Jump cutting: tracing parkour as invisible spectacle through the filmic city.
Thesis DisciplineFilm Studies
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Seen as the art of moving from one location to another in the most efficient manner possible, parkour is a physical discipline preoccupied with gymnastic efficiency through the surmounting of urban architectural features that are designed to both facilitate and impede everyday pedestrian movements in the city. This thesis is an examination of the practice, and its representation in various films, YouTube clips, documentaries and advertisements. Symbiotically linked with its own depiction in these mediated and narrativised depictions, parkour plays out as a contradictory interfacing with a metropolitan environment that it sees (and feels) as both delimiting and psycho-geographically malleable. The elemental contradiction addressed in this thesis is the practice’s emergence, making-visible and containment through and within the discussed media, even as it evolves as a system of total, bodily evasion from retinal powers of civic design and filmic surveillance. In investigating this topic, I was drawn to a number of popular texts that both document and reciprocally inspire a global echelon of parkour practitioners, called traceurs. In sequence, I will analyse YouTube videos posted by this expanding audience of enthusiasts; parkour narrative films that incorporate the practice’s stylized acrobatic idioms; and blockbuster feature films that both literally reference parkour through the use of explosive cameos, and metaphorically provoke the discipline’s desire for superhero transcendence of the city’s gridded matrix. Throughout my textual and performative enquiry, and through comparative, anecdotal experiences I have had everyday on the street, I have increasingly sensed that parkour’s radically kinetic approach to professed liberation in and from the city is only one of the most conspicuous of many locomotive rhythms in the city. It is both this nominal and physical conspicuousness that belies the traceur’s attempted, limpid escape from the interning and channeling structures of the built environment. It is the less photogenic, unnamed and sometimes accidental paces enacted in equally chance, pedestrian encounters that become an even more imaginative catalyst for ambivalent evasion and liberation.