Postmodernism and Film

Table of Content

This chapter examines the influence of Jean Baudrillard’s and Fredric Jameson’s perspectives on the postmodern within the realm of film studies. Both theorists have had a significant impact on film theory and history, and their most influential contributions are discussed in the first two sections. The first section delves into Baudrillard’s texts Simulations and America, while the second section addresses Jameson’s renowned article “Postmodernism and Consumer Society.” Throughout each section, I will explore how these ideas have been embraced and/or contested. The debates surrounding these notions of the postmodern have greatly shaped film history, as cinema serves as both a representation of modernity and a symbol of the postmodern era. In the third section, various interpretations of the relationship between the modern and the postmodern are analyzed, revealing how this distinction intersects with other significant oppositions in film theory and history, such as classical/postclassical and narrative/spectacle.

The final section will analyze Face/Off using current theories of affirmative postmodernisms to challenge its status as a meaningless spectacle. Baudrillard’s work, Simulations, contains a key thesis called “The Precession of Simulacra.” This thesis argues that the traditional idea of art forms imitating reality is reversed, suggesting that the image or simulacrum has priority and comes before the real.

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According to Baudrillard, Hollywood disaster movies illustrate a reversal in which the social crisis is not interpreted based on objective factors, but rather the social itself is organized as if it were a script for a disaster film. This emphasis on subjectivity, power, and politics makes it difficult to determine the validity of Baudrillard’s claims. Denzin considers Baudrillard to be more of a science fiction writer than a cultural theorist, criticizing his narrative while praising the visual effects. This refusal to treat Baudrillard’s work as theoretical is a common response that highlights issues with his style. In my analysis of Simulations and America, I have focused on the significant role metaphors of circulation play in emphasizing how these images serve as crucial elements of the overall argument.

In my opinion, reading Baudrillard’s texts as a representation of postmodern favoring of style over substance is not suitable because the style itself is the substance. Baudrillard adopts a writing style in line with Nietzsche’s approach to philosophy. Both philosophers criticize the idea of objective truth and make use of a rhetorical style to highlight the metaphorical and interpretative nature of their theoretical writing.

Baudrillard’s apocalyptic declarations have a dual purpose: to incite a reaction and compel readers to meet the challenge he presents. Consequently, Baudrillard’s enthusiastic embrace of the agent provocateur role not only infuses theoretical discussions on the postmodern with a satisfying liveliness, but also establishes him as the self-proclaimed renegade among postmodern theorists. – Jameson

In his essay “Postmodernism and Consumer Society,” Jameson offers a three-stage analysis of the evolution of capitalism. Each stage is associated with the emergence of a new societal model and new cultural traits. The first stage, known as market capitalism, is characterized by industrial growth aimed at national markets. This period is considered the peak of the nuclear family and bourgeoisie, as depicted in the realistic aesthetic form. The second stage, monopoly capitalism, corresponds to the era of imperialism and the establishment of global markets organized by nation states. Modernism becomes the prevailing cultural ideology during this period. The third and final stage is multinational capitalism, marked by the expansion of global markets and the erosion of national boundaries. In this current era, bureaucracy rises in importance, signaling the decline of the individual subject that defined the classic era of capitalism.

The dominant culture is postmodernism, which is regarded as a response to modernist art forms (pp. 115, 112). Baudrillard and Jameson both dissolve the distinction between the aesthetic and the socioeconomic in their accounts of the postmodern, while Mariam Bratu Hansen focuses on the problematic positioning of Hollywood cinema.

According to the author, discussions about modernism in film theory have primarily centered around high modernism as an aesthetic category. This has caused Hollywood cinema during the studio era to be considered as a classic style that contrasts with modernism. By doing this, film theory replicates the opposition between modernist and classical that is commonly found in philosophy, literature, and fine art. As a result, classical Hollywood cinema is believed to employ a linear narrative structure with causal connections that are mostly centered around characters.

According to the text, the use of continuity editing helps to hide the artificiality of the represented world. In this approach, style and performance take a backseat to narration. The dominance of the narrative is later associated with the combination of classical cinema and uncritical ideology dissemination. In contrast, modernist cinema is seen as progressive and self-reflexive, deconstructing ideology.

