violence

Guy Bourdin: The World of Strange Fantasies

Let’s talk about stepping over the lines of the safety zone through art and fashion. Perfectionism, violence, surrealism and eroticism. One name embodies it all – Guy Bourdin, a controversial and incredibly influential French photographer.

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“My pictures are just accidents. I am not a director, merely the agent of chance”

I remember sitting in a class dedicated to analysis and the use of violence in the media, it was one of the few interesting, contemporary subjects I really enjoyed dealing with throughout that year’s semester. We studied numerous films and TV commercials while trying to detect over the top, degrading content,  discussing whether the violent or sexual scenes are acceptable and art worthy or completely unnecessary, used only to shock and get attention.

After movies we focused on commercials and fashion editorials that are regularly filled with nudity, painfully obvious sexual allusions, glorification of drugs, weird, even gore images that have nothing to do with the product… One of the examples that stood out and made people react in a second were a couple of posters showing female legs in stockings and high heels, one of the photos was particularly provocative as it featured a woman photographed from the behind. She is wearing black stilettos and sexy fishnets and seems to be reaching for something or maybe falling down into the unknown, making us look at her body placed in an unusual, exploitative position.

That was one of Guy Bourdin’s most famous photographs, the one I had printed on a A4 size paper and glued to the wardrobe with a chewed up bubble gum. At the time, I didn’t know much about Bourdin’s work, I stumbled upon his photos in an old fashion magazine while I was sitting in my dentist’s waiting room. Where else, right? Who buys that shit anymore? While you’re sitting and waiting for a minor surgery that is about to take place in your mouth, you’re not happy or inspired or focused, you just need something to play with until your name gets called.

But, here’s the thing, of course I didn’t read a single article, I didn’t care about Keira Knightley’s style secrets interview, I totally ignored ‘this summer must have recommendation list’, but while flipping through those pages I saw something that made me go back and stare. It was a throwback to Bourdin’s 1979 Autumn campaign for Charles Jourdan brand. It is the same series of photos where the one from my wardrobe came from and each one was captivating because it was something I had not seen before. The photos in the magazine showed legs wearing high heeled shoes. Just legs, cut from the knee down. It was one of the many shoe editorials Bourdain made. The photos were surreal, I didn’t find them beautiful, attractive or aesthetically pleasing, but the fact that they gave me a moment of ‘out of this world experience’ was more than enough to intrigue me.  I wrote down his name on my phone in case I forget later (the fact that he had a French name made me even more interested).

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You are familiar with the epic line marketing campaign ‘experts’  love to (over)use whenever the opportunity presents itself: ‘SEX SELLS!’, they scream as they make a two-minute toothbrush commercial where half of the time we see a closeup of a very young and beautiful girl eyeing the man of her dreams while holding that brush. She is vigorously moving it around her mouth, in and out, and back in, smiling like she’s experiencing the greatest joy of her life. You’ve seen it all, they push sexual allusions into situations where it ends up looking far away from wanted sexy appeal, rather ridiculous and awkward. Sex is the most talked and thought about topic, right next to politics unfortunately, but placed in an artificial surroundings it just doesn’t work. But who cares, as long as it draws attention and invites us to comment the stupidity of the creative mind behind the genius idea.

Guy Bourdin

This is where Bourdain was a master – direct, but not trashy , although ridiculous if you take things and his obsession with detail out of the context. And he’s just not all about sex like those Dolce & Gabbana gang rape adverts. Even though there will always be criticism towards Bourdain’s objectification of women and depersonalizing them, turning them into victims and subordinated, weak characters, I never decided to explore that side of his work and pulling it through feministic social critique filter. Maybe I was afraid it would made me not like his work anymore and I didn’t want to ruin something that was so mesmerizing to me. Maybe I just didn’t care in this case, because I don’t look at the models in simulated death scenes in Bourdain’s photos as the victims. Maybe a very primal sensation, a voyeur in me doesn’t let me turn against this world of sexual fantasy and making me accept it as simply controversial. Contorversial is cool, even necessary. Fashion is all about objectification and commodity, so it’s always a relief when I find someone whose work overpasses those elements shows creativity and expression in their purest form.

Using Tarantino’s quotes as a conclusion sentence is always the best idea:

Why graphic violence? BECAUSE IT’S SO MUCH FUN! 

Guy Bourdin exclusive

 

 

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Reservoir Dogs & the Aestheticization of Violence

What I’m about to post is an English translation of a part of the favourite essay I have written by now. I chose this topic as an assignment for a class called Media and Violence. The essay is all about my favourite American director Quentin Tarantino, also, this particular piece of it focuses mostly on the analysis of screen violence and it’s influence on the viewer in Tarantino’s first-born, the legendary Reservoir Dogs. The main question inflicts itself: was all that blood really necessary?

