Postmodernist film

Postmodernist film is a classification for works that articulate the themes and ideas of postmodernism through the medium of cinema. Postmodernist film attempts to subvert the mainstream conventions of narrative structure and characterization, and tests the audience’s suspension of disbelief. 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.

Overview of postmodernism
Postmodernism is a complex paradigm of different philosophies and artistic styles. The movement emerged as a reaction to high modernism. Modernism is a paradigm of thought and viewing the world characterized in specific ways that postmodernism reacted against. Modernism was interested in master and meta narratives of history of a teleological nature. Proponents of modernism suggested that sociopolitical and cultural progress was inevitable and important for society and art. Ideas of cultural unity (i.e. the narrative of the West or something similar) and the hierarchies of values of class that go along with such a conception of the world is another marker of modernism. In particular, modernism insisted upon a divide between “low” forms of art and “high” forms of art (creating more value judgments and hierarchies). This dichotomy is particularly focused on the divide between official culture and popular culture. Lastly but, by no means comprehensively, there was a faith in the “real” and the future and knowledge and the competence of expertise that pervades modernism. At heart, it contained a confidence about the world and humankind’s place in it.

Postmodernism attempts to subvert and resist and differ from the preoccupations of modernism across many fields (music, history, art, cinema, etc.). Postmodernism emerged in a time not defined by war or revolution but rather by media culture. Unlike modernism, postmodernism does not have faith in master narratives of history or culture or even the self as an autonomous subject. Rather postmodernism is interested in contradiction, fragmentation, and instability. Postmodernism is often focused on the destruction of hierarchies and boundaries. The mixing of different times and periods or styles of art that might be viewed as “high” or “low” is a common practice in postmodern work. This practice is referred to as pastiche. Postmodernism takes a deeply subjective view of the world and identity and art, positing that an endless process of signification and signs is where any “meaning” lies. Consequently, postmodernism demonstrates what it perceives as a fractured world, time, and art.

The Postmodernism arises disenchantment with the ideas of modernism and the movement of tolerance and diversity. Precisely for this reason, it is the conjunction of movements that have in common the rejection of ” reason “, denying the possibility of a total and objective knowledge. For postmodernism the only possible truth is subjectivity.

The filmmakers British and Americans were the first to roll postmodern films. In this new era, after the apocalyptic 1970s, and with the establishment of violence and conservative content on the screen, the seduction through the smoothness of the image, the rhythms of the assembly and the violence of color are announced as banners of a new relationship between the cinema and its audience. A time marked by great ideals is followed by another of disbelief and self-irony, of refusal to create.

One of the first genres of postmodern cinema is science fiction, which becomes one of the ideal vehicles and takes motives from the police cinema of the 40s, comics and existential discussions, such as Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982), where the plot gives tragic accents to the perfect but ephemeral replicants, created to be slaves.

The alchemy between Englishmen and Americans has contributed to postmodernism its fine sense of humor and a powerful visual imagination.

Elements that would later characterize the cinematographic language from the 1970s are from the silent period. For example, the intentional breaking of the suspension of disbelief was one of the most notable characteristics of the Marx Brothers, for example with their continuous allusions to the viewer speaking to the camera. The Italian silent film Maciste, from 1915, a spectator calls Maciste and this one leaves the screen, a resource that Woody Allen would later use in The Purple Rose of Cairo. That rupture of the so-called “fourth wall” that separates the projected work from the spectator, has already been deliberately broken by Winsor McCaywith Gertie the Dinosaur (1914). Also during the same period of silent film appeared the theme of “superreality”, the most iconic example being the character of Maria in Metropolis. The Peplum genre itself was already ahead of postmodernity interacting with different genres. The spaghetti western was in itself an exercise of decostruction of the western genre. The first vocational samples of postmodernism are found precisely in the film Until his time came, by Sergio Leone, an exercise in the analysis of that cinematographic genre. In the narrative of the turn of the century from the nineteenth to the twentieth we also find the first signs of destruction of the meta – narrative, with the appearance of intrahistory. Finally, intertextuality is one of the constants of Jess Franco’s cinema before its consolidation as a distinctive element of postmodernity.

Postmodernism continued to be forged until the Halloween and Blade Runner films, which finally defined and structured the style.

