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Postmodernism is the label given to cultural forms since the 1960’s that display self reflexivity, irony, boundaries, nation, gender, race and sexuality. It is a cultural movement that came soon after modernism and is a term applied to a wide-ranging set of developments in critical theory, architecture, art, literature and culture which are characterized as either emerging from or superseding modernism. This style is also characterized by collage, pastiche and irony and often influenced by intertextual references. The postmodern texts deliberately play with meaning and are designed to be read by a literate audience who can relate to these traits of intertextuality. They are generally considered to be anything which makes little attempt to hide the fact that it is not real as it wants you to know that it has been created and for you to recognise the elements from elsewhere. There are no new or original ideas and everything is usually connected in some way. George Ritzer suggested that postmodernism usually refers to a cultural movement from different products such as art, music, films, TV and adverts. He believed it is signified by the breakdown of the distinction between high culture and mass culture, mixing up of time, space and narrative, emphasis on style rather than content and also the blurring of the distinction between representation and reality. The common elements that can be identified in a postmodern text include intertextuality, parody, pastiche, homage, bricolage, simulacra, hyperreality and fragmentation. These are not only in films but can also be seen or heard in TV programmes, adverts, music and music videos. One postmodern film that I have studied and includes a wide range of these elements is Inglourious Basterds which was released in 2009. In the first chapter there is an intertextual reference to the Sound of Music as the scenery and backdrop is very similar so therefore makes it clear that it is a film. The title of the first chapter is also called ‘Once upon a time in Nazi occupied France’ which represents a fairytale aspect of WW2 which is enhanced by the fantasy style backdrop. Quentin Tarantino also uses Spaghetti Western and Blaxploitation style music throughout the film which is consistently used as a motif to introduce characters or highlight an important scene. These types of music can be identified in films such as The Searchers in 1956 and Shaft in 2000. In the first scene Tarantino also mixes classical and western music together which is a postmodern element as it shows him combining the two styles of music together to create something new and different. The film is a hybrid as it is a text with more than one genre which is categorised as a black comedy and a war film. This links to Jacques Derrida’s theory and these genres can be recognised although the postmodern elements such as the music and unstereotypical conventions that are used makes it very unique and different from other films in the same categories. The titles at the beginning of the film are also in yellow text which is a common convention that is used throughout Tarantino’s films so this could be seen as another postmodern element. In the first chapter there is also the comparison of the two men’s pipes whilst they are smoking and having a conversation at the table. Colonel Hans Landa’s pipe is significantly bigger than Perrier LaPedite’s which could show Tarantino emphasising their different statuses as it adds an element of humour to the scene. Landa’s uniform is also very smart compared to Perrier LaPedite’s clothing which highlights the difference in status. At this point in the film the two characters also switch languages and go from speaking in French to speaking in English. This is an example of Tarantino playing with our expectations. Another intertextual reference that he makes is the shot out of the front door of the farm house which is similar to the one used in The Searchers. The shot shows Shoshanna running away from Colonel Hans Landa and his soldiers as they were trying to kill her 1
Steph Jarram whilst her and her family were hiding under the floorboards in the farm house. Tarantino used this shot as he finds John Ford’s work very inspiring and the scene is very iconic so it can be recognised by the audience. In the second chapter we are introduced to Aldo Raine and his accent is very exaggerated which once again adds an element of humour. It is hard to take him seriously because his body language and accent is so over the top. This is similar to the Hitler parody that Tarantino uses which is another over the top depiction of the character. He is so angry and stereotypical he comes across as very pathetic and vain as he is also having his own portrait painted. Tarantino also uses British stereotypes which enhances the humorous aspect because they are so exaggerated. These apply to Mike Myer’s, Michael Fassbender’s and Rod Taylor’s characters. The postmodern element about Rod Taylor is that he specifically came out of retirement because he didn’t have a Screen Actors Guild card. Tarantino admired his work so much that he wanted him to be in the film and play the role of Winston Churchill. For Michael Fassbender’s character, there is a link to Noel Coward from In Which We Serve. He is very witty and the complete opposite to the Americans such as Aldo Raine. This is another example of Tarantino using intertextuality. He also uses text on screen to inform the audience of any important characters that are significant. Inglourious Basterds is not a stereotypical war film as Tarantino doesn’t use a lot of traditional war conventions. These include the journey, fear, emotion and human frailty. Tarantino includes music that you wouldn’t expect to hear in a war film and lot more music is used. For example the David Bowie soundtrack ‘Cat People’ is played in the scene where Shoshanna is getting ready for the premiere. This is a postmodern element because the song is from the 80’s so therefore would not normally be played in a traditional war film. Other examples include Slaughter by Billy Preston and The Devil’s Rumble by Davie Allen and The Arrows. These tracks are once again used to introduce characters and change the atmosphere in the scene. In films such as Saving Private Ryan, hardly any music is played because it focuses more on emotion. Inglourious Basterds almost