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weblog archives
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Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Over at Design Observer, Jessica Helfand writes about The Incredibles - a film which is not just a loving homage to the superhero genre, but also the painstaking construction of an imaginary age of 'good design': 'The Incredibles dwell in a kind of extraordinary dystopia, at once a celebration and an exaggeration of Eames-era modernism'. The Designibles dwells on the character of Edna Mode, who is billed as a 'superhero fashion designer,' with secondary attributes of 'super attitude' and 'excellent taste.' Her Philip Johnson-style glasses give the game away: here is the architect as superhero. Move over Howard Roark...

But wait. People tend to forget that Mid-Century Modern, for all its modish tastefulness, was once very much in the service of 'good' in the fight against 'evil'. The military-industrial complex ploughed its hefty R+D budget into mass-producing modern design, promoting consumption and generally equating new technology - in all its forms, be it in the kitchen, living room or car port - with social freedom and democracy.

We've written before about the book Cold War Hothouses, and the way in which modern design was one way of shielding the American consumer against the communist threat. The Incredibles' world, designed as it is down to the last mote, speaks of a climate of fear, mollified only by consumption and rampant technological innovation - innovation that climaxes in the forms and attributes of the superheroes themselves. Back in the day, comics were just one front in the battle against the socialist hordes (see This Godless Communism, for example).

There are some production notes here about the movie - its 100 sets of 'retro nostalgia': Art director Ralph Eggleston calls the film "suburban-mid-century-Tiki by way of [production designer] Lou Romano," while the director is quoted as saying: "I saw the world of The Incredibles as looking sort of like what we thought the future would turn out like in the 1960s". That fails to mention a sadness for this missing future, something that's at the core of retro nostalgia: a wistfulness for something that was somehow - almost inexplicably - lost before it was ever truly found.

See the film's stellar Metacritic rating and view trailers. Read about Pixar and the Uncanny Valley. Thanks to Bill Drenttel at Winterhouse (the design company he runs with Helfand) for directing us to it. We especially like their covers for Susan Sontag's recent paperback re-issues. Which segues us nicely into Shooting Images, an article extracted from things 17-18 on the photographic representation of the Iraq War, and on Susan Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others.

Other things. An amazing animated grafitti tag (via plasticbag) / Londonist aims to do for our fair capital what Gothamist did for NY. For some reason we read Gothamist quite regularly. Will a London-centric weblog work? / Modern Phoenix: that post-war optimism encapsulated.

100 top trainwrecks, not of the dodgy British network variety - think more along the lines of Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon.