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Speculation and Extrapolation

Speculation and Extrapolation, is an excerpt from a longer text by Ilona Gaynor. It is part of the Blowup Reader The Era of Objects.

For an illustrated version, please download the complete PDF of the Era of Objects Reader.

Gateways, beyond the beyond ‘If design can be a way of creating material objects that help tell a story what kind of stories would it tell and in what style or genre?’1 A designed artifact can connect an idea to its expression as a made, crafted, instantiated object. These material objects that have a form, texture a certain level of intensity that becomes real before themselves. They sit on a landscape of meaning that pre-exits them, because ‘they could never exist outside of an imagined use of context, however mundane or vernacular that imagined context of social practices might be. Objects tell stories, even by themselves. In cinema they act as props or in design they act as conversation pieces that help speculate, reflect and imagine a world without the use for words.’2 They are items around which a narrative is weaved, and this helps us to imagine and plot out the details of the environment in which they are located. But they can also act as ‘gateways’ into other kinds of worlds: extrapolated tangents, parallels and instances that exist beyond the immediate experience of the narrative, giving us a dense picture about where the ideas and themes originated and of course where they cross over at points of familiarity with our own world. Of course hyper detailed and referential mise-en-scene is an investment and could be argued that it is partly a result of a release ‘new’ technologies such as DVD and Blue Ray. Digital special effects make it relatively ‘simple’ to produce microscopic, intensively overlaid, hybrid and hyper real environments. It could be said that there is a certain level of assumption made by the viewer to expect a high standard of detail that will result in repeated and sometimes highly selective viewings, which will scrutinize and enjoy detail that would normally be missed in a theatrical viewing. There are four main strands where these existential gateways come into reflection.

1.0 – Product placement ‘Product placement is a form of advertising, where branded goods or services are placed in a context usually devoid of ads, such as movies, the story line of television shows, or news programs. The product placement is often not disclosed at the time that the good or service is featured.’3 Product placement still exists and is a ‘successful’ tool for communicating brands within a consumer-generated framework. Most film critics would state that product placement is ‘absurd’ and ‘putrefies the environment’4 David Lynch goes as far to say when asked his opinion about the subject ‘Bullshit. That’s how I feel, total fucking bullshit... what kind of world is this?’5  It is fair to say that the bottom line intention from advertising is to make money and if spending big budgets on film funding in order to get a product in front of the eyes of attentive viewers, so be it. However it could be argued that products (in some instances) allow us to tell more compelling ‘believable’ stories by reflecting the world and western culture we live in, through including its most dominant brands. It allows us to enter the cinematic world presented before us and find comfort in being surrounded by familiar artifacts and brands that work their way into our daily lives. However by ‘anchoring’ a brand into a film, we become more familiar with the world pervasive branding, which arguably therefore works to constrain what can be done in regards to the production and freedom of the film. HBO’s Sex and the City is publicized for use of its product placement, referred to as ‘the ”Film Whore” who ”sold out” for marketing’6 and is often shunned for doing so, brands included: Mercedes-Benz, Coty fragrances and Sky vodka, as well as the jeweler H Stern; Glaceau Vitamin Water, Coca-Cola, Starbucks (see Illus) and Bag Borrow and Steal. However it could be argued that Sex and the City is ‘built on a foundation of material goods’7 after all here exists a world, which is described as ‘socialite Manhattan’ where glamorous women live to work, socialize and spend. Where else would Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) be drinking her $5 cup of coffee?

Fig. 7 - Sex and the City ‘the movie’, dir: Michael Patrick King (2008) – Carrie Bradshaw drinks coffee at Starbucks

In Robert Zemekis’s Forrest Gump (1994) Forrest (Tom Hanks) takes a large sum of his hard earned fortune and invests it in what he refers to as some ‘sorta fruit company’8 this is ironic, in the sense that the company he invests in is Apple Computers Inc (see illus) At the time of films release in 1994, Apple was no-where near the ‘power house brand’ it is today, the logo on the document (Fig. 8) is still the colourful striped logo of which apple didn’t change until 1998. In a fictional space, we could imagine Forrest Gump’s Bubba Gump Shrimp Corporation fortune being responsible for the growth of the worlds’ most powerful computer household name. But we can only dream and speculate in and beyond the world that is Forrest Gump.