glamorises war as the murders are much more graphic and the killings are stylised which adds a hyperreal aspect. This links to John Fiske’s theory as Saving Private Ryan is what you’d expect from a war film, although Inglourious Basterds is very unstereotypical and different. For example if the audience is unaware of what happened in the war they would find it hard to distinguish the good and bad characters as all knowledge would come from other films and media. Tarantino also changes the end of the war in the film which adds another postmodern twist. Another postmodern element that can be identified is the intertextual link to Romeo and Juliet in the scene where Shoshanna and Frederick shoot one another at the premiere. This introduces the idea of femme fatale as Shoshanna is dressed in red and Frederick is dressed in white which may also highlight the aspect of good and evil. Slow motion is used which extends the deaths and emphasises the character unrequited romance. The birds eye shot is similar to the one used in Romeo and Juliet and contrapuntal music is played which also plays with reality and image. Tarantino also takes elements from other films such as Where Eagles Dare in 1968, The White Hell of Pitz Palu in 1929, The Good The Bad and The Ugly in 1966, Sergeant York in 1941, True Romance in 1993 and Inglorious Bastards in 1978. Tarantino adapted the title of the film from Inglorious Bastards and took elements of violence and recontextualised them to make them more modern. He also took the elements of the joy of the soldiers killing Nazi’s and the famous ‘shot in the eye’ from the Odessa Steps Battleship Potemkin. The idea of bricolage from Claude Levi Strauss’s theory can be applied to the film as the fairytale theme and Blaxploitation music is added, the common war
Steph Jarram conventions are deleted, the yellow text and the title is substituted and he uses transposition from The Searchers, Spaghetti Western music and the framing. Another postmodern film that uses similar elements is Drive which was released in 2011. The first noticeable postmodern element is the lack of dialogue. The characters show little emotion and reaction to what happens in the film which is very surreal. The characters are also very stylised and unstereotypical. For example we know very little about the main character, The Driver. We do not know his motivation or what he does and he expresses psychopathic traits which makes us as the audience whether he is real or not. This shows how hyperreal his character is. Jean-Francois Lyotard’s theory criticises The Driver as he believed that the idea of absolute freedom is rejected. For example when The Driver drives off into the night in the ending when he has left the money to secure Irene and Benicio’s safety, we don’t know where he is going or what will happen to him. This postmodern element enhances his freedom as we didn’t know anything about him at the start other than being a getaway driver for bad people and we still don’t know what he does after. This is the same for Irene, as there are so many unanswered questions because she doesn’t look like a criminal’s wife because she comes across as innocent. There is also a strange connection between Irene and The Driver as we know that their relationship is growing throughout the film but there is a lack of sex which is very strange for a film in this genre. It leaves us to decide whether or not they are actually lovers. We can see this relationship form up until the lift scene where Irene see’s who The Driver really is and what he is capable of doing. There are two scenes in the film where the lighting and music changes and slow motion is used to enhance the utopian aspect. This represents The Driver trying to fit in with the family and introduces the fairytale theme as roles are identified. This is an example of hyperreality as Standard seemingly accepts The Driver’s presence which is quite strange and creates an awkward atmosphere. These scenes lit with a golden hue represent the film’s idyllic heart. The scene in the lift where The Driver and Irene are kissing is self reflexive because the postmodern elements such as the lighting, music and slow motion complement each other. This is another example of hyperreality because the slow motion represents the scene as a fantasy although when the music fades, the lighting changes and the violence breaks out, it reminds us that it is a reality. The music that is played is very emotive which makes the scene more intimate so therefore draws attention to itself as a text. The connection between the two characters seems very genuine and highlights the human aspect of the film because the moment is very tender and introduces emotion that we have not yet seen. When the music fades, The Driver pushes Irene in the corner and beats up the hit man. This particular scene is very violent and very unexpected because we haven’t yet see The Driver act in that way. This violence shocks Irene as she finally see’s who he really is. This is shown by the expression on her face as she walks out of the lift because she is clearly shocked by this act of violence. The Driver’s face still seems emotionless which portrays his psychopathic behaviour. Another postmodern element is the fact that the film is set in a big city which is Los Angeles, yet we only see a minority of characters and hardly any extras in the backgrounds of the scenes. This is very hyperreal as the city is used for the characters and shows them to be very shallow and oppressive; therefore it offers little comfort and no escape. The deserted city is a very unusual aspect as no-one seems to notice these graphic murders and the police seem irrelevant because the murderers never get caught. This links to Talcott Parson’s theory that society has a structure. The small amount of characters that we are introduced to are all linked but there is no society outside of them. This 3