According to Hansen, the classification of Hollywood cinema during the studio era as classical fails to acknowledge its connection to modernity. She asserts that Hollywood cinema was a representation of modernity, an artistic medium that aligned with the industrial production and mass consumption methods of Fordism and Taylorism. It also reflected significant societal changes in areas such as social dynamics, sexuality, and gender relations, as well as in everyday life and sensory perception. Furthermore, the films themselves are said to explore the intricate aspects of navigating modernity and the process of modernization.

In her construction of Hollywood cinema as a new form of “vernacular modernism,” Hansen offers another interlinking of the economic, social, and aesthetic aspects. She asserts that recognizing various forms of modernism is essential for dismantling simplistic oppositions prevalent in film theory and history. Additionally, Hansen analyzes Soviet cinema to illustrate her reworking of film history. She argues that labeling Soviet montage as a type of modernism solely based on its relation to Soviet avant-garde aesthetics overlooks the influence of Hollywood cinema. Thus, her rejection of the modernist/classical opposition serves to illustrate the interconnectedness between two different national cinemas.

Hansen’s recognition of various modernisms is particularly valuable in the field of Film Studies due to the numerous contenders for being synonymous with the rise of spectacle and the decline of narrative and characterization, which has gained popularity. The issue of whether or not New Hollywood truly represents a new aesthetic form is a significant topic of academic discussion. While theorists agree that the emergence of blockbusters has coincided with a new economic structure, some argue that the works of New Hollywood merely adhere to the classical narrative model. Nevertheless, the validity of the classical paradigm in Film Studies has been questioned as it is believed to prioritize narrative over other aesthetic forms, such as spectacle.

According to Geoff King, the opposition narrative/spectacle has led to the widespread perception of spectacle as meaningless textual excess. However, King believes that spectacle is a fundamental element of Hollywood cinema and one of many textual norms. Furthermore, he argues that spectacle can serve as a narrative tool by introducing important themes and contributing to the development of the plot. King’s work blurs the line between classical and postclassical/postmodern by advocating for multiple coexisting continuums. While I agree with King that spectacle has always been significant in Hollywood cinema, its current portrayal as the defining characteristic of blockbusters may give it a different significance today. Additionally, both the mass media and academia portray spectacle as a nihilistic and empty aesthetic form using a Baudrillardian concept of the postmodern.

The critique that blockbusters lack psychological depth and moral frameworks is often seen as evidence of the end of humanist aesthetics. This widespread belief in spectacle as a negative force exemplifies the logic of negation. Despite challenging this view, King’s emphasis on the functionality of spectacle prevents him from acknowledging the potential innovations that postmodern films may bring.

The central concern revolves around how the use of spectacle in blockbusters has the potential to alter our understanding of characterization and storytelling. I have specifically selected Face/Off for analysis as it represents the epitome of spectacle aesthetics in action-packed blockbusters. Face/Off, being John Woo’s third Hollywood film, can be seen as a manifestation of the global economic strategy.

The film made over $100 million at the box office and was considered a success. It moved beyond the simple concept of good versus bad, requiring a deeper understanding. Surprisingly, following Castor’s advice on self-defense allowed Jamie to use his own weapon against him. Archer’s redemption involved adopting some of Castor’s traits, including his ability to live in the present. Face/Off showcases a playful and self-aware approach to performance and storytelling, but this does not result in a loss of meaning.

Contrarily, performance-based focus utilizes intertextual references to support various forms of characterization and to alter the tone. Therefore, postmodern reflexivity allows the audience to enjoy tracking textual references, which contribute to and/or detract from the characterization and narrative structure. The gratification obtained from tracing these references is not a modernist form of detachment, but rather a more subtle navigation within and outside the fictional world, prompted by cues presented in the film.

Intertextuality is central to maintaining diverse interpretations of postmodern film texts, as the references used depend on the viewers’ individual knowledge. However, the range of possible interpretations is not infinite, as Face/Off relies on familiarity with a specific set of films starring Cage and Travolta. The film employs parody in line with typical blockbuster conventions. The portrayal of masculinity, where gender roles are performed self-consciously, does not have a truly subversive impact since both Archer and Castor adhere to traditional notions of machismo.

The subversive potential of foregrounding gender as play is evident in Creed’s analysis of Aliens. She sees the film as a comic deconstruction of gender roles, highlighting its importance. However, to fully understand the potential of these films, it is necessary to develop theoretical models of affirmative postmodernisms. By moving away from negative conceptions of postmodernism as a nihilistic form of capitalist excess, we can truly appreciate the value and enjoyment it brings.

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Postmodernism and Film. (2017, Apr 11). Retrieved from

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