Fig. 8 - Forrest Gump, dir: Robert Zemekis (1994) – Forrest invests in a  ‘fruit company’ Apple Computer Inc

 What’s interesting in this instance is the use of product placement. The form of brand recognition is weaved peacefully into the narrative without being placed strictly there to sell. The strategy is sophisticated enough not to make us as an audience be consciously aware of it. The other brands that feature are Bubba Gump Shrimp, Dr Pepper, Pepsi and Fred Perry. Forrest Gump is a film often cited as being ‘post modern’, the brands that are used in the film act as artifacts to signify milestones and frame significant, historical reference points, by using visual effects it allows the ‘hero’ Forrest to be inserted into a ‘real’ US chronological history, to which the audience can associate instances with, such as shaking hands with John F. Kennedy. Cross pollinating the ‘real’ world that we know with a parallel fictional reality in which character Forrest is perpetually colliding with and shaping throughout his ‘fictional’ journey to find his destiny. 1.2 – Extrapolating the ‘real’ and ‘fictional’ product placement Extrapolation is a term, which could be used describe how we could reinforce ‘authenticity’ in a fictional environment. When real products sit in a world that’s place in time, either pre-exists us or sits in a distant future. It could be described as a halfway between fact and fiction, they could be seen as speculations on what the next ‘now’ will be like, always remembering that ‘no possible future is out of the question.’9 A key example of this can be seen in the film Back to the Future II (1989), set in the year 2015, Dr Emit Brown (Christopher Lloyd) hands Marty (Michael J. Fox) a pair of ‘power assisted self lacing’ Nike sneakers (Fig. 9), a technologically more advanced version of Nike ‘Air Force Ones’, in order for him to ‘blend in to the future’10 so that natives won’t notice he’s from the ‘past’ and become suspicious of the possibility of time travel. For years I have questioned whether Nike actually contributed to the design of these shoes and their function, or whether they were art directed by Zemekis specifically for the film and sponsored by Nike, but in 2009 Nike released a patent  (Fig. 10), for ‘power assisted self-lacing shoes’ and the carry case in which they are to be packaged in, which is a direct replica of the black and green unscrewing cylinder as seen in the film.

Fig. 9 - Back to the Future II, dir: Robert Zemekis (1989) – Marty McFly - Nike ‘power assisted  self lacing’ sneakers

Fig. 10 - Patent application document -  ‘Fig. 3’ – Nike Inc (2009)

I don’t think it was intentional for Nike to test a ‘new’ product in front of a cinema audience, and from what I’ve read I can’t find any evidence to suggest this. However it becomes easy to imagine a future where companies will go through a similar process for market research, Back to the Future being unintentional, but if a company as powerful as Nike placing a ‘speculative’ product in front of audiences to discover 20 years later that there is a market place for such an item then we begin to see an emergence of product placement that hits a new strategic level all together. Here is what the future could hold, and is it desirable or not? What also becomes apparent throughout the film, is the strange trajectories in reference to product design, in 2015 it speculates that objects will inevitably get smaller, all except for radios, which could be a commentary about the popularity at the time (1980’s) of ‘boom boxes’, which now seems somewhat incomprehensible. Marty also visits The Café 80’s, an artifact in itself that preexisted (at the time) its own pastiche, putting the audience in a mode of self-reflection, one that reflected the ‘current’ decade within which the film was released (1989). Back to the Future fans still await the release of the Hover Board. Fictional Brands can also play an equally significant role regarding the quest to find authenticity. They can be a powerful tool, in relation to crossing the border between fiction and non-fiction, for example: Who designs them? How can a brand be established for a fictional product? Who is the target audience? How might the brand strategically change throughout its lifespan? How will its’ products extrapolate into the future? Or do these questions really matter? In Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993) a group of scientists are invited to visit an island off the coast of Costa Rica, where they find themselves being taken on a tour of a new ‘theme’ park called Jurassic Park before the official launch of the park opens its’ doors to the public. They are greeted by the parks owner John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) who consequently realises the implications of what he imagined to be the utopian theme park of the future turns about to be a deadly misguided mistake. The iconography and realisation of this ‘mistake’ throughout the film is subtly depicted through the brand of the park from the way-finding signage, designs of the vehicles, architecture and merchandise that haunts the empty gift shops. It could be argued that the Jurassic Park ‘brand’ exploits a certain cynicism about the packaging of it’s experience and is maybe a reflection on Disney’s theme park ‘experience’. Ironically the Jurassic Park ‘brand’ subsequently went on to accompany a large range of promotional product merchandise; from plastic toy dinosaurs to children’s lunchboxes (I owned one as a child), items of which we have already encountered, whilst in the fictional gift shop seen in the film. (Fig. 11)

Fig. 11 - Jurassic Park, dir: Steven Spielberg (1993) the fictional gift shop

As the narrative unfolds the more we see the shiny, once great utopian Disney like vision of ‘the worlds greatest theme park’ crumble into traces of a dream destroyed by the nature of it’s own greed, as we see in the final iconic shot of the T-Rex roaring amongst piles of shattered bone rubble, a plastic banner suspended from the ceiling falls into the shot (Fig. 12) that reads ‘when dinosaurs ruled the earth.’ It doesn’t matter that the brand is fictitious, as an audience we associate the brand with a vision for growth, wealth and loyalty something we can all relate too with the brands that we encounter in our everyday lives.

