American Look.

This lavish, Technicolor, widescreen film, sponsored by General Motors, purports to be a salute to "stylists" (read industrial and graphic designers), but it actually had an ulterior motive––to justify GM's annual model changes. It doesn't get any more "modern" than this––using the word to mean both design influenced by Modernism in art and what was the "latest thing" in the 1950s. Images of one brightly colored, modernistic gadget or home furnishing after another are shown, while the narrator tells us how modern Americans (meaning attractive, upper middle class white Americans) are concerned more than ever before with the look of things. The people, though, definitely take a back seat to the "stuff" in this film. And all the stuff is shown as existing primarily for looks––even the items with practical functions are not shown being actually used. A few items are demonstrated, but only like they would be in a store, i.e. an electric mixer is shown spinning in an empty glass bowl. The film concludes with a "behind the scenes look at the design process", as we see designers working on the 1959 Chevrolet behind locked doors. We get to see that it was essentially designed by a committee and that the "best elements" from every designer's work were combined to make a composite that was supposed to be greater than the sum of its parts. This car was the one with the back end that was one big set of tailfins––it's hard to believe now that this was considered "great design" in its time, though it was (at least in this film). The incredible populuxe attitude that infuses this film, and all the examples of modern design, make this a real 1950s time capsule.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: *****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.

Better Reading

Better Reading . Teenager Harold Wilson has a problem—he can’t read for (expletive deleted). So he has to spend all his free time studying ...