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Welcome, Members of Parliament. This blog is designed to act as a student forum for anyone enrolled in my classes at a Dallas-area proprietary college, former students, and/or others who find our conversations interesting. The Parliament will be moderated to ensure civility and relevance. The directions we take, the paths we follow, and the concerns we address are all up to you.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Future as Past

A slide show in the New York Times this weekend, The Visual Design of 'Megamind,' made me think first of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and then about Terry Gilliam's Brazil and Alex Proyas's Dark City. The Art Deco influences are obvious to anyone who's ever made it through History of Art & Design II, but the others might be a bit more obscure. What made me think of Brazil is the slide of Megamind's Lair; Dominique Lewis's view of Metro City made me think of the last scene in Dark City. The Hugh Ferris-inspired shot of Metro City looked like something straight out of Lang's 1927 classic--which was also a classic application of Art Deco.

Artists get ideas from everywhere, as Terry Barrett reminds us ("All art is, in part, about other art"). In fact, it's very difficult for us human beings, metaphor-makers that we are, to come up with anything truly original, even when we're imagining the future. It's enormously difficult for even the best science fiction minds to imagine visually a place we've never experienced, much less beings we've never met (hence the present-day default setting: aliens as marine creature-like embodiments of our worst nightmares). So Art Deco, which seemed futuristic at the time (the 1920s and '30s), was really grounded in a romanticized version of the machine aesthetic from the late nineteenth century, with a bit of Bauhaus and Art Nouveau thrown in.

To complicate matters, we're now seeing a combination of Industrial Revolution-era technologies with another adaptation of Art Deco into an alternative view: the past-as-future aesthetic of Steampunk. I don't mean this as negative criticism, because it seems a perfect compromise to an old geezer like me. But to give you an idea of how out of it I really am, I looked for a good link for "steam punk" and was quickly corrected by Google.

As an alternative to the now old-fangled "Where's Waldo," may I offer a new game for art and design history students: locate the art-history influences in your favorite new film.

Report back when you find interesting connections.

Image credit: the original 1927 poster for Fritz Lang's film, Metropolis. Via Wikipedia.


Ash said...

I have research to do.

Moi said...

This is rather random and slightly strange to admit, but I just recently watched Disney's Princess and the Frog. It's apparent that there was some influence from the art deco and even the harlem renaissance movements (even though that's probably more of a northern thing and the movie is based in New Orleans).

Owlfarmer said...

Undoubtedly this is not a coincidence. One thing Disney is especially good at is grounding its art direction in appropriate periods. I think I remember reading that both the general style of New Orleans and the Harlem Renaissance were inspirations. Guess I'll have to check it out--thanks for making the connection.