Fig. 12 - Jurassic Park, dir: Steven Spielberg (1993) – ‘when dinosaurs ruled the earth’

Unlike the use of brand in Jurassic Park Quentin Tarantino uses a fictitious brand called ‘Red Apple’ the fictional tobacco brand that are heavily smoked and propagated throughout his written works as well as his film works, more notably in Pulp Fiction (Fig. 13) and Kill Bill. However there has never been a publicised reason why he chose to cultivate and design this brand, its not prominent or relevant to the narrative unlike Jurassic Park, we can only speculate that it makes a counter reference to much larger corporations such as Marlboro, In particular Marlboro Reds – we could argue that this reference could be construed as Tarantino mocking product placement, possibly connoting product placement as the ‘Forbidden Fruit’, by placing his own fictitious products within his own films. Although paradoxically, small fanatic fringes are beginning to roll out Red Apple merchandise, from ashtrays and baseball caps to a whole line of fake cigarettes. Presenting consumers with the possibility of meeting Tarantino’s world of fiction with our reality.

Fig. 13 - Pulp Fiction, dir: Quentin Tarantino (2001) – Mia Wallace smokes ‘Red Apple’ Cigarettes

1.3 – The Unassociable Sometimes we can’t necessarily associate the fictitious with our reality, especially when we talk about worlds that are unfamiliar to us and don’t exist entirely. But there’s a distinct intensity that arises when an, ‘unfamiliar’ object, technological or not is put before us in a fictional space and therefore can be imagined in a real space. It becomes difficult to examine a culture of a place or time, when we have no reference of which to gage meanings with our surroundings. It could argued that all fiction tries to create integrated imaginary worlds, but it is when we start to examine what materials exists within a ‘world’ that allows us to engage, excite and to associate conscious meaning, perhaps even drive us to pull the artifact out the fiction and translate it to the real. George Lucas is well versed in the language of material, in the film series Star Wars (1977) there was over 15,000 props designed and fabricated to propagate the authentic ‘sci-fi’ futuristic environment Lucas had envisioned. The most commonly known objects of which, was the ‘Lightsaber.’ ‘The Lightsaber consists of a polished metal hilt which projects a blade of plasma that spans about one meter long’11 (Fig. 14) and was a weapon associated with a group of warriors referred to as the ‘Jedi’.

Fig. 14 - Star Wars ‘A new hope’, dir: George Lucas (1977) – Luke Skywalker uses a Lightsaber for the first time
Fig. 15 - The Lightsaber (film prop), Designed by George Lucas (1977) – featured in the Star Wars films

Firstly it’s interesting, how detailed the form actually is (Fig. 15) (for a film prop), we can see glimmers of 70’s industrial design; from the typically stainless steel shaft, boxy black Bakelite handle and button trimmings to the tight looped belt clip and visible gold plated external circuit board details, despite the intended vision to be speculatively ‘sci-fi’ in appearance. The opening credits start with the words ‘ A long time ago...’12 however the Lightsaber conjures a realm of sword, sorcery and ‘swashbuckling’ chivalry that could be considered a paradox in itself. Sci-fi objects continued to gravitate towards this aesthetic throughout the late 70’s and early 80’s and are ‘now’ considered an aesthetic sci-fi cliché made up of a recognizable family of objects such as ‘ray guns’ and ‘death rays’ that tend to be often, only referred to in efforts to construct pastiche or to fulfill the role of nostalgia that relates to 70’s pop-culture. We could also construe this as an early stirring of ‘Steam Punk’ (Fig. 16) and it’s visual culture – with its satisfyingly detailed (‘gadgety’) look and feel, with its knobs and controls, not the smooth ‘Bang and Olufson’ version that would (have been) a more accurate gesture towards 70’s ‘future modern’.

