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February 2002, Week 4


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Drew Perry <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 26 Feb 2002 12:32:52 +1000
text/plain (122 lines)
What exactly are you positing as a "fascist aesthetic" ?
The films you mention (Star Wars, Starship Troopers, Brazil) certainly have
a fascist subject matter, either literally or symbolically. But I'm not sure
I'd agree that they exhibit a fascist aesthetic - except in the obvious
sense of literally representing their subject matter within the frame.
But surely this isn't an aesthetic?
A photograph of Musolini isn't a fascist photograph.
Nor is an historical biography on Hitler a fascist text.

I would have taken a fascist "aesthetic" to constitute a particular codified
system of representation, a certain identifiable paradigm of visual tropes,
as it were, that inscribe fascist 'values' independent of the surface
narrative. Consequently: If you're taking Liefenstahl's Triumph of the Will
as the exemplar or prototype, then surely you're looking for films (of any
subject matter) that have adopted her system of signification.
I can't really identify how any of the films you mention actually do this in
terms of signification. (Ok, Starship Troopers, yes - but that's because
it's parodying or subverting those tropes in a directly referential manner).

But then again: In terms of her innovation in framing and camera mobility, I
can't think of a contemporary film that DOESN'T adopt at least some of
Riefenstahl's visual syntax: crane shots, slow tracking, juxtaposing
faceless masses with extreme close-ups, a fetish for 'patterns' (symmetry of
bodies, banners, vehicles etc), searchlight beams as dramatic
'architecture'/mise-en-scene, repetition of patterning/abstraction (boots
marching, caps on heads, medals being polished, guns being primed etc etc),
stylised architure/worlds/characters, supernormal athleticism, reductive
adolescent ideals, iconic/mythic composition of figures and landscapes,
sentimentalisation of The Flag ... and on and on ... Riefenstahl's legacy
pervades American filmmaking - especially the big budget action/special
effects genres.

Look at the films of  Ridley Scott, John Woo etc etc for this
hyper-stylisation, valourisation of the (violent) mythic hero figure,
choreography of faceless masses, and paramilitary fetishism. Think of all
the Rocky-type sequences of physical training - the cult of the body, the
fetish for pattern. Think of any film with over-sentimentalised nationalism:
all those slow motion shots of the American flag waving. Think of all those
films that uncritically valourise militarism, that maintain a definite
anti-intellectualist position (even Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan made the
transformation of nerdy intellectual into killer-of-Germans a sort of
triumphant male rite of passage). How many films (vigilanteism etc) have
posited the peaceful, intellectual solution as 'too soft' and mythologised
the 'one good man' or charismatic barbarian as society's saviour?

Anything with this order of highly stylised "kitsch reductionism" warrants a
closer look.
Particularly, in visual terms, the Batman films of Joel Schumacher - they're
narratively superficial, but he fetishises the body and technology to the
nth degree. He employs shafts of light almost instead of production design.
And his Gotham City architecture could've been dreamed up by Albert Speer
himself. He's also more interested in the spectacle of action rather than
the dramatic depiction of action itself.

As for fascist ceremony: you could do worse than analyse any Olympic Games
opening and closing ceremony (especially post-1980), or indeed the staging
of any rock concert, to see how we've absorbed the Nuremberg "aesthetic" in
staging mass events. (Think of all those faceless masses waving lights, the
children/skiers with their lanterns - this is Nuremberg's 'Cathedral of
Light' writ large)

Nevertheless, for a really profound take on how fascist values can lie at
the heart of idyllic conservative (American) patriotism/nationalism ...
check out the brilliant Pleasantville. It's narratively, intellectually, and
philisophically stunning.

Drew Perry

----- Original Message -----
From: "Andrew Albert J. Ty" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Sunday, February 24, 2002 4:49 AM
Subject: looking for films that employ a fascist aesthetic

> Hi everyone,
> I'm devoting three screenings that illustrate the fascist aesthetic.
> Beginning with Triumph of the Will, my THIRD film will be Brazil (as an
> illustration of the way the carnivalesque is used to satirize the fascist
> aesthetic). I'm looking for a SECOND film that will show the influence of
> Triumph on mainstream cinema. Star Wars would be the obvious example, but
> I'd much rather show something else. I thought of Starship Troopers, but
> that's a little satirical already, and I was looking for something a
> more straight-faced. Any thoughts, anyone?
> Thanks much,
> Andrew
> -----
> There is a picture by Paul Klee called Angelus Novus. In it an angel is
> depicted who appears as if trying to distance himself from something at
> which he is staring. His eyes and mouth gape wide, his wings are stressed
> their limit. The Angel of History must look this way; he has turned to
> tbe past. Where we see a constant chain of events, he sees only a single
> catastrophe incessantly piling ruin upon ruin and hurling them at his
> He would probably like to stay, waken the dead, and correct the
> but a storm is blowing hard from Paradise, and - caught in his wings - it
> so strong he can no longer close them. While the debris piles ever higher
> before his eyes the storm drives him without pause into tho future to
> his back is turned. That which we call Progress is this storm. - Walter
> Benjamin
> ----
> For past messages, visit the Screen-L Archives:

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