The Original Steampunk Cinema

In general, the history of cinema seems to be more significantly linked to dieselpunk and cyberpunk as opposed to steampunk. This isn’t surprising, considering cinema isn’t considered to have entered its prime until the 1920s, around the beginning of the “dieselpunk” era.

However, it’s important to remember that in 1895, the Lumière brothers held their first public film screening, some thirty years before the Golden Age of Silent Film.

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Casshern

Casshern

The live-action film Casshern (directed by Kazuaki Kiriya, 2004) is based on the 1973 anime of the same name. This fact is a sore spot for fans of the original, who generally seem to be unanimous in their dislike of the filmic remake. On the other hand, fans of the movie may not enjoy the anime upon viewing.

I have to admit that I’ve only seen a few fragments of that original 1970s animation, but I think I’ve seen enough to say that I actually enjoy both, for their own reasons.

Needless to say, the 70s anime is generally bright and campy. The film is, however, dark and extravagant (perhaps to excess). This already forces a wedge between the two, which is driven deeper by some drastic changes to the plot.

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Rintaro’s Metropolis

Metropolis

It is difficult to describe the exact relationship between the 2001 anime Metropolis, directed by Rintaro, and Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film of the same name without longwinded explanations or vague terms like “inspired by” or “loosely based upon.”

As a matter of fact, the anime is chiefly a filmic adaptation of a 1949 manga by Osamu Tezuka, best known as the creator of Astro Boy, which is purported to be “loosely inspired” by a few promotional images of the famous masterpiece of silent cinema.

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Brazil

Brazil

I’ll slip in a current-affairs reference into this article for, let’s face it, recession’s not exactly painting the landscape in bright, Wizard of Oz Technicolor shades of glorified self-smugness. It is grey and gloomy; distinct features of the misery of dreary, dire dystopia.

But I will not go so far as to say that society at the moment is sliding deeper into Orwellian doom, because that would be a rather grim view and detract from the fact that this is meant to segue into a positive review about a jolly good film.

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Tobacco’s Golden Era

This shows Hollywood stars Clark Gable and Joan Crawford indulging in a cigarette in the 1934 film Chained.

Despite the many health risks associated with smoking tobacco, in the Golden Era, cigarette smoking was a fashion statement that showed the smoker to be a classy person. Indeed, many a student bedroom is adorned with the iconic photograph of Audrey Hepburn with cigarette holder clinched betwixted gloved fingers.

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Chinatown

Chinatown

No film genre has been as beloved by dieselpunks as film noir and, for many, the first glimpse of this classic American genre was through the subsequent attempt to revive it.

This genre, generally referred to as neo-noir, is probably best known for its fusion with cyberpunk in Blade Runner (1982). However, one the oldest and purest examples of the neo-noir genre came in the form of the period film Chinatown (1974), directed by the infamous Roman Polanksi.

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The History of Dieselpunk II: Diesel Classics

With Hollywood reverting back into its archives for added inspiration for narrative ideas, we find a recent trend of nostalgic hindsight to the age of the Roaring Twenties and the 1930s. This seems to have infiltrated gradually the science-fiction genre that is emerging in contemporary cinema.

Films like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) and The Mutant Chronicles (2008) have perhaps inspired the intrigue in the early first half of the last century. Other recent films like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) and The Spirit (2008) have sparked new interest in the previous century, overcast with economic turmoil, lawlessness on the streets and in politics and the ever-present dystopian sentiment toward a near-hopeful future with the potential of war hanging in the balance.

We must also not forget the alternative historical elements of the times, when people perceived a future that could at one time or another have been dominated by the totalitarian powers, specifically the Nazi regime — evoking concepts of the supernatural and Über-technology that was revolutionized by the whacky radicalism of engineers and scientists of the time. Such themes promoted in the independent feature Iron Sky — which alludes to what would have happened if the Nazis had escaped to the Moon — present the growing fascination with the emerging genre of dieselpunk.

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