Category Archives: Cinema

MORESO | Fire Walk with Me | David Lynch’s Twin Peaks Finale

MORESO | Fire Walk with Me | David Lynch’s Twin Peaks Finale
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

This Moreso article is a follow-up to an earlier one, “Generational Shame in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (28 June 2017), available here.

Judging from the immediate response on Twitter and subsequent mainstream media recaps (with the exception of Dan Martin at The Guardian and a few others), many people seem perplexed about the open-ended finale of Twin Peaks: The Return. I am not. As with all things David Lynch, you have to appreciate the (weird) window-dressing but, nonetheless, ignore such affectations when it comes to explanations by focusing on the essential. When you do so, there is a lot of narrative meat to chew in the final two episodes, which seems to confirm our prior hypothesis that Twin Peaks is about Baby Boomer shame. We will not recap that argument now; you can read it here.


Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992).

What are the key points? Where do we keep our focus to interpret this bizarre, frightening, and even nihilist (i.e. spiritually bleak) ending? After all, it cannot be a coincidence that both episode 17 and 18 ended with Sheryl Lee’s blood-curdling scream, putting aside the end credit sequences: one musical and the other a super slow-motion replay of Laura Palmer whispering something disturbing in Agent Cooper’s ear in the Red Room of the Black Lodge during the first episode. Sidenote: Sheryl Lee (to the upper right as Laura Palmer) has to go down in cinematic history as one of the all-time great screamers, worthy of the leading ladies in the best Alfred Hitchcock films.

Let’s start here:

“The past dictates the future.” – Agent Cooper in Episode 17 of Twin Peaks: The Return

This is a truism reiterated by Twin Peaks. Let’s be honest: what would a ‘happy resolution’ for most viewers of any generation look like for the central storyline (e.g. the murder of a prom queen) in Twin Peaks? FBI Agent Cooper solves the murder? That already happened 25 years ago during Season 2. Laura’s Baby Boomer father Leland possessed by the evil spirit BOB raped and murdered her. The destruction of the evil spirit BOB? Lynch and Mark Frost provided this closure in the penultimate episode when BOB was defeated by a Millennial, no less, wearing a green garden glove that gave him supernatural strength… yeah, Twin Peaks is unconventional like much of the Millennial Generation itself in some ways. It is appropriate, if you ask me. No, for most viewers, the ‘happy resolution’ would be preventing the murder of Laura Palmer and subsequent emotional and social damage to the small Washington town of Twin Peaks in the first place. However, this is not possible. If Laura Palmer was never murdered, then there would not be any Twin Peaks for viewer to invest in the first place. The pain of the past dictates the consequences of the future.

Nonetheless, Lynch and Frost offer viewers this exact prospect. Somehow, Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) goes back in time and leads Laura away from her eventual murder. Laura’s dead body ‘disappears’ from where it was found on a shoreline next to a massive downed tree in the opening scenes of the original series (see the header image at the top). The results simmer throughout the final episode until the disturbing climax when a (perhaps changed) Cooper finds ‘Laura’ (who says her name is Carrie Page) in Odessa, Texas and tries to lead her home to her mother Sarah in Twin Peaks, Washington. The closing moments are characterized by confusion on the part of Agent Cooper and that last blood-curdling scream of Sheryl Lee as ‘Laura’ hears the echoes of her (now-remembered?) troubled past. To be sure, it is a bleak ending. This is reinforced by a replay of the scene of Laura in the Black Lodge whispering something horrifying to Agent Cooper, except this time Lynch allows the camera to linger on the disturbed expressions on MacLachlan’s face using super slow motion. Cooper cannot change the past any more than we can change our own pasts. Nonetheless, this is a tantalizing feature of several narratives in fiction (Peggy Sue Got Married, Back to the Future, Doctor Who, and so forth). Too many to recount here.

Interestingly, the name of Odessa is the feminine form of ‘odyssey,’ which suggests a key aspect of the story of Twin Peaks is the journey of its female characters. Mainly, I would argue this means Laura Palmer, Donna Hayward, and Audrey Horne. Shelly as a character, played with panache by the beautiful Madchen Amick, always seemed more about the soap opera aspects of David Lynch’s original concept for Twin Peaks than a key to its main story.

Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey Horne during the first season of Twin Peaks.

