Dreams of Progress Videos: Visions for the Future

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To New Horizons, Handy (Jam) Organization, USA, 1940 – 23 min.
“Definitive document of pre-World War II futuristic utopian thinking, as envisioned by General Motors. Documents the ‘Futurama’ exhibit in GM’s ‘Highways and Horizons’ pavilion at the World’s Fair, which looks ahead to the ‘wonder world of 1960.’”

Part of the Prelinger Archives: http://www.archive.org/details/prelinger
Sponsor: General Motors Corporation, Department of Public Relations.
Video:  http://www.archive.org/details/ToNewHor1940

Century 21 Calling, Fairbanks (Jerry) Productions, 1964 – 14 min.
“Romp through the futuristic landscape of the Seattle World’s Fair, centred in the Bell System pavilion.”

Part of the Prelinger Archives: http://www.archive.org/details/prelinger
Sponsor: American Telephone and Telegraph Co. (AT&T).
Video: http://www.archive.org/details/Century21964

Future of Cities, Squint/opera, UK, 2007 – 4 min.
“The film was commissioned by The Danish Royal Academy of Architecture and is part of a publication outlining the outcome of the International Federation for Housing and Planning Congress that took place in Copenhagen in 2007. ‘Futures of Cities’ is a selection of contributions presented during the congress. These contributions consist of work from miscellaneous architectural practitioners, ten principles developed by ‘Monday Morning’ and competition entries from the student competition that took place as part of the event.”

Producer: http://www.squintopera.com
Video: http://www.vimeo.com/1774270

Commentary
The video “To New Horizons” from General Motors (1940) depicts a high-tech world where novelty, efficiency, and order are the main measures of success. It does not show any people, only mega-structures and highways. I would compare the video to ‘Utopia’ by Thomas More, because both utopias are highly planned and focused on efficiency. They both respond to the need to distribute a limited amount of resources (agriculture, jobs, energy) to everyone. One contradiction to notice in the video is the praise for both novelty and efficiency. Novelty requires trials and errors that are all but efficient. A perfectly efficient world would not tolerate novelty.

“Century 21 Calling” from AT&T (1964) advocates technological progress. It does so by depicting middle-class people and their domestic problems. Progress in science is justified because it can improve standards of living. However, belief in technology serves as a way to avoid challenging the social rules of the USA in the 60s, e.g. the condition of women. The AT&T video is propaganda – its actors conform to the ideal of what America should look like.

“Future of Cities” from the Danish Royal Academy of Architecture (squint/opera, 2007) introduces themes related to libertarian socialism, environmentalism and post-modernism. The future looks like a collage of seemingly independent communities from diverse ethnicities and  cultural backgrounds. Sustainability and nature are at the centre of their social projects. However, the multiform buildings covered with trees and grass are massive, and could not possibly be built by small communities. Life and apparent organic disorder is in fact planned and optimised. The video somehow gives the impression that big corporations are necessary in this global network of small communities. The “Future of Cities” video was controversial at the philosophical debate held during the exhibition. Some people felt that its message was closer to a ‘human’ utopia, others thought it was not that different from the other visions and that its humanity was only superficial.

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