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Representations of Modernity and Modern Architecture in the Science Fiction Film Genre

Part 1 Dissertation 2008
Ian Townsend
University of Lincoln Lincoln UK
Modern architecture and Modernity has had a considerable and unique impact upon film. Similarly film was able to execute modern designs on a scale that Modernism itself never attained. Today in the age of mass media films are much more widely distributed than at any other point in history and seem set to be seen by many of the future and aspiring architects of tomorrow. As such how the architecture of the future city is presented within the genre becomes of great importance.

Film and in specific the science fiction film genre often illuminates the cultural archaeology of the time of it’s inception, expressing through it’s form, the narrative and it’s iconography the hopes and concerns of the society and time it was generated within.

Starting with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1929), one of the first Science Fiction Films, I position Metropolis, its setting and story within a historical, social and political context to establish the genre’s initial response to Modernity and Modernist architecture. Continuing the discussion I compare Kurt Wimmers’ Equilibrium (2002), a contemporary Science Fiction Film with Metropolis and other Science Fiction Films in the intervening period to establish how Modernism and Modernity are portrayed today.

I argue a post-structuralist position suggesting that meaning is not natural to or inherent within the modernist architectural vocabulary but that it has acquired negative meanings and connotations of fascism by historical association and its use in expressing the political hierarchies and social divisions within the narrative. Furthermore I discuss how through the processes of intertextuality this negative association has become a convention of the genre, continuing to propagate a negative view of Modernity and Modern Architecture in the contemporary science fiction film.

Ian Townsend

Ian Townsend's dissertation carefully sets out the manner in which modernist architecture in film has become associated with a particular kind of calculated reasoning, and often contributes a message of political power to the narrative. Films use architecture as visual shorthand to tell viewers everything they need to know about the characters in a short amount of time. Only a few seconds are required to impart who the players are and whether they are on their way up, or down, as well as the context in which this takes place. Modern architecture plays a specific role in this dialogue. Townsend leads the reader on a direct path from the familiar modern sets of one of the most seminal and familiar films of the early twentieth century, Lang's Metropolis, to a less well known film of the 21st century, Equilibrium. An attentive and thoughtful student, Townsend's readings have been broad, taking in not only how to interpret film in an architectural context, but also looking beneath the smooth, polished, streamlined surfaces of modernism. Carefully combining factual architectural history with original interpretation of the film Equilibrium, Townsend demonstrates how the modern architecture of the fascist era in Rome and Berlin conveys effectively the chill sophistication and utter lack of humanity at any time in a manner that reveals much about our own.

Dr Carl O'Coill
Renee Tobe
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