Traces Of Modern Mannerism In Today’s Cinema

If you’re not very familiar with the mannerist art movement of the 1500’s, I’ll bring you up to speed.

Chronologically, we have Ancient and Classical art styles varying from ancient Egyptian frescoes to 4th Century arches and mosaics from the eastern Roman Empire(15000BC to ~350AD). Followed by Medieval (most commonly found it bibles) and the Gothic art movement, which can be easily depicted through architecture. The tall pointed arches were a solution to the faults of Romanesque architecture, which gave cathedrals the ability to be built with thinner walls and introduced stained glass windows.

Then came the Renaissance, which began in Italy in the 14th century. Renaissance literally meaning rebirth, describes the revival of interest in the artistic achievements of the Classical world. Here is where you will see a lot of the famous pieces from Leonardo, Raphael, Sandro Botticelli, and Michelangelo. They were vital figures throughout this art movement. Those who produced pieces regarded as embodying the classical notion of perfection. This is the back-bone of my analogy between the Renaissance-Mannerism movement and what I like to call, “Modern Mannerism” that is popping up in cinemas today.

Perfection. It wasn’t until the Renaissance that artists learned to refine the science of perspective. This linear perspective emerged as a remarkable means to capture the world around them. (This was also the same time that cartographers were mapping the surface of the earth using a similar system of mathematical projection). With perspective, along with increased knowledge of the human form and how it works and a greater ability to reproduce these elements onto a canvas is the essence of the Renaissance.

So here we are, the Renaissance is in full swing, all of the representational problems in art had been solved (perspective, dimension, the mechanics of the human form, etc…) and artists began to wonder where to go from here. They had truly reached perfection, which makes you wonder where art would go from there. In the renaissance, artists took nature and learned from it to reach its ‘perfection’. In the next art movement to follow, Mannerism, artists took art to learn from instead.

In Mannerism, figures are purposely positioned by bending and twisting the body with distortions, exaggerations, an elastic elongation of the limbs, bizarre posturing on one hand, graceful posturing on the other hand. Mannerism used these heavily stylized figures, postures, and extremely dramatic themes. Mannerist artwork seeks instability and restlessness, and commonly has very sexual undertones.

Let’s look at how we got to where we are in today’s cinema. 1893, Thomas Edison invents the Kinetoscope, and video is born. 1920, The Silent Era, Black and white video. 1926, Warner Bros. Introduced the Vitaphone system, which was capable of finally adding sound to the videos. Over the next 80 years, technology develops, computers are invented, and the digital era comes into effect.

So here we are, the Digital Era is in full swing, all of the representational problems of displaying video and sound have been solved, and I’m starting to wonder “Where will we go from here?” “What do you do with something that’s already practically perfect?”

I remember watching a movie a few years back called Sin City. If you’ve seen this movie you might already know what I’m getting at. Sin City was co-directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller with “special guest director” Quentin Tarantino, was released on April 1, 2005. In this movie, I’m sure you’ll remember “That Yellow Bastard” aka Roark Junior who looses various parts of his body. Due to rehabilitations treatments, his body however can’t process waste properly, which results in his skin turning bright yellow and making his skin smell like rotting meat. In the unpleasant scenes where you witness this creature you’ll notice his bodies distortions, exaggerations, an elastic elongation of the limbs. These themes seem oddly familiar, Mannerism used these heavily stylized figures, postures, and extremely dramatic themes.

However, this “Modern Mannerism” isn’t confined to distorted bodies. For example, another character from Sin City, Marv, a tough, violent, big bruiser of a man, who has an uncanny athleticism along with a lot of power. His personal code of honor dictates the repayment of debts and a sort of chivalry towards women. He is a classic example of an anti-hero. He sort of reminds me of Conan, but with a trench coat.

I am not saying that Sin City is the revolutionary mannerist movie of the 21st century, but it is most defiantly a big step in that direction.

The movie 300. An adaptation of the graphic novel 300 by Frank Miller, a fictionalized account of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. 30 minutes into this movie and you’ll see the clear cut manneristic styles in this film.

Even beyond the similarities between mannerism and the overall look and feel of this movie, I strongly suggest that you go see this movie or at least experience a trailer or two of it. If you can’t endure an occasional head being sliced off and plenty of blood and guts in combination with some occasional witty comic relief, then go see this movie anyways! At least for the sheer artistic value of the breath-taking CG (Computer Generated) landscapes, skies, women, nasty creatures, and other various visual effects. So, go take an hour and fifty-seven minutes out of your day and experience a taste of today’s cinema moving in a revolutionary direction, towards Modern Mannerism.

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