Many viewers seemed especially upset about the brief appearance and utter lack of resolution to the nonetheless emotionally draining story if only for its obtuse nature involving Audrey played by the wonderful and IMO still beautiful Sherilyn Fenn. Is Audrey in a coma? Is she in an insane asylum? Is she the ‘dreamer’ to which Gordon Cole (played by David Lynch) refers? The last seems unlikely, except perhaps in a very narrow sense related to her own story in Twin Peaks: The Return. The lack of a resolution is the point. Much of the story about Generation X is similarly unresolved though our past will dictate the consequences of our future.

I would argue there is a ‘holy trinity’ of Generation X females at the heart of Twin Peaks, each representing different aspects of my often-forgotten generation. The mainstream media is almost always all about the big demographic waves represented by the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations. There is the wasted potential of Laura Palmer: the bright, eager-to-help, beautiful prom queen, who was a victim of incest and murdered by a salacious Baby Boomer father unable to control himself or the evil spirit BOB.

Lara Flynn Boyle as Donna Hayward in the pilot episode of Twin Peaks.

There was Donna Hayward (famously played during the original Twin Peaks series by Lara Flynn Boyle). Much like the ‘lost’ nature of Generation X, Donna is missing from Twin Peaks: The Return. She represents our ‘lost generation’ by her absence. Then, there is Audrey Horne, who’s story is unresolved, still waiting to be written in history.

All of this is wrapped within the distinct but skewed perspective of a Baby Boomer filmmaker (David Lynch), who symbolically replicates much of the generational shame previously seen in Episode Eight, “Gotta Light?” The young-end-of-the-range-for-a-Baby Boomer Agent Cooper fails to fix the past. The disturbing abortion imagery reappears during the scene at the beginning of episode 17 when the evil spirit BOB emerges from the doppelgänger body of Mr. C to, in effect, become an evil fetus attacking the real Agent Cooper and our nondescript Millennial hero Freddie, who finally rids us of the evil once and for all. Baby Boomers just can’t get past their guilt about their unwanted ‘latchkey’ kids and excessive-to-extreme abortion culture. In any case, Freddie’s destruction of BOB symbolically points to Baby Boomers coming to believe what Generation X had always believe and intended for their children; namely, to save the world from the excesses of the ‘Me’ Generation represented by their grandparents.

I thought it was the most appropriate, even a perfect ending for Twin Peaks. The Baby Boomers cannot ever fix their past mistakes. They have to live with the shame of their many mistakes. The story of the much-abused, much-depleted Generation X is still being written, and the Millennials carry our collective hopes into the future. Let’s hope we haven’t managed to screw them up too much. They need to save the world. Get on with it.

Moreso is a new series of short ruminations or thoughts of the moment, usually of less than 500 words, from The Outlaw Urbanist.

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MORESO | Generational Shame in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks

MORESO | Generational Shame in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Most reviewers and fans are heralding “Gotta Light?”, episode eight of Mark Frost/David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return (or Season 3 for us nerds) on Showtime, as the most ambitious and weirdest WTF hour in television history; rightly so. As with all things David Lynch, “Gotta Light?” has invited widespread theorizing on the Internet about what all of the symbolism might mean. However, everyone so far seems to miss a potent, alternative interpretation about what Twin Peaks has really been about all along; namely, Lynch’s generational shame as a Baby Boomer. Think about it.


atom bomb, explosion, New Mexico, Twin Peaks, CGIPeople point out the similarities between the more abstract, middle section of “Gotta Light?” – when Lynch takes us into the heart of a mushroom cloud at the 1945 climax of the Manhattan Project, which the episode title and request of the Woodsman to strangers repeatedly evoke – to the closing ten minutes of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. They point the obvious anti-thesis between Arthur C. Clarke/Kubrick’s optimistic vision (“My God, it’s full of stars.”) versus Lynch’s more pessimistic one (‘My God, it’s full of blood’ literally and metaphorically). According to Lynch’s vision, evil in the form of the spirit “Bob” was born in 1945 with the first atomic detonation. Of course, Lynch implies such a thing while adopting the quintessential Baby Boomer attitude, i.e. nothing important happen before 1945, it is all about ‘me’ (us), and so forth. Such is the nature of Baby Boomers.

Laura Palmer, Twin PeaksHowever, this symbolism also offers a clue for viewers to understand that Twin Peaks might have always been about Lynch’s Baby Boomer shame.

Really, the cultural phenomenon of Twin Peaks is due to one thing: Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee); specifically, the haunting image in the opening scenes of the first episode, e.g. a dead, beautiful young girl wrapped in plastic.

