How does postmodernist film challenge the conventions of traditional narrative cinema?How does postmodernist film challenge the conventions of traditional narrative cinema?

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Postmodernity is difficult to define. Some characteristics associated with it are: a general distrust of all theories, a heightened attention to self-awareness and self-reflexivity, collage, bricollage, pastiche, and a general reaction to all traditional forms. One of the ways postmodern film achieves this is by borrowing forms and styles from traditional forms and blending them or distorting them. Another aspect is the general “rage against metanarratives” which means a rage and distrust against big ideas. So a postmodern film might not communicate some ideal truth or seem to have a point. Seinfeld is a prime example of this. Although spoken of more in existential terms, Seinfeld exhibited a lot of postmodern techniques; namely, not attempting to instill some great truth. The show was about mundane existence. There were also constant cultural references and tongue-in-cheek lines which called attention to the fact that it was a sitcom (this is called self-reflexivity which is similar but not identical to breaking the fourth wall). In film, the equivalent would be calling the audience’s attention to the fact that they are watching a film, which can be as overt as talking directly to the audience/camera.

Pastiche is an imitation of a past tradition, usually a blending of multiple forms, and it is often a parody or mocking of the forms and content. Some films are both homages and parodies of past forms with films like Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk til Dawn and Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Some of Tarantino’s other work use nonlinear narratives (Pulp Fiction) which is also considered a postmodern technique. Postmodern film challenges the traditional notion that there is a set formula for plot development and narrative structure. Often, the plot lines are circuitous or downright confusing and the point is just to challenge those traditions either by avoiding them altogether or mocking them in self-reflexive parody.

Another example is Synecdoche, New York which blends life/art, reality/imagination, physical/psychical.

Additional examples: Memento, Adaptation, The Fountain.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that a good example of how conventions of traditional narrative cinema are inverted through postmodern film can be seen in the work of David Lynch.  Many of his films reject the traditionalist idea of character evolution and plot development through his own insight and skill.  For example, the basis of his film Blue Velvet is the ear found in the yard.  In fact, the opening scene of the film might be an excellent example of how post modern film operates.  The splendor of Lumberton is shown through the credits, only to be undercut with the ear and the insects that feast upon it.  Another example of Lynch's subversion of traditional narrative cinema would be Lost Highway:  "The film has been noted for its rejection of conventional storytelling techniques, as evidenced by the protagonist metamorphosing into another character halfway through the film."  Lynch's foray into the episodic Twin Peaks helped to bring about how characters can be developed in fluid and dynamic manners, defying traditional linear storytelling.  In the end, Lynch is a great example as to how post- modern film challenges the conventions of traditional cinema.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Henry W. Targowski wrote of Naked Lunch, the novel:

This is the original postmodern novel. More like a film projected directly into the brain. Seminal fiction.

So, according to Targowski, the movie, Naked Lunch needed only to put the narrative onto film.  The conspiratorial institutions, the play of "masculine" and "feminine" within masculinity which threatens the ego, and bodily metamorpheses produced by invading organisms are certainly postmodern motifs found in this movie in which an exterminator finds that his wife is stealing his insecticide for recreational purposes.  He becomes involved with an organization led by a giant bug who tells him he must kill his wife.  After he does so, the agent buys a typewriter on which to record his investigations; the typewriter is itself some type of creature that offers him advice on his mission. The film appeals, as one critic says, to those who have "an aesthetic for disgust."

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would echo some of the ideas shared in the third post: Tarantino is a great example of post-modern filmmaking as this method might re-structure a narrative while also harkening back to other forms of story-telling.

Taratino makes non-linear films, sometimes, which break away from "traditional" narratives to some extent. He also references other films and other media in his film-making, using chapter titles (Inglorious) and numerous cartoon and comic references (Kill Bill) both in dialogue and visually.

The fact that we can describe Tarantino as post-modern, despite the fact that his films are so highly referential, points to some of the difficulties in the idea of post-modern film-making. He makes new movies by piecing together old ones...