Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Architectural Representations of the City in Science Fiction Cinema

Still from Michael Winterbottom's film Code 46.

The following is an excerpt from Eric Mahleb's fascinating essay, which can be found here.

Before Hollywood realized the money making potential of the science fiction film and its ability to draw large audiences in search of pure escapism, the genre was able to attract talented directors (and still does, occasionally) who had a true interest in exploring the future of humankind or in using it as a means to express contemporary fears and problems. Like many of their literary counterparts, these directors were engaged in a process of discovery and showed a curiosity and thirst for knowledge which, in spite of a lack of a universally accepted definition for science fiction, form an essential characteristic of the genre. Drawing on the works of utopian science fiction literature, which has been in existence more or less officially since Thomas More wrote Utopia in 1516, these directors saw architecture and set design as a way to provide a realistic and accurate depiction of the future. As such, they also relied heavily on past or contemporary architectural and urban planning movements and visionaries. Like utopic science fiction, architecture is often concerned with the search for a better way of living, for ways that Man can improve himself and his environment. Since the industrial revolution and the emergence of the metropolitan city in the mid to late 19th century, the country vs. city discourse has largely defined man’s relationship to his environment and the city has proven a rich source of inspiration for both sociologists and architects. Its emergence has radically altered the landscape of our lands as well as the landscape of the human mind. It has and continues to have ramifications on the evolution of Man and how he perceives and structures his life and experiences. The city has become the perfect outlet for Man’s imagination, his fears, his anxieties and his creativity. And it is also an ideal method to foretell the future, a laboratory where human experiments can take place and can be studied. Cinema fell in love with architecture and the city, and the city fell in love with cinema. Like the connection between science fiction and production design, cinema and the architecture of the city have a long history of interdependence and of relying on one another for inspiration and commentary.

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