Prom Photograph, Laura Palmer, Twin PeaksWho was Laura Palmer? She was the promising, archetypal image of Generation X? The straight-A student, Prom Queen, and volunteer for the less fortunate (‘Meals on Wheels’, Audrey’s brother) with a secret life and troubled psyche due, of course, to her Baby Boomer parents.

Who murdered her? Her Baby Boomer father, Leland Palmer, who was possessed by the evil spirit “Bob”, who we now know (thanks to “Gotta Light?”) was born in the fires of the atomic denotation in 1945, e.g. the chronological origins of the Baby Boomers themselves.

There’s more. Typically, the most important Generation X characters of the original series (Shelley, Donna, James, Audrey, Maddie, even Bobby Briggs and Laura herself) are good, innocent, or misunderstood. Shelley’s abusive husband, Leo Johnson, doesn’t fit but we’re never sure if he is a young Baby Boomer or the oldest of the Generation X characters. The Baby Boomer characters are divided into good (Ed Hurley, Norma, Sheriff Truman), eccentric (Gordon Cole, Hawk, Andy & Lucy, Log Lady, Nadine, Pete, Sarah Palmer), and nefarious/evil (Leland Palmer, Ben and Jerry Horne, Catherine Martell, the Renaults, Windom Earle, and so forth).

Indeed, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks character Gordon Cole is famously hard-of-hearing. Basically, he is representative of an entire generation.

Finally, in the opening scenes of “Gotta Light?” (before everything gets really weird), we witness the murder of Cooper’s doppelganger. The Woodsmen (see header image) appear and engage in a strange ritual, apparently extracting the evil spirit of ‘Bob” as a fetal orb from the body of DoppelCooper. This bloody scene reeks of abortion imagery. Abortion, of course, is one of the most enduring legacies of the Baby Boomers via the Roe v. Wade decision. Lynch’s symbolism in this scene is ambiguous, to say the least. The Woodsmen’s abortion of “Bob” seems to bring DoppelCooper back to life, i.e. children of Baby Boomers (i.e. Generation X) are evil and abortion ‘saves’ lives. However, the character Ray (who shot DoppelCooper) observes this ritual in absolute, moral horror. This ritual apparently allows the evil spirit “Bob” to endure in the Twin Peaks universe, which can’t be a good thing.

In response, the (presumedly) benevolent beings watching over the events of 1945 create a golden orb, which contains the face of Laura Palmer. Because the image of the Earth is black and white, we assume this golden orb was sent to Earth in the same time period as the ‘birth’ of the evil spirit Bob in 1945. However, this is a leap of logic (if such a thing can be said about Twin Peaks). We know that time, as we understand it, has no meaning in the White Lodge (probably the setting during this golden orb scene) and Black Lodge. Does this golden orb represent the inherent promise of Generation X, which Baby Boomers still endeavor to squander, even murder today?

There is much in the episode “Gotta Light?”, in particular, and Twin Peaks, in general, to suggest David Lynch is attempting to express the collective shame of his entire generation for fü©king over so much, including an entire generation of their promising, unwanted ‘latchkey kids’.

Moreso is a new series of short ruminations or thoughts of the moment, usually of less than 500 words, from The Outlaw Urbanist.

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Top 10 ‘Must See’ Documentary Films for Architects and Planners

Top 10 ‘Must See’ Documentary Films for Architects and Planners
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Recently, The Outlaw Urbanist published the article “Top 10 ‘Must See’ Films for Architects and Planners” with reference to the influence of the built environment on film-grammars in support of cinematic narratives. However, there are other films (especially documentaries) worth seeing with a direct or indirect bearing on the built environment today. This is the purpose of today’s list of ‘must see’ documentary films for architects and planners. There are a lot of documentary films dedicated to specific architects. Most are vanity projects built on the ego of said architect, which lack much universal application for buildings or cities. You will not find such films on this list. The purpose of this list is value. What is informative and worth your time?

Inside Job (2010)
If you are well-informed, then there are interesting nuggets of information buried in the 2010 documentary Inside Job directed by Charles Ferguson with narration by Matt Damon (one of my favorite actors) about the housing crash and 2008 Financial Crisis. However, if you are uninformed or only casually acquainted with the facts (see below), then Inside Job is dangerous apologia propaganda for the left’s complicity in the cataclysmic events costing millions of people their jobs and homes. No one should be allowed to watch this film without first reading The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis. Damon, his wife, and four daughters lived in an 8,890 square foot home (1,778 SF per person) in southern California at the time of filming. Yeah, sorry Matt, that’s being part of the problem, not the solution.

