PCMS: Rosalind Galt on the Decorative

Please join us for the next Philadelphia Cinema and Media Seminar talk:

Pretty Things: Cinema's Geopolitics of the Decorative
Rosalind Galt, University of Sussex

Respondent: Elena Gorfinkel, Bryn Mawr College

Friday, January 23, 5:30PM
Temple Univ. Center City room 420

Part of a book project on the “pretty” in cinema, this paper analyzes the aesthetics and politics of the decorative, focusing on the Orientalist mise-en-scène of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge (2001). Luhrmann provides an case study of the fate of pretty films; relatively popular, his work is nonetheless often dismissed as superficial and lacking authenticity, while his melodramatic emphasis on production design and color accrues technical awards rather than critical or scholarly interest. Historicizing this mode of critique, and drawing on Moulin Rouge’s many intertexts, this paper locates cinematic decorative style within nineteenth and early twentieth-century discourses on aesthetics, art history and interior design, particularly in regard to the question of Orientalism. The decorative and Orientalism have frequently been linked, and the colonial critic’s rejection of Oriental style as inferior is strangely echoed in postcolonial
criticism’s rejection of it as colonialist. This uniformity of rejection is striking, given the ideological opposition of the discourses, and suggests an intriguing persistence of the decorative as a formal figuration of troubled politics. This paper seeks to explore this figuration in cinema,
and suggests that in Moulin Rouge’s production of Orientalist décor, we find an articulation of femininity, geopolitics and the desirable object of exchange that makes it a uniquely useful meeting point for understanding the sexual and racial economies of cinematic spectacle.


Rosalind Galt is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at The University of Sussex. Her broad research areas include film theory, comparative European cinemas, global cinemas since 1945, critical theory and studies of gender and sexuality. She has written widely on European cinemas post-World War II, with a focus on how film histories and forms intersect with political histories and geopolitics. This research includes both popular international films (for example from Italy and former Yugoslavia) and avant-garde movements (such as the Catalan Barcelona School). Her current projects include a book on film theory, aesthetics and sexual politics (addressing directors such as Christopher Doyle, Derek Jarman and Claire Denis), and a co-edited collection re-conceptualising the category of 'art cinema' in the era of globalisation and 'world cinema'.

Elena Gorfinkel is an instructor at Bryn Mawr College. Her dissertation, "'Indecent Desires': Sexploitation Cinema, 1960s Film Culture, and the Adult Film Audience,"is a history of low budget American sexploitation films of the 1960s. Her essay on the first erotic film festivals in the early 1970s, published in Framework, received honorable mention in the Society for Cinema
and Media Studies' Katherine Singer Kovacs Essay Award (2008). She is currently co-editing a book of collected essays on the materiality of place and geographical location in cinema and media titled The Place of the Moving Image with John David Rhodes (Univ. of Minnesota Press, forthcoming.) Elena's research and teaching interests include feminist and queer theory, gender and sexuality studies, women's filmmaking practice, outsider and "marginal" cinemas, 1960s film culture, international art cinema, theories of taste & high/low culture, cinephile criticism, histories of film reception and moviegoing, and film historiography.

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