Postmodern Chick Flicks: The Return of the Woman’s Film

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Postmodernist film - Wikipedia

Showing Rating details. All Languages. More filters. Sort order. In marked contrast, in the s, s and s popular films targeted specifically at the adult female audiences and dealing with female friendship, family relations and romance were, with rare exceptions, relegated to the made-for-television or straight-to-video market Hillier, In addition to the industrial neglect of female-orientated film during this period, feminist film criticism was also ambivalent in its attitude towards female-orientated popular film genres. There is a desire to avoid adding the feminist voice to a general highbrow, misogynistic culture of derision for all things popular and female-identified.

But this is set against an equally pressing need to explore the ways in which female-orientated popular forms do often work as much to reinforce polarised gender roles and negative attitudes to women as to question or challenge them. Feminist interest in popular female forms thus treads a precarious line between wanting to reclaim or defend certain female-orientated forms against snobbery and sexism and recognising and acknowledging their complex role in mediating patriarchal ideals concerning sexuality, romance and family life.

There was also much critical interest in the slightly wider range of roles that were beginning to be inhabited by the female figure in popular cinema. The emerging s trend for women in professional roles such as lawyers, law enforcers and investigators in films such as Jagged Edge Marquand, , Black Widow Rafelson, or Blue Steel Bigelow, was the focus of much feminist debate and discussion, as was the new action heroine of films such as Aliens Cameron, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day Cameron, This book examines the formal and thematic properties of contemporary female-orientated film cycles, considering the reasons for their unforeseen and unexpected return to popular prominence and their relation to broader socio-cultural trends and attitudes concerning gender roles and female identity from the late s onwards.

By defining the new cycles as postmodernist, the book extends the range of cultural filmic cycles and forms that have been understood and addressed through the filter of postmodern film criticism. In its widest sense, postmodernity is primarily a periodising concept, denoting a new global era of technological innovation and socio-economic relations from the late s onwards.

Within this broader conceptual framework, famously developed by critics such as Lyotard , Jameson and Baudrillard and much debated since the mids, the term is roughly equivalent to a range of other contemporary epoch defining terms, such as post-industrial and post-Fordist. It is also associated, in a general sense, with the triumph of consumer capitalism and the expansion of the media industries and mass media culture. Throughout the book I will therefore use the critical understanding of postmodernist cinema to cover a range of recurring thematic interest and textual feature, applying these to the new female-orientated film cycles.

In the s, early accounts of postmodernist cinema focused specifically on the self-conscious use of direct or indirect cinematic allusions introduced by the first generation of film school-educated directors. The emergence of cinematic allusionism is tied to the influx of a new generation of innovative young film school-trained directors. This particular mode of often arcane cinephilic allusionism was understood by an educated, cinema-going elite. Later accounts expanded the taxonomy of postmodernist features to include anti-realist distancing devices such as characters directly addressing the camera, abrupt shifts in character or location , metagenericity the playful, self-reflexive mixing of well-known generic formulas and the frequent references to either past or contemporary film and television shows and popular culture which were becoming ever more prevalent in post-classical cinema.

Although these features are linked to specific historical and socio-cultural developments, such as the increased availability of popular cultural forms through video, DVD and the proliferation of television channels , the re-circulation of old films, and the widespread use of the language of film scholarship, narrative and aesthetic elements identified as postmodernist are certainly more marked in particular cycles. Spanning two decades of Hollywood production, the critical identification of postmodernist cinematic features has continued to cluster around texts associated with violence and the young male audience.

Many of these films have also been the subject of debates on censorship laws as they featured unusually explicit depictions of violence.

For example, in the s there was much critical interest in the work of David Lynch as postmodern auteur, with critics such as Fredric Jameson, Tim Corrigan and Norman Denzin praising his work as an innovative alternative to the bland recycling and empty allusionism that typified blockbusters production of the late s and early s, such the Star Wars or the Indiana Jones movies Jameson, —96; Corrigan, 61—79; Denzin, 66— More recent accounts of postmodernist cinema by both male and female critics tend to pay closer attention to its articulation of gender, but the underlying assumption that an affinity exists between male-orientated, often violent films and postmodernist aesthetic features has remained unchallenged.

