Friday, February 23, 2007

Art Deco

When dealing with the 1930’s and the genre of pulp literature as transposed to later media, it is impossible to ignore Art Deco. Its unmistakable look can be found every where from the sky line of Metropolis to the Rocketeers helmet. Furthermore, because pop sci fi had its birth in the 1930's, contemporary descendents also make reference to Art Deco as a means of establishing an ambience, though normally its called an homage. As always the gaps are bridged by a few important works, such as Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis', Flash Gordon and James Bond. In the earlier Flash Gordon serials, Art Deco was every where, from the design of the Rocketships to the matte paintings of alien citys that loomed on distant horizon's. In James Bond, it can be seen lurking in the villains post Bauhaus style secret hide aways, and in Metropolis, its in just about every frame of the film!

Echoing Flash Gordon and 'Metropolis' came 'Forbidden Planet', 'Bladerunner' and the later Star Wars trilogy. In fact, where ever you encounter popular sci fi, you'll find the perpendicular lines of Art Deco lurking in the back ground as a testament to the retro-future that never was. This is probably because Art Deco was the last great art movement before the disillusionment of the Second World War and as such retains the innocent love of progress that died in 1945. In its hey day Art Deco was considered highly futuristic and this is evident in the love of technology it betrays. Great lines of power spike upwards into the sky whilst Atlas like masculine figures bear the weight of progress on their broad shoulders. No one makes art like this anymore, because no one believes in technology or science as they did in 1936. Today we use Art Deco to look back with fond nostalgia.

The biggest problem in recreating the style for table top gamers comes with the lack of visuals. Skirmish wargaming uses models and figures, but these are very seldom so genre specific as to be 'art deco' in appearance, and even those few that fit the description, are as still generic as possible to appeal to as many customers as can be. Mad scientists for example fit in almost any game.

If you are talented enough you can create visuals to help set an ambience, or build model buildings that will generate the same, but this is a very lengthy process that requires a lot of effort. It can be done as the gothic style models of Warhammer 40k gamers proves, but with Art Deco you are largely operating alone and without the wealth of modelling extra's available to Warghammer 40k gamers. One thing you can do is add small details like Soviet style posters to otherwise non descript buildings and try to use period vehicles, but its diffcult to find even these and one must be both vigilant and lucky to find period specific models.

Fortunately Art Deco fonts are easy to come by and these can be used for titles by any one who has a printer. I like to use the Farscape font which has the benefit of being genuine 'retro sci fi'.


brando said...

In the new fantastic 4 movie they do a little of that with the buildings.

Grimsby Mariner said...

I love the Art Deco style and appearance. There is a house here in Grimsby that was built in the 30's that has all the classic lines, rounded edges and colour of the period. It's the only house in the town that I've really wanted to live in but could never afford it.

moif said...

Britain has a lot of such buildings I think. I see them a lot in BBC drama's like Hercule Poirot, but usually they're the typically understated Charles Rennie Mackintosh style than the expansive US style.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh is usually considered as belonging to Art Nouveau but I think he bridges the two genre's.

The most notable Art Deco building I've visited is the Liverpool Philharmonic where Mette and I once celebrated my birthday with a Tchaikovsky concert. 'Dance of the Suger Plum Fairy'.

Brando, I can't see the video 'cause I've not got my something-or-other figured out, but I'll take your word for it. Its almost standard issue for such films nowadays.

Grimsby Mariner said...

for filsm surely "Sky captain" is a hommage to the Art Deco movement with so many of the buildings and cinematic styling of that period.