The postmodern cinema, starting from the primary postmodernism of Fry or Lyotard and clear film roots in the French nouvelle vague, seeks to explore and excite emotions, themes, situations, characters, going beyond the conventions of conventional character portrayal and logic in the structure in time and narrative space. The main features are:

Alteration of the classic temporal structure, through flashbacks (The godfather: Part II), simultaneity of actions (Pulp Fiction), reversing the cause-effect relationship (Memento), mix of formats (JFK) or assembly effects (American Beauty)).
The message of the film is open to the personal interpretation of each viewer (Cube).
Mix of genres (Fargo).
Disappearance of the interest to show a credible reality, forcing the artificial nature of the cinema to be evident by means of an illumination, scenography, costumes, etc., artificial (Chicago).
Intentional break of suspension of disbelief (The purple rose of Cairo)
Deconstruction of narrative systems and analysis of social, family, etc. schemes (Revolutionary Road), as well as cultural conventions and traditions (Shrek).
Very evident intertextuality or very clear references to previous works (Broken Embraces).
Demystification of the heroes or humanization of them (The Dark Knight).
Nostalgic vision of the past (You’re the One (a story of then)).
Quick, baroque or aggressive assembly (Slumdog Millionaire).
Superreality Artificial creation of beings, existences or states that are confused or surpass the real ones (Inception). Exploration of the borders between reality and fiction (Open your eyes).
Prominence end image, above even the content (Moulin Rouge!, Spring Breakers, The Neon Demon). Postmodern cinema is a beautician cinema (Spirited Away).
Metalingüismo. Cinema, as a cultural reference as well as its own language, becomes the protagonist. The postmodern cinema is cinema on the own cinema (the aviator, Scream)
Pessimism or disenchantment in the treatment of history (Brokeback Mountain).
Resource pastiche to disguise movies with a classical aesthetic (LA Confidential).
Excessive treatment of sex and violence, shown openly (Basic Instinct). There is also a tendency to show a vulgar vocabulary without censorship and do not hide unbridled passions, social taboos such as drugs and more extreme human situations (Trainspotting).
Trend to the parody of the previous cinema (Austin Powers).
Popularization of the remakes (The Departed), sequels and continuation of sagas (Alien vs. Predator) and adaptations of works of popular artistic media, such as comics (Road to Perdition), television (Charlie’s Angels) and the video game (Resident Evil)
Moral relativization, which leads to serial killers become protagonists without any value judgment (The silence of the lambs).
Moral distancing. The director does not judge the actions or the characters, but rather shows them without previous evaluations so that the spectator can take his own opinion (Ágora).
Substitution of the meta – narrative or absolute realities (God, homeland, reason, positive science etc. that had been in earlier times source of meaning for man) by the “little stories”, the everyday, the little things. (Signals)
Plasmation of the concerns of the current global village, such as multiculurality (Babel), sexual diversity (In & Out), new types of family (The wedding banquet) and ecology (Avatar).

Specific elements
Postmodernist film – similar to postmodernism as a whole – is a reaction to the modernist works of its field, and to their tendencies. 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.” 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.” The modernist film has more faith in the author, the individual, and the accessibility of reality itself 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.” 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 by three key characteristics. One of them is an extensive use of homage or pastiche, 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. 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 – 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.

Specific postmodern examples

Blade Runner

Blade Runner
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner might be the best known postmodernist film. Ridley 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 common 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 the language they speak is agglomeration 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.” Here is a demonstration of the mixing of cultures and boundaries and styles of art. The film is playing with time (the various types of clothes) and culture and genre by mixing them all together 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 is an embodiment of the postmodern tendency to destroy boundaries and genres into a self-reflexive product. “The postmodern aesthetic of Blade Runner is thus the result of recycling, fusion of levels, discontinuous signifiers, explosion of boundaries, and erosion. The disconnected temporality of the replicants and the pastiche of the city are all an effect of a postmodern, postindustrial condition: wearing out, waste.”

Pulp Fiction
Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is another example of a postmodernist film. The film tells the interweaving stories of gangsters, a boxer, and robbers. The film breaks down chronological time and demonstrates a particular fascination with intertextuality: bringing in texts from both traditionally “high” and “low” realms of art. This foregrounding of media places the self as “a loose, transitory combination of media consumption choices.” 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. 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 examples
Aside from the aforementioned Blade Runner and Pulp Fiction, postmodern cinema includes films such as:

Blue Velvet (1986)
Thelma and Louise (1991)

Source from Wikipedia