Arch 443/646: Architecture and Film
Fall 2003

Just Imagine (1930)
Fox Films


Discussion Questions:
last updated December 28, 2004

x 1. The film is set in 1980. Do you think that the scientific advancements projected from 1930 to 1980 were thought to be realistic? (for 50 years of time)  x

Just Imagine projects into the 1980s by introducing scientific advancements, some of which would have seemed feasible and some seen, certainly, as too otherworldly or ambitious to be realistic, to an audience in the Depression.

The film introduces scientific and technological innovations in what could be called a semi-strategic manner, coaxing the audience into a gradual suspension of disbelief. For example, as an audience, we are presented in the beginning of the film with a city full of commuting citizens piloting personal airplanes. In the characters’ dwellings we see a video projection when someone comes to call and an automatic hand dryer being used in the bathroom. These events, although by no means common practice in the 1930s, would still seem feasible projections due to these ideas being based on existing technologies and scientific knowledge. Our suspension of disbelief is in some way formed and prepared for the much more outrageous scientific projections to be presented later in the film.

As the film progresses, we are introduced to a character who was struck by lighting in the 1930s being revitalized by a group of scientists in the 1980s. We are presented with vending machines which not only provided meal and drink supplements in pill form, but also children. We also see the protagonists fly to Mars in a rocket, shooting effortlessly from star to star.

The film is a strange hybrid of musical comedy and science fiction, a genre which does not lend itself well to being realistic. However, I do believe it to project ideas which could be perceived as realistic over a span of fifty years.

Anne-Marie Armstrong 3B

  2. Compare the cross section of the New York of Just Imagine with the proposition for Metropolis in terms of density and building character.

If one accepts that the “Skyscraper” imagery of Metropolis and Just imagine is a cross section of New York City, then Metropolis is Downtown and Just imagine is Midtown. The skyscrapers of Metropolis are tightly packed and dense, dense enough for skystreets to span between buildings. Just Imagine has space between skyscrapers, space sufficient for personalized planes for commuting.

The portrayal of the urban grain in Just Imagine is larger in scale than Metropolis. The buildings are taller, there appear to be more of them and there is substantial space between them. The buildings of Metropolis are overbearing reflecting a view of the urban as causation for human suffering – the Machines must be fed. The density of buildings is overbearing and is always presented from the pedestrian vantage point – humanity is dwarfed. In Just imagine there is a positive attitude to the urban where humanities ultimate metaphor to personal freedom is common place – one can fly around in it at will. The expanses between buildings present an elevated vantage point - humanity is free.

There is a distinct Upper World and Lower World in Metropolis that is used to symbolize a privileged ruling class and a downtrodden working class. The city of Just Imagine reflects no class struggle. The conflicts in the film are implied to be a class struggle with the Hero being the underdog but the City is the same City for both players in conflict. Everybody gets to fly a plane.

The skyscraper building character is treated differently in both films. Metropolis has a Gothic overture to the skyscraper facades, dark spaces between buildings and use of catacombs. It is a motif associated with mans view of himself as a lesser being standing in awe of the cosmos, certainly not in control of it. Just Imagine depicts the character of the buildings as Modern motif. The buildings are taller and lighter with large glass expanses. The Modern character of the buildings is associated with mans view of Modernism, a view of himself as progressive and change as a positive.

Both films use “Skyscrapers” as the definitive image of the future city but each film portrays that future differently and that difference carries over in the building character. The Gothic “Skyscrapers” of Metropolis reflect a warning of mans possible future while the Modern “skyscrapers” of Just Imagine reflect a spoof on progress, a more humorous warning, but still a warning. The future city is probably still a cross section of New York City – somewhere between Downtown and Midtown.

James Arvai 4A

  3. If Just Imagine is a parody of Metropolis, what was the motivation, when the US premiere of Metropolis was such a success?  
  The motivation behind Just Imagine was to present the audience with a very exciting and confident view of the future. To do so Fox created a musical comedy that paralleled Fritz Lang’s box office success, Metropolis.