Some recent accounts go as far as to define postmodernist cinema specifically as a form that has arisen to articulate the problematic condition of masculinity in the postmodern world. The notion that much violent, male-centred postmodernist cinema unconsciously addresses the destabilisation of masculine identity in postmodern society seems entirely plausible given the hyperbolic, aggressive Introduction 7 forms of masculine behaviour on display in these films.


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As critics such as Sharrett and Juhasz suggest, this is as much a response to the postindustrial decline in traditional male jobs and the perceived emasculation of men as new target for body-conscious consumer products than a reaction to feminist gains Sharrett, ; Juhasz, Yet the overwhelming emphasis on a particular kind of swaggering, nasty filmic postmodernism has skewered debates on postmodernist cinema binding the understanding of a range of postmodernist aesthetic strategies too closely to male-orientated genres.

In addition to the ironic address of cultish postmodern films, moments of emotional engagement tend to be brief and fleeting in male-orientated postmodernism. As Susan Fraiman argues in her perceptive analysis of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino delights in jolting viewers away from moments of intimacy and emotional engagement with a sudden irruption of violence and brutality, a dynamic which is also evident in the work of other postmodern auteurs, such as David Lynch. At the other end of the cinematic spectrum, female-orientated genres are still haunted by the hopelessly uncool figure of the dim-witted, impressionable female viewer.

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Postmodern chick flicks : the return of the woman's film | European Institute for Gender Equality

More significantly, these are often used precisely to ameliorate the sentimentalism, and feminine naivety associated with older, pre-feminist female-identified forms. This is not to suggest that self-consciousness or irony entirely obliterates the regressive emphasis on love and marriage in such films, anymore than most feminist critics would argue that the brutality, violence and misogyny in the work of Lynch, Tarantino or Fincher is rendered harmless by the black comedy and allusion which saturates these films.

In this sense, the film typifies the way that postmodernist forms oscillate between past and present, re-inflecting their self-conscious imitation of past forms with current preoccupations. Renee Zellwegger — by this point strongly associated with her role as Bridget Jones, the archetypal singleton heroine of the romantic comedy revival — reworks the Doris Day figure of Pillow Talk in the depiction of protagonist Barbara Novak.

Introduction 9 From Down with Love, In accordance with this conception of popular 10 Postmodern Chick Flicks post-feminism, the figure of Barbara Novak embodies an exaggerated and self-consciously artificial femininity that is associated with fun, freedom and independence rather than oppression or manipulation. Novak is depicted as a skilful and confident consumer. Furthermore, unlike Day in the sexcomedies but akin to Bridget Jones and other heroines of contemporary chick lit, television and film, Barbara Novak benefits from mutually supportive relationships with other women.

The feminist value placed on female alliance, self-respect and the desire for economic and career achievement is endorsed but placed within a framework of consumer power and individual achievement rather than collective struggle.

Down with Love is certainly one of the more directly postmodernist — and post-feminist — examples of the new female-orientated film cycles, its arch tone and relentless use of allusion, irony and pastiche crushing the more conventional pleasures of the romantic fantasy. But the use of Introduction 11 cinematic allusion, irony, distancing devices and a preoccupation with the past are features which persistently reoccur in the more high profile, popular examples of the new female-orientated cycles. This is evident in early examples of the new romantic comedy cycle.

The principal characters justify their actions and behaviour according to models provided by the Hollywood classic, Casablanca and the film is intercut with faux-documentary footage of older couples. However, the romantic comedy is only one of the key revived female-orientated genres that have reappeared since the early s. The chapters are broadly chronological and specifically genre and cycle based, examining the different ways in which post-feminist 12 Postmodern Chick Flicks discourses and broader cultural attitudes are articulated within various postmodernist female-orientated forms.

Concentrated in the early s, the cycle largely predates the more dominant strand of ironic, allusionist romantic comedy and its emphasis on the female economic aspiration and consumer power.

Postmodern Chick Flicks

Traditional feminine and melodramatic values are reworked to incorporate a critique of the sexual exploitation and a marked emphasis on economic independence rather than the feminine consumerism more widely associated with chick lit and chicks television. The use of these elements is also linked to an ideological critique of the patriarchal construction of marriage and motherhood, enhanced by — rather than in competition with — the use of costume and period settings. All three are strongly associated with highbrow literature and a feminist literary critical tradition, yet they also draw on the popular filmic pleasures associated with the period form.