10. The Dynamic American City (1956)
This 25-minute 1956 educational film created by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is worth viewing for contradictory reasons: 1) it gets everything wrong about vibrant urbanism; and, 2) it is a propaganda masterpiece on par with Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will in using associative and dis-associative imagery and narration to hammer home its central message of ‘building up and out’ (it is right there in the Intro graphic) for making fast money in real estate built on the twin premises of slum clearing and suburbanization. If Joseph Goebbels had been an American developer, he would have been proud. For anyone with an ounce of common sense, it is like watching a car crash in real time: horrifying but you can’t take your eyes off it. Do you want to live in old stables or “on the frontier”? Even today, some Americans refuse to let go of the Big Lie in this film. You can watch it on YouTube here.

8/9. Too Big to Fail (2011)/The Big Short (2015)
These aren’t documentaries but dramatized accounts about the housing crash and 2008 Financial Crisis. Nonetheless, they are well done, littered with nuanced performances, and even-handed in providing public and private sector perspectives about events. They successfully manage the herculean task of being both entertaining and informative. Too Fail to Fail (2011) centers around Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s (William Hurt in an outstanding performance) actions to advert another Great Depression. The Big Short (2015) centers around a few people (all strong performances from Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carell) in the financial sector who saw the approaching cliff, bet against the housing market and banks, and won big though not without a great deal of stress while encountering record levels of stupidity along the way. The latter is based on Michael Lewis’ The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, which we also thoroughly recommend.

7. Ben Building: Mussolini, Monuments, and Modernism (2016)
Part of Jonathan Meades’ (above) series of BBC Four documentaries (Jerry Building and Joe Building aka Nazi and Stalinist architecture, respectively) about architecture and planning under totalitarian regimes of the early 20th century, Ben Building: Mussolini, Monuments, and Modernism (2016) is the best in terms of quality and quantity of material. Simply put, Italian architects under Mussolini were doing much more interesting things in terms of design, which leads Meades to more even-handed commentary about his subject. The other two documentaries are worth seeing. The first suffers from a lack of existing/built examples (and typical British vitriol about all things German; Nazi or otherwise) and the second (Soviet) from an excess of questionable architectural taste. You can watch Ben Building on YouTube here before the BBC files a copyright infringement claim.

6. The Human Face of Big Data (2014)
This is a wide-ranging PBS documentary about the applications and implications of Big Data in the 21st century. As such, The Human Face of Big Data (2014) concentrates about half of its 56-minute running time on issues pertinent to cities, e.g. mapping social-economic data, Smart Cities, consumer tailoring, etc. Some of the researchers are missing – or fail to comment on – the obvious. For example, the documentary briefly shows data mapping of repeat offenders in Brooklyn NY, which is clearly mid-20th-century public housing to anyone familiar with Modernist building footprints. While it does not offer any definitive answers to the deeper questions raised by Big Data, it is still a useful exercise in asking questions about what it all might mean for you and our cities in the future. Watch the trailer below.

5. Super Skyscrapers: Building the Future (2014)
This is one episode in the 4-part series of PBS’ Super Skyscrapers (2014). The other episodes are interesting (mostly for their overkill in terms of design and engineering). However, this episode about the Leadenhall Building in the City of London designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners is a brilliant explanation about the way cutting-edge computer modeling and manufacturing processes are dramatically changing the construction industry in the 21st century. Due to the constrained site, every piece of this building was manufactured offsite and then transported in a precise order for assembly on-site, i.e. no concrete pour. The hydraulic shifting of the building by a few degrees into a vertical position is an especially jaw-dropping sequence. Watch this episode on YouTube before PBS files a copyright infringement claim here.

4. The Human Scale (2012)
This 2012 documentary is nominally about thinkers, architects, and urban planners discussing ways to increase human interaction in cities but, in particular, The Human Scale (2012) is about Danish architect Jan Gehl’s teaching and research about urbanism over the last four decades. In this, it veers a little too closely sometimes to the ‘myth of the architectural genius’ folie associated with most architectural documentary films. Ignore the hero worship and listen to what is being said about people and cities. There are plenty of common sense ideas and solutions contained in The Human Scale, which makes it must-see viewing for architects and planners.