To analyze why Fox would create a parody of Metropolis one must allow them self to “Just Imagine“. However, rather then speculating on the exciting possibilities of the future, one must “just imagine” what it was like to live in the 1930‘s.

Just imagine.....
Just imagine it’s the 1930‘s, a period plagued by the great depression.
Just imagine you work everyday 9 till 5 at the local factory.
Just imagine you live in constant fear of losing your job.
Just imagine your clothes are hand-me-downs found in the street.
Just imagine your own baby is wrapped in blankets with no clothes on underneath.
Just imagine, you have to portion the food you have wisely
Just imagine, standing in a line for hours for a crumb or crust of bread.
Just imagine.....

Now just imagine viewing Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. A movie that reveals hopes and fears for technology in the future. A movie that depicts a technological utopian city that is oppressed and exploited. A movie that leaves a chilling vision of the future city and urban life.

Therefore, the motivation behind creating Just Imagine was to “just imagine” the great possibilities 1980 had to offer the great depression. It had the possibility of landing man on mars, it had the possibility of using planes rather then cars for transportation, and it had the possibility of having alcohol (prohibition) and food in pill form. Now just imagine how this film could give one a cheerful and exciting outlook on the future metropolis.

Joshua Bedard 3B
  4. The use of numbers/letters instead of names could be interpreted to be a take-off on the use of numbers for the workers in Metropolis. Why has the use been extended beyond the lower classes?  

The use of numbers and letters instead of names is used in Metropolis to accentuate an inferiority of the subterranean workers to the high rise metropolis dwellers (ie. Frederson). The use of numbers in Just Imagine, however, is used to emphasize the technological advancement which exists in 1980. By using numbers and letters instead of names a clear lack of humanity is present which accentuates all the technological advancements. A clear comparison is made in this film not between different classes of people, but between people and technology. In Metropolis a commentary is made on human interaction. In Just Imagine, however, the commentary has more to do with human identity. Will humanity be able to hold true to the values and virtues it held so dear in “the good ol days” in the future or will the robotic nature of new technology force people into a lifeless predefined experience of life? That is a question which seems to be provoked by this movie. Perhaps this was a question which many people in the 1930s were asking themselves….and perhaps it is a question that we are still asking ourselves today.

Bolen, Matthew

  5. Compare the costumes in Just Imagine to those in Metropolis. How do they relate to the period of filming/proposed setting? What in any way makes them futuristic?  
  In both Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and DeSylva, Brown and Henderson’s Just Imagine the costume choices portray different things about the futures proposed therein. In the former, the costumes are regulated throughout classes and by doing so reinforce a future reliant on this division. In Just Imagine, the differing costumes between races reinforce the division between people on earth, and the ‘people’ on Mars as two possible futures.

In Metropolis people are characterized to the below and above ground, or poor and rich people. The workers are decked out in matching coveralls, identified by numbers, devoid of personality, further limiting their independence. The bourgeoisie are always in suits, enforcing the division between them and their grunts, the workers who make their lives possible.

In Just Imagine, the numbering system has been extended beyond the working class into all of humanity on earth. This is a reinforcement of the lack of identity that people have in a world so technologically advanced that the human factor is quickly being removed. The garments of the people on earth support this with pocketless trousers. If pockets hold personal belongings, then no pockets can hold no personal belongings, another strike against autonomy. The costumes themselves are native to the time period of the filming (1930’s) but their adaptation to the future is apparent in their function and design, take for instance the ‘Stay-Out’ dress which transforms to the occasion. The fact that everyone wears these catchy numbers is a testament to the lack of autonomy. The garb of the Mars-ians is much different than their earthly neighbours. They are expressive and unique in their costumes and each different rank of Marsian has a very different costume, where the earthlings have come dressed similarly. This contrast serves as an alternate reality to the one on earth, where autonomy has no presence.

The two films both use their costumes to identify a barrier between two distinct types, be they workers and bourgeoisie or humans and aliens. In either case the depiction of the costumes strengthens these futuristic divisions.

