Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘vintage’

11 JANUARY, 2011

Retrofuturism Revisited: The Past Imagines the Future

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Flying cars! Spinning buildings! Voice AND color! …or what Disney has to do with Eve.

Last year, we looked at the 2020 Project, which invited some of today’s sharpest thinkers to imagine tomorrow. But how will their visions look to future generations? To get a taste for it, we looked to the past: Here are 6 charming visions for the future, from the past — a delightful exercise in retrofuturism that embodies humanity’s chronic blend of boundless imagination, solipsistic foolishness and hopeless optimism.

THE FUTURE OF TRAVEL

In 1936, Japanese magazine Shonen Club published World Transportation Invention Competition — an illustrated series envisioning the future of transportation, based on concepts by inventors from around the world. From high-speed monorail to tank-like battle boats to a car with spherical wheels, the images embody a fascinating blend of technological urgency and artistic imagination.

Mountain monorail -- Kikuzo Ito, 1936

A powerful airplane propeller balances a precarious-looking two-wheel bodice, while a tail fin keeps the train upright and stable.

sphere-wheeled car -- Reiji Iizuka, 1936

Based on a concept by a German inventor, the vehicle's oversized rubbery tires promise a smoother ride than the conventional tires and act as a cushion in the event of an accident.

WALT DISNEY’S TOMORROWLAND

Last month, we featured Walt Disney’s Man In Space — an entire series of retrofuturist visions for space exploration, part of his Tomorrowland program. In the following mashup, digital artist David Phillips remixes footage from the program to capture Disney’s legendary optimism about the future.

CLOTHING OF THE FUTURE

In the 1930s, Pathetone Weekly asked leading fashion designers to imagine women’s clothing in the year 2000. From an electric belt that adapts the body to climatic changes to a wedding dress made of glass to an electric headlight “to help her find an honest man,” the Eve of tomorrow is as delightfully retrofuturistic as they come.

As for [the man], if he matters at all, there won’t be any shaving, colors, ties or pockets. He’ll be fitted with a telephone, a radio, and containers for coins, keys and candy for cuties.”

Just about describes your average Brooklyn hipster.

Thanks, Meredith

HALLUCINATORY ARCHITECTURE OF THE FUTURE

Dark Roasted Blend, one of our favorite portals for eclectic interestingness, has a wonderful roundup of “hallucinatory architecture of the future” — architectural retrofuturist urbanism that leans on the side of the far-fetched.

More here and here.

VISIONS OF THE FUTURE

Vision as well as sound, oh my! When British telecommunication giant BT imagined the future of communication technology — from videoconferencing to high-definition document transmission — they made their most conceptually innovative proposition, the notion of telecommuting, with a kind of facetiousness most ironic in the context of today’s remote-everything workplace.

Given all these facilities, the businessman will scarcely need to go to his office at all. He can do all his work in the comfort of his own home.”

TELEFUTURE

In 1980, a TV segment entitled Telefuture envisions a world of television-based information services. While at its core lies a fascinating and, in retrospect, remarkably accurate exploration of the exponential progression of technology — including transmedia experiences that even modernity can’t get quite right, like Internet TV — the excitement and language used to describe technologies we now find primitive is a disarming source of amusement. We held it together quite admirably, until the vintage-voiced man described basic 8-bit diversions as “incredibly complex games” — at that point, through tears of laughter, we wonder how his vocabulary of superlatives would hold up against the latest Halo 3 or Guitar Hero.

But don’t think of it just as a receiver of programs from networks or local stations — it’s becoming a central display terminal, able to show pictures from a growing number of electronic sources, including traditional broadcast stations, 40 or more channels of cable television, video cassette recorders with timers to record programs to watch at your convenience, video disc machines that don’t record but play back records of films, specials and so on, and games people play, incredibly complex games now programmed into your sets by small cassettes or cards or memory discs.”

For some quality present-day retrofuturism, we highly recommend What’s Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science — a fantastic, and not necessarily fantastical, anthology of 18 essays by leading scientists across evolutionary biology, anthropology, neuroscience and psychology exploring the future of ethics and the human mind.

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06 JANUARY, 2011

Georges Méliès: The First Cinemagician

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Earlier today, we looked at DJ Spooky’s exploration of the history of remix culture, in which he makes a passing mention of Georges Méliès — the seminal French filmmaker considered by many the father of special effects and referred to as “the first cinemagician.” Working in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Méliès pioneered techniques that are still among the most potent creative arsenal of today’s animators, from stop-motion to timelapse to dissolves to multiple exposures. His most influential work is collected in Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913) — an outstanding 5-disc, 13-hour collection of 173 rare and rediscovered Méliès gems, along with a beautifully illustrated booklet featuring essays by acclaimed National Film Board of Canada animator Norman McLaren.

