couples in amateur photography between the 1930s and the 1960s.

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