  6. J-21: “Everything’s been done in aviation that can be done”. Comment. What was the intention of this given the timeframe of making/planning the movie?  
  Towards the start of the movie, the protagonist J-21 commented on New York City set in 1980 as “Everything’s been done in aviation that can be done”. By proclaiming the aviation technology of the United States will reach its ultimate limit of advancement in 50 years time, this does not only explain the setting of the movie, but also a necessary act in order to state its significance in American history.

Just Imagine was made in 1930, while America was going through the great Depression. In the 1930s, the unemployment rate rose to 25%, money was scarce and people found going to movies an uplifting way to escape problems in real life. Movies with element of comedy and fantasy are usually well received. Therefore, presenting the future America as a strong and advanced civilized society both guarantees the box office sales, and presents a snapshot of America’s cultural history in 1930 – a time when it was necessary to restore the confidence in America, reassuring the times of Depression will end before long.

Tammy Chau 3B

  7. Comment on the use of air travel for getting about town. Relationship between style of planes of the proposed time with planes of the 1930s. How have they been made futuristic? Is it enough?  

Just Imagine is a film set in a world that is an adventurous prediction of the future metropolis. The film makes bold statements regarding improvements in basic facets of everyday life. One facet it comments on is transportation. The major mode of transportation in the city is air travel. In comparison to both today and in the 1930s, this method of transportation makes traffic seem wide open and more free to the traveller. Pilots are allowed to move in three dimensions, which provides a very effective alternative to our problematic congested roads, and greatly improves travel time. The pilots are free to travel at their own pace, and even can move from plane to plane, as the characters do for a more intimate conversation in transit. A definite positive side effect to air traffic is the ability for the ground plane to be a strictly pedestrian space. This is an insightful look at a way to improve our urban condition today.
The film attempts to revolutionize the asthetics of the airplane. It essentially takes the typical 1930s plane, rounds its edges into a more organic shape, and adds propellers to the wings to enable the craft to hover, that being an essential element to "1980" traffic. The designers for the film looked at the aircraft of the time, but neglected to consider the automobile of the era for inspiration, thus overlooking important elements to vehicles. There was no cover for weather protection and no planes had multiple seats. All in all, it was not a very imaginative look at travel 50 years into the future, and was not very successful in projecting the film's futuristic ambiance.

Shane Czyphya 3B


8. Why do you think that cars (which weren’t that old at the time) were abandoned in favour of air travel? Why were they retained as the dominant method of travel in Metropolis, only 4 years earlier?


In Just Imagine, “New York is presented fifty years into the future as a completely different city with an entirely changed skyline and urban organization”. Due to its futuristic component, this sci-fi film adopted modern technologies, such as airplanes and incorporated them as elemental to everyday life as a form of transportation. This practical response to the need to relocate is based on efficiency and speed (aspects of the machine age). Still obvious practicalities do not diminish the element of romance, enhanced by the presence of beautiful and wondrous high flying machines and scenes, where film characters soar through the skies, meeting and making exchanges miles above the ground. In both the scenarios played out in Just Imagine and Metropolis the directors incorporated the planes for romance. They were also foreseeing a future of super skyscrapers and personal airplanes.

We cannot deny the “enthusiasm for technology” in both films. Metropolis explores modes of transportation, highly developed and intricate infrastructural gestures and routes. All of which were intended to demonstrate, describe and characterize future possibilities and the intricacies of the plots and sub plots present in the film. “Set design had to create more than just a background. It had to accompany the plot, underlining and commenting on it”. Hence it is possible to interpret the incorporation of airplanes as opposed to car as a suggestion of plot and possibility. It was part of a futurist vision of lifestyle in an urban city and directly linked to the plot of the film, which accordingly takes place in a futurist setting.

The complex infrastructure and structures designed for Metropolis demonstrate and represent the dynamic and intricacies of social and technological development respectively. These aspects co-exist and intermingle. The filmmaker demonstrates his version of their impacts and connectivity. The airplanes flying over and under, passing by and through with great ease and mobility, displacing as we the viewers do through the setting are a mean by which to create a metaphor and visual description based on the plot and subplot. In the same instance buildings, routes, events and characters round out and contribute to the whole of the production. Therefor technology, newly adapted modes of transportation and modern design (the city’s architecture) allow us to better imagine a city of the future. These aspects and the method in which they are employed draw us into the film and make believable the themes and events that form the movie.

