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Cultural Theory in Practice: Postmodernist Filmmaking

From the angle of creed and culture, many theories have been evolved since ages. The theories like post-structuralism, post-modernism, sex and sexuality, bodies and embodiment, empire, and globalization are some of the relevant concepts that are relevant in recent times. In the following discussion let us concentrate on one of the aspects, “Postmodernism“. In short, we can say that the style in different genres of art and philosophy that strictly reacts against any type of earliest modernist movement is called postmodernism (Matthews & Platt 2002).

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To define postmodernism, we can say that it is the aspect of contemporary culture which is characterized by the process of rejection of the objective truths along with the globally predominant cultural narrations. Postmodernism emphasizes the roles of language and the power relations that ultimately dominate relations (Matthews & Platt 2002). If we look deeply into the sphere we can surely derive some very definite characteristics, or in that sense, concepts of postmodernism, which drive the philosophy of postmodernism, like:

  1. Postmodernists do not believe in the concept of “absolute truth”, they even go on to say that truth and error are two similar facets, which is true in today’s concept can change to false, or vice-versa.
  2. The post-modernists believe in collective ownership.
  3. They sometimes stress Globalization rather than Nationalism.
  4. They directly blame Western society for the destruction of the environment on the plant.
  5. According to the concept, all religions are valid (Matthews & Platt 2002).

Anderson & Schlunke (2008), in their work Cultural Theory in Everyday Practice, elaborate the idea of postmodernism in their chapter, Living with Things: Consumption, Material Culture, and Everyday Life. It is well observed in this text that postmodern films are one of the very integral parts of the post-modern concept. Many films are dubbed as post-modern, like Jean-Luc Godard’s classic masterpiece “A bout de Scuffle“. In this aspect, we will have to say that postmodernism as a movement began with the start of the French New Wave movement in the 1950s.

Fellini’s 81/2, L’avventura directed by Antonioni were some of the very important pieces of postmodern filmmaking in the period. However, many critics like the great French theorist Jean Baudrlliard, have mentioned the name of Sergio Leone’s film “Once upon a Time in the West” as the first example of a successful post-modern film (Matthews & Platt 2002). A postmodern film tries to produce small and significant changes in the medium of cinema like the other entire artistic mediums. The main significance of doing so is to capture the artificiality of the medium, and the film is presented in a format so that the audience emphasizes the conventional human bonds and emotions that are shown in the films rather than the subject matter. Another very important film in postmodern film-making is Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Some critics also dub the David Lynch directed Mulholland Drive as a very important piece of film-making in the post-modern genre.

Famous for one of the most incredible opening sequences ever shot in celluloid, Once upon a Time in the West (Matthews & Platt 2002) is a mesmerizing piece of movie experience from beginning to the end. Many critics even do not want to call it a Western film; they prefer to call it an art gallery of iconic imagery. If we look at the storyline we will see that the movie simply deals with a myth, prevailed in the West, and Sergio Leone had handled this type of film before in another equally mesmerizing epic, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (Matthews & Platt 2002). However, the deconstructing idea of movie-making, which is considered a tiresome process in recent film-making, probably helped the movie to achieve the post-modern status.

The movie is one of the first postmodern movies that are funded by big Hollywood studios, with big Hollywood stars. In this aspect, we have to remember that Clint Eastwood was not a viable name when he did the “Man with no Name” series with Sergio Leone. The film runs for almost three long hours. The mastery of the director lies in the aspect that here he improvises the theme and imagery to a new level of artistry. The audience becomes spellbound to look at the film itself. The director incredibly uses the width and breadth of the screen to distinguish the background to a side and the foreground to another. Another important thing in aspect is that the breadth and spaciousness of the wide shots of the movie, which consist of extreme close-ups of the characters, give a surreal feel to the movie (Matthews & Platt 2002).

Basically, in the movie, the human face also becomes synonymous with the concept of landscape as per the postmodern tradition. The best manifestation of these is the opening shot, where the killers are shown in detail, the very close shots capture the small intimate details of the faces of the characters, from the lines even the cut marks and the whiskers, and the very long-range shots show the full body of the person and all these aspects are well aligned with the postmodernism characteristics depicted in the chapter of Anderson & Schlunke (2008), Rrapping Irigaray: Flesh, Passion, World.

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In the genre of film criticism, it is said the most important quality of a Sergio Leon film is drawing the scenes out to the absolute limit of the scene. And again in the opening scene, the first dialogue is uttered after eight minutes. The film has its share of violence, but it is not violent, it is rather explosive but brief. It shows that though the director does not obsessed with violence that is one of the most integral parts of a Western film, rather than he is more inclined towards the rituals of the violence.

It is often said that basically the movie is about style and format that accompanies the Western genre, and the critics go on, again and again, to mention that the subject of the movie is a very debatable aspect in itself. It could be better said that it is more of a manifestation of an urban legend associated with the Western myths.

The film is a critic of the myths that run in America. All the characters of the film are dissatisfied in a way or another, and something more in life. This is the same with the general nature of humanity. It is often said that Once Upon a Time in the West marks the mythological end of the Westerns and probably the beginning of the Modern Age in what is termed as the “Last American Frontier”. The train is similar to the advancement of European Civilization, and the end of the horse-riding culture, just as the film concentrates on the end of the Western format of movie making and catapulted the popular Western aspect of movie making to a realistic approach based enterprise, which was later followed by several great filmmakers. We can say that the film is a perfect homage to the Western movies that earlier enthralled the audiences, with a “symphonic equivocation” in a new style of film-making (Matthews & Platt 2002).

In the genre of film-making, the transition from celluloid to digital is often dubbed as an entry point of postmodernism. Themes like self-reliance, parody, and inter-sexuality are mostly discussed in the aspect of filmmaking. The genre is quite different from the general type of filmmaking and may be postmodern media often rejects the basic importance of direct narration, and go to use complex derivative in simple formats. In recent history, postmodernism is one of the most discussed theories. And we can not just ignore it in any aspect. In recent times, the theories of post-modernism have been very important in the aspect in the process of re-examination of different historical interpretations. Sometimes the postmodernist critics are named the ultimate skeptics (Matthews & Platt 2002).

The theories are a very important part of the transformational process. If we look at the general history of human society we will see that human society has been developed at a slow pace all the time. But with the development of science and technology the development has been paced up at a very high speed. Globalization has made the world a smaller place and all the developments in culture and arts interchanging their ideas to develop new forms and angles of development. The film discussed in the discussion is one of the most important chapters both in the history of post-modern filmmaking and also it influenced the whole art of filmmaking in general. So this is one of the most important films ever made, and probably the most authentic work of postmodernism.

Reference list

Anderson, N., & Schlunke, N., 2008. Cultural Theory In Everyday Practice. London: Oxford University Press.

Matthews, R. T., & Platt, D., 2002. The western humanities. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Pub.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, December 13). Cultural Theory in Practice: Postmodernist Filmmaking. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/cultural-theory-in-practice-postmodernist-filmmaking/

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