Wednesday, May 7, 2014

50s Sci-Fi: The Industrial Animations of John Sutherland

I love me some 50's sci-fi, and for lots of reasons. One of them is the retro-futurism we're able to enjoy from our perch almost 70 years into the actual future. It's a telling window into the zeitgeist of the day to see how people envisioned what the world of their future might look like. Another attraction is the sort of present-at- the- creation feeling we can get from seeing stories made during the early years of the atomic age, when the dangers and limitations were not fully comprehended, and notions of everything in somebody's house or workplace one day running on its own nuclear generator abounded. Particularly good for this kind of thing are the X Minus One radio shows I wrote about awhile back.

While not what you'd strictly call narrative sci-fi, the industrial animated films of John Sutherland Productions combine science, as it was understood in the 1950s, visions of the possible futures certain technologies could bring our way, and odd Jetsons-like juxtapositions of 1950s social and domestic norms onto visions of the future where Mars, for instance, is developing peacekeeping bombs. Here's one about automobile safety produced for the Automobile Manufacturer's Association in 1956:

In addition to the retro-futurism and everything else, these animated films also all feature the signature 1950s character design and modernism, which came out of a rebellion against the center-line school of animation that had been the standard thanks to the success of Disney, Warner Bros., and other prominent animation houses. What you see in the work of the John Sutherland company is the same kind of styling and inventiveness you'd find in the UPA cartoons of the era, from Gerald McBoing-Boing and Mr. Magoo to John Hubley's The Tell-Tale Heart. The story is that the corporate sponsors didn't much care what the things looked like, as long as they got the message across, which left the animations a ton of room to experiment in ways that were creatively compelling.

If you watched that, we can all agree it's a little terrifying, right? Maybe the reason we don't have those flying cars yet it because we spent a whole decade narrowly dodging nuclear bullets?

There is a whole treasure trove of these videos on YouTube, many converted from the wonderful Prelinger Archive by the YouTube user Films of the Public Domain. Check them out and explore, because they cover a range of topics and are almost uniformly noteworthy in one way or another, although it's a shame we can't see them with the pristine colors and resolution with which they were created. I will leave you with this one, Rhapsody of Steel, which was scored by Dimitri Tiomkin, a legendary Hollywood composer and one of Hitchcock's go-to choices.

Posted by Vance K -- Cult film aficionado, unapologetic lover of terrible movies, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.