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Major Movies in Postmodern Cinema

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Good morning, continuing with our discussion of postmodernism and cinema.So, last time, where we stopped? We were talking about, how postmodernism cinema happens to have certainfeatures; we talked about Chinese box structure, we talked about pastiche, and we talked aboutfragmented editing techniques, we were referring to theories of Linda Hutcheon; especiallywith reference to her ideas on pastiche. And we also talked about something called self-referentialcinema, where cinema makes commentary on itself. Remember? So, we talked about Eight and a Half;Fellini’s Eight and a Half which is on the commentary on the process of making a movie.How many of you have watched Eight and a Half? Are you familiar with that? Good.‘Wag the Dog’; Barry Levinson’s where Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman played their lead roles.And, Dustin Hoffman happens to be a producer who stages a war in order todivert the American public’s attention from the fact that the president is having an affairand the elections around the corner. So, what do they do? So, there are certain spin-doctorsin the president’s office headed by Robert De Niro. And they approach a film producerplayed by Dustin Hoffman. And then Dustin Hoffman is asked to give them a solution.And he said, if there is no war, let us invent a war and that will distract the public and it does.So, it is a wonderful commentary on the role media plays in forging public opinion.Wag the Dog, I strongly recommend the movie, Robert De Niro, Anne Heche and Dustin Hoffman.Stardust Memories, Purple Rose of Cairo; both by Woody Allen and also Zelig,and then you have Ed Wood and To Die For. We have already talked about these movies.‘To Die For’ is a movie starring Nicole Kidman who literally we were talking about,dies for her fifteen minutes of fame; the movie was directed by Gus Van Sant.Another important feature of postmodern cinema is hyperlink cinema. The other day we weretalking about hyperlink Cinema; we talked about Babel, remember, and we also talkedabout Requiem for a dream. So, hyper link cinema is a term coined by Alissa Quart, forfilms which are multi-linear in a metaphorical sense, and Pulp Fiction tops the list. Whiletalking about genre bending, we were discussing the other day; how Pulp Fiction is a landmark movie in the way a narrative is constructed. Other examples of hyperlink cinema could be;Adaptation, Sliding Doors, Syriana. So, you were already mentioning Crash.I would also like to add 21Grams and City of God, I am very sure most of these films are familiar to you.Of late, we have been having the phenomenon of anthology movies. Well, this is nothing new;it has always been in existence. And a couple of directors coming together andmaking short films but it has become a more fashionable in recent times. So, you havea number of big time film makers coming together and directing films. Coffee and Cigarettesis an excellent example of short movies; ten minutes or so. Each movie run, the runninglength of each movie would be ten minutes or so. But all movies were directed by JimJarmuch who is an independent film maker, also known for Johnny Depp’s starring Dead Man.You must watch Dead Man; especially for its music, it has excellent rock music.Paris, je t’aime that is; ‘Paris I love you’ is an anthology of movies by several directors.And all movies are centered on the city of Paris. And here Paris is not justthe glamorous city or the way we use city see Paris in; Midnight in Paris in Woody Allen’sParis, is not that kind of Paris. You in this city, you have racial tensions, in this Parisyou have poverty, you have alienation, and you have loneliness. So, it is that kind.But it is still Paris I love you, and directed by the different directors. Different fromCoffee and Cigarettes because in Coffee and Cigarettes, which is the space? A restaurant;every, all conversations are taking place in restaurant, over coffee and cigarettesliterally, therefore the title. Paris, I love you. I love you Paris, in spite of all yourweaknesses and faults; that is the idea. New York, I love you, continuation; is not aspowerful as Paris I love you, but it is still, it has the number of big time film makersdirecting films, set in short film set in New York, Shekhar Kapur is one of the directors.And, Tokyo Stories and Toronto Stories; Toronto Stories is completely set as a title suggestin Toronto and Tokyo Stories in Tokyo. So, why are, you know we call these films, wehave another title for these kinds of films. Do you know? Paris, New York, Toronto, Tokyo,City symphony, so these movies are also giving you a glimpse of city in its various manifestations,and very postmodern because they give you fragmented glimpse, veneered of something.Coffee and Cigarettes; the restaurant is not the focus but the conversation, kind of people you find.So, this is, you know as F. Scott Fitzgerald