Costume cinema is not only a reproduction of the realities of the past, but also an opportunity for an unusual play with meanings, which allows both to reproduce the forms of clothing that have gone from us, and to translate the meanings of the past into modern language with the help of clothing. Ilya Ryzhenko talks about the use of anachronisms in historical cinema and how this changes our view of the position of queers and non-white people in the past.
It is generally accepted that the value of costume dramas lies in their pedantic attitude to the past: promotional materials of "serious" historical dramas constantly talk about that. How their creators turned to numerous academics and experts to reproduce the historical era in its entirety, and countless moviegoers on the Internet are waiting for the opportunity to notice stupid bloopers in a high-budget picture. But if for one movie, a member of the crew sitting in jeans in a gladiatorial fight scene would be a disaster, then in a more experimental movie, such an episode may be absolutely appropriate. The question arises: do directors and screenwriters generally have a duty to present history "as it was"? Is it likely that films, deliberately distorting the events of the past in their own way, provide a more accurate picture of life in the past? Than a meticulously detailed costume movie?
In the first battle of Ridley Scott's epic novel "Gladiator," the protagonist Maximus's companion is a charming German Shepherd. This is a historical inaccuracy - in fact, the breed of German shepherds was bred only at the end of the 19th century, so the best friend of the Roman soldier was rather a mongrel dog or even a domesticated wolf. Though it may seem like an imperceptible detail, on the Internet this discrepancy regularly appears in exaggerated lists of ten or twenty "the most incredible blunders of historical cinema." But when it comes to historical errors, or anachronisms, it is not far from a mistake to an intentional experimental technique; they are separated only by the presence of the author's intention and thematic justification.
Until now, one of the main reasons for the introduction of deliberate anachronisms in cinema is comedy. From the very birth of full-length cinema, the public was interested in historical films, where the past was presented as a museum exhibit, a form of archived time, and the viewer could plunge into the visual illusion of bygone times. That is why the first blockbuster is often recognized as The Birth of a Nation (1915) by David Griffith (about the American Civil War), whose influence on the impressionable viewer of early cinema was so strong that under his influence the Ku Klux Klan community was revived. Dissolved in the 1870s. The demand for historical dramas increased, and with them parodies of such films appeared: one of the first deliberate anachronisms can be seen in Buster Keaton's comedy Three Ages (1923) - a parody of another Griffith film - where, for example. To the ancient Roman chariot of the protagonistnailed down a car license plate.
Anachronisms in comedies work on the principle of Shakespeare's comedy of mistakes. We, that is, the audience, have some kind of knowledge that the heroes of the film do not have, and we find it funny because we notice inconsistencies and inconsistencies, due to which comedies acquire a general tone of carelessness and carelessness. Such anachronisms work as stand-alone jokes, but their indirect purpose is to create the feeling that the film was created in a relaxed manner, that the actors and screenwriters also had fun and simply, that they did not need to watch out for miserable typos and bloopers. Because of this, anachronistic comedies can also afford to make unintentional errors: since the film itself does not take itself completely seriously, why should viewers or critics do this? Comedies introduce anachronisms not only for the sake of humor. But also for practical reasons, and that is why there are still an incredible amount of historical comedies with such typos. INPlunkett & MacLaine (1999), for example, reveals similar (albeit much less egregious) anachronisms: one character complains of odor from the other, even though there were apparently no toothbrushes in 1748. But it doesn't matter, because the joke works primarily as a precedent for other poetic liberties in the interpretation of the past - for the anachronistic lexicon of characters, inauthentic accents, etc.
If twentieth-century comedies had the opportunity to completely abandon accurate reproduction of history, then films of the twenty-first century, no matter how frivolous they may be, increasingly need to face the social realities of the past. This is how what I want to call "politically correct anachronism" arises. Take, for example, the recent biopic A Silly and Pointless Gesture (2018) about the life of Douglas Kenny, creator of the underground American comic magazine The National Lampoon. It is full of anachronistic jokes, breaking the fourth wall and other postmodern techniques.
A voiceover from time to time admits to the viewer that this or that actor playing some famous comedian of the 1970s is not at all like him: they say, the creators did not have enough budget for the best casting. But such anachronistic humor opens the door for general criticism of the past.
Since the film flaunts its metaconsciousness, then it must admit the mistakes of the past, made by its characters, in order to appease modern mores. This happens in one episode: the narrator lists various talented comedians (exclusively white men) who were on the team of the magazine, but then a dark-skinned couple suddenly enters the frame, noticing. That in the 1970s you could probably find at least one funny dark-skinned person. To this the narrator confesses: “Yes, it was possible. But we weren't looking for them. " If the film did not present itself as capable of anachronistic reflection on its own content, then it could simply say "what was, what was."
