It’s been printed…
(and now it’s time to do something about filling that empty DVD cover!)
Lisa Kinch: Explorations in Architecture and Urbanism
Readings, thoughts and ideas related to studies at the Manchester School of Architecture
It’s been printed…
(and now it’s time to do something about filling that empty DVD cover!)
The Why Factory
"Close your eyes and picture the city of future. Do you see towering skyscrapers and flying cars? Robots? Advanced computers that control the climate, the built environment and human behaviour?
This is the standard mythology of the antiseptic, automated, technocratic, gadget-dominated future that has been imagined for us by science-fiction novels, television shows, comic books and Hollywood movies. It is also the image of the future that has been branded into the popular consciousness.
The long reach of these influential image production industries allows them to go beyond just making images of the future, and into the realm of actively determining the future of our cities. From Jules Vernes’ 1886 vision of man landing on the moon, to George Orwell’s 1949 depiction on city-wide surveillance systems, what begins as fantasy in the imagination of the creator late becomes the present reality of the world.
Shouldn’t architects and urbanists, then, be the creators of these fantasies and realities? The ones who should be imagining how we will live in the future?
Which of you will be brave enough to look forward and take responsibility for determining what will become of our cities?”
Chapter 2: Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy
Notes made whilst reading the chapter. Apologies in advance for any incomprehensive trains of thought.
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Consider modern world as an interactive system of a new order and density.
Cultural transactions have become much more commonplace.
Previous exchange (sustained cultural transactions) through:
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Forges of cultural gravity tend to pull away from formation of large-scale ecumenes (areas of inhabited land) towards intimacy/interest – this is changing.
—- Common interests: money, commerce, conquest, migration creating cross-societal bonds. Accelerated by technology transfer and innovation.
—- Resulting in permanent flow of ideas of peoplehood and selfhood creating ‘imagined communities’.
Benedict Anderson: ‘print capitalism’, development of mass communication without personal contact – cultural affinities reaffirmed/redefined + technological expansion – even faster exchange now! (transportation and information)
New condition of neighbourliness with those most distant from us. (Easier to make contact over large distance than to speak with next door neighbour!) Relations over distance, creating digital/virtual communities.
Media creating a ‘Global Village’ with no sense of place. Dual nature: theories of rootlessness, alienation, psychological distance as well as electronic propinquity/closeness. Close AND far away.
“…if a global cultural system is emerging, it is full of ironies and resistances.”
Global culture of the hyper-real – how does it affect/influence us?
—- Nostalgia without memory, looking back to a world we have never lost
—- Irony of politics of global cultural flow
Americans hardly live in the present – culture based on the past. Issue is no longer nostalgia, but a ‘social imaginaire’ built around reruns.
— What is the impact of popular culture and can we live in a present without a past?
A world of signs wholly unmoored from their social signifiers – all the world is a Disneyland!
United States no longer a puppeteer of a world system of images, but only one node in a complex network – a ‘transnational construction of imaginary landscapes’. US is, however, one of the MAIN nodes. The world we live in today is characterized by a new role for the imagination in social life.
“The image, the imagined, the imaginary – these are all terms that direct us to something critical and new in global cultural processes: the imagination as a social practice.”
Imagination is no longer considered simple escape, elite pastime, mere fantasy or contemplation. Imagination has become an organised field of social practices – work, negotiation etc. Imagination is now central to all forms of agency.
Imagination is itself a social fact and is ‘the key component of the new global order’.
— Imagination as social practice – work, culture, organisation
Cultural homogenisation vs. cultural heterogenisation – tension!
- homogenisation: Americanization or commoditisation (merging cultures)
- heterogenisation: indigenisation – by absorbing global culture, the indigenous becomes more apparent
“There is always a fear of cultural absorption by polities of larger scale, especially those that are nearby. One man’s imagined community is another man’s political prison.”
New global cultural economy should be seen as complex, overlapping disjunctive order. Can no longer be understood by centre-periphery model but instead as intersecting networks.
There are five dimensions of global cultural flows, previously discussed in post about Economies of Signs and Space.:
They are not objectively given relations, they look different from every angle of vision. They are deeply perspectival constructs and apply at different scales.
Ethnoscapes, technoscapes and financescapes are subject to their own constraints and incentives as well as acting as constraints and parameters for movements in the others.
The five landscapes are building blocks of what Appadurai calls ‘imagined worlds’ – the multiple worlds that are constituted by the historically situated imaginations of persons and groups spread across the globe.
“An important fact of the world we live in today is that many persons on the globe live in such imagined worlds […] and thus are able to contest and sometimes even subvert the imagined worlds of the official mind and of the entrepreneurial mentality that surround them.”
Audiences confused by blurring of boundaries between realistic and fictional landscapes. The farther away audiences are form direct experiences of metropolitan life, the more likely they are to construct imagined worlds very different to actual reality.
“Mediascapes tend to be image-centered, narrative-based accounts of strips of reality, and what they offer to those who experience and transform them is a series of elements out of which scripts can be formed of imagined lives.”
Mediascapes create sets of metaphors by which people live. They help constitute narratives of ‘the Other’ – fear? – desire for acquisition and movement?
Relationship between reading, representation and the public sphere (roots in enlightenment)
Relationship of reading to hearing and seeing varies in important ways around the globe. Determines morphology of ideoscapes as they shape themselves in national and transnational contexts.
—- What does this mean to global cinema?
Current global flows occur in and through the growing disjuncture among Appadurai’s five landscapes. People, money, ideas and images move at great speed, scale and volume – flows are central to politics of global culture.