rightly points out in ‘The great Gatsby’,inexhaustible variety of human beings, this is what he is interested in;inexhaustible variety of human beings. So, in Coffee and Cigarettes, the director isinterested in the kind of people you find, all kinds of people around us that is the idea.So, very post-modernist, very fragmented because it is not a linear, traditional kind of a story.And they are not linked at all, there no, absolutely no link between people in all these films.Any comments Rehan, bout to say?The New York stories that you remember? Three movies I keep on referring to the New York?Scorsese, Woody Allen, Coppola, all these children of New Hollywood movementand then they come together.All these movies are set in the city of New York. So wonderful movies,but not as short as you find in Paris, je t’aime and Coffee and Cigarettes; each movieruns into some forty to forty five minutes.Now, I am going to discuss another key text for today’s class is John Woo’s Face/Off.Anyone here, who is not familiar with this very popular movie? I can see lot of smiles;how kind of you and, how fortunate for me? So, John Woo directed this movie. And, letme point your attention towards the poster.Do you find anything unique about the poster of this movie? This was the way the movie was released.Is it one face or two different faces?Students: Two different faces. Two different faces, but how are they joined?How are they joined? Their eyes become one; there are actually, these are fragments oftwo faces, and they are joined together. And whose faces are these? Travolta and Cage; and,one eye belong to Nicolas Cage and one eye to John Travolta. But the faces are sojoined that it almost looks, it is a one face and having a common pair of eyes. Why do weneed to have this kind of poster for a movie like Face/Off? And Face/Off, if you watch the movie,you know there is a literal meaning to it. Yes, literally ripping somebody’s face off.But then, Vedanta have you seen the movie? You must watch it; it is very post-modernist,therefore we are going to discuss it. But the face slash off, there is another meaning to it.What is it? We often use the word Mexican face off. Yes, confrontation between two people;that is the typical signature style in most Tarantino’s movies and most John Woo’s movies,people just pointing guns towards each other. Come, you know head long confrontation.So, that is, that is the basic theme of the movie. Nicolas Cage and John Travolta havinga head long confrontation and sopping identities; not by choice but forced by circumstances.And then, how sopping faces and sopping identities lead to the narrative, what kind of narrativeemerges out of the sopping of the. So, it is a very good example of a post-modernistfilm because we talked about fragmented identities, fractured narratives and all these featuresare present in Face/Off. Face/Off is basically a very glossy, visuallyvery compelling movie directed by the Hong Kong super star; director John Woo. Are youfamiliar with other movies by John Woo? The Killer? A Better Tomorrow; yes it is one ofhis well-known Chinese films, a Hong Kong martial art movie, it is not typical wiredkind of, action director kind of movie. It is more like a psychological conflict.So, Face/Off has lot of psychological conflict. Then, the movie talks about the blurred identitiesand that is what you find in the poster also. And, one key feature of the film is the wayit represents masculinity as the self-conscious acting out of gender roles. John Woo happensto be a very hyper masculine kind of a director; all his films had a strong code of masculine conduct.Yesterday, we were talking about how Tarantino is influenced by the cinemaof Sam Peckenpah and Brian De Palma; those directors were known for their strong masculinecodes, and so is John Woo. If you watch the movie Face/Off, you will understand both thesemen have a peculiar code of conduct; how to be a father, how to be a lover, how to bea husband, how to be a professional. Men on a machine; they have a personal code, theyhave a professional code, they have certain ethics of behaving. So, those codes are importantin all John Woo’s movies, and come across very strongly in Face/Off.So, the credit sequences itself, you have watched the movie recently Sidharth; how does it begin?Student: It begins with the Nicolas Cage scene ma’am.It begin with Nicolas Cage scene, you alsohave the John Travolta playing a detective, a FBI cop, an agent; and who is out to getNicolas Cage who is the dreaded criminal. And then, there is a scene where, it is amerry-go-round scene where john Travolta’s son is short dead by Nicolas cage. Of course,he meant to kill the John Travolta, not the kid. And after, subsequently John Travoltamakes it a personal mission to catch Nicolas Cage. And, the merry-go-round scene evokesnostalgic memories of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, because that is the way Hitchcock’sStrangers on a Train; the climax of the movie is shot. And, that too is a movie about