3. Poynton Regenerated (2013)
This short 15-minute film features urban designer and movement specialist Ben Hamilton-Baillie explaining the existing, seemingly intractable traffic, pedestrian, and land use problems in the village center of Poynton, England. Then, he outlines a new, radical plan for a Shared Space design concept in the village center. Plan implementation and construction is a great success, though not without a lot of skepticism along the way. The film is good at explaining the basic premise of Shared Space, which is if you design for people being stupid, then they will tend to act stupid but if you design for people being smart, they will tend to be smart in self-regulating urban systems. A good measure of this film’s success is the way-out-of-proportion fear it has provoked in reaction. You can watch Poynton Regenerated on YouTube here.

2. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2011)
There were several issues (racism, regulatory failures, design and planning flaws, demographics, suburbanization, and so on and so on and so on) involved in the demise of the Pruitt-Igoe Public Housing Complex in St. Louis, Missouri, which led to its famous televised demolition in 1972. This 2011 documentary does a good job covering many of them. The testimony of former residents is enlightening, especially if you listen with a keen ear about their experiences in spatial terms to better understand how architectural design/planning played a role in the social malaise at Pruitt-Igoe. You do need to be careful about the testimony of former residents who were children at the time (in the section titled “Control”). It is clear they were not privy to their parents’ decisions at the time about securing government assistance though it does ably demonstrate how it appeared from the child’s point of view. This 1 1/2 hour documentary is definitely worth the time and demands your attention. You can watch The Pruitt-Igoe Myth on YouTube here.

1. The Social Life of Public Spaces (1980)
This 1980 documentary film written, directed, and starring William H. Whyte (based on his 1972 book of the same name) is still the most important documentary about architecture, urban design, and planning today. Like Jane Jacobs before him, Whyte does something that many people still oddly consider beneath them to better understand how people really use public space. He goes out and watches them. Radical, huh? Does Whyte get everything right? No, but he does get much right, which is more than most architects and planners can claim. You can watch The Social Life of Public Spaces on Vimeo here.

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Top 10 ‘Must See’ Films for Architects and Planners

Top 10 ‘Must See’ Films for Architects and Planners
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

The Outlaw Urbanist recently made available the six-hour Architecture and Film ($39.99) course series on its professional development and continuing education learning platform. The series is composed three 2-hour courses, which are also available as individual components: Do Architects Dream of Celluloid Buildings? ($14.99); The Architectural Competence in Cinema ($14.99); and, The Best of Both Worlds ($14.99). The course series is a wide-ranging discussion about architecture’s impact on cinema in the mise en scène (e.g. everything in the frame) of film-grammars, involving general rules for the depiction of built environments in support of cinematic narratives. The course series reviewed dozens of examples in film and television. The question naturally arises about what might be the most definitive examples of architecture’s impact on cinema. What is the essential ‘must-see’ list of films for architects and planners to see?

Without further ado, here is the Top 10 ‘Must-See’ Films for Architects and Planners…

Honorable Mention: Logan’s Run (1976)
Are you still confused about what a ‘smart city’ might really be? Four decades ago, the central premise of Logan’s Run was based on the premise of a smart city. The computers of the city control every significant aspect of the lives of its citizens including decisions of life and death… unless you become a runner. After Logan 5 and Jessica 6 escape the city, the film quickly loses pace. Ultimately, the story cannot bear the weight of its intriguing premise, which is why Logan’s Run barely missed the cut for this list. Logan and Jessica explore ‘outside’ for only a few days, then even they (much like the audience) can’t wait to get back to the city, if only on some ill-defined mission to undercut the society living there.

10. Inception (2010)
The most effective film to date to make use of Computer-generated imagery (CGI) manipulation of the built environment in order to convey a distortion of reality to the audience. In this case, it is the dream-within-dream premise of Christopher Nolan’s narrative. Marvel’s 2016 Doctor Strange deploys the same digital tricks, only more so. As cool as these visual effects are, the most effective consequence has been more realistic cinematic depictions of built environments generating their own gravity in ‘hard’ science fiction films with settings in space such as Interstellar, Elysium, Star Trek Beyond, and so on.