Deterritorialisation is a central force in the modern world. Permeable boundaries. Ne opportunities for industries thriving on deterritorialised communities in need/search of contact with their homeland.
“…invented homelands, which constitute the mediascapes of deterritorialized groups, can often become sufficiently fantastic and one-sided that they provide material for new ideoscapes in which ethnic conflicts can begin to erupt.”
—can Hollywood build this kind of imagined community?
Ideas and images produced by mass media often are only partial guides to goods and experiences deterritorialised populations transfer to each other.
— Is possible to, as an outsider, understand the process?
Are human relations, ideas of ‘the Other’ damaged/broken down by chaotic mixing of cultures? Female/male relations?
National and international mediascapes can be and are exploited by nation states to pacify separatists or even the potential fissiparousness of all ideas of difference.
— Are we all the same? Can we be? Do we want to be?
States find themselves pressed to stay open by the forces of media, technology and travel. Fuelling consumerism, need/want for commodities and spectacles even in the non-Western world.
Conflicts between ideoscapes and mediascapes!
Martial arts gained popularity through popular films, spurring violence and gun trades (?) – films linking images of violence to aspirations for community in some imagined world. VIOLENCE = COMMUNITY?
Marx’s fetishism of commodity replaced by production fetishism and fetishism of consumer.
Consumer as an actor or as a chooser? Global advertising key technology for worldwide dissemination of ideas of consumed agency.
Is globalisation homogenisation or is it not? It is, at least, using the same methods.
— Revolt against similarity
— Cultural heritage and identity are important
Balance needed: too much openness to global flows – nation state threatened by revolt. To little openness and state exists the international stage.
“…both sides of the coin of global cultural process today are products of the infinitely varies mutual contest of sameness and difference on a stage characterized by radical disjunctures between different sorts of global flows and the uncertain landscapes created in and through these disjunctures.”
How do small groups (families) deal with new global realities when reproducing (and accidentally also reproducing cultural form)?
Transgenerational stability of knowledge
Pains of cultural reproduction in a disjunctive global world are not eased by effect of mechanical art and mass media. They provide useful resources for counternodes of identity against which youth can project parental views or desires. Parent no longer main point of reference. Media providing new role models and aspiration.
What is the role of mass media? What rights and responsibilities could and should it have?
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Appadurai, A. (1996) Modernity at Large. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
Chapter 11: Globalization and Localization (pp.279-313)
Notes made whilst reading the chapter. Apologies in advance for any incomprehensive trains of thought.
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Contemporary nation states are now too small for the big problems of contemporary social life and too big for the small problems. (Raymond Williams)
Thinking globally, acting locally + a global culture of nationality and locality.
Increased permeability of national boundaries.
Two main themes/questions: what happens to/what is society? Are there two parallel processes operating – globalisation AND localisation?
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Recent transformations rendering nation-state societies non-sovereign:
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International societies are characterised by power being dispersed, but where found it is highly concentrated.
How balance local and global? (personal relationships vs. world-wide presence?)
Symbols of place and location, trust etc.
International modern style of architecture (fashion, furniture etc) causing reactions
— Resurgence of locally oriented culture and politics
— Local powers tend to be reactive, resist decisions from centres
Localities of global processes become basis for local economic/institutional and social/cultural growth.
— The local and the global intersect in various places
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Money itself involves a complex dialectic of global AND local processes.
Globalisation of finance depends on particular localisations. (City of London: The Eurodollar market exists in London because people do not believe that the British government is about to close it down. Reputation and history reason for locality.)
Credit’s role as the major basis for de-territorialising the world economy. System of credit separate from the system of production. Money no longer only as means of circulation.
Global credit system is predominantly private, its growth has generated new privatisation of world economy.
New global forms of credit are out of control of nation states, but they (credit) do exert power over them (nation states).
Spatial proximity help sustain trust. Compliance enforced by word of mouth (Eurodollar market placed in London, but consequent growth ruins original properties – properties that had London chosen in the first place!)
— Local conditions desired in a global market?
Cities expanding as result of trade. Aesthetic’ landscape/image of power’ developing.
— Canary Wharf, London and Battery City Park, New York are both vertical injections as opposed to horizontal vernacular landscapes.
— Is the image of power vertical? (Reference to Metropolis and dystopian films. Money = Dystopia?)
With transformation of city came transformation of morals. Previously, people were judged by behaviour/honesty etc. Now people are judged by how much and what they can consume.
Personal success is more important than conformity.
Financial markets have generated three world cities: London, New York and Tokyo. Film markets are generally anchored in London, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo (and Paris, Berlin, Bollywood…) What are the links? Image of power conveyed on screen?
— World cities of finance vs. world cities of film
— Increased agglomeration of central control functions within a few sites, in particular within these three (financial) cities
— Interconnectedness and sharing of culture between these cities because of being anchor points/local gestations of global trends.
— Localities/places influencing global trends rather than banks?
“It is the interactions and connections between these cities and not competition between them which suggest that a global urban system is in the making.” (p.290)
Money is an exceptionally important sign interconnecting with other signs removed from real or material processes. Money functions as a detached signifier, part of the sign-system of postmodern societies. MONEY AS SIGN AND SIGNIFIER.
Globalisation of processes affects levels of poverty, standards of health and the nature and quality of the environment.
Global and local action should complement each other, not compete against each other!
Contemporary problems (and solutions!) are global, but certain aspects of the environment are only comprehensible at local level. For many people, only local action can be envisaged and sustained.
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Society and nature previously seen as two separate spheres. Nature has been seen as a machine rather than an organism, separate from humans. It is a complex, symbiotic relationship and attitudes must change. Male science dominate female nature – again, symbiosis required!