theface-off between two men that too hints at sopping identities; not literally soppingfaces, but identities, ‘Strangers on a Train’. If you watch these two movies back to back,you will understand that how important the Hitchcock’s influence is on this movie, thematically.So, there is an inter-textual reference.Now, I quote Fredric Jameson here, where he sees the reliance on the styles of the pastas an indication of the particular kind of nostalgia,and that is one of the defining characteristics of postmodern art.So, nostalgia happens to be a very important part of all postmodern art.And this feature is seen very clearly in John Woo’s Face/Off. And, Fredric Jamesonalso uses the term called random cannibalization of all the styles of the past, where the pastis reduced to the series of spectacles. So, Hitchcock’s memorable scene is, if you quoteor apply a Fredrick Jameson in John Woo’s hands, it becomes like a random cannibalization.But now it is up to you to decide whether it is or whether he, or it is an integral part;it is an integral, inter-textuality happening there. So, this is what FredrickJameson says in ‘Postmodernism or the cultural logic of the late capitalism’, I think Ihave been referring to this work quite often. This could be your, you know one of your theoretical discussions.Jameson also says; and this is another work;‘Postmodernism and consumer society’ where he talks about psychic fragmentation or Schizophreniaof the postmodern life. Do take down these notes; where he says, ‘an experience ofthe isolated disconnected, discontinuous material signifiers which fail to link into a coherent sequence.Schizophrenia does not know personal identity in our sense’, Schizoid; a fragmented personality.So, the person is not aware that there are two sides; very opposing, very contradictorysides to his own personality. Do you know that Face/Off was adapted, not exactly ornot literally, but there was an adaptation in Hindi. Which movie was that? Are you aware of it?It was a very well-known movie, much hyped; did not do too well commercially butfor those times it was extremely well publicized, much hyped movie called ‘Aks’. It wasthe first movie directed by Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, starring Amitabh Bachchan and ManojBajpai, where they had given a touch of Indian philosophy and spiritual element to the sopping,to the idea of sopping the identities. Now, see example of pastiche in Face/Off.So, the music is seen as the pastiche. You know it is the combination of several kinds of movie.And, remember we were talking about Highbrow culture, Lowbrow culture. So, youhave a Handel’s Hallelujah at one point. Nicolas Cage, of all the people he personifiesevil and he is in a church; just, almost making a spoof of a very holy song. At the same time,you have plenty of rock music throughout the movie. And then, you have another memorablescene, which is a shootout scene. People are shooting all over the place. And then, NicolasCage, he does not want his son to get exposed to that kind of violence. So, what does he do?He makes him wear a head phone and the song which is playing is, somewhere over the rainbow;that is Judy Garland’s from The Wizard of Oz. So, it is totally contradictoryto whatever is happening outside, around the child. The child is, the child watches the scene;bullets going all over the place and people running and chasing each other, hitting each other.But he does not hear those sounds because his father has put that melodious,beautiful music on him. So, that is, and this is nothing new, this is a very common device;having background music which is completely opposite to whatever is happening on screen.How many of you are aware of Anurag Kashyap’s, Bejoy Nambiar that directed the movie ‘Shaitan’?Have you watched the movie? There is a scene where youngsters running all over the chawlsof Dharavi, and cladded with Bhoorkha which make them look very ridiculous.And which is the song playing in the background? It is a shootout scene; police is chasing them.Khoya khoya chand, remixed. Khoya khoya chand which is originally a song; a very beautiful,melodious song, something like somewhere over the rainbow kind of song, sung by Mohammed Rafi.And, Dev Anand performed to that song, may be during the fifties or the early sixties.But now having a song like that for a shootout scene, what does it? It is a very postmodernist device.Many a time we do not pay attention to these things. But if you look at it deeply,yes, the film maker has done lot of thinking about giving the right kind of, very appropriatekind of background music to the situation. Otherwise, what kind of background music wouldyou expect in a shootout scene? The bang-bang music or may be very fast based music.But imagine somewhere over rainbow, khoya khoya chand for a scenewhich is extremely violent, hyper kinetic.But then, you have a song like that as in the background; so, a very strong,a very forceful, postmodernist device. The idea of having a doppelganger or your