Airplanes, an aspect of the futurist vision, were also important to the architects responsible for the set design. The “film will be faithful to the architects boldest dreams”. The architecture and infrastructure of the above world mirror similar concepts and aesthetics. A multiple of layered materials, windowpanes and mullions form the city and reach vertically to the sky. Large strips and bands made into bridges pass over and under each other. Similarly planes flew through and about invisible trajectories in the sky.

To further expand on why planes were essential and opted for over cars in Metropolis we can discuss a few aspects attributed to sci-fi films of this era and the machine age. “The Machine Age – a period of sweeping technological changes stretching roughly between 1914 and 1939—rocketed the world into the future. Urban landscapes began sprouting setback skyscrapers, cable-spun bridges, and blinking radio towers. At the close of World War 1, a new machine aesthetic insinuated itself into this milieu, giving further rise to two ubiquitous modes of transportation—the automobile and the airplane—capable of diminishing great distances with unthrottled velocity. At the heart of this machine aesthetic were the principals of flight and speed—both reflected in the art and design of this era”. The airplanes in the films were symbols of sorts of the machine age’s outlook, aesthetic (beautiful machines) and principals. Even the architecture of the film embodied characteristics determined by the machine age, beautiful glowing buildings that operate similarly to machines. However flight and speed were largely embodied by the planes in Metropolis, as well as romance. “Lang transcribes the skyline that he had earlier witnessed from New York’s harbor to create a cinematic cityscape of the future, one that spatially delineates the paradoxical attitudes of a nation caught between “ the rational and irrational, between pragmatic and romantic”.

Lastly the developments in special effects enabled the design team for the film to incorporate images of airplanes. They simulated flight over the futuristic urban context of Metropolis, “ the effects of motion was again achieved by shooting frame by frame and by individually advancing each car, airplane, train and elevator between each shot”. Therefore technological innovation in movies encouraged the incorporation and adaptation of elements such as airplanes, flying through a scene in constant motion through a single trajectory. The airplanes were brought into new types of scenes, incorporated into scenic landscape scenes, contexts that had not been explored previously. Similarly these new scenes resulted in creating a futuristic context that leapt from background to foreground the overriding issues, technology its uses and evils presented in Metropolis.
In addition the site context of the film provided a stronger and overwhelming sense of place, local and tone, demonstrated through visuals alone. Another reason to interpret the incorporation of the airplanes and their role in the setting of Metropolis, as significant and successful, in creating a vision of a futuristic city. A feat that would not have been achieved by only incorporating cars alone as their means of transpiration. The visuals of Metropolis served to determine, expand, explain, depict or predict events to come or precede settings and events throughout the course of the film.

Ø Film Architecture, 1999 by Prestel Verlag, Munich – London – New York
Ø A Distant Technology: Science Fiction Film and the Machine Age.

Natalie Drago 3B

  9. Skyscrapers such as the Woolworth Building 1913 were already a reality in NYC. The existing NY skyline was said to have influenced both Metropolis and Just Imagine. What architectural moves were made in the design of this set to place this existent style of architecture of the city in the future? Were they successful? Why or why not?  

The futuristic architecture in film, although being part of a representational theatrical stage, shares similar analytical discussions as that of present day non-fictional architecture. To describe a building one must think initially of its type. What type is the building representing? A residential dwelling one hundred years ago has characteristics pertaining to its type as seen in modern residential dwellings of today. Therefore even though outside influences on architecture change with time, architecture will still have a common disposition based on its type, function and/or classification. In the films Metropolis and Just Imagine, the viewer is transported into the future. Buildings are modeled as idealized forms based on technology and the new ways of the future. Futuristic film high-rises, as compared to the skyscrapers of New York reach immeasurable distances into the air. Limits are pushed based on size, height, and density. However the fundamental “type” of the structure is still clear to the viewer. Residences high in the sky situated in the soaring skyscrapers retain qualities needed to function as a residence. For example, instead of parking garages, homes have landing pods for futuristic flying machines. An underlying connection to the present is maintained in the architecture of these films for it allows the future to be conceivable. Although there are similarities represented in the architecture, there are also contrasts. They can be seen in the relation with nature. Nature seems to be diminished in futuristic settings as man-made structures hold precedent. Concrete and steel are the number one choices for materials to be used. As well, nature holds a more horizontal form in its growth, whereas in the film’s future, architecture soars vertically into the sky. This contrast and comparison are alternated within futuristic films to give the viewer something to relate to but at the same time shock them into having awe for the future. In this respect, the film makers are successful in achieving an appropriate setting for the future, with slightly stream-lined buildings accommodating technological and sociological enhances of the day.