“This domination of ‘nature’ resulted moreover not only from capitalist industrialisation but also from intense inter-state competition and the pursuit of maximum economic growth rather than environmental management.” (p.294)
Money superior to nature?
(Perception of) natural limits depend on historical and geographic determinations –
Nature should be seen as enabler, not as limits!
“What is required is the recognition that each form of social/economic life has its own specific mode and dynamic interrelation with its own specific contextual conditions, resource materials, energy sources and naturally mediated unintended consequences.” (Benton, 1989:77) (p.294)
— Many films speculate what happens when we exceed these restrictions/conditions.
Appropriation of nature. Nature is produced economically, culturally and politically. This produced nature takes revenge on human societies in the most dramatic ways.
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Tourism has redefined land as resource for leisure. Tourism one of the most important ways in which relations between humans and nature are now organised.
— Changing attitudes: LAND + TOURISM = a new way to CONSUME nature?
Reading and production of nature varied. It is learnt and taught differently in different societies, periods and social groups.
Two processes: Household/local issues AND political/social issues
Work has now been replaced by consumption
— Work pride/ethics replaced by pride in possession of consumer goods
…”the pleasure principle becomes dominant. Pleasure seeking is a duty since the consumption of goods and services becomes the structural basis of Western societies.” (p.296)
This principle extends worldwide via global media.
— Are dystopian, return-to-nature films a response to this?
Development of global consumerism has the most profound consequences for the physical environment. Nature turned into an artefact of consumer choice.
Consumerism applied to solution of environmental problems, developing environmental economics – “a sustainable future can be bought within the market place” – is this making matters good or simply ‘less bad’?
Duties and rights of consumer? Awareness! (visual consumption, clean air etc.)
Development of consumerism has helped generate critique of environmental degredation – cultural focus on nature!
— Social construction of preservation of nature. Nature cannot survive without cultural intervention.
Humans are now increasingly considered part of nature (again)
— Humans are thought to have special responsibilities for nature, because of unprecedented powers of global destruction
Reflexivity: re-examining social/cultural practices. (through future film?)
— Reflexivity leading method of Western science, to be constructed as no more legitimate than other social activities.
Science part of problem AND solution.
Nature is increasingly viewed as ‘global’ or ‘holistic’.
— Brundtland Report: Our Common Future.
— Global mass media have assisted in generating an ‘imagined community’ of all societies inhabiting ‘One Earth’. Gaia (Lovelock) – nature as superorganism.
Unborn people are considered to have extensive rights of inheritance. Quality of environment no worse than what it is today. Evolutionary, global rights?
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Three levels of environmental politics:
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Think globally, act locally, 2 implications:
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Global system of agreement similar to banking society – name and shame
GLOBALISATION: “the intensification of worldwide social relation which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by geographically distant events and vice versa.” (Giddens 1990:64) (p.301)
Everything depends on developments elsewhere. Technologies, transportation, communication, subduing/unifying space and producing ‘small worlds’ or ‘imagined worlds’. Signs and images responsible for space-time compression.
Globalisation involves circulation of images. These images depict ‘One Earth’.
Especially attached to countryside, particularly attractive to many social groups – reflecting the anti-urbanism of environmental movement.
— Does this longing to return to nature connect to disaster film? Does something extreme need to happen to enable us to accommodate such a dramatic change?
— Countryside ‘closer to nature’, absence of machines, unplanned environment… There is, however, little unplanned about Western countryside.
— Is the countryside the sustainable option if we need to increase density in our cities to reduce environmental impact?
Different kinds of conservation and preservation. What is indigenous is not absolute – there is no absolute nature!
Reflexivity now enables the production of simulacra, replications of originals more real, or hyper-real, than the original.
The collapse of spatial barriers does not mean that the significance of space is decreasing. The specificity of place becomes more important as temporal and spatial barriers collapse.
— Globalisation generates stronger localities/local identities.
International tourism is a process by which the affluent countries, having mined their own natural environments, now consume those of other people – especially environments consistent with images of the ‘natural’ and ‘unspoilt’ (global circulation of images)
— Again, we are back to consumption! People consume more than their local resources allow and turn to less fortunate areas to keep their habits going…
GLOBAL CULTURE, international media companies, interests in numerous counties.
Global interests – create global culture – international market for products.
Mediatisation of culture by large companies. Strength of companies vs. weakness of consumer.
Does global culture necessarily call for uniformity? Not a global culture, but a number of processes which are producing the globalisation of culture.
Globalisation takes many shapes. Processes are dominant and autonomous from mere inter-state relationships.
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Global networks of communication/information crucial. Symbolic forms transmitted to extended, dispersed audiences. New kinds of social interaction. Appadurai develops this idea and identifies 5 dimensions of global flows in Modernity at Large:
De-territorialisation characterises these spatial landscapes.
Mediascapes are of increasing cultural significance (and overtake ideoscapes!)
— Media above state/religion/ideology?
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People are increasingly consumers of cultures as well and products. Differences between the two are dissolving. Power of consumer: lack of allegiance.
Take into account circumstances in which cultural products are made and received. Read differently in different cultures/communities/countries.
At level of audience there is no sign of ‘global culture’. Increasing contradiction between centralised production and fragmented reception.
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Role of the Cosmopolitan: Cosmopolitan involves intellectual and aesthetic stance of openness to different national cultures. Search for and enjoyment of contrasts. Does not want uniformity.
— Plays important role in production of global culture!
People are increasingly world travellers, directly or via TV. It is part of ‘being taken for a ride’ in consumed culture.
