Postmodernist film

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Postmodernist film is a classification for works that articulate the themes and ideas of postmodernism through the medium of cinema. Some of the goals of postmodernist film are to subvert the mainstream conventions of narrative structure and characterization, and to test the audience's suspension of disbelief. [1] [2] [3] Typically, such films also break down the cultural divide between high and low art and often upend typical portrayals of gender, race, class, genre, and time with the goal of creating something that does not abide by traditional narrative expression. [4]


Specific elements

Modernist film came to maturity in the eras between WWI and WWII with characteristics such as montage, symbolic imagery, expressionism and surrealism (featured in the works of Luis Buñuel, Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock) [5] while Postmodernist film – similar to postmodernism as a whole – is a reaction to the modernist works of its field, and to their tendencies (such as nostalgia and angst). [6] Modernist cinema, "explored and exposed the formal concerns of the medium by placing them at the forefront of consciousness. Modernist cinema questions and made visible the meaning-production practices of film." [7] The auteur theory and idea of an author producing a work from his singular vision guided the concerns of modernist film. "To investigate the transparency of the image is modernist but to undermine its reference to reality is to engage with the aesthetics of postmodernism." [8] [9] The modernist film has more faith in the author, the individual, and the accessibility of reality itself (and more sincere in tone) than the postmodernist film.

Postmodernism is in many ways interested in the liminal space that would be typically ignored by more modernist or traditionally narrative offerings. The idea is that the meaning is often generated most productively through the spaces and transitions and collisions between words and moments and images. Henri Bergson writes in his book Creative Evolution , "The obscurity is cleared up, the contradiction vanishes, as soon as we place ourselves along the transition, in order to distinguish states in it by making cross cuts therein in thoughts. The reason is that there is more in the transition than the series of states, that is to say, the possible cuts--more in the movement than the series of position, that is to say, the possible stops." [10] The thrust of this argument is that the spaces between the words or the cuts in a film create just as much meaning as the words or scenes themselves.

Postmodernist film is often separated from modernist cinema and traditional narrative film [6] by three key characteristics. One of them is an extensive use of homage or pastiche, [7] resulting from the fact that postmodern filmmakers are open to blending many disparate genres and tones within the same film. The second element is meta-reference or self-reflexivity, highlighting the construction and relation of the image to other images in media and not to any kind of external reality. [7] A self-referential film calls the viewer's attention – either through characters' knowledge of their own fictional nature, or through visuals – that the movie itself is only a movie. This is sometimes achieved by emphasizing the unnatural look of an image which seems contrived. Another technique used to achieve meta-reference is the use of intertextuality, in which the film's characters reference or discuss other works of fiction. Additionally, many postmodern films tell stories that unfold out of chronological order, deconstructing or fragmenting time so as to, once again, highlight the fact that what is appearing on screen is constructed. A third common element is a bridging of the gap between highbrow and lowbrow activities and artistic styles [2] [3] [7] – e.g., a parody of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling in which Adam is reaching for a McDonald's burger rather than the hand of God. This would exemplify the fusion of high and low because Michelangelo is widely regarded as one of the greatest of all painters, whereas fast food is commonly named among the lowbrow elements of modern society.

The use of homage and pastiche can, in and of itself, result in a fusion of high and low. For this reason, homage is sometimes accompanied by characters' value judgments as to the worth and cultural value of the works being parodied, ensuring the viewer understands whether the thing being referenced is considered highbrow or lowbrow.

Lastly, contradictions of all sorts – whether it be in visual technique, characters' morals, or other things – are crucial to postmodernism, and the two are in many cases irreconcilable. Any theory of postmodern film would have to be comfortable with paradoxes or contradictions of ideas and their articulation. [2] [11]

Specific postmodern examples

Once Upon a Time in the West

Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West has often been referred to by critics as an example of a postmodern Western. [12] [13] The 1968 spaghetti Western revolves around a beautiful widow, a mysterious gunslinger playing a harmonica, a ruthless villain, and a lovable but hard-nosed bandit who just escaped from jail. The story was developed by Leone, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Dario Argento by watching countless classic American Westerns, and the final movie is a deliberate attempt to both pay homage to and subvert Western genre conventions and audience expectations. Among the most notable examples of intertextuality are the plot similarities to Johnny Guitar , the visual reference to High Noon of a clock stopped at high noon in the middle of a gunfight, and the casting of Henry Fonda as the story's sadistic antagonist which was a deliberate subversion of Fonda's image as a hero established in such films as My Darling Clementine and Fort Apache directed by John Ford. [14] [15] [16]