Fig. 16 - ‘Cloud Goggles’, characteristically Steam Punk in design (2009)

It could be argued that in fact the Lightsaber originated in the 50’s and was inspiration taken from Isaac Asimov’s novel Foundation (1951) Asimov mentions ‘a penknife with a force-field blade’13 (that was described to snap on and off) which wouldn’t be too far of a stretch onwards to imagine the notion of a sword like object with a ‘force-field blade.’ However if you Google ‘Lightsaber’ or ‘force field blade’ you will find millions of images (See Illust) of Lucas’s (1977) version and various mimicking hybrids, polluting the whereabouts of origin even further, is the object from a past or a recognizable future?


Fig. 17 - Images taken from Google search engine, (04th Oct 2010) - (image search) – ‘Lightsaber’

Curiously most of the images that surfaced (Fig. 17), depict scenes within in a domestic setting, often with children wielding some form of Lightsaber or images of the Lightsaber (in various degraded conditions) situated in various places of the ordinary: on the television set, or discarded on a carpet floor. The Lightsaber could be considered, a modern ‘house hold’ object, an artifact that depicts a once desired ‘future’ but at the same time, a reflective past. Much like the hopes of the Hover Board appearing in the market place, the Lightsaber also sits within this same landscape of the desire to transform the fictional into the reality. This year, in May (2010) a GE engineer named Matt Gluesenkamp attempted to design and build a Lightsaber for real (Fig. 18), unlike all the other previous attempts enlisted throughout the Internet’s directory of Star Wars subcultures, this one was a genuine scientific attempt to make the Lightsaber function accurately, giving it the ability to slice through dense materials. The image below was his prototype.

Fig. 18 - The Lightsaber, Engineered by Matt Gluesenkamp (2010)

Unfortunately Gluesenkamp’s attempt was unsuccessful and proved ‘impossible technologically, at this point in time’ although he remarked ‘It seemed quite possible to create a Lightsaber, as seen in the Star Wars films, using existing technologies, materials, and physical laws. I was wrong. But I hope in the near future someone proves me right.’14  1.4 – On Location ‘Nostalgia only works when the original experience has been forgotten, so that the container is empty enough to fill with a wide-ranging anxieties about what we have lost’15 Location plays a key role in the construction of an authentic imaginary place, time or instance. They allow us to fantasize and relive moments within narrat  ives that have only taken place within the world of fiction, and can often lead to an uncanny feeling of recognition upon entering a space not consciously remembered or when it has been ‘forgotten’ or clouded by ones own experience of only ever seeing it through the lens of a constructed film-stage or obscure narrative. At the beginning of this investigation I gave several participants (located around the globe) a film each that was based specifically on their current whereabouts and stipulated that the films provided; firstly had never been seen before by the participant, and secondly were only to be watched once and immediately after receiving. The films that I instructed the participants to view were directly shot in the location of their whereabouts either by city or town. I selected scenes within those films given and pinpointed the exact location in which they were filmed and located their geography using Google Street View, which I sent to the participants as map of instructions. I consequently instructed the participants to photograph those specific scenes (without revealing the specific scene to them, just the location) using an instant film camera (strictly non-digital format) to the best of their recollections of the filmic sequence shots, whether they be wide shots or close ups and asked if they could be as compositionally accurately as possible.

The idea being to question and test the authenticity of our memories and demonstrate the power that, location, environment and artifacts has on fictional narratives in relation to our visual memory, where a sense of reality can become cloudy and if only for an instance, leave a simulacrum of a simulated ‘real’ experience that only ever existed on a fictional level.  As this example taken by Charlotte Marshall demonstrates a scene taken from Mulholland Drive (2001) at ‘Winkie’s Diner’, where Dan (Patrick Fischler) dreams he sees the a terrifying creature behind the wall of the diner. The images taken by Charlotte (Fig. 19) clearly demonstrate this theory and show a striking resemblance to the sequence matched with the location, of course it’s not completely accurate, but they are very similar.

Fig. 19 - Cesar’s Restaurant aka ‘Winkies Diner’ (Los Angeles) - photographs taken on the left by Charlotte Marshall, (2010), screenshots on the right, David Lynch Mulholland Drive (2001)

Whilst, David Benque’s image denotes mood, but regarding location and composition are concerned the results were fairly inaccurate (Fig. 20). However it is apparent that the general mise-en-scene reflects the mood and atmosphere of the film he was given, Lost in Translation (2003). The image he has taken may not be visible in the scene I specifically chose, but if one were to associate a film that 90% of it was shot inside a luxury hotel, then the entire mise-en-scene is reflected in all bookshelves, lighting strips and narrow hallways, making the image a general simulacrum of the film and therefore confusing, when it comes to specific recognition. 