‘Consumer Citizenship’ is developing
Consumption spreading like a disease – once goods have been consumed, countries, cultures and experiences come next. Do we have ‘rights’ to consume ‘other’ cultures?
National cultures are particular, timebound, expressive, eclecticism heavily constrained. Sense of continuity between generations, shared memories of specific events, sense of common destiny.
Global culture: no collective memories, no generational succession, no sacred landscapes, no Golden Age, Importance of images – construction of ethnicity/nationality/invented traditions? Change feelings about national identity.
Is Hollywood creating new, more desirable identities?
Traditional societal institutions less important. New kinds of social identities/sites/institutions emerging.
Women have more global interests – female heroes?
Social identity in imagined community?
Societies no longer obviously govern themselves, and rights, duties and commitments are not simply owed to nation-states.
Mobile objects, reflexive subjects – disorganised capitalism.
Global-local relationships are changing.
New spheres of social activity emerging.
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Lash, S. & Urry, J. (1994) Economies of Signs and Space. London: Sage
Walls Have Feelings: Architecture, Film and the City
Katherine Shonfield teaches Architectural History and Theory, is a partner in an architectural practice, is the deputy editor of the Journal of Architecture as well as writes for the Architects’ Journal. In her 2000 book ‘Walls Have Feelings’, she writes about the relation between film and the built environment. Shonfield applies insights and methodologies from film to the practice of architecture.
Three main elements run through the book:
- An idea of how apparently natural or objective characteristics of space can be interpreted in terms of capitalist activity (pursuit of profit)
- The expression of a ‘quest for purity’ which permeates architectural and urban practice today. (displayed in zero carbon strategies, definition of borders and in many other ways)
- An idea that fictions (especially films and novels) can be used to reveal/explore the unseen workings of architecture.
The relationship between film and architecture, according to Shonfield, seems multi-facetted and must be examined in a number of ways. She draws a parallel between film as representation of the city and dream as representation of life. Alluding to the work of Freud, she writes:
‘If fictional representations of the architecture and the city are understood as the architectural equivalent of the dream record, then their entire status can change.’ (p. 160)
This interpretation of film opens up an interesting array of academic study. Can we, however, be sure that the original assumption, film as dream, is valid?
Meaning and symbolism of architecture in film is a contentious topic. Shonfield expresses surprise over how film-makers can spend more time deciding how objects (buildings/sculptures/squares/spaces) are to be filmed than the time spent originally designing the objects themselves. This originates in the film’s intent to tell a story, meaning that the choice/use of every individual object becomes loaded with meaning. One must also consider this from the viewer’s perspective. The careful choice of symbols in films adds another layer to the narrative and the ability of the viewer to interpret these symbols, can result in a deeper (and more personal?) understanding of the film. There is, of course, always a risk of academic over-interpretation of a film’s symbolism which one must take care to avoid.
Shonfield also points out the complex nature of architecture; the interlinking of practical specifics and cultural meaning. I interpret this as the relationship between form and function as well as space and people (or people in space!) Form, function and logic seem closely interlinked. Shonfield highlights this in the following quote from Henri Lefebvre’s 1991 book ‘Production of Space’:
‘Is it conceivable that a complete correspondence could occur between a visual logic carried to the extreme in built architecture, and a ‘logic of society’ – the strategies inspired by a state bureaucracy?’ (p. 166)
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Shonfield, K. (2000) Walls Have Feelings: Architecture, Film and the City. London: Routledge pp. 154-175
The Machine Stops
E.M. Forster (Pubished 1909)
Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance. There are no apertures for ventilation, yet the air is fresh. There are no musical instruments, and yet, at the moment that my meditation opens, this room is throbbing with melodious sounds. An armchair is in the centre, by its side a reading-desk - that is all the furniture. And in the armchair there sits a swaddled lump of flesh - a woman, about five feet high, with a face as white as a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs.
An electric bell rang.
The woman touched a switch and the music was silent.
'I suppose I must see who it is', she thought, and set her chair in motion. The chair, like the music, was worked by machinery and it rolled her to the other side of the room where the bell still rang importunately. 'Who is it?' she called. Her voice was irritable, for she had been interrupted often since the music began. She knew several thousand people, in certain directions human intercourse had advanced enormously. But when she listened into the receiver, her white face wrinkled into
smiles, and she said:
'Very well. Let us talk, I will isolate myself. I do not expect anything important will happen for the next five minutes - for I can give you fully five minutes, Kuno. Then I must deliver my lecture on “Music during the Australian Period”.'
A short story worth a read - available for free download at Feedbooks
Cinema and the City
Edited by Mark Shiel and Tony Fitzmaurice
Cinema and the City in History and Theory, Mark Shiel pp. 1-18
In his introduction to the book, Shiel announces cinema to be the most important cultural form of the 20th (and, so far, the 21st century) alongside the city as the most important form of social organisation. Hence the title of the book; Cinema and the City. He argues for improved connection between cultural and social studies (film studies and sociology/urban studies) and how both sides can be enriched by interdisciplinary contact. Shiel also talks about cinema as a global industry and talks at length about the globalisation of film (culture) and society (architecture).
Like Stephanie Hemelryk Donald mentioned in her essay ‘Out on a Limb?’ in ‘Visualising the City’, Shiel questions the legitimacy of using L.A (or another American city) as a symbol for the entire Western world. He goes on to question what kind of cities there are and divides them according to the classifications of a number of authors; Saskia Sassen’s Global, Transnational and Subnational Cities and Mike Savage/Alan Warde’s Global Cities, Third World Cities, Older Industrial Cities and New Industrial Districts.