In films where anachronisms do not appear as a joke, they can serve two main functions: either to bring the modern viewer closer to the events of the past with the help of audiovisual allegories and comparisons, or to destabilize the understanding of linear history as such. The former most often occurs to immerse the audience in the historical context of the film. For example, in A Knight's Tale (2001), an adaptation of one of The Canterbury Tales, The Queen We Will Rock You is played in a joust scene — and this does not work to expose the illusion of a faithfully recreated story, as in comedies. And to create a more authentic impression on the viewer of what the atmosphere was like at such competitions.
Hearing the historically relevant soundtrack, the modern viewer would hardly have received the contextual understanding that knightly duels were quite similar to popular sports competitions.
Likewise, in Marie Antoinette (2006), in a montage of the French queen trying on different dresses and shoes, a pair of blue Converse can be seen in the background. The film's director Sofia Coppola said on this occasion: "This is not a history lesson, but an interpretation prompted by my desire to tell about [the past] in a different way." For the modern viewer, crinolines and corsets, unlike converse, do not carry an obvious cultural significance, so with such an anachronism Coppola is trying to convey to us. That Marie Antoinette was primarily an image-conscious teenager in the modern sense of the word, not just another simulacrum of a pompous monarch. In cases of such use of anachronisms, it is not at all a free interpretation of history that is preached counterintuitively, but on the contrary, the most that neither is realism. Only this realism is more likely not a representation, but a spectator's impression - not denotations, but connotations.
This group of films also includes more lengthy cinematic allegories connecting two distant historical periods. I recall the commercially and critically unsuccessful film Walker (1987) about the real American soldier of fortune William Walker. In the middle of the 19th century, he became the conqueror (and then the president) of the Republic of Nicaragua, allegedly in honor of the establishment of the American ideals of democracy and freedom there. The first half of the film takes place without any anachronisms, but when discord begins in the country occupied by the protagonist. Historical inconsistencies and references to the US-provoked revolution in the Republic of Nicaragua are gradually creeping into the narrative already in the 1970s. For example, in one of the later scenes of the film, the main character, sitting in a carriage, is indignant at an article written about him in the latest issue of Newsweek magazine, and at the end, when Nicaragua, captured by Walker, plunges into chaos. Him anddo save American helicopters from the future for services to the nation. True, such anachronisms are still obvious and awkward, so the film itself as a political statement is ineffective.
More experimental are anachronisms, which deliberately cause historical dissonance and destroy our understanding of how the past looks in cinema. In such cases, anachronisms may arise as a byproduct of a shared “alternative history” (as in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, where an attempt to kill Hitler in a French cinema is unexpectedly successful) or implicitly refer to other eras. Raising general doubts among the viewer about where and when the events captured in the film take place at all (as in Happy Lazarus, where oppressed workers on an Italian farm of the early 20th century coexist with the trappings of the future like Walkman cassette audio players).
Interestingly, the exposure of the historical integrity inherent in such films very often occurs in films about queers, whose existence in the past is often unmentioned or censored. In such situations, resistance appears not only to the exclusion of queers, but also to their general representation in heteronormative cinema.
Psychoanalytic philosophers of the 1980s, among them Yulia Kristeva and Luce Irigarei, rightly noted that the perception of time itself has a gender aspect. So, in popular culture, time is most often shown as masculine, that is, linear and rational. Men's time is a time of history and progress, where monumental decisions and turning points are important, and women's time for a long period of history has been a time exclusively confined to biological cycles, routine of housework and childcare. Much has been written about queer perception of time, which is expressed in the feeling of being out of sync with one's present, and it is this feeling, it seems to me, that can be successfully captured using anachronisms. Derek Jarman's films are an excellent example, especially his quasi-biographical film Edward II (1991), which portrays the soldiers of the English king's army as AIDS activists from the 1980s. Or "Favorite" (2018)Yorgos Lanthimos, where the corridors of Queen Anne's palace in a love triangle with two women are shown to the viewer through an out-of-context fisheye camera.
Here anachronisms have a triple function. First, they portray the aforementioned non-synchronicity: queer characters clearly have a desire to escape into a relatively progressive future or speculate about its existence, since their subjectivity is hardly focused on life “here and now”. Second, they respond to frequent criticism of queer representation in costume dramas, which insists that queer representation never existed in the past. That is why both films bring their own display of history to the status of absurdity, sneering at the requirement to reproduce only one formulation of the past. (Although, of course, the absurdism in cinema about queers in history can be read and vice versa - as a conservative device with which the film industry could justify such films in front of the everyday viewer, indicating their surrealism in every way.) Third, both films include in elements of modern lifethem viewers, preventing them from distancing themselves from the picture and thereby hinting that the history of violence against sexual minorities is not an unpleasant relic of old, but an urgent problem.
Reading history, according to the best cinematic anachronisms, is never sterile: there is no distant position from which the viewer could objectively see and correctly perceive the events of the past as facts. Anachronisms, of course, can be blunders, but they are often introduced into cinema absolutely deliberately, trying to either bring viewers closer to the past era, or, conversely, distance them and thereby show how history is asynchronously perceived by different people. On which the movie is watched less often than others - including queers, about whose lives history has been deliberately silent for a long time.