This last week I looked at the origins of science fiction. What’s interesting is the way the genre reflects its time, not only socially but aesthetically. Science fiction as a genre began back in the 1890’s with writers like H.G. Wells with such novels as War of The Worlds and The Time Machine both of which show a cultural fascination with the future of mankind. Combining science and the power of the divine apocalypse, stories of dying worlds and alien attacks opened up the imagination and spurred on the continued growth and interest in the genre throughout the 20th Century. As cinema developed in the early 20th century novels were turned into film, with H.G. Well’s The Shape of things to Come. The visually bold Metropolis in 1927 depicted the city as a vertical, mechanical image of capitalism, which aesthetically and socially was very much a product of its time. (BARNWELL, J., 2004, p100). Metropolis introduced the world to the city of the future.
Above images from Metropolis and War of The Worlds http://2012.futureeverything.org/music/dieter-moebius-polinski/ https://film110sp12.pbworks.com/w/page/50385313/Metropolis’s%20Influence%20on%20Future%20Film http://www.war-ofthe-worlds.co.uk/war_of_the_worlds.htm
It’s no surprise that aesthetically films took on elements of the decades in which they were made. Metropolis used art deco for its posters and Russian constructivist art, an art movement that spanned the years between 1913-1940s. “Constructivist art is committed to complete abstraction with a devotion to modernity, where themes are often geometric, experimental and rarely emotional”
Art work by Vladimir Tatlin: Monument to the Third International” (1919-20, Moscow) http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/constructivism/
Science Fiction continued to reflect the social, political and cultural climate as it progressed through the 20th Century. During the 1950’s the film industry turned its attentions to the teenage audience also, producing low-budget B movies that were built on the popularity of magazines such as EC Comics and Weird Tales (1923-1954) (KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. p4). So cinema was constantly drawing on inspiration from literature. It also drew on the political climate.
“Many can be related to concerns about the cold war and/or nuclear weapons, including a large group labelled ‘invasion narratives’ ”
This was hardly surprising given the devastation seen world-wide at the end of World War 2 with the bombing of Hiroshima. We saw what was possible with science, both the good and the bad, and science fiction continued to feed on this. Invasion films were also in the social arena at this time as the momentum of the space program grew., though this was not a new concept with the earlier works of H.G.Wells. Technological advances made it possible and all the more real. Space travel was driven by the cold war and space race between USSR and the US and in 1957 the world saw Sputnik 1, the first man-made object in space, closely followed by the first human in space in 1961.
Then came the films during the 1960′ and 70’s that looked at science fiction in everyday life with mundane suburbia being turned on its head with films like Village of the Damned (1960) and The Stepford Wives (1975). This was a result of America’s sociologists fearing that the American suburban family was ” … sinking into a morass of suburban conformity and complacency.” ( KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. p 6)
So science fiction continued to find inspiration in the social contexts and it seemed that audiences wanted more. The film industry knew that these kinds of films were a lucrative business. “Suddenly, science fiction films were viewed as financially profitable and audiences flocked to the theatres and craved more” (filmsite.org. on-line)
Money had its part to play in the audience/popularity story and later in the 20th century cinema was able to take audiences to far off galaxies in a visually realistic and engaging way with Star Wars (1977). Star Wars used the age-old tale of good versus evil and was often referred to a ‘western’ in space ( KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. p 10). It mixed genres including fantasy with the presence of a magical force that binds everything together known as ‘The Force’. Spectacle had finally arrived in Hollywood and technology seemed to be leading the way in terms of how things were being produced and were going to be produced in the future.
But the social context always had an influence over the story that was to be told. The years following saw Virtual Reality/ computer versus human films like The Lawnmower Man and The Matrix Trilogy . Invasion films like Independence Day continued to pull the audiences with special effects and the post apocalyptic/dystopian futures have seen a rise in popularity again due to environmental issues/politics and the war on terrorism with The Hunger Games , The Road , The Terminator combining horror and science fiction and creating all too believable outcomes for humankind.
KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA Science Fiction Cinema: From Outerspace to Cyberspace. 2000. London: Wallflower Press
BARNWELL, J., Production Design: Architects of the screen. 2004. London/New York: Wallflower Press
http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/constructivism/ [sourced on 15/01/14]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_exploration [sourced on 15/01/14]
http://www.filmsite.org/sci-fifilms2.html [sourced on 15/01/14]
http://2012.futureeverything.org/music/dieter-moebius-polinski/ [sourced on 15/01/14]
https://film110sp12.pbworks.com/w/page/50385313/Metropolis’s%20Influence%20on%20Future%20Film [sourced on 15/01/14]
http://www.war-ofthe-worlds.co.uk/war_of_the_worlds.htm [sourced on 15/01/14]
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“What’s interesting is the way the genre reflects its time, not only socially but aesthetically” — could be said about anything really, literature, art, etc.