Shiel makes an interesting comment about how there is a network of semi-autonomous cities and megacities that relate more to other cities in this network than to the national or even regional space they occupy. These cities could be perceived as symptoms of globalisation and ‘smoothing out’ of world cultures. The dominance of Hollywood cinema can easily be regarded a threat to regional and national identities and cultures as Western ideas of free market enterprise and individualism are introduced to (imposed on!) other cultures.
Is Hollywood cinema simply an apprenticeship to Western capitalism?
Bunker Hill: Hollywood’s Dark Shadow, Mike Davis, pp. 33-45
Bunker Hill was a hilltop slum overlooking Los Angeles. It was a popular setting for the film noirs of the 1940’s, seen as a broodingly urban and mysterious place very different to L.A. Davis describes how the area, despite poor social statistics had a favela-like sense of community. The community was eventually flattened, its residents moved to the neighbouring Crown Hill only to be replaced by a new, wealthy, upmarket community of museums, bank(er)s and yuppies.
In relation to Bunker Hill, Davies mentions Dickens’ recollection of Five Points - describing the generic Victorian slum as present in his ‘American Notes’.
“This is the place [Five Points], these narrow ways, diverging to the right and left, and reeking everywhere with dirt and filth. Such lives as are led here, bear the same fruits here as elsewhere. The coarse and bloated faces at the doors have counterparts at home, and all the wide world over. Debauchery has made the very houses prematurely old. See how the rotten beams are tumbling down, and how the patched and broken windows seem to scowl dimly, like eyes that have been hurt in drunken frays. Many of those pigs live here. Do they ever wonder why their masters walk upright in lieu of going on all-fours? and why they talk instead of grunting?”
Davis describes how early film industry used an urban landscape already portrayed/defined by writers, photographers and artists. Los Angeles, however, had no compelling image in literature, giving the film industry an immense sense of freedom. He writes that 'LA was a (stage) set, which is to say, it was U-topia: literally, no-place (or thus any place)' (p.35). Films redesigned LA in their own image. Zorro was neighbouring Robin Hood through the Spanish Colonial houses built next to the English Tudor style ones. (Eventually accompanied by the Egyptian inspired villas and pyramid shopping malls). Is this a reason Hollywood so easily found a home?
Cities: Real and Imagined, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, pp. 99-108
'…not depending on the outside world also meant not learning from it.' (p.100)
When film sets replaced the real world, filmmaking no longer benefitted from encountering reality. Concept became everything. Of course, there were major advantages of filming in a studio, including weather independency, no unwanted background noise as well as easier application of special effects. What happened, however, was that the city as protagonist disappeared. (Which, unlike humans, is not a fictional character!)
Naked: Social Realism and the Urban Wasteland, Mike Mason, pp.244-253
Naked is a 1993 film set in a London of sparse anonymity, blurred boundaries between public and private, deserted streets, alleyways and office blocks. I found the following quote from this chapter very relevant:
“Naked promotes a selective construction of the city to further a particular discourse on the fragmentation of personal and communal identities and the coherent social relations that are assumed to follow from these. Through the selective use of locational and temporal zones in the film, emphasis is placed on the isolation and alienation of characters central to the narrative and, through this, typical themes concerning community and economics that may form a generic base for social realist narratives are given a particularly postmodern inflection.” (p.245)
Fitzmautice, T. and Shiel, M. (eds.)(2001) Cinema and the City: Film and Urban Societies in a Global Context. Oxford: Blackwells
Chapter 17 - Dead Cities: A Natural History
Dead Cities is yet another book by Mike Davis relevant to my thesis work. In this chapter, he considers what would happen if people were to disappear from cities and concludes that we currently know more about the ecology of the rainforest than of the city.
As show in studies made in urban disaster zones, war often serves as a catalyst for the expansion of previously rare species of flora. Fire accelerates the transition to this ‘new nature’ - sometimes referred to as Nature II. An example of this type of flora is the ‘fire flowers’ of London which appeared after the Great Fire in 1666. The London Rocket, Sisymbrium irio, was very rare before the disaster. Bomber ecology, as this type of study is sometimes referred to, has been developed relatively far in Berlin after WW2 due to the abundance of urban dead zones.
London Rocket (Sisymbrium irio)
Not only flowers respond to war and disasters. There have been reports of birds responding to bombs and gunfire as if they were simply particularly rigorous rivals. Imagine how strange that must be, hearing a nightingale singing at the top of his lungs as a war is raging around him!
This chapter is prompted by the works of Jefferies and Stewart, both writing about urban life after human civilisation. I have previously written about the 1996 New Scientist article on the issue, written by Laura Spinney. (also prompted by the aforementioned writers!)
Davis discussed four pieces of work relevant to my thesis in this chapter. They are:
- George. R. Stewart, Earth Abides (1949) novel
- Richard Jefferies, After London (1886) novel
- Camilo Vergara, The New American Ghetto (1995) photographs
- Deborah and Rodric Wallace, various writings, especially their ‘cascading supernova model of urban collapse’, which Davis claims resembles Jefferies’ nightmare of a metropolis killing itself with its own toxins.
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Davies, M. (2002) Dead Cities. New York: The New Press. pp. 361-399
Beginning Film Studies
Following a meeting with Dr David Butler, I have been reading chapter 4, Film and Narrative, in Andrew Dix’s book Beginning Film Studies. The hope was to figure out how a film is built up, how you move from one ‘stage’ to another and what important characters, events etc. there are.
I am hoping to learn what stages a dystopian film is split up in and apply these stages to my urban studies. Finding this out will, however, require a little bit of work.