Blade Runner

Ridley Scott's Blade Runner might be the best known postmodernist film. [7] Scott's 1982 film is about a future dystopia where "replicants" (human cyborgs) have been invented and are deemed dangerous enough to hunt down when they escape. There is tremendous effacement of boundaries between genres and cultures, and styles that are generally more separate, along with the fusion of disparate styles and times that is a trope in postmodernist cinema. "The futuristic set and action mingle with drab 1940s clothes and offices, punk rock hairstyles, pop Egyptian style, and oriental culture. The population is singularly multicultural, and their language is an accumulation of English, Japanese, German and Spanish. The film alludes to the private eye genre of Raymond Chandler and the characteristics of film noir as well as Biblical motifs and images." [2] [7] Here is a demonstration of the mixing of cultures, boundaries, and art styles. The film plays with time (the various types of clothes), culture, and genre by mixing them all to create the world of the film. The fusion of noir and science-fiction is another example of the film deconstructing cinema and genre. This embodies the postmodern tendency to destroy boundaries and genres into a self-reflexive product. The 2017 Academy Award-winning sequel Blade Runner 2049 also tackled postmodern anxieties. [17]

Pulp Fiction

Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction is another example of a postmodernist film. [18] [19] [20] The Palm d'Or-winning film tells the interweaving stories of gangsters, a boxer, and robbers. The 1994 film breaks down chronological time and demonstrates a particular fascination with intertextuality: bringing in texts from both traditionally "high" and "low" realms of art. [1] [2] This foregrounding of media places the self as "a loose, transitory combination of media consumption choices." [1] [3] Pulp Fiction fractures time (by the use of asynchronous time lines) and by using styles of prior decades and combining them together in the movie. [1] By focusing on intertextuality and the subjectivity of time, Pulp Fiction demonstrates the postmodern obsession with signs and subjective perspective as the exclusive location of anything resembling meaning.

Other selected examples

Aside from the aforementioned Once Upon a Time in the West, the Blade Runner sequels and Pulp Fiction, postmodern cinema includes films such as:

List of notable postmodernist filmmakers

See also

Related Research Articles

Postmodernism is an intellectual stance or mode of discourse characterized by skepticism toward the "grand narratives" of modernism, opposition to epistemic certainty or stability of meaning, and emphasis on ideology as a means of maintaining political power. Claims to objective fact are dismissed as naïve realism, with attention drawn to the conditional nature of knowledge claims within particular historical, political, and cultural discourses. The postmodern outlook is characterized by self-referentiality, epistemological relativism, moral relativism, pluralism, irony, irreverence, and eclecticism; it rejects the "universal validity" of binary oppositions, stable identity, hierarchy, and categorization.

Postmodern music is music in the art music tradition produced in the postmodern era. It also describes any music that follows aesthetical and philosophical trends of postmodernism. As an aesthetic movement it was formed partly in reaction to modernism but is not primarily defined as oppositional to modernist music. Postmodernists question the tight definitions and categories of academic disciplines, which they regard simply as the remnants of modernity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Postmodern art</span> Art movement

Postmodern art is a body of art movements that sought to contradict some aspects of modernism or some aspects that emerged or developed in its aftermath. In general, movements such as intermedia, installation art, conceptual art and multimedia, particularly involving video are described as postmodern.

Cinéma vérité is a style of documentary filmmaking developed by Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch, inspired by Dziga Vertov's theory about Kino-Pravda. It combines improvisation with use of the camera to unveil truth or highlight subjects hidden behind reality. It is sometimes called observational cinema, if understood as pure direct cinema: mainly without a narrator's voice-over. There are subtle, yet important, differences between terms expressing similar concepts. Direct Cinema is largely concerned with the recording of events in which the subject and audience become unaware of the camera's presence: operating within what Bill Nichols, an American historian and theoretician of documentary film, calls the "observational mode", a fly on the wall. Many therefore see a paradox in drawing attention away from the presence of the camera and simultaneously interfering in the reality it registers when attempting to discover a cinematic truth.

Postmodern literature is a form of literature that is characterized by the use of metafiction, unreliable narration, self-reflexivity, intertextuality, and which often thematizes both historical and political issues. This style of experimental literature emerged strongly in the United States in the 1960s through the writings of authors such as Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis, Philip K. Dick, Kathy Acker, and John Barth. Postmodernists often challenge authorities, which has been seen as a symptom of the fact that this style of literature first emerged in the context of political tendencies in the 1960s. This inspiration is, among other things, seen through how postmodern literature is highly self-reflexive about the political issues it speaks to.

The New Hollywood, also known as American New Wave or Hollywood Renaissance, was a movement in American film history from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s, when a new generation of young filmmakers came to prominence. They influenced the types of film produced, their production and marketing, and the way major studios approached filmmaking. In New Hollywood films, the film director, rather than the studio, took on a key authorial role. The definition of "New Hollywood" varies, depending on the author, with some defining it as a movement and others as a period. The span of the period is also a subject of debate, as well as its integrity, as some authors, such as Thomas Schatz, argue that the New Hollywood consists of several different movements. The films made in this movement are stylistically characterized in that their narrative often deviated from classical norms. After the demise of the studio system and the rise of television, the commercial success of films was diminished.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Road movie</span> Film genre in which the main characters leave home on a road trip

A road movie is a film genre in which the main characters leave home on a road trip, typically altering the perspective from their everyday lives. Road movies often depict travel in the hinterlands, with the films exploring the theme of alienation and examining the tensions and issues of the cultural identity of a nation or historical period; this is all often enmeshed in a mood of actual or potential menace, lawlessness, and violence, a "distinctly existential air" and is populated by restless, "frustrated, often desperate characters". The setting includes not just the close confines of the car as it moves on highways and roads, but also booths in diners and rooms in roadside motels, all of which helps to create intimacy and tension between the characters. Road movies tend to focus on the theme of masculinity, some type of rebellion, car culture, and self-discovery. The core theme of road movies is "rebellion against conservative social norms".

Cinéma du look was a French film movement of the 1980s and 1990s, analysed, for the first time, by French critic Raphaël Bassan in La Revue du Cinéma issue no. 449, May 1989, in which he classified Luc Besson, Jean-Jacques Beineix and Leos Carax as directors of the "look".

Cinephilia is the term used to refer to a passionate interest in films, film theory, and film criticism. The term is a portmanteau of the words cinema and philia, one of the four ancient Greek words for love. A person with a passionate interest in cinema is called a cinephile, cinemaphile, filmophile, or, informally, a film buff. To a cinephile, a movie is not just a form of entertainment as they see films from a more critical point of view.

Vulgar auteurism is a movement that emerged in early 2010s cinephilia and film criticism associated with championing or reappraising filmmakers, mostly those working in the horror and action genres and whose work has otherwise received little attention or negative reception in the critical mainstream. It became a controversial topic in the cinephile community following the publication of an article in the Village Voice in 2013 and has been described as "a critical movement committed to assessing the 'unserious' artistry of popcorn cinema with absolute seriousness."

American Eccentric Cinema is a mode of contemporary American filmmaking that emerged in what has been termed the metamodern or New Sincerity. Its attachment to indie cinema has led some to consider it a movement and genre of cinema in the United States. Its key filmmakers, including Wes Anderson, Charlie Kaufman, and Spike Jonze, are at times referred to as "The American Eccentrics". It occurred during the 1990s and 2000s, when indie directors sought to create films that diverted from the style and content of Hollywood franchise films. American Eccentric Cinema came in opposition to the mainstream ideas of formulaic narratives and the digitisation within films and new technologies that came about during the time period. American eccentric cinema is marked by films that are “deeply concerned with ethics and morality, the obligations of the individual, the effects of family breakdown, and social alienation."

A still image film, also called a picture movie, is a film that consists primarily or entirely of still images rather than moving images, forgoing the illusion of motion either for aesthetic or practical reasons. These films usually include a standard soundtrack, similar to what is found in typical sound films, complete with music, sound effects, dialogue or narration. They may also use various editing techniques found in traditional films, such as dissolves, zooms, and panning.

Pop culture fiction is a genre of fiction where stories are written intentionally to be filled with references from other works and media. Stories in this genre are focused solely on using popular culture references.

Maximalist film or maximalist cinema is related to the art and philosophy of maximalism, a reaction against minimalism.

Minimalist cinema is related to the art and philosophy of minimalism.

Modernist film is related to the art and philosophy of modernism.

Arthouse animation is a combination of art film and animated film.

Postmodern television is related to the art and philosophy of postmodernism.

Arthouse musical is a combination of an art film and a film musical.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Postmodern horror</span> Subgenre of film

Postmodern horror is a horror film related to the art and philosophy of postmodernism.


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