Pretty: Film and the Decorative Image (Film and Culture Series)
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Film culture often rejects visually rich images, treating simplicity, austerity, or even ugliness as the more provocative, political, and truly cinematic choice. Cinema may challenge traditional ideas of art, but its opposition to the decorative represents a long-standing Western aesthetic bias against feminine cosmetics, Oriental effeminacy, and primitive ornament. Inheriting this patriarchal, colonial perspective—which treats decorative style as foreign or sexually perverse—filmmakers, critics, and theorists have often denigrated colorful, picturesque, and richly patterned visions in cinema.
Condemning the exclusion of the "pretty" from masculine film culture, Rosalind Galt reevaluates received ideas about the decorative impulse from early film criticism to classical and postclassical film theory. The pretty embodies lush visuality, dense mise-en-scène, painterly framing, and arabesque camera movements-styles increasingly central to world cinema. From European art cinema to the films of Wong Kar-wai and Santosh Sivan, from the experimental films of Derek Jarman to the popular pleasures of Moulin Rouge!, the pretty is a vital element of contemporary cinema, communicating distinct sexual and political identities. Inverting the logic of anti-pretty thought, Galt firmly establishes the decorative image as a queer aesthetic, uniquely able to figure cinema's perverse pleasures and cross-cultural encounters. Creating her own critical tapestry from perspectives in art theory, film theory, and philosophy, Galt reclaims prettiness as a radically transgressive style, shimmering with threads of political agency.
complains about the weakness of the current cinema by proposing a tripartite structure: “Light is a ﬁrstclass actor but our ﬁlm proﬁteers only imagine colored picture-postcards for tourists. Look at a Rembrandt, or just throw the windows wide open!”70 On one side, Gromaire places the studied technique and beautiful aesthetic of “real” art, and on the other the uncomposed, natural potential of proﬁ lmic “real” life. Both of these options are positive, for both include beauty (the skillful beauty
exotic detail in terms of bad ornament. Ornament is thus associated with an old-fashioned and oddly valueless richness, in which excess stuﬀ is the opposite of cinematic art. This opposition of bad ornament to pure cinematic mimesis presents a variant of the discourse on realism that I outlined in chapter 1. Germaine Dulac, albeit not a fan of narrative cinema, still presents her critique in the language of decoration. She poses that “early ﬁ lmmakers believed themselves skillful in containing
1908, Loos wrote “Ornament and Crime,” an essay that has been called “one of the most radical polemics of design criticism of the twentieth century.”39 In it, Loos not only rejects categorically the dominant mode of Jugendstil but ties his excoriation to a sweeping claim on progress and value in which ornament is deﬁned as primitive. The decoration of buildings and everyday objects, he claims, is akin to children smearing walls or to Papuan tattoos. He maintains that although it is natural for
bejeweled Indian woman whose excess ornamentation proves that she is less beautiful than the pure white woman. The ornamented native woman appears in orientalist painting, and Malek Alloula critiques the widespread popularity of this ﬁgure in his canonical analysis of colonial-era Algerian postcards in The Colonial Harem. 150 objects figure 26 A publicity image of Clara Bow exempliﬁes the use of chinoiserie backdrops to emphasize a female star’s glamour. Placing these popular images within
a potential for real voices, it surely does not open that potential to real Oriental voices. But I think we can exert some pressure on this refusal of authentic voice or representation. Sell himself extends his analysis into a fascinating account of the intercultural origins of the European avant-garde, arguing that “the concept of the avantgarde developed over a long-enduring process of hybridization with Islam that began with the Crusades and reached its ﬁrst fruits in the intercourse among