Andrea Krejcik 3B

  10. Why focus on the issue of arranged/approved marriages as the problem of future society?  

Ever since the period of Romanticism in the 18th century, philosophers have acknowledged the importance of emotion and feeling over reason, and criticized Newtonian physics for its mechanical view of nature. The Romantics believed that we should obey to our innate principles, where feeling and emotion dominate over reason and science as the ultimate arbiter of truth.

The protagonist of Just Imagine lives in a world of science and technology, in a society stricken with mechanical order and lack of identity of its people. Humanity seems to have diminished to names being replaced by numbers, and people are deprived of earthly pleasures such as savouring a delicious meal or sipping a glass of wine. The notion of human emotion has been suppressed, as the characters live towards a culture of mechanization and extreme dictatorship. This is emphasized by the arranged marriage of LN-18, where the court decides, disregarding her love for J-21, that she should marry another individual. Hence, the plot of Just Imagine revolves around the struggle of J-21 trying to win the hand of LN-18, signifying the fight between human emotion and the society governed by strict scientific and rational law.

The film addresses the issue of arranged marriage as a problem of future society as a message that human emotion and identity cannot be suppressed in favour of a mechanized society, and that human emotion will naturally overcome the laws of science and reason.

Vivien Liu 3B

  11. How has fashion been modified to advance to the 1980s (or has it?) Compare to the use of fashion in Metropolis.  
  Just Imagine’s portrayal of the future, the 1980s, was very interesting to see. Some elements were taken very far, such as the idea of transportation, architecture, and daily activities, while other aspects were left relatively similar. Fashion, was one of these aspects. And although the film contained specific references to the fashion of the 1980’s, little modification was done to the current style. The film was released in 1930; just at the transformation of fashion from the 1920’s to 30’s. The flapper fashion was being phased out by a new glamorous look. Dresses that clung to the body and draped down to floor, and the backless evening gown became very popular. Just Imagine took this new style and simply exaggerated it. The dresses in the film were definitely more revealing than typical fashion, emphasizing women’s sensuality, but it still used the same methods that were in vogue. A specific reference was made to the one virtually backless gown, as something soon all the women would be wearing. The men’s fashion was given a somewhat futuristic feel by moving the buttons to the side of the suit jacket and eliminating all but one pocket, perhaps commenting on the simplicity of the new modern life. But the men still wore suites, complete with a tie and a hat. Not varying much form the excepted fashion of the time.

Although the fashion in Just Imagine didn’t go too far beyond the vogue of the time, it still managed to give off a futuristic feel, simply by exaggerating the up and coming trends or making small but evident changes. However, Metropolis didn’t seem to be overly concerned with the portrayal of futuristic fashion. It used the appearance of the city to give the film the character it needed. Men were wearing typical suites of the day, as did the women. Perhaps the women in the garden were more scantily clothed than typical 1920’s dress, but they weren’t portrayed as typical women either. While Maria, was wearing a very modest almost out of date dress. Just Imagine did concentrate a lot more on fashion that Metropolis did. However instead of coming up with a completely new style, it still followed the trends of the day.

Elizabeth Myers 3B

  12. Metropolis, Just Imagine, 2001, Outland, etc all seem to advance communication technology through the use of the video/phone devices – yet these aren’t even widely in use today. Why the fascination with this type of communication? How was it perceived to be so “futuristic”?  

