Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

A Postmodern Tango

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Moulin Rouge (2001) is a screaming (often literally) demonstration of not only the extremely potent and unique filming styles of Baz Lurhmann, but of the postmodern. It would take days to write about every scene in this movie, but for the purposes of this blog post, I chose to focus on el Tango de Roxanne scene in the movie (like Jade). I won’t lie that I chose this part of the movie because I love it so much, and because I wanted an excuse to watch it a few times. But I do feel that it exemplifies the postmodern aspects of the movie quite well.

The scene begins with “The Unconscious Argentinean” (Jacek Koman) beginning to show the crew of Spectacular Spectacular a tango from his home, Argentina. Christian (Ewan McGregor) is walking in the background, watching with skeptical and heartbroken eyes. After the tango begins, Koman launches into his rendition of Roxanne, a song by the Police. The movie is supposed to take place in the early 1900s, whereas the song is from 1978. There is a contrast created between the time period that is meaning to be expressed and the pop culture being referenced in the music. It also is emphasized by the presence of the tango that is being done, which is a reference to the tradition of the Unconscious Argentinean, and showing a time in the past while also bringing in new ideas of entertainment and art. The film brings in several very different time periods and puts them all together in one scene. In this sense, it is seeking to become “eclectic by borrowing styles from different periods and ‘quoting’ aspects'” of these periods (Malpas, 15). This scene shows the eclectic nature of this film, as it borrows pieces of varying time periods, from the setting to the tango to the more modern music. By doing a very traditional dance to a newer song, the film tries to become more diverse and interesting, while also challenging the traditional idea of “what is art?”

In terms of art, this movie falls under the idea of the postmodern even more. In this scene in particular, it does this through the sharp camera movements, quick pace, and also the different version of the song. The movie sets out to “challenge established styles and forms” and “shock and scandalise public taste and transform the ways in which the world could be represented” (Malpas, 17-18). The distinct style and quick pacing of this scene have the capacity to stress the audience out, and recognize that it may not be a traditional presentation of art. It is “deliberately difficult and disturbing” and makes the audience “respond without determining in advance what form the response should take” (Malpas, 29). The song also has this sort of effect, as most are familiar with Roxanne, and have not heard it sung in this fashion before. It challenges what was normally considered the right music for the song by giving it an Argentinian twist. Koman’s voice is raspy, and a somewhat un-flattened art-form. Perhaps not traditionally considered artful, his voice is given a chance to become exactly that (and let’s be honest, how good is this song?) Moulin Rouge is able to show the idea of “continual change that shapes human life” (Malpas, 48) as it is a perfect demonstration of the changing of art and what is considered pleasing. While it may shock the audience, for some it is a beautiful work of postmodern art.

Now, for my example of a simulacrum:


I thought Dateline was a really good example. This show represents a sort of “dissolution of TV into life, the dissolution of life into TV” (Storey, 188), and also blurs the “distinction between a ‘real’ event and its media representation” (Storey, 189). Viewers see the stories being told on Dateline as entertainment and less as reality. It is not that they do not realize that the stories are true, but the lines are so blurred that the distinction does become “less and less important” (Storey, 189).





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