Film Theory: Postmodernism–How to Define? How to Use and Apply?


Kolker, Cinema of Loneliness, p. 60:

The premise of postmodernism is that the images and narratives of pop culture gather meaning only within the contexts of the reception of pop culture, without any need to test them against any other (external) reality.

Peter Wollen: A relentless “historicism and eclecticism, which plunders the image-and the word-horde for the material of parody, pastiche, and, in extreme cases, plagiarism.”

Jim Hoberman: In the 1980s, based on a specific irony: Artists delighted in juxtaposing mass culture fantasies of the late 1950s and early 1960s with the harsher realities of urban decay of the 1970s and 1980s.


Postmodernism–a new economy of the sign and an altered attitude toward representation


Oscar Wilde expressed it in his essay on “The Decay of Living”: “Art never expresses anything but itself. It has an independent life, just as Thought has, and develops purely on its own lines.

Films of the last several decades are postmodern, filled with humorous quotations from film history, photo-novels, TV melodramas, pop music, advertising, newspapers.

Juxtaposing Hollywood genres with Picasso


Mixing documentary and fiction (and later experimenting with video), Godard was the model cineaste.   Godard exerted his influence on a slightly older contemporary like Altman, but the New wave’s real impact was felt by the generation who spent the late sixties in film school.


Andreas Huyssen (1986): Postmodernism

“The most significant trends within postmodernism have challenged modernism’s relentless hostility to mass culture.”  (p. 188)

The pop movements in American art, the literary criticism of Susan Sontag and Leslie Fiedler, architectural writing of Robert Venturi, all involved a break with high modernism and an “espousal of the commercial vernacular of consumer culture.”  (p. 187)

The great film scholar, James Naremore (1990) has defined it as “a baffling mixture of elitism and populism.”

The French theorist Jean-Francois Lyotard has claimed in his essay, “The Postmodern Condition,” that what matters in postmodernism is not the truth of the statement, but how convincingly it is performed.