Steph Jarram postmodern element has an intertextual link to the video game Grand Theft Auto. It makes it seem like a playground and portrays the characters to be very vulnerable because of the murders that take place. One scene where you do see people other than the characters we are introduced to is in Cook’s strip club. Here we see a group of topless girls which links to Laura Mulvey’s male gaze theory. In the scene the room is surrounded by mirrors so this enhances how many girls are in the room as shows how Cook treats the women when he demands them to call 911. The camera lingers around the room until all girls have been recognised and are aware of the presence of The Driver. Another link to the Vice City version of the game is the pink 80’s retro style font used for the title at the start. This works well with the retro 80’s style music and the style of the characters as it doesn’t seem like the film is set in the modern day which is another hyperreal element. The music is mostly electronic and influenced by European electronic bands such as Kraftwerk. Other examples include ‘Real Hero’ by College feat. Electric Youth and ‘I Drive’ by Cliff Martinez. Another postmodern element that can be picked out is how the murders get progressively more violent throughout the film. This has an intertextual link to the 2005 film A History of Violence. The style of violence is reminiscent to that in Drive and I believe it is visceral, brutal and hyperreal. Another form of intertextuality that is included is from the 1978 film The Driver. The opening title and the getaway scenes were adapted and recontextualised from this scene. This links to Roland Barthe’s and John Fiske’s that we relate situations to other films that we have seen. For example the car chase in Drive could be related to not only The Driver but also James Bond and other action films. Postmodern elements are not only in films but also in television programmes. One being Flight of The Conchords. This particular programme is self reflexive. On a number of occasions, Jermaine and Brett make direct address to the camera which is an example of breaking the fourth wall and adding an element of humour because it shows that they are emphasising that it is just a programme and they are involving the audience. Quirky style graphics are also used in the parodies which is another example of a postmodern element. There are also intertextual references made to Prince, The Pet Shop Boys, Shaggy and Daft Punk. A Prince parody is shown in the programme which adds humour and almost humiliates and embarrasses him. Bricolage can also be identified as the programme has elements from sitcoms, musicals, music videos and dramas. Another postmodern aspect of the programme is its semi episodic structure. For example there is a scene which says ‘5 minutes later’. Other elements of parody and pastiche include the range of music genres they cover, music video conventions, it is set in New Zealand and is very stereotypical and the cult of the celebrities. For example the band only has one big fan which is Mel who is obsessed with them. Other intertextual references include Daryll Hall who was in an 80’s pop duo called Hall and Oates. ZZ Top’s ‘Legs’ was also mentioned and Donovan’s ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’. The Male Gaze can also be applied to this episode as Brett and Jermaine argue over a threesome with the girl so it shows how little respect they have for women and how they look at them. The IT Crowd is another postmodern television programme. The theme tune to the programme is reminiscent of Gary Numan’s work such as the 1980’s synth pioneer and sounds like computer games from the 80’s. The use of 8bit music is relevant to the programme because it is based around technology. There is a hyperreal aspect to the programme as the characters have almost created their own ‘comedy universe’. This relates to Talcott Parson’s theory as they have their own society held together at the workplace in the office. Parody is also used at the start as they remake the piracy advert and make it sarcastic which adds an element of humour. Intertextual references to the 4
Steph Jarram Soviet scenes are also made and are taken as far as possible. The Russian accent is exaggerated and the music and lighting changes to enhance this hyperreal image. This links to Baudrillard’s theory of distinguishing the difference between reality and image. Another postmodern element is the use of stereotypes. The German cannibal has stereotypical characteristics such as his outfit and the food he mentions. For example ‘schweinefleisch’. Other examples of intertextuality include Hannibal Lector, Moorcambe and Wise, Fine Young Cannibals, The Pink Windmill Kids, Gorky Park and Oceans 11. Postmodern aspects can also be heard in music and seen in music videos. An example is the rap battles that take place at DON’T FLOP. One being the battle between Blizzard and Mark Grist. The two individuals are very different and have very different lifestyles but still work well together because they pick out each other’s flaws to impress their audience but also reinvent topics to target one another. Another example of an artist that is postmodern is Lady Gaga. Her work is described to echo classic 1980’s pop and 1990’s Euro pop. In her 2009 album The Fame Monster she used pastiche and was said to include ‘seventies arena glam, perky ABBA disco and sugary throwbacks like Stacey Q’. Bricolage can be applied to such an artist as she covers a range of genres such as opera, heavy metal, disco, pop and rock and roll. She constantly reinvents her sound and image and takes elements from artists she finds inspirational such as Madonna, Britney, Whitney Houston, Prince and The Scissor Sisters. An example of her using postmodernism is when she wrote her single ‘Boys Boys Boys’. She took elements from Motley Crue’s ‘Girls Girls Girls’ and ACDC’s ‘T.N.T.’ In this mash up you can hear elements from both songs which shows how postmodernism can reinvent sounds by mixing genres. Brian Eno’s ‘death of uncool’ theory can be applied to Gaga as she is known for her unique style which some people find ‘cool’ and others find quite strange and even offensive. There are so many genres and styles out in today’s music industry that it is hard to distinguish which artists are cool and which are uncool. Another example of bricolage is the music video for The 2 Bear’s ‘Church’. The video utilises clips from the traditional Care Bears cartoons. The Care Bears were a 1980’s phenomenon being particularly popular for young girls. The London based duo produces original material consisting of different styles ranging from 2-step, house, hip-hop and soul. These types of media show how postmodernism is used to express different themes. The specific postmodern elements show how texts can be recontextualised and adapted into something more new and modern.