Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

The Darkest Timeline

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            Key in the understanding of postmodernism is the eradication of the difference between “popular” and “high” art; indeed the postmodern creed allows for the “popular” to become elevated into the realm of “high” art (Malpas, 21). This elevation of pop art allows for a “democratisation of art,” freeing artists to do non-classical types of work, thereby expanding “the forms and techniques that might be counted as artistic [and allowing for] the involvement of sections of the community” who had previously not been considered artistic to create “high” art (Malpas, 20). Postmodernism, as John Storey describes it, is a “populist attack on the elitism of modernism;” rather than accepting that the ideas of past eras as canon, postmodernists insist that all those who came before were asking and answering the wrong questions through their art (Storey, 405).

            In Baz Luhrmann’s award winning musical, Moulin Rouge!, the postmodernist philosophy can be seen in action. Set in 1899, the middle of France’s famous Belle Époche,  in the bohemian Montmarte district of Paris, considered part of the city’s underworld, the film sets out to redefine our understanding the era’s art. In the film, cabaret, a highly popular and successful nightclub/theater style is elevated from, smutty, “popular” art, to glamorous, “high” art; while the star of the titular cabaret of Moulin Rouge!, the courtesan/prostitute Satine, is too elevated from lady of the night to star. Indeed the other main character, Christian, represents the “democratisation of art,” as he, almost by accident, is able to gain access to this glamorized world in order to produce a play (Malpas, 20). This elevation creates a certain desirability in what could otherwise be considered an undesirable situation.

            In the scene El Tango de Roxanne,” the glossy façade begins unravel, as the viewer is shown the dark realities of courtesan life in the Montmarte district. Satine, faced with the choice between losing everything she dreams of, or sleeping with the despicable Duke, reveals herself as a true courtesan, sacrificing her body for the sake of the production. As she prepares consummate this sacrifice, her lover, Christian, and the Argentinian, Koman, sing a mashup of Roxanne (a song written and performed by The Police, themselves part of the postmodern, populist New Wave genre of the 1980’s) and the Tango. With the lyric “you don’t have to sell your body to the night,” makes the view painfully aware of the situation, creating questions about “what sort of world is being created” in this moment of the text (Malpas 24). The viewer is left with no doubt that these characters, despite their previous allure, are creatures of the underworld, as Zidler, the owner of the titular cabaret of Moulin Rouge!, is so keen to remind Satine throughout the film. 



HAL 9000 is a perfect example of a simulacrum as he (I guess its a he…?) exists without existing, he is “hyperreal,” appearing and interacting with other characters despite lacking a physical form. Indeed, on a base level, HAL 9000 is nothing but a string of binary, rendering him fully in the realm of the simulacrum. 


ALSO! In my book is probably the second best use of “Roxanne,” with the best being in the episode “Remedial Chaos Theory” of Dan Harmon’s Community.



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