The formal expression most commonly attributed to the work of director Quentin Tarantino is the aestheticization of violence. The inevitable violence is also the central  topic for the biggest critics and those who disapprove his work. The term aestheticization of violence includes all kinds of violent behaviour or images that suggest violence in high culture and mass media; violence which is presented in movies, fashion, TV shows and the rest of the media world.

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Tarantino as Mr. Brown in Reservoir Dogs

When it comes to art, the aestheticization of violence and death is very much present since the early age, especially in the western culture. Why has violence always been such an important part of art, cultural critic Susan Sontag explains as the universal human desire for images of pain and violence, it is the same as our universal desire for looking at the naked bodies. Sontag also thinks that people feel a certain amount of satisfaction while watching that kind of content because they feel they can take it without wanting to look away. In case they do look away, they feel satisfied, but in a different way. Kind of like a win-win situation.

Of course, an abundance of violent scenes is not something typical for Tarantino’s movies only, there is a great number of directors who use it, I will mention the most memorable ones like David Lynch, Guy Richie and Ridley Scott. Hollywood cinematography is present in the entire world, produces the most violent movies, but also attributes most to the aestheticization and presentation of violence as a form of artistic expression.

The critics have different opinions about the aesthetics of violence, there are two main theories most of the talk about: the habituation theory and the catharsis theory. The habituation theory suggest that the more we consume violent content in movies or TV shows, we decrease our sensibility to violence, violent behaviour becomes normal and usual to us. It is often presumed that movie violence is superficial and senseless, it is used only to get the attention, and eventually has a negative influence on the audience who’s members can become violent themselves.

The opposed side considers violence to be a part of the content, important asset to the movie’s plot, it has a chatartic effect on the viewer who’s tendency for violent behaviour decreases. Australian movie critic Adrian Martin defends and explains  the use of violence in the movies:  „ … violence on-screen is not real and mustn’t be confused with real life violence. Movie violence is fun, spectacular, acted, it is a dramatic metaphor. (…) It has gone through its historical changes,  has its codes, precise aesthetic benefits.”

Now it’s time to apply the theory through the examples, and my first pick was my favourite Tarantino movie which was also his first, break through project from 1992 – Reservoir Dogs.

This influential piece of independent movie history tells a seemingly simple story: it begins with eight men who don’t know each other (they don’t even reveal their names or anything about their identity) who have planned a diamond robbery, but the whole deal doesn’t really go as smoothly as they’ve expected. Nonlinear narrative combined with many gore, bloody scenes leads the viewer through the story and gets him to know the characters.

Those violent scenes and extent use of profanities were the reason for a big discussion right after the movie premiered. While some were impressed with the scenery and amazing acting performances, some scenes were too much to handle for a part of the audience.  The scene that cause the biggest ‘fuss’ is the one with Mr. Blonde (played by Michael Madsen) dancing and having loads of fun while brutally torturing a policeman by cutting his ear off. On many occasions the viewers would leave the cinema because of this particular scene. On the other hand, it has become one of the iconic scenes of the modern cinema, along with the song Stuck in the Middle with You performed by the Stealers Wheel.

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The infamous ‘ear scene’ with Michael Madsen

Tarantino’s answer to the numerous question about how Reservoir Dogs could inspire the increase of violence among its viewers went a little like this: Well, you can’t arrest me for something some pussy could do after he watches the movie. The moment when artists are blamed for stuff like that, that doesn’t have anything to do with art anymore.

Along with that, there are also negative comments concerning political (in)correctness – the movie is filled with aggressive racist dialogs, demeaning conversations towards women, and there’s also an important fact – there is not a single female role in the movie. To explain the racist part, all the criminals are white males, in this case they are the ones who have adopted the cool gangster image.

Verbal violence and overuse of profanities has become a common trade of Tarantino’s movies, in Reservoir Dogs he implemented swear words wherever it was possible (fuck is pronounced 269 times), we could assume it was his way of attracting attention and desire to bring something new to the crime movie genre. At the time those movies were getting less and less popular, Tarantino is the one that renovated the genre and brought it back to life. The critics love to say that Tarantino glorifies violence, tries to make it seem appealing, but closer look at those stylized scenes and pop culture references bring us to a different conclusion. Violent scenes are exaggerated, choreographed, attention consuming, but they are very far from reality.

Stylization that is created on exaggeration and repetition keeps  the viewer  in the safe distance, the difference between the real  and imaginary world is very clear. We have our world on one side, and Tarantino’s creations on the other. If you appreciate his creation, enjoy it, if not, don’t watch it and just let him be.