The term Postmodern is quite an oxymoron. It talks about a period which transcends the present. Notions of time, space, reality and existence are all skewed. This ideology became a part of various art forms. We all live in a world where the concept of time and space has become extremely complicated and disorienting because the way technology has affected all of us. Cinema that represents this alienation in its form as well as content becomes a post-modernist film.
Described below are 20 films that are a foundation of this movement in cinema. Post modernism is any art form that was initially studied only in retrospect. These films intentionally or unintentionally have common features that unite them. They challenge conventional form and are all worth watching if post modernism as a theory excites you.
1. Monty Python and The Holy Grail (1975)
Written and performed and directed by the comedy group Monty Python
The film is black humor which takes on King Arthur’s search for the Holy Grail. It has several political and historic references in the film. It has to be one of the funniest films ever made. The most recognizable postmodernist element of the film is that makers constantly draw attention to the fact that it is unreal. It uses elements of meta-fiction and uses it also to add onto the humor of the film.
The film is about irony and has hyper real elements in form of strange characters. The costumes and art design of the film compliment the meta-fiction that the film plans to draw out. It is one cult film which has inspired a form of filmmaking and has become a part of the popular culture. This film was post-modern when the theory of postmodernism was still shaping up and that is what makes this film so exceptional.
2. Taxi Driver (1976)
Written by Paul Schrader and Directed by Martin Scorsese
Travis Brickle, the protagonist of Taxi Driver, is driven by this extreme urge to cleanse the society. He feels alienated by the urban America. The film in some ways tries to show the downfall of the post modernism. It is about the disorientation of Travis with what has become of New York. His attachment with the Taxi is also symbolic of man and his machine.
The film has elements of western genre in the strangest way. The male protagonist and his journey to righteousness in all the chaos make this film extremely interesting. Taxi Driver came out at a time when post modernism as a theory was still being discussed and its impact was still developing. The film preceded to post modernism in cinema in some way.
3. Blade Runner (1982)
Written by Hampton Fancher and Directed by Ridley Scott
Christina Degli-Espoli, a film theorist who in one of her claims that Blade Runner was one of the first postmodernist films ever made. One can definitely consider this to be prototype and it in some way established features of postmodernism in cinema. The film is a futuristic dystopia. It is a science fiction film with futuristic sets and action but it combines costumes, offices, punk rock hairstyles of the 1940’s. It is a classic pastiche. One of the prime features of postmodernism is loss of identities.
Blade Runner deals with genetically engineered organic robots which were called replicants. The element of machines being more human than the humans is also present in the film. Harrison Ford’s identity remains a mystery till the end. In fact the most interesting thing about the film was that it released with multiple endings.
One could never decide which the original end was. That is one of the major factors for making this an epic postmodern treat. The film also very well establishes a sense of decay and emptiness in the city life, as well as information technology and surveillance. The usage of mannequins in the film is almost surreal. This film has to be Ridley Scott’s best work ever.
4. Blue Velvet (1986)
Written and Directed by David Lynch
Blue Velvet is an astonishing motion picture. It comes from the insanely talented filmmaker David Lynch. Often spectators and film theorists have compared Lynch’s work with Tarantino’s. Lynch is similar to Tarantino for his over the top action, and high levels of intertextuality. His subtexts are stronger than the plot that plays out on the surface. This particular film’s colour palette, cinematography, production design and music makes it quite an interesting film.
The film opens with a happy and almost ‘perfect’ note and slowly it reveals the dark side of a modern society. Post modernism speaks about this internal decay of an otherwise perfect society. The use of classical elements of film noir in it and how it tries to break Hitchcock’s way of expressing suspense, shock and surprise makes this movie post-modernist. The film is full of pop culture imagery from the 50’s and 60’s with its music and art direction choices.
5. Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989)
Written and Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Sex, Lies and Videotape breaks the idea of the perfect world for us. The film is a take on postmodern sex. It also goes beyond the ‘male gaze’ and explores the ‘female gaze’. The film is about a troubled couple and a bohemian man, Graham who comes to stay with them. He videotapes women and asks them about their sexual fantasies.
He suffers from impotency and then there is a scene in the film when Ann finds a cure to Graham’s impotency and she does it by pointing the camera to him.The film is about disoriented people in dysfunctional relationships laying the foundation of postmodernism.
6. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Written by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Tarantino can be considered the master of postmodernist cinema. In fact all his films are a pastiche of every kind of films and pop culture he has admired for several years. In his films one can see that he has seen a LOT of films and has tried to take elements from them all and put it all together in an interesting manner. Pulp Fiction is a dark comedy which does not separate the world into good and evil. In fact it tries to disqualify that division completely.
The film is told in chapters and follows a novel like style of telling its story which is also a feature in other Tarantino’s film. Unlike the classical Hollywood films with postmodernist cinema, the lines between the hero and the anti-hero blurred. Tarantino had once said, “I always hope that if one million people see my movie, they see one million different movies”. He is a big sucker for intertextuality and that is why most of his films are a good example for postmodernist cinema.