It could be argued that generally, on an unconscious level with regard to generic image taking, is that most people have acquired a language of constructing a mise-enscene that connotes certain mood and value that they have acquired whilst viewing, and it could be said that everyone who owns a camera participates in this construction and images taken, lay artifact to this.  On a larger scale, Norman M. Klein describes what he calls ‘building Blade Runner’ with regard to the construction and design of urban  Los Angelis in the 1990’s. He attended a seminar to which five of Los Angelis’ leading urban planners were sat on a panel and discussed ‘frantically’ how ‘L.A should one day look like the film Blade Runner’ 16 the panel started to suggest huge corporate logos that would ‘spin’ on top of buildings and make up a larger skyline and cityscapes with ‘rude aesthetics of an immigrant market... safely barricaded between two building hundreds of feet high’17 A scary thought, but a seemingly more frequent topic. The Channel 4 documentary Dark Side of the Moon (2002) (Fig. 21) explores the depth of Kubrick’s meticulous construction of visual staging that turned the US Apollo 11 rocket launch into the national spectacle that ‘changed the technological face of America.’18 Fig. 21 - Dark Side of the Moon (2002), Apollo 11 launch (1969) Dir. Stanley Kubrick

The US government under President Nixon insisted that the launch, be published as ‘the greatest achievement by ”man” throughout history’19 and insisted that Hollywood would be able to fulfill the role of media coverage, more specifically to be directed by Stanley Kubrick, who was at the time fresh from 2001: A Space Odyssey  (1968). Kubrick’s ‘staging’ cost a brilliant 15 million dollars; from the redesign of the space suits worn by the astronauts, the reengineered launch pad to position the rocket strategically upon launch, so that the Gold plated USA sign painted on the rockets shaft would reflect beautifully towards the direction of camera’s when the sun rose to the moving of the launch pad altogether to create a bolder silhouette that would sit within the memory archive of the US nation forever.

 

Notes

1 Bleecker, Julian,  Design Fiction: a short essay on design, science, fact and fiction, Near Future Laboratories, March 2009, P1

2 Bleecker, Julian,  Design Fiction: a short essay on design, science, fact and fiction, Near Future Laboratories, March 2009, P1

3 Wikipedia definition, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_placement, date accessed (28.09.10) 4 Lynch, David. In conversation on product placement,AFI Dallas Film Festival, (date unknown) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4wh_mc8hRE, date accessed (23.09.10) 5 Lynch, David. In conversation on product placement,AFI Dallas Film Festival, (date unknown) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4wh_mc8hRE, date accessed (23.09.10) 6 ‘Sex and the City’ top movie for product placement’ (Aug 2008)

7 You Talk Marcketing http://www.utalkmarketing.com/pages/Article.aspx?ArticleID=11436& Title=%E2%80%98Sex_and_the_City%E2%80%99_top_movie_for_product_placement, date accessed (18.09.10) 8 Gump, Forrest, dir: Robert Zemekis , Forrest Gump (1994)

9 Bleecker, Julian,  Design Fiction: a short essay on design, science, fact and fiction, Near Future Laboratories, March 2009, P21

10 Brown, Dr. Emmit , dir: Robert Zemekis, Back to the Future II (1989)

11 Wikipedia definition ‘ Lightsaber’ , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightsaber date accessed (16..09.10)

12 Star Wars ‘A new hope’ dir: George Lucas, (1977)

13 Asimov, Issac, Foundation (Foundation Series) (1977) Collins, England (London), P48

14 Gluesenkamp, Matt article: GE Engineer Crushes Your Childhood Dreams http://gizmodo.com/5561126/ge-engineer-crushes-your-childhood-dreams, date accessed 15 Klein, Norman, The History of Forgetting and the erasure of memory in Los Angelis, Verso, New York 1997, P97

16 Klein, Norman, The History of Forgetting and the erasure of memory in Los Angelis, Verso, New York 1997, P94

17 Klein, Norman, The History of Forgetting and the erasure of memory in Los Angelis, Verso, New York 1997, P95

18 Dark side of the moon (2002) dir: unknown, in conversation with Kubrick.

19 Dark side of the moon (2002) dir: unknown, in conversation with Kubrick.

20 - The Park Hyatt (Tokyo), photograph taken at the top by David Benque, (2010), screenshot at the bottom, Sophia Coppola – Lost In Translation (2003)

 

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