Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fetishized Past

The sense of space... of location... is paramount in any storytelling endeavour. In fact, in some instances it is an harbinger of story: it carries meaning, it brings a load of expectation, it defines what to expect. And never so much as in pulp fiction, where the setting is half the story. The spaceship and the alien planet in science fiction, the haunted house or the decrepit castle in horror, the shanty one-street town in the western, the luscious jungle in adventure stories, and so on and on, gives the reader/viewer a promise of what to expect.

In the particular case of modern pulp fiction we can observe a particular phenomenon: that of the fetishization of the past; the great Zeppelins that soar the skies above futuristic cityscapes, the potent motor-cars of the twenties and thirties, the electric apparatuses from the beginning of the twentieth century... they all gain a veneer of once future promises. The past - the safe past - acquires an aura of perfection as a background set for our mind's fantasies. Movies like QUICK SHOW (1994) or L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997) thrive on the creation of a livable fifties and forties space. A sense of immersion in history, in the past, that makes it feel as true as our own very imperfect present.

And thus, when we face something from the past, we imbue it with that perfection that only dead things can get. The past is golden... polished by yearning it gleams like hell. Case in point: the flight from New York to San Francisco aboard a DC-3 Sky Greyhound in THE SAINT STRIKES BACK (1938). Now that was class. I presume to the thirties viewer this scene was something of a product placement stunt: fly confy, fly expensive, fly the same airline The Saint flies. To the modern viewer encountering it now, it is another lie about an imagined past where an angel of an hostess walked down the aisles like a wet dream...

... smiling like the sun dissolving the clouds... down the important messages from the elegant dressers flying first class...

... and depart with a promise of heaven in the curve of her bosom...

... and the sensual sway of her round buttocks.

The big metal bird that would play such an important role in the upcoming war is now a fetishistic item from a past of luxury and adventure. A item of our wonderful and fetishized past.

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