David’s first suggestion was to draw a graph similar to the one below. By studying the situation of a character and mapping it on a graph (positive/negative on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal) it is relatively easy to see how the film is built up. Many characters can be plotted on the same graph to allow comparison.
His second suggestion was to look at works such as the Cinema Redux Project by Brendan Dawes (the film Vertigo shown below). Using this method, one can easily analyse the use of colour (and mood?) in the film. Will dystopian films be black/brown and dirty?
Another way of mapping the narrative could be (I don’t know if it’s even possible!) to draw the narrative lines as roads on a map; follow the twists and turns, detours and dead ends to create a ‘city plan’ of the film.
Dix writes in his book about Vladimir Propp, a Russian formalist who wrote about film and narrative. He developed his own theory relating to Russian fairytales and condensed all stories to contain seven spheres of action (characters) and 31 functions (major events/storylines). The spheres of action include:
- the Villain
- the Dispatcher
- the Helper
- the Princess (and her father!)
- the Donor
- the Hero
- the False Hero
It may be interesting to see if these characters still apply to dystopian films and what impact these constrictions may have.
The ‘standard’ narrative is said to be equilibrium – disequilibrium – equilibrium restored. This may not necessarily be true for dystopian films.
Dix also mentions, interestingly, that a film played backwards can produce an almost utopian experience where people are resurrected, wounds heal and the minerals used to create the bombs are returned safely to the ground.
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Dix, A. (2008) Beginning Film Studies. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
More Books to Read
Bordwell, D. (2006) The Way Hollywood Tells it: Story and Style on Modern Movies. Berkeley, California: London: University of California Press
Butler, D. (2009) Fantasy Cinema: Impossible Worlds on Screen. London: Wallflower
Clarke, D. B. (1997) The Cinematic City. London: Routledge
Davies, M. (2002) Dead Cities. New York: The New Press.
Dick, P. K. (1999) A Scanner Darkly. London: Millenium
Dix, A. (2008) Beginning Film Studies. Manchester: Manchester University Press
Fitzmaurice, T. & Shiel, M. (2001) Cinema and the City: Film and Urban Societies in a Global Context. Oxford: Blackwell
Redmond, S. (2004) Liquid Metal. London: Wallflower Press.
Spinney, L. (1996) Return to Paradise. New Scientist. Issue 2039, pp. 26-31.
Another Three Chapters from Visualizing the City
by Alan Marcus and Dietrich Neumann
Notes made whilst reading further chapters
Chapter 8: The City Being Itself? The case of Paris in La Haine
Francois Penz, pp. 143-157
According to Penz, there are different kinds of cities in films:
- Real Cities (on location)
- Reconstructed Cities (in studio)
- Virtual Cities (produced digitally)
Penz himself is only concerned with the first, the Real Cities, in his analysis of La Haine (1995) and how it represents Paris and its suburb Chanteloup-Les-Vignes. The suburb was built in the 1970’s, designed by architect Emile Aillaud in collaboration with artist Fabio Rieti. Because of the large murals on a number of buildings and oversized sculptures scattered about, Penz suggests that Chanteloup-Les-Vignes presents elements of a utopian architectural vision. Rather poignant, since it became the setting for a dystopia both on film and in real life.
La Haine was filmed in full colour, but the final output is in black and white. This was a conscious decision, where the BW effect has been used to transform and unify the film. Colours were deemed distracting and counteracting the director’s vision. Other visual strategies used to explore the concepts of suburb vs. city and express or deny a sense of belonging include:
- depth of field
- use of perspective
An important term used is ‘referential space’, whereby a film often is identified from the outset, and rooted both geographically, socially and historically.
Penz concludes the chapter by elaborating on the impact of architecture in film:
“City planners and decision makers can use the moving image to harness the power of cinema to promote an identity. This makes it crucial for designers, architects and planners to be able to understand better the mechanisms through which they, too, can convey their vision of a future city.” (p. 155)
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Chapter 9: Composing London Visually
Robert Tavernor, pp. 159-178
Tavernor analyses how London is designed from a series of viewpoints around and within the city. Ant planning decisions made include assessments of the development’s visual impact on photographically recorded images of London from fixed viewing points. This approach to planning is unique to London, and is incredibly interesting from a cinematic point of view.
He refers to Camillo Sitte and his statement that city planning could, and should, be seen as art and uses this to argue that all urban planning should be considered in the same fashion. Sitte’s principles are also shown to be present in the 2000 By Design document by DETR.
Is determining the future vision of a city based on (selected!) static views really a good thing? As Tavernor points out;
“We experience cities kinetically” (p. 176)
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Chapter 12: Rain in the City
Jill Stoner, pp. 217-236
Stoner presents a critique of filmic and cinematic aspects of the city and discusses the architectural potentials of transparency (film) and motion (cinema). Her essay is a call for fantasy, for producing fantastic images and asking them to enter our urban life. But, the inherent problem of the fantastic is, that once it is realised it can no longer be just that - fantastic. The crucial distinction is whether it is in front or behind our eyes. The point of fantasies, according to Stoner, is not to construct them. But:
“Fantasy serves another purpose – to alert us to what is missing in our cities, without necessarily suggesting its form.” (p. 217)
Stoner goes on to talk about rain at length. To her, rain is ‘blurry and imprecise’. Its formlessness can, even in a city, suggest an absence of architecture, setting free our imagination. Perhaps this blur can hold clues to a redefinition of architecture;
“…it acts both literally and metaphorically as an agent of chaos, of emptiness and of chance, and these three qualities offer liberating alternatives to the current conventions of urban design” (p. 219)
Perhaps the rainy, blurry, imprecise dystopia of Blade Runner can act as a starting point of utopian designs of future cities?
Out on a Limb? Urban Traumas on the West Pacific Rim
Stephanie Hemelryk Donald
Chapter 7 in Visualising the City pp. 127-142
Edited by Alan Marcus and Dietrich Neumann
The 9/11 attacks made a bold statement on the cinematic hierarchy of world cities. The attack on the New York skyline was as taken from one of numerous American disaster films. The Western world reacted strongly, as if home had been hit. Has the sheer number of prominent American disaster films conditioned us to think of New York (or Los Angeles, or any other large American city) as a symbol for the entire Western world?
If it can happen in America, can it happen in Europe too?
The main question Donald asks is why American film involves so much destruction of suburban architecture and of city landmarks. She presents three immediate reasons:
- The pleasure afforded and curiosity caused by illusions of
destruction and catastrophe (the same reason we slow down to
look at road accidents)
- The advanced skills and technological infrastructure available more
readily available to filmmakers in America
- The traditions of slapstick in American film comedy
Donald’s essay makes many references to Mike Davis’ books Ecology of Fear (1999) and Dead Cities (2002) and in turn discuss, analyse and critique parts of his work.
(I keep noticing a pattern of cross referencing between a number of authors and cannot help but wonder how legitimate their writings are if they all keep referring to each other’s work in a closed circle of ‘friends’.)
Davis offers another reason to the question about destruction in American cinema. He speculates that disasters can be read as an allegory of contemporary urban character and despair, that film makers express disintegration and despair in urban communities through visions of destruction (and hope for a new beginning?).
Donald recommends the last chapter of Davis’ Dead Cities. I will try to find it at a later date - hopefully it will be useful.
Returning to the main question, Donald writes that “disaster is not necessarily crucial to the grammar of national cinemas, other than American" (p.130, emphasis added). So, in relation to Davis’ comments about destruction being an indicator of despair, are there any other ways in which cities on film can deal with fear and loathing? Often, the city represents or at least acknowledges the chaos and indeterminacy (both in real life and on film!) through the darkness lurking in the backstreets of the modern idyll where its inhabitants may nor may not consider capitalism as a necessary evil.
If the city itself represents this uneasy atmosphere, when does it stop? The city does not close or rest, and as Donald point ou, the end of the film is often considered a respite and not a final ‘coming to rest’. The city order is itself based on doubt and uncertainty. Does it ever stop?
The final part of Donald’s essay I want to mention is when she draws reference to Freud’s story about a boy who loves playing a game of disappearance and return. (i.e. throwing his toys away into a messy corner of his room and taking great delight in searching for and eventually finding it) She compares this story to American film cinema, with the victim-self is the saviour, interpreter as well as creator of the event. A kind of self-inflicted critical dystopia.
"In American disaster films, the worst is confirmed, the loss of America, on the grounds that the best must still be possible, the continuation of America." (p.140)
On a slightly different note, Donald writes about how we learn/write most about American films, much because American cinema has established itself as the international standard for commercial genre films. European cities, when they are mentioned or studied, usually include London, Paris and Berlin (and sometimes Rome). If focusing on an European film for my thesis case study, Upside Down may prove a good contender. Based on the trailer (the film is not yet released) there seem to be a number of parallels to Berlin and East/West Germany. Existing case studies on Berlin cinema would, indeed, be useful.
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Marcus, A. and Neumann, D. (2007) Visualising the City. Abingdon: Routledge.
The VJ of Everyday: Remixing the Urban Visual
Chapter 10 in Visualising the City pp.181-196
Edited by Alan Marcus and Dietrich Neumann
(note the Metropolis set design cover image by Erich Kettelhut, Otto Hunte and Karl Vollbrecht. These designs were heavily influenced by Hugh Ferriss. This image also appears on the cover of Annette Kuhn’s Alien Zone II. The edition I have has got an image of the light memorial of the Twin Towers)
In 2005, a conference called ‘Visualising the City’ was held at the University of Manchester. The event brought together some 150 speakers in the space of three days. (Split into groups by subject area – it would have been impossible to hear all of them!)
One of the speakers was Scott Burnham. He describes himself as an ‘urban strategist, creative director and writer, reprogramming our relationship with design and the city’. He has written chapter 10 ‘The VJ of Everyday: Remixing the Urban Visual’ in the book called ‘Visualising the City’. (The book is edited by the chair and a speaker from the Manchester conference – I don’t know if their 2007 book is somehow inspired by the 2005 conference…)
This chapter is a bit farfetched in relation to the rest of my work, but some interesting thoughts came out of it. Burnham writes about a sense of ‘here’ (as in ‘I like it here’ or ‘I live here’) and how this ‘here’ can be very small or rather big. He expresses a personal longing for a big ‘here’ after telling a story about a lady who limits her sense of ‘here’ to her small New York loft apartment.
A sense of belonging, of ‘here’, is about creating a personal relevance within what Burnham calls ‘deeply impersonal urban landscapes’. He speculates that increased urban density increases the desire for personal connectivity. As a result, the definitions of the public/private and legal/illegal blur. (He gives an example where illegal graffiti becomes art when it is accepted/liked/approved by the community)
I wonder if complete disconnection from our immediate (county/city/neighbourhood/street) surroundings could be considered a small scale (or even private?) urban dystopia.
With regard to disconnection, Davies and Parrinder write in their article ‘Part of the Process’:
“Spontaneous social relations are vanishing in the information age as communication becomes restricted to particular areas of consumption: coffee shops, pubs and bars, art galleries and so on.” P.21
Is social isolation part of a developing urban dystopia? And is consumption, previously described as the penultimate utopia (the shopping mall and Disneyland again!) nothing but a restrictive dystopia?
