Research Stream


Samuel Harvey
The University of Melbourne

Lisa Beaven
La Trobe University

Rococo Film Aesthetics and the Sinuous Cinema of Sofia Coppola

This project is an exploration into visual cultures and their histories, investigating the re-emergence of the eighteenth-century decorative style of the rococo in contemporary film design, particularly as experienced in the films of Sofia Coppola. It emphasises the rococo’s fashioning of affective spaces and its emotional impact on the viewer, highlighting the rococo’s appeal to our sense of kinetics.

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This project traces a genealogical strand of the moving image rarely explored: film’s emergence from the language of ornament. Film theory has a tradition of focusing on narrative tropes and generic conventions; this project (re)constructs an alternative history of the moving image that focuses more on visual patterns, rhythms and the fabrication of space and emotions. This history extends beyond the official commencement of cinema in the late nineteenth century, to locate film’s relationship to earlier forms of visuality, particularly that of the rococo style which materialised during the early eighteenth century.

Opening up a dialectic between the styles of the eighteenth century and our own, this project explores how the rococo is reconfigured in contemporary film aesthetics, especially in the works of filmmaker Sofia Coppola, to speak of modern concerns. Appealing to the senses, the rococo expresses feelings of light-heartedness, tranquillity and intimacy, offering viewers emotional relief from the more grandiose and spectacle-driven elements of our present visual culture. Focusing on the rococo’s love of decorative curves, this project is concerned with kinetics, noting how the motion of the rococo’s sinuous forms inspires emotion in the beholder. This emphasis on a subjective mobility becomes the very transdisciplinary and transhistorical approach to the topic. Moving across film, fashion and architecture theory, this investigation follows the rococo as it journeys from the eighteenth century to today, tracing it as it migrates from the private residences of France and Germany to the formal design of the moving image.

Collaborators within CHE

Dr Lisa Beaven, Postdoctoral Researcher, The University of Melbourne

Collaborators outside of CHE

Professor Angela Ndalianis, Director, Transformative Technologies Research Unit and Screen and Cultural Studies, The University of Melbourne


2016 Shaping the Modern Program Collaboratory: ‘Emotions, Materiality, and Transformations in the Colonial Contact Zone’, ‘Lost In Translation: Chinoiserie and the Fashioning of the Self Through Aesthetics of Exoticism’, paper.