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Retro Future: Present and Past in the Costumes of Futuristic Films

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Esther Yance


Fashion, always silent, intrudes into cinema, without our noticing. It is particularly recognizable and evident in cases where the movie discourse is set in the same time than the film production. For instance, the New Look designed by Dior is unmistakable in many films from the 50s; mini-skirts abound in productions from the 60s, leather in the 80s, and so on. In cases where the historical time of the cinematic discourse, and the real time, external to the fiction, are contemporary, the relationship between fashion and film becomes clearly apparent. In these instances, film becomes a most valuable source of information for studies of fashion that springs from the 20th and 21st centuries.

But what happens when it comes to describe the future, and not the past? Where do the costumes of the futuristic movies spring from? Have they been inspired by today’s fashion, or that of yesterday? Are they related to fashion designers, or to avant-garde art?

In futuristic cinema, this is, cinema that situates its action in the future time, costumes lack a real reference to emulate, since the fashion that they could copy or transform has not been created yet. Hence, the construction of the appearance will be achieved through a speculative process based in elements from the past and from the present.

We will analyse several examples to confirm the validity of this sentence. We have chosen three futuristic films produced in different periods, in order to examine the changes that happen in their proposal of costumes, and their relationship with contemporary and/or past period’s fashion.

To start, we well discuss one of the opening films of the futuristic genre, and at the same time one of its most unknown: Things to come, directed by William Cameron Menzies in 1936. Its action starts in London in 1936 and ends in 2036 with the advent of a technocratic utopian civilization. Next we will look at an example very well known by the mass audience, Planet Of The Apes, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner in 1968: a group of astronauts on a space mission time-travel to a dystopia future where apes rule over humans in New York, year 3978. Finally, we will analyse a Japanese film from 1984: Nausicaa, by Hayao Miyazaki, its action taking place in an undetermined time one thousand years after a nuclear war.

Following Ugo Volli, and his Il linguaggio del corpo e della moda, we will try to determine, through a brief analysis, the intertwining relationships between these two systems of syncretic texts: fashion and film, and particularly the translations that are carried out in the construction of the body in futuristic films.


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This Work, Retro Future: Present and Past in the Costumes of Futuristic Films, by zbeck is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported license.