The three chapters that focus specifically on forms identified with the female audience are followed by an analysis of contemporary film noir. Crime fiction has been a key generic focus for the development of violent, male-orientated postmodern cinema. However, the new attention to the female audience and influence of the revived female-orientated Introduction 13 genres becomes increasingly evident in neo-noir and crime fiction from the mids.

Films such as Something Wild Demme, Blue Velvet, or the more mainstream, Back to the Future Zemickis, articulated fiftiesness through the oedipal dramas of the adolescent male. Like the reworked noir-hybrids, the recent cycle of female-orientated films that overtly or covertly return to the decade — The Stepford Wives, Far from Heaven, Mona Lisa Smile Newell, — shift the focus from youthful male to mature female protagonist, alighting on the figure of housewife and mother.

Her demonisation or destruction also apparent in the less female-orientated but equally self-conscious, Pleasantville, Ross, suggests a degree of female disenchantment with the contemporary revival of the ideology of female domesticity.

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In more general terms, it highlights the ideological ambivalence of the revived female cycles. In the more obviously feminist-inspired new female cycles — such as the costume drama — this is combined with a level of affective intensity and a strong and sympathetic engagement with prior forms of female oppression.

In other forms, such as recent romantic comedy or s revival cycle, the ironic distancing of the romance fantasy and rejection of the masochistic glorification of feminine self-sacrifice is more obviously in line with the discourse of post-feminist individualism. For example, in Down with Love and The Stepford Wives, irony and allusion is used to trivialise — even sneer at — past forms of gender oppression.

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For these reasons, although the book certainly aims to challenge the overwhelming critical emphasis on violent, male-orientated postmodern cinema — and the persistent idea that female viewers can barely recognise even the crudest forms of irony and allusionism — it is less a defence or critique of the new female cycles than an attempt to understand and account for their use of postmodernist elements which contextualises these in relation to broader cultural perceptions of gender roles, past and present.

Thinking through the underlying reasons for these differences, and their significance in structuring and producing certain kinds of political and cultural debates on postmodernism and cinema, is a useful place to begin narrowing what can seem like a potentially limitless field and disentangling the more general concept of the postmodern from its cinemaspecific or even film text-specific usage.


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  4. To put it another way, while there are obviously many points of overlap between approaches to postmodernist architecture, literature, film, music or photography, there are also important differences that reveal much about what postmodernism means in relation to specific cultural systems.

    This chapter will therefore begin by looking at the particular critical and industrial context in which definitions of postmodernist cinema developed. As I argued in the introduction, postmodernist cinema has most famously been associated with a certain kind of cultish male-orientated cinema of the late s ands exemplified, in different ways, by the work of directors such as David Lynch, Michael Mann, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and David Fincher.

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    This chapter will consider the industrial, theoretical and wider socio-historical context that led to this particular critical conception of the form. It falls roughly into two halves. Huyssen states: My main point about contemporary postmodernism is that it operates in a field of tension between tradition and innovation, conservation and renewal, mass culture and high art in which the second terms are no longer automatically privileged over the first. Huyssen, Critical accounts of postmodernist cinema are particularly interesting in this respect as the emergence of a postmodernist cinema aesthetic was, almost from its inception, strongly identified with Hollywood and the popular sphere.

    This developed alongside the growing influence of postmodern philosophy and social and cultural theory during this period. Paradoxically, while this later, broader understanding of the postmodern reduced the cultural sphere to just one aspect of the seismic transformations that constitute the postmodern global order, it was also recognised as an increasingly important and powerful sphere of activity Jameson, ; Baudrillard, 63—97; Harvey, 59— As Jameson suggested in the early s, the postmodern cultural landscape is one in which all cultural forms are subject to the relentless demands of commodity production, and no one can occupy the position of Olympian detachment from mass entertainment adopted by high modernism Jameson, 85— There is little question that, even in the s, there were still distinct differences between what was defined as a postmodernist practice in literature, the visual arts and cinema.

    Although the latter are engaging with popular images and ideas in a more ambivalent manner than previous generations of avant-garde artists, there is still a strong sense of critical distance informing their work. They operate both within and outside of this sphere and thus maintain some detachment from it.