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.
a textured engagement with histories of Brazilian political cinema. These contexts may not persuade us that City of God is a radical ﬁlm, but they should prompt us to ask diﬀerent questions—to read a pretty aesthetic with as much subtlety and historical care as we would read any other formal strategy. Nagib, who mounts a compelling defense of the ﬁlm, begins from the proposition that its form is central to its social engagement, arguing that unlike the contemporary American cinema of attractions,
art movement known as art nouveau or, in its Viennese context, Jugendstil. Klaus-Jurgen Sembach begins an account of the art nouveau movement with this claim on historical synchronicity: “The 1890s gave the world two innovations: cinema and Art Nouveau.”34 The coincident emergence of these forms speaks, for Sembach, of art nouveau’s signiﬁcance, but what seems striking from the perspective of ﬁlm studies is the rapid divergence in the successes met by each. Whereas cinema became in a few short
122 ornament and modernity ignoring or contextualizing what seems unsavory in Loos, we look directly at how his racialized writing crystallizes a primitivism that is central to cinema’s anti-ornamental project. The visual structure of Loos’s primitivism appears in a very early essay, “The Luxury Vehicle” (1898): The lower the cultural level of a people, the more extravagant it is with its ornament, its decoration. The Indian covers every object, every boat, every oar, every arrow with layer
a way to analyze camera movement, that part of mise-en-scène that shapes scenic space without ever being seen onscreen. In reading Moulin Rouge’s dramatic cranes and tracking shots as arabesque, we can open out feminist critique of the suﬀering beauty to the multiple aesthetic and geopolitical implications of the sinuous line. Orientalist Objects Orientalism is closely associated with an excess of objects: nineteenthcentury orientalist paintings (such as those by Eugène Delacroix [ﬁgure 24] and
dances. But it also traveled to Paris in the early twentieth century, where, according to Clare Parﬁtt, it produced a new form of exoticized looking that meshes with cinema’s orientalizing gaze.61 In this scene, the tension between the camera’s curving movements and the cuts between spaces formally stages the disparity in power between the prostitutes, bohemians, and narcoleptic Argentinean on one side and the rapacious Duke on the other. I ﬁnd the arabesque uniquely suited to expressing both