other,your double, is very intriguing. And, this is another integral part of postmodern narratives;to have another identity and having a literal other. So, Sean Archer and Castor Pollux;Sean Archer is John Travolta and Castor Pollux is Nicolas Cage. And, both these men have a son each.They are quite alike in the way they behave, in the way they take theirduties and their professions very seriously. It is almost like having your double out there.And there is a scene where Castor Pollux advice, offers paternal advice to Sean Archer’sdaughter to how to save herself; gives her a knife from a potential molester that isa very interesting scene. Now, nostalgia; we were talking the idea ofnostalgia and how it informs postmodern narratives. So, Cage’s transformation into Archer; so,Nicolas Cage becomes Sean Archer. Who is Sean Archer basically originally? John Travolta.But now what is, if you have watched Nicolas Cage; he happens to be a very intense actor, very intense.And, there is hardly a funny bone in him. On the other hand, John Travoltais hardly the hyper masculine guy. He is forced to act out. So, he is not, he is the eternal cool;I mean, if you watch him in Pulp Fiction, he is what we call as a typical cool dude.That is the kind of actor John Travolta is. And there is always a certain kind of ambiguity about him.He is not that in your face macho, hyper masculine actor at all; whereas, Nicolas Cage is.And we have seen him performing very intense, vary dramatic roles; roles whichJohn Travolta will never be known for, no intensity or no dramatic intensity for John Travolta.But then, when John Travolta assumes the identity of Nicolas Cage, we are taken back to Con Air;the hero in distrust; moonstruck, a romantic hero; the intense hero, the suffering the complex hero.All these attributes you can never associate with John Travolta. JohnTravolta, when he turns Nicolas cage when he turns into John Travolta.Now, John Travolta is known for certain things, and one is his coolness and that comes through. And, suddenlywe find Nicolas Cage acting the way, because at the back of your mind you know that this is Nicolas Cage.He is just wearing John Travolta’s face, but then he assumes Travolta’s identity, right?And then, you see, doing the same walk, the same talk that Travolta is so loved for;and we know, it evokes the memories of Pulp Fiction. We have just seen him Pulp Fiction,we remember him for Grease and Saturday night fever.We know that John Travolta is the ultimate in a way cool.And, that is the persona that comes up to us. So, trade mark styles of performance.Having not talked about this film; we will refer to another movie which came a littlebefore Face/Off, Natural Born Killers, Oliver stone’s. And then, we will see how thismovie satisfies many postmodernist conditions. So, what is it about? It is about;again Bonnie and Clyde story redone, serial killers on the run as played by Juliette Lewis and Woody Harrelson.The basic theme is how crimes and criminals are treated in a media saturated society.How many of you have watched the movie? Very nice. Do you remember the scenewhere Woody Harrelson first sets his eye upon Juliette Lewis. Yes. That is a very strange scene.He is literally carrying some dead meat with the blood is still pouring all over the place.But how is the scene treated? We are toldthat this girl, who is barely out of a keens, Juliette Lewis. She is sexually abused byher father frequently. Her mother is indifferent to it. And, there is a brother, a very boorishyounger brother who is again, absolutely, who is totally into materialistic things of life;all he was interested in is how much pocket money he can get out of his parents.Father dominates the household; rules every one with an iron hand. And, it is a very dysfunctionalmiserable household. And in walks Woody Harrelson who is as far removed from the night in chainsor armors it could be. He is nothing like that, but for Juliette Lewis character he is;because her family life is so disturbed. That, this deranged man could well be her savior, thus the idea.So, we live in a media saturated society where we are conditioned,you know love at first sight is possible. Where woman feel that, a man just walks inand he can, she can ride away into the moon light with him. And then suddenly the sceneturns into something else. Do you remember what happens? It turns into a, Oliver Stonegives it a touch of a television soap opera and sitcom.Why does he do that?We live in a media saturated society.You fall in love and suddenly everything looks like, as ifyou are a part of television. And how much do they enjoy being on camera, remember?Later on there is even a character; superbly played by Robert Downey Junior as a television anchor.So, word about Oliver Stone? He comes on the heels on the new Hollywood cinema. He haslearned his craft from all those people that we are talking about so far.Martin Scorsese; he is the successor to them,a very natural successor to Martin Scorsese, to Brian De Palma,to Francis