Friday, January 31, 2014
1930s spaceship design in film was very much about style rather than design, if you get my drift. For example, here's the spaceship from the Flash Gordon serial of 1936.
The 1920s and 1930s were a period during which designers were very enamored of the very new and huge transporation objects of the day -- the ocean liner, the zeppelin, the aeroplane, the electric locomotive. With no existing rockets, missiles, or similar craft to use as templates, filmmakers used "style" -- like Streamline Moderne or Art Deco -- as symbols of "the future". Bakelite (a form of synthetic resin which looked like plastic) had just been invented, and was being used as a cover for electronics (like radios), home appliances, and even as jewelry or buttons. It could be made translucent, and could glow if lit internally.
Neon lighting in its modern form was only introduced in 1910, and few cities had neon signs. Neon lighting was considered futuristic as well. Indeed, electrification was just beginning across the United States. While many middle-class homes in American cities had it by 1930, most lower-class city homes did not -- nor did the 50 percent of Americans who lived in rural areas. (Electricity would come to rural America only by 1938, after Roosevelt's Rural Electrification Administration built the lines and power plants.)
Furthermore, automation was just beginning to be introduced to the factory setting. The idea that an individual in a remote room, unable to see the machine he was operating, could control the machine with the push of a button, the turn of a lever, the flick of a switch.
So spaceships of the 1930s and 1940s reflected the predominant culture: What was futuristic depended largely on style: Streamlined, lots of glowing lights, switches and buttons, plastic surfaces over everything, neon, electric-looking devices.
Here's the Flash Gordon rocketship on Mongo!
Here's a colorized scene of Flash and Dale Arden controlling a Mongo rocketship.