Exquisitely digitized and even featuring 15 hand-colored films, the collection shines a new light on Méliès’ imaginative visual storytelling and its monumental creative legacy. For instance, the stop-frame multiplication in his L’homme orchestre can be seen in countless iconic visual artifacts of pop culture, such as the video-cloning in Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean.

His work was even the inspiration for The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the stunning 533-page illustrated book we featured last year.

Méliès Encore: 26 Additional Rare and Original Films by the First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1911) came two years after the release of the first collection and offered, as the title promises, 24 more rediscovered and restored Méliès and two by Spanish filmmaker Segundo de Chomon, filmed in Méliès’ style and originally mistakenly attributed to him. Méliès even appears in one of them, l’oeuf du sorcier (The Prolific Egg) — a groundbreaking exploration of scale, multiplication and transitions from 1902 and truly earns the great filmmaker his reputation as a “cinemagician.”

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05 JANUARY, 2011

Ralph Ginzburg’s fact:, Vintage Wikileaks?

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Inconvenient truths, or what groundbreaking typography has to do with the justice system.

Between January 1964 and August 1967 Ralph Ginzburg published a quarterly magazine entitled fact: — a provocative blend of satire and investigative journalism exploring controversial issues across American politics, consumer advocacy and public policy. Art directed by iconic graphic designer Herb Lubalin and printed entirely in black and white, the magazine set a new standard for ambitious and innovative typography as a bold visual statement complementing its anti-establishment editorial angle, bringing a new level of credibility to the role of the designer as an editorial, not just aesthetic, visionary.

Lubalin and I worked together like Siamese twins. It was a rare and remarkable relationship. I had no experience or training as a graphic designer. Herb brought a graphic impact. I never tried to overrule him and almost never disagreed with him.” ~ Ralph Ginzburg

In some ways, fact: was a lot like Wikileaks. Despite being separated by nearly half a century and living on vastly different media platforms, the two served a remarkably similar social function — to bring to light that which is uncomfortable, controversial but ultimately necessary to the reader’s informed citizenship — and triggered ire of similar magnitude among the political players whose reputation and credibility the publication’s content brought into question.

The parallel, however, becomes even more uncanny: In 1963, a drawn-out libel case was brought against Fact and Ginzburg himself. Two years after the case finally came to a close in 1972, Ginzburg was sent to jail — but not for libel. He was sentenced to three years in prison for distributing pornographic material through the mail — a striking similarity to Julian Assange’s rape charges in lieu of a solid Wikileaks case, bespeaking a systemic practice of not only keeping inconvenient journalists quiet by any means necessary, but by manufacturing charges for offenses as socially unacceptable as possible, with sexual transgressions being the pinnacle of social condemnation.

Rare issues of the magazine are available online, for surprisingly little. For more of Ginzburg’s keen cultural curtain-pulling, take a look at 100 Years of Lynchings — a compilation of newspaper clippings between 1886 and 1960 capturing vivid and unsettling accounts of lynching to offer insight into the history of racial violence.

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03 JANUARY, 2011

Women of the World: An Arresting Global Exploration

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Last year, we took a look at Mondo Cane, the original shockumentary circa 1962. The following year, the same filmmakers — Paolo Cavara, Franco Prosperi and Gualtiero Jacopetti — released La Donna nel Mondo (Women of the World), another genre-bender film whose tagline says it all: “Behind the Fancy Clothes Into the Most Primitive, the Most Provocative Affairs of Women!” — an arresting exploration of everything from tribal culture to Geishas to polygamy to the female form itself.

In the following excerpt, the filmmakers take us inside the gay and lesbian club scene of Paris in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It’s fascinating and unsettling to see the film treat homosexuality as symptomatic of some “underlying sadness” and a misguided attempt to emulate the physical characteristics of the opposite gender. At the same time, however, it’s hard not to revel in the disconnect between the narrator’s scorn and the merry good time these men and women seem to be having.

Women of the World bespeaks the era’s institutionalized sexism, devoid of any self-awareness, yet offers a fascinating perspective on both the women of the time and, in a rich meta kind of way, on the men who documented them.

via VSL

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