Coppola and Woody Allen. And, if you watch him, you can see the influences.The influences are all there.He also wrote the screen play for Scarface directed by Brian De Palma.He actually served as a soldier in the Vietnam War, and therefore his Vietnam trilogy;Platoon, Born on the 4th of July starring Tom Cruise and Heaven and Earth.He has the strong political ideologies. If you watch his list of movies, it is absolutelyphenomenal, astounding, the way he treats politics. We are talking about the man whohas made JFK, who has made Nixon and also W; George W. Bush, so a man who is stronglygiven to understanding the political happenings in the United States.Some of his more entertaining movies are Wall Street which won Michael Douglas his Oscar.Any Given Sunday is a wonderful drama starring Al Pacino and Cameron Diaz. Even in one ofhis earlier film Salvador, starring James Woods as the reporter, a very young James woods.So, and it takes place in South America. It is a brilliant movie, if you watch it;one of his earlier attempts at direction but so wonderfully done.Do you know the actor who played W?Josh Brolin.And how closely he resembles?Now, the two major differences between Pulp Fiction and Natural Born Killers. The NaturalBorn Killers although it is saturated with the violence, it is anti-violence, whereasPulp Fiction tells us violence is cool. Pulp Fiction, of course there is a typical Tarantinomovie; so lot of hip music, rock and surf kind of music. Whereas Natural Born Killershas a more, the music of the movie has more dark tones to it. While Tarantino experimentswith the narrative in Pulp Fiction, Oliver Stone is more interested in editing in NaturalBorn Killers; so he does not experiment as much with the narrative, he does not disturb that.But editing wise suddenly you find a jump cut at some where placed, split screensomewhere else, the screen suddenly turning black and white from color and from color to black and white.So, lot of experimentation with editing. Tarantino takes in the sensethat, if you watch, I was particularly interested in the Reservoir Dogs. If you look at the dogs,those guys’ sitting around the table and the kind of conversation they indulgein is extremely hyper masculine. And, the kind of violence; the ear splicing scene,you know it is a total lift from the cinema of Sam Peckinpah where violence is supposedto be extremely cool and very matter of fact. And, do you know there were women, when themovie was first premiered, women in the audiences fainted when they first watched the movie.But there was one woman who really enjoyed it and that woman was Madonna. She said that,I like this kind of cinema and I think violence is cool. And, Tarantino had no prizes for guessing.He was extremely flattered; Madonna complementing you on a very first directorial effort.So, again we were talking about Fredrick Jamesonand idea of schizophrenia in the post-modernist society. So, this is something that you findin Natural Born Killers also. See, all the kinds of expressionistic scenes that you find,the distorted images. And, Natural Born Killers abounds in these images; distorted images, saturated colors.That is not the way, it really is. I mean, I will ask you to go backto your Taxi Driver where New York is noxious, poisonous; poisonous green gasses, I meanemanating from all over the place. So, almost like pickle is driving through A.D.s, youknow the New York is held. So, that is what we find in Natural Born Killers also;psychic fragmentation, distorted images. There is a scene where they are poisoned;where the girl is poisoned and the man is so drug induced, he is unable to look forthe right medicine for her and the entire screen goes green. You remember? For no reason at all,they kill off a very innocent Indian, Native American. And then, the girl is bittedby a deadly cobra and then they go out hunting for the medicine for her. So, this is whatNatural Born Killers is all about, if you talk about it about how post-modernist it is.The movie is extremely rich and pastiche. There is a scene where they have kidnappedthe girl from a small town. And she is tied up in the same room, which this couple lives in.And while the girl is being tortured, meaningless torture; the couple is watching Scarface,it is very self-referential, Scarface which was known for its hyper violence on screen.And more importantly, it is written by Oliver Stone himself; Oliver Stone commentingon his own work that we live in a society which is full of violence.So, you have lots of experimentation with editing techniques; so we get film footage,we get television style of editing. Sometimes the character speaks like cartoons.Music too is a pastiche; a mix of contemporary rock as well as very traditional, romantic kind of music.And why does he do that? Again, we go back to our new Hollywood film makers,after all that has been his training ground. At no stage of the movie, Oliver Stone makesany attempt to get you involved at least emotionally with what is happening on screen. He