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Marcus, A. and Neumann, D. (2007) Visualising the City. Abingdon: Routledge.
Davies, C. and Parrinder, M. (2006) ‘Part of the Process’, Eye, 59 (Spring): 18-25
Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and other Science Fictions
In the introduction of his book Archaeologies of the Future, Jameson describes how utopia has always been a political issue. Utopia, especially in literature can be ambiguous, vague and subject to doubt since both the literary form itself and the political values the utopia is founded on are always subject to debate, review and opinion.
The way we view utopia today is very different from how utopia was viewed during the Cold War (an example used by Jameson). During the war, utopia was a synonym for Stalinism. Utopia was imposed on ‘reluctant subjects’. Time is not the only thing changing our views on utopia. Other factors, such as geographical location, history, and personal experiences play vital roles in forming our concept of utopia.
As mentioned in a previous post, Mannheim describes utopia as a ‘complex of ideas directing activity toward the changing of the status quo’, and Jameson makes a good argument regarding the idea of utopia:
“…our imaginations are hostages to our own mode of production (and perhaps to whatever remnants of past ones it has preserved). It suggests that at best Utopia can serve the negative purpose of making us more aware of our mental and ideological imprisonment […] and that therefore the best Utopias are those that fail the most comprehensively.” (p.xii)
So, whatever we imagine, it is based on thing we have already seen or experienced. Like Homer’s chimera (again an example used by Jameson) it is an imagined three-headed animal – a lion’s head where one would expect to find it, a goat’s head protruding from it’s back and finally a serpent’s head on the end of it’s tail. An imaginary creature clearly constituted by parts of existing creatures.
If this is how we imagine other worlds/societies – or even utopia – can we ever reach a valid idea or conclusion? If everything we imagine will always be heavily influenced by our own, private experiences as well as time/culture/world/society we live in, can we ever be sufficiently objective?
(I also don’t know whether I agree with Jameson’s statement that making us more aware of our mental and ideological imprisonment would be a negative thing. Surely, the first step to change (or improve?) this condition is to be aware of it.)
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Jameson, Fredric (2007) Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. London and New York: Verso.
Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination
Moylan’s book Demand the Impossible (named after a Parisian wall slogan in May 1968) starts by introducing the concept of critical utopia both in literature and the imagination. This post will be a summary of relevant quotes from the book.
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"Utopian writing in its many manifestations is complex and contradictory. It is, at heart, rooted in the unfulfilled needs and wants of specific classes, groups, and individuals in their unique historical context." (p. 1)
"The literary utopia developed as a narrative form in times of deep change, and it has continued to thrive in tumultuous moments since the sixteenth century. This is not to say that utopias are written only in times of crisis, but the form itself is suited to the sort of discourse which considers both what is and what is not yet achieved.” (p. 3, emphasis added)
"Utopia grew up with capitalism and the new world [America] as its godparents while the underlying social and personal yearnings and sufferings were its immediate progenitors." (pp. 4-5)
"In western industrial societies, utopian longing can be discovered as the underlying stimulus to the machinery of advertising or, perhaps most strikingly, in those living maps of restrictive pleasure which carry the passive consuming audience along in a totally managed environment, Disneyland and Disneyworld." (p. 8) (Here it is again - Disneyland!)
"Mannheim defines ideology as the complex of ideas directing activity toward the maintenance of the status quo and utopia as the complex of ideas directing activity toward the changing of the status quo." (p. 18) (reference no 10 - check book)
"Fantasy has a truth value of its own, which corresponds to an experience of its own - namely, the surmounting of the antagonistic human reality. Imagination envisions the reconciliation of the individual with the whole, of desire with realization, of happiness with reason. While this harmony has been removed into utopia by the established reality principle, phantasy insists that it must and can become real." (p. 25) (reference no 20 - check book!)
"For ‘realistic’ as science fiction and utopian fiction may appear on the surface, they are forms of the romance which are meditations upon deep conflicts in the historical present that are displaces onto the terrain of an other-worldly locus so that the reader, consciously or unconsciously, can see her or his society and its contradictions in a fresh and perhaps motivating light." (p. 32)
"Simplistic reading of these genres speak of their ‘predicting’ or ‘planning’ the future as though they were the narrative tools of some futurological technocrat. On the contrary, utopia and science fiction are most concerned with the current moment of history, but they represent that moment in an estranged manner." (p. 35)
"Utopia is literally out of this world, a negation of reality." (p. 40)
"Science fiction demonstrated our incapacity to imagine the future and brings us down to earth to apprehend out present in all its limitations." (p. 42)
"The critical utopian imagination seems to have learned from Mao The Tung’s dictum that contradictions would persist in society even after the revolution or, indeed, from Derrida’s arguments for continual deconstruction.” (pp. 44-45, emphasis added)
"Utopian desires for a just and free society were suppressed and redirected into the static products of consumer capital - perhaps best imaged in those twin architectural figures that signify affluent society: the shopping mall and Disneyland." (p. 47)
"The critical utopia, read at the level of the ideologeme, becomes a meditation on action rather than on system. The false utopia created by postwar consumerism which required a passive consumer is deconstructed in favor of the more radical utopia that re-engages the gears of active human resistance and creation." (p. 49)
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Moylan also offers a range of definitions of utopian texts, too many and too lengthy to be quoted here. If curious, refer to chapter 3: The Literary Utopia (pages 32-33 and 36)
Moylan, Tom (1986) Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination. London: Methuen.