I have no idea why the flaneur so rarely appears as a protagonist in a story. Surely, literature has storified its flaneur types, from the dandy Dorian Gray to the moviegoer Binx Bolling. But in contrast to that, the flaneur has not really found its way into film history. Why is that?
The flaneur is addicted to every expression of beauty – and so is cinema.
Perhaps the reason is to be found in the very essence that constitutes the flaneur. In the late 19th century the flaneur set foot on the streets of European metropoles. He was part of the crowd streaming through the city’s veins, yet he rather preferred to be an outstanding antibody. Whereas the passants busily follow their daily tasks just passing by each other, the flaneur wanders aimlessly among them taking close notice of the very reality they are just missing. This characteristic made him a radical oppositionist against the lifestyle modernity had been reiterating. Instead of keeping up with the rushed race for productivity the flaneur has chosen to fall behind. Fortunately, from this point of view he can see the world in all its disvulged beauty. One must only think of the visual splendour the world of the flaneur could possibly conjure up on screen. The flaneur is addicted to every expression of beauty and so is cinema. It even seems like the flaneur is the perfect embodiment of the existentialist predicament the human condition has brought about. Caught within the limits of existence, yet ever longing for what is beyond it.
A flaneur, put into standardized footcuffs and hurried towards the inevitable end of the movie, is nothing anymore but a perversion of itself.
So, how is it even possible this character has not yet been exploited by film industry? The answer has just been given. The flaneur, taken in its ideal status, could not possibly exist within the constraints of this industry. A flaneur, put into standardized footcuffs and hurried towards the inevitable end of the movie is nothing anymore but a perversion of itself. Does that mean it is an entirely hopeless endeavour to adapt the flaneur to the necessities of an industry, make him a ready-made, consumable product? Yes, it is. Entirely hopless. But cinema has never cared about that problem. Here are two examples. To be honest, Easy Rider must necessarily be a perversion of the free spirit of counter culture, just like Trainspotting must necessarily be a perversion of the transcendental potential of drugs. Still, while failing to depict reality, these movies have been celebrated as authentic depictions of their subjects and, by the way, have been commercially successful. In the end, films like these are lauded and praised as ‘good’ because they turned out to be the best possible perversion of their subject. They might not be the entirely true depiction of the original but still they do their best, with all means available, to grasp what that could be anyway.
The world, as the flaneur experiences it, is wild – but also wildly beautiful.
The human existence itself and therefore every expression of human creativity has to face this predicament. So, let’s just do the best we can and try to imagine what the story of a flaneur could be like on screen. To do that, the chains he necessarily must find himself captivated in can be taken advantage of. At the core of this flaneur’s story, the central conflict, is the struggle with the constraints of his existence, the standardized structures he is constantly urging to escape from. At best, this struggle is then to be reflected on a meta-level as well, namely, as the struggle of art with the constraints of its own existence, the standardized structure it is constantly trying to escape from. Following that abstract idea, countless concrete narrative realizations of it are possible. According to his historic role model, this flaneur will possibly find himself in a contemporary city, aimlessly wandering through its streets, enjoying the beauty he discovers in every single detail. However, as the story goes on, he will encounter various of the burdens reality must necessarily bring to light. Maybe he will have to deal with serious financial problems because he has been refusing to subordinate to the structures of labour. Maybe he will have to face his newborn child, as the consequence of his hedonistic, promiscuous lifestyle. Maybe he will have to realize that he is utterly lonely, that he needs somebody to finally come back to. Likewise, this central conflict can be reflected in various ways of audiovisual expression. The world, as the flaneur experiences it, is wild — but also wildly beautiful: Excessive colors, saturated and dynamic, excessive montage, restless and free, excessive sounds, loud and clear. However, as the story goes on, also this excess must necessarily turn into regress. So, it even seems like the flaneur is another archetype of the odysseys we like to fantasize about in the romantic dreams we can ‘experience’ on screen. In the end, just like this flaneur, we cannot help but returning home, wherever and whatever that might be. That’s the whole story.