9. The Truman Show (1998)
One of the most comprehensive examples of filmmakers transforming a real place (New Urbanist resort town of Seaside, Florida) into the fictional setting of Seahaven, Florida, which is really a set in Hollywood, California for a reality television series watched by millions around the world. The payoff for the narrative and premise comes at the climax when Truman (played by Jim Carrey) sails to the outer wall of the set to escape his manufactured reality (see above). Pleasantville (1998) in the same year is also worth a look, if only for the joke about the common paradoxes associated with urban geography in cinema. Hollywood films that are basically about Hollywood itself always border on the edge of self-indulgence. Both The Truman Show and Pleasantville avoid this trap, for the most part.

8. Harry Potter (2001-2011)
The Harry Potter films had to walk a very fine line between real and fantastical settings. It is a testament to the genius of J.K. Rowling’s source novels and the creative talents of the filmmakers that the Harry Potter film series successfully navigates this line. The use of film-grammars involving cinematic built environments and spatial concepts play a large but subtle role in achieving this objective. Harry Potter offers a good example of historical juxtaposition and a very specific use for the abnormal scale film-grammar in architectural elements to support  the Harry Potter narrative.

7. “Q Who”, Star Trek: The Next Generation (1989)
There is a great advantage for extended narratives on television, especially for a franchise like Star Trek. There is more time for filmmakers to play with, even subvert well-established film-grammars when it comes to depictions of the built environment in service to the narrative. The problem is selectively choosing only one or two examples of these ‘world-building’ efforts, which are sometimes expansively and exhaustively developed over years, even decades in the case of Star Trek. The 1989 episode “Q Who” on Star Trek: The Next Generation is a good, stand-alone introduction to the larger Star Trek universe. Using the film-grammar of abnormal scale to convey narrative threat has never been done better before or since on Star Trek.

6. The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
Depictions of the built environment (primarily, historical juxtaposition) for the world-building of these films plays a crucial role in visually conveying important narrative information to the audience. There is a very tight, thematic structure associated with the built environment and nature in The Lord of the Rings, which is effective for supporting the protagonist and antagonist requirements of the narrative. The origins of this thematic structure can been traced right back to J.R.R. Tolkien’s source novels.

5. The Matrix (1999)
The definitive film about the potential allure and negative consequences of life inside a simulated environment. At its core, The Matrix is a sophisticated science fiction escape narrative. Its depictions of built environments are rudimentary for the most part, relying on real locations in Sydney, Australia though the filmmakers manage to make it look like a hyper-real amalgamation of Los Angeles and New York. The cinematic narrative soars when it comes to the visual effects associated with manipulating the simulated reality of the Matrix.

4. Star Wars: Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
When it comes to mise en scène in support of cinematic narratives, The Empire Strikes Back directed by Irvin Kershner might be the most perfect film ever made. Almost every scene conveys a rich amount of information to the audience through the use of background, middle ground and foreground in the frame. In fact, you might be able to watch The Empire Strikes Back absent its dialogue track – leaving John Williams’ crucial musical score in place – and still understand almost every nuance of story and characterization in the film. It is brilliant, plain and simple.

3. Game of Thrones (2011 – present)
The extended narrative of this HBO series (only 10 episode per season so 60 episodes through six seasons though some run times extend beyond the standard one-hour format) is a master class for using the rules of film-grammars in world-building production design to support cinematic narratives. Mainly, this occurs with on-location filming and CGI enhancement of built environments to create the fantastical settings of Westeros and Essos. The filmmakers go far beyond George R.R. Martin’s source novels, which often rely on literary conventions (i.e. allowing readers’ imaginations to fill in the descriptive gaps). We can only hope the climax of the final two seasons of Game of Thrones deliver a satisfactory conclusion to the creative brilliance of the series to date.

It is always difficult to avoid ‘the usual suspects’ at the top of this list…

2. Blade Runner (1982)
Ridley Scott was at the height of his creative powers as a filmmaker during the period coinciding with the release of Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and the Apple “1984” television commercial. Blade Runner represents the ‘oxygen-depriving’ summit. Long before the CGI age, Blade Runner relied on ‘old school’ techniques of on-site location filming, constructed sets, physical modeling, lighting and set dressing to create the futuristic setting of Los Angeles in 2019. Architecture plays a starring role in the film right along with Harrison Ford, Sean Young, and Rutger Hauer. The narrative is tight and thought-provoking. The production design is outstanding. Scott’s use of mise en scène and ‘tried and trusted’ film-grammars to visually convey narrative information to the audience transforms the film into a deeply rich experience on several levels. Despite its reputation in architectural schools,  Blade Runner does not actually break the cinematic mold. It merely elevates it to unforeseen heights of artistic expression.

1. Metropolis (1927)
If Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is the ‘Revelation’ for mise en scène and film-grammar depictions of the built environment, then Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film classic Metropolis is the ‘Genesis’, especially for the science fiction genre. The (often-repeated) film-grammar of abnormal scale for conveying the antagonistic threat of the narrative began here (see above). In fact, a lot of the cinematic conventions most familiar to audiences (if only on a subconscious level) have their origins in Lang’s German Expressionist film. Blade Runner may have elevated the cinematic mold to unforeseen heights but Metropolis invented that mold.

Purchase the Architecture and Film course series here ($39.99)
Purchase Part 1, “Do Architects Dream of Celluloid Buildings?”, here ($14.99)
Purchase Part 2, “The Architectural Competence in Cinema”, here ($14.99)
Purchase Part 3, “The Best of Both Worlds”, here ($14.99)

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NOW AVAILABLE | Architecture and Film Course Series (6.0 hour)

The Architecture and Film Course Series reviews the seductive correspondence between cinema and architecture. Of all the fine arts, cinema and architecture seem to uniquely correspond due to their natures as both an art and a science. In no small part, this is because both deploy many of the same concepts in a superficial and/or substantive way, i.e. representation, presentation, functionality, and materiality. Over the last four decades, startling technological advances, mostly deriving from computer science, have further blurred the distinction between cinema and architecture. Collectively, this tends to obscure the most important aspect, which is architecture’s impact on the dual aims of cinema, e.g. narrative and technology. Part I, “Do Architects Dream of Celluloid Buildings” reviews the conceptual, historical and technological correspondence between cinema and architecture. Part II, “The Architectural Competence in Cinema” and Part III, “The Best of Both Worlds”, review the cinematic use of architectural precedents and typologies in crafting distinctive film-grammars in support of narrative and characterization. The “Architecture and Film” course series more closely examines the frequent role of the built environment in creatively reinforcing or subverting expectations of the audience about cinematic narratives (6.0 course). Click here to purchase this full course series ($39.99).

Key concepts:  abnormal scale, analogy, architectural typologies, cinema, cultural appropriation, extended narratives, fantasy, historical juxtaposition, historical intensification, historical precedent, hyperreality, language, narrative, representation, scale, science fiction, and technology.

Includes a three(3) two-hour video presentations and PDFs of the supplementary materials and slide handouts for each course.

Part 1 Film and Television Topics
The Wizard of Oz, A Trip to the Moon, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, The Hunger Games, Friends, New Girl, Planet of the Apes, Alice in Wonderland, Star Trek, To Kill a Mockingbird, Back to the Future, Westworld, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, Jurassic Park, The Wedding Singer, The Terminator, Babylon 5, Captain America, Avatar, Battlestar Galactica, It’s a Wonderful Life, Zelig, Forrest Gump, Jupiter Rising, Toy Story, Tron, Resident Evil, Total Recall, The Matrix, A Scanner Darkly, Contagion, American Psycho, Metropolis, Blade Runner

Part 2 Film and Television Topics
Alien, War of the Worlds, V for Vendetta, Blade Runner, Jaws, Watchmen, Batman, The Rape of Doctor Willis, Superman, The Lady in the Water, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Wars, The Godfather, Game of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings, Baywatch, The Shawshank Redemption, Thor, From Hell, The Lodger, James Bond, Chinatown, Logan’s Run, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, Cube, 1984, Divergent, The Truman Show, Pleasantville, Metropolis, V, Independence Day, Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Part 3 Film and Television Topics
Star Trek, Harry Potter, Blade Runner, The Lord of the Rings, Citizen Kane, Batman, Doctor Who, Inception, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Spellbound, Doctor Strange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Interstellar, Star Wars, Logan’s Run, Alien, Dune, Battlestar Galactica, Zoolander, The Martian Chronicles, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, District 9

Please note there may be a delay for a couple of hours before you are able to access the course because we have to confirm receipt of payment for each order before completing the purchase.

About the Instructor

mark_v3Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A is an architect and planner with extensive experience in urban planning and design, business management and real estate development, and academia. He is a Professor of Urban Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Mark has been a visiting lecturer at the University of Florida, Georgia Tech, Architectural Association in London, the University of São Paulo in Brazil, and Politecnico di Milano in Italy.

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