Notes on Jodie Foster

  • Child of a single-mother; not maladjusted like Drew Barrymore or Michael Jackson
  • Graduate of Yale University – English Lit
  • Bilingual in French
  • Not bimbo fodder
  • Child performances marked by unsettling maturity in 70s
  • Feisty women on the edge in 80s
  • Partners to unlikely leading men in 90s Gere, Gibson and Woody Allen
  • To leading ladies who single-handedly carry major mainstream vehicles – Contact, Anna and the Kling, Panic Room.
  • Two directorial ventures under her belt
  • Egg Pictures is her own production company.
  • A celebrity single-mother herself – three lone parent portrayals
  • Also directed Holly Hunter as a single mother.
  • Hollywood’s classiest actress, driven by liberal sensibilities, has a penchant for playing working class women.
  • Her feminist choices are often underpinned b y a class agenda
  • Her preparation for her roles consists of critical interpretation – where her lit degree comes in!
  • ‘If Foster’s female characters are grown up children this may be because they’re haunted by the girl actor whose sassy hard work paved her career in the 1970s.’
  • She repeatedly explores the unlucky choices women make.
  • Her women often fail either in work or in love but particularly succeed only in the first by repressing sexuality. A woman can never be just a woman.
  • Her women are therefore representations of contemporary femininity, having work without love or love without work but never both.
  • However grown up Jodie Foster gests the child will always be mother to the woman.


In other words her background has shaped her choices about roles and her image and what she is like.

Meaning and spectatorship

Watching a film is never just entertainment.

Audience studies tries to predict what kind of film will be a success at Christmas or if the ending is successful whereas spectatorship studies refers to how viewers relate to or decode texts.

Effects approaches

  • Does the media have an effect on the consumer? Make you go out and buy the product? Make you go out and kidnap and torture a small boy?
  • How does this work if it does?

Hypodermic model – where the media injects values into the consumer or a two step flow model where certain individuals called opinion leaders had their world view affected by the media and passed on this effect to their peers. (e.g. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth)

An alternative suggestion is the Classic Realist text where the spectator is placed by the usual codes of editing, mise en scene, camerawork and sound, in the unthreatening position of virtual power.

Uses and Gratifications
To avoid boredom
To feel part of a community
To have a topic of conversation next day

Cultural Studies

  • Realised that texts have to be seen in their contexts and that individual spectators bring different backgrounds and experiences to their viewing.

Psychoanalytic models of the viewing community

  • Not for nothing Hollywood called the Dream Factory
  • We are encouraged to believe in the Reality of what we see on the screen.
  • We are surrounded in the dark with larger than life human figures, surround sound, full colour and loud music all of which combine to ensure we ‘forget’ ourselves for a while.
  • Questions: what do we do? What do we allow to happen? While the film is on? (No phones / eat popcorn / snog? etc. What about at home? Door? Phone? Ironing? Read? Talk? …)
  • We are driven to watch or look to satisfy our curiosity.
  • Male characters are typically active, investigative like John Wayne or Dirty Harry while the women are fetishised as the objects of the male gaze like Dietrich and Monroe.
  • Of course there has been a backlash against that type of purism in films like Alien, Thelma and Louise but nevertheless the former type still way outweighs the latter!

Freud argued that the Oedipus complex, where the infant boy has eventually to realise he cannot win the primary love object his mother without killing the father, his rival, and must submit to the Law as represented by his father and settle for castration and second best; another woman. This is seen all the time in films: a character begins attached to his mother, struggles throughout the film with symbolic father figures, reaches sexual maturity at the end of the film where he is saved from death by the forces of law and order and a new woman takes the place of his mother (see The Birds!!)


This is the science of signs!

Film is a series of conventions which need decoding as signs.

Iconic – e.g. American landmarks; stars who stand for certain standards e.g John Wayne as law maker and enforcer.

Indexical – smoke indicating fire; a glance at the clock indicating someone’s late or something will happen e.g. High Noon

Symbolic – signs which are arbitrary e.g.

In films the focus came to be on how iconography, mise en scene, camera, lighting and sound ‘make meaning .’

Low key lighting and strange camera angles help to create a threatening and uneasy atmosphere in film noir.

The use of the colour red in Marnie to indicate the character’s mental fragility; and in Pleasantville to indicate love or sexual knowledge.

Iconography such as crucifixes, garlic, knives, tombstones all signify the horror genre.


Structuralist approaches to narrative Propp:

By breaking down a large number of Russian folk tales into their smallest narrative units, or narratemes, Propp was able to arrive at a typology of narrative structures. By analyzing character and action types, Propp concluded that there were 31 generic narratemes in the Russian folk tale. While not all were present, he found that all the tales he had analyzed displayed the functions in unvarying sequence.

Please see Wikipedia section on Characters

Todorov you should remember from sit com: 5 narrative elements to bring a story full circle:

Equilibrium — disruption —period of disequilibrium —resolution —return to equilibrium.


Levi-strauss discovered what he called Binary oppositions; narratives are structured around binary oppositions which are significant for their culture. E.g. in Westerns:

  • law——-disorder
  • knowledge ——lack of knowledge
  • male —–female
  • individual ——community / town
  • civilisation ——wilderness

However the role of the individual hero in Westerns has changed over time from audiences wanting John Wayne to wanting Clint Eastwood. Why?


Finally what of the future of spectatorship?

Less cinema going?
Less losing oneself as increasing cgi means less involvement?
More home viewing?
DVDs enable director’s commentary or scenes to be played in any order / fast forwarded / omitted / drop into at any point?
Pc viewing / mobile phone viewing?
More own films being made and watched (see you tube!)