Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"...for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives."

Matt Novak's blog Paleofuture.com ("a look into the future that never was") is a site I enjoy dipping into from time to time. It collects and categorizes newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and other media dating back to the 1870s, all toward the cause of retro-futurism, or studying how our forebears imagined the future — which more and more has become our present and in many cases already our own past.

For instance, the site gives a home to this page from the Dec. 1900 issue of the Ladies Home Journal predicting "What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years." The way previous generations imagined space tourism makes for some quaint and charming anthropology. Robots, of course, have for over a century provided grist for the mills of "techno-utopian authors and illustrators" and "techno-reactionaries" alike. An Associated Press article from 1950, "How Experts Think We'll Live in 2000 A.D.," is a reminder that we shouldn't put much stock in our predictions about life in 2060, although going to the opera via airship (as illustrated in 1882) is a c. 2000 innovation I would have enjoyed. And yes, there are flying cars.

For the purposes of Open the Pod Bay Doors, HAL, I've been clicking through the site's entries tagged Movies and Motion Pictures, and here's a sample of what we find there:
Jan. 30, 1911 Centralia Daily Chronicle
  • Moving Pictures to Show Schoolboys of 1995 Our Time (March 18, 1920, Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette) — "To the schoolboy of the year 1995 history will not merely be something to be memorized out of books. It will be visualized and made real for him by the moving pictures that are being made now. The people of our time will not be mere history book ghosts to this boy but living creatures who smile at him and walk and play and love and hate and work and eat."
  • The robot-staffed movie theater of the future as forecast in a 1930 Syracuse Herald article titled "Television Soon Will Flash Talkies Through the Ether; Theater of the Future Will Receive Its Films From Afar."
  • Movies to be Produced in Every Home (1925) — Cecil B. DeMille didn't end up directing the first screen versions of The War of the Worlds or When Worlds Collide, but apparently he did find a "theory" of his at the center of a future-gazing piece that ran in the September 5, 1925 Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV). To wit:

    "It is not at all beyond the range of possibility, and to me it seems probable, that within the next 20 years some householder with absolutely no studio training will produce a screen masterpiece, with no stage except that of his own parlor, dining room or bedroom." Cecille DeMille, the Los Angeles producer, declared today in an exclusive interview.

    "With the necessity of powerful lighting done away with, motion pictures can then be taken in every American home and the motion picture camera used in just the same fashion as kodaks are today.

    "So one sees that as a prairie woman in Nebraska may produce the greatest novel of the year or a man in the mountain wilds of Montana compose the best musical composition of a decade, so may an ordinary householder produce a motion picture far superior to all others."

    Ol' C.B. may have been too optimistic about "the next 20 years," and what he'd think of YouTube is a question for a Sundance pub crawl, but he was strikingly foresightful.
  • Similarly, we find quotes from a 1923 article, "Thinking Men and Women Predict Problems of World Century Hence," in which D.W. Griffith himself predicts the perfection of talking pictures (four years before The Jazz Singer), my DVD collection, and our "picture trained" world, although curiously he saw no future in live television, which "would be entirely too much waste of the public's time, and that is the important thing - time."

The site's Television tag serves up related retro ephemera such as:
"Movies by radio! Why not? You will be able to have a moving picture produced in some central plant and projected in your home, on your yacht, or on your camping trip, the picture being sent by radio, and received and projected upon your screen. All this is perfectly possible."
Yes, Netflix streaming is a fine thing, though not as fine as enjoying it on my yacht. You can read Gernsback's entire, occasionally loopy, piece reproduced at Scribd here.
  • An illustrated two-page spread from 1981, on home entertainment of the future. It accurately foretells that "the magazines, books, records, tapes and television sets we now have will begin to disappear. But in their place the computer will offer us a greater range of entertainment."
    And yet, according to the illustration, here in the future we all still have '70s hair.

The whole Paleofuture.com site is worth a few "back to the future" hours. In the meantime...