wantsyou to keep your distance, and therefore all these fragmented editing techniques.Again, you are watching a movie about violence. That message comes across. He is not inviting youto get emotionally involved with the audience and therefore, that you know, that kind of editing technique.When you do not want to involve the audience,you do not call attention to the narrative and to the editing pattern. That means youalmost feel like one; but suddenly when the screen goes black and white from color andthe other way round, you know, yes, your attention is broken off. When you were watching a moviesomething very serious like father abusing his daughter on screen and suddenly the entirescene turns in to a television sitcom; you know that you are watching something and directoris asking you to think about it, do not just get involved in the narrative flow of the movie.That is what he is saying, Yes. Student: People are commented on Pulp fictionon the same purpose; why he actually cut so that? He can ensure that people are involved,they might be thinking on this. Yes, that is what, involved in the sense,you are intellectually involved. We do not want such films do not invite the people toget emotionally involved. Emotional involvement was the feature of the classic Hollywood kindof cinema, even for us it is more like; you know when you watch a movie which is verytraditionally structured or a story which is very classically told, then a director is;Jab Tak Hai Jann, a movie like this invites you to be emotionally involved becausethat is the kind of director, Yash Chopra is. He wants us, therefore you know there will alwaysbe a difference between this set of directors and the other set of directors. More successfuldirectors would always want to capitalize you; capitalize on you are emotional connect.Whereas, other set of directors do not want you to get so emotionally connected with theproduct because they want you to think about, that is what happening on screen, a productof new Hollywood cinema. Oliver Stone’s movies are basically, extremely anti-authoritarian.And, this is the trait you find in Natural Born Killers as well.So, all those people who are supposed to uphold our society; parents, sheriff, cops, mediareporters, they are generally portrayed as corrupt, violent, and exploitative. Did you find that? Yes.So, there is a statement in the movie which fits the central idea of the film very well,‘In contemporary America, reality exists only in the context of media images’.Do you remember, ‘simulacra and simulation’ Baudrillard? Gulf war did not take place.Whatever, you watch on media that is the only truth that is the idea in Wagthe Dog as well. There is no war, but producer has shot the war; ok therefore there is awar, and you are supposed to accept it because I am showing it to you, and it is there.So, the post-modernist cinema and there is an entire list of cinema, which is focusedon relationship between films and other media; films and other television, films about films.So, a general characteristic of this kind of self-referential, self-conscious cinemais that basically these films tempt to offer a critic of the commodification of American culture.They map the decline in the ability of Americans to distinguish between fiction and reality.It is very important. If you look at our society, what is happening around us?I mean, look at all these reality shows, you know this is a comparatively a new phenomenon for us.But do not you feel that increasingly, we as the society, we are failing to distinguishbetween reality and fiction as seen through the media images? The bottom line is that,everything has been reduced to entertainment. And, there is no fixed ordered and centralreality, thus the basic tenet of post- modernist literature. So, watch these two movies again;Natural Born Killers, Pulp fiction and also Wag the Dog and you will understand.Some other examples: Sidney Lumet’s Network, classic movie. And there is a classic linein this movie, ‘there is no America, there is no democracy, and what do we have; IBM,Union carbide, Dow and Dupont’. It is a wonderful critic of American capitalism andmedia from the director of Twelve Angry Men and Dog Day Afternoon. More examples wereself-conscious cinema tells us that, media is taking dangerous proportions; David Cronenberg,the Canadian film maker’s Videodrome and Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd.The media is addictive as well as corrupt. Robert Redford’s Quiz Show and Requiem for a dream;all these movies, I am very sure they are familiar to you. You just have to refresh and apply the theory here.‘Confessions of a Dangerous Mind’ is directedby George Clooney and then watch Scorsese’s very honorable flop King of Comedy which almostwiped him off; after ‘New York, New York’, he came up with King of Comedy again with De Niro.In between there was another flop but at least an Oscar worthy flop; Raging Bull,Raging Bull, let me tell you, it was a big flop, commercially flop when it was first