Through the eyes of the German expressionist director Fritz Lang’s 1926 Metropolis comes an industrial futuristic vision of what the year 2026 and the devices that would be used 100 years from his point of vision. This produced a perception in my opinion forwarding a dream of seeing and talking to people through the visual medium of cinema reflecting that of the video telephone within his movie. In the year 1927 one year after the release of Metropolis the first talking movie the jazz singer was released, there was only 5 minutes of talking dialogue within the movie but thus become a great break through in cinematic history. Up until this point in time the desire and hunger to produce a talking movie I believed fueled the visual idea of the video telephone. Making this a futuristic device not yet reachable but believable on the silver screen.
Three years after the release of the jazz singer, Just imagine was released in 1930 clearly influenced by the desire of being able to communicate through the visual medium and being a talking movie, the use of the video/telephone within the film becomes a more reachable goal after the domestication of the technology use for talking movies.

Aaron Nelson 3B

  13. Comment on the change to eating/drinking as proposed in the future of Just Imagine? The reduction of the “pleasure aspect” of these events seems to be typically decreased in most portrayals of the future? Why?  
  The change in eating and drinking presented in just imagine represents a loss of a very unique experience that belongs to human livelihood and sensuality. Human beings are unique in that we have the sensation to truly enjoy food. The protagonist Single O is brought to life by the modern scientists and says to J-21 and RT-42 that he is hungry. A food pellet is given to him from a public vending machine. Here we see technology replacing the experience of eating with instant gratification. Technology distributes food at the scale and efficiency that we encounter in modern medicine. With this idea in Just imagine a sterile self serving society is portrayed. Single O recalls the texture of a thick juicy porter house steak and the lush foamy head of a pint of beer and is left dissatisfied with the replacement food pellets. Alcohol is also distributed in the form of a pill and has an instant kick in its distribution of the effect of alcohol. Even though alcohol is no longer a beverage it still is served within a bottle which is also notable. In this case the bottle is evidence of there being a need to carry the effects of alcohol at all times in case a character is inclined to use it. Here is evidence of a society that requires a certain dimming of the senses.

Through the condition of distributing food in the form of a pill there is evidence of technology overriding experience. Food and beverage is served from complex high tech vending machines with a full menu that seems infinite. In the process replaces restaurants and grocery stores, thus replacing cooks, waiters, waitresses, cashiers, bar tenders, and many other occupations. Society has accepted the new way of eating and overall the experience of eating is forgotten. Such is the case when looking at J-21’s reaction to Single O upon tasting the food pill for the first time. J-21 simply says to Single O ‘get used to it’.

There is evidence of one such event during Just Imagine that presents a highly ritualized drinking event a short time before Single O, j-21, and RT-42 depart for Mars. During this event a formally dressed group of men dance around with their bottle of pills in a highly choreographed scene ending with J-21 climbing on the table and all members of the gathering taking the beer pill. The event shows that there still is some evidence of gathering with drinking but the event has been reduced to a short act directed more towards the ceremony then the taste and texture of the drink. Here technology has minimized the ritual of drinking with friends to an outrageous charade of dancing and singing and disregards the taste and texture of beer.

Considering the portrayal of food and drink in Just imagine a collective disengagement of the human being with a predetermined natural process is portrayed.

Mike Votruba 3B

  14. Give me the “good old days”… comment on the changes in procreation. Why do you think it is portrayed that way? How does this “work” with the primary plot focus on marriage for love?  
  In Just Imagine, procreation is a mechanized commercial process. In the film, a young couple married for just over a year feels ready to “have” a baby. They then proceed to a vending machine and bought a baby as if it were a can of pop. The husband asks his wife, “boy or girl?” in as casual a manner as asking “diet or non-diet?” The whole process is trivial, highly efficient and no act of love is involved.

This portrayal of procreation in the future epitomizes man’s technological triumph over nature. Technology seeks complete control over the lifestyle of man, including work, travel, and even eating! Compressing a whole meal into a single pill takes away human desire and leaves only animal survival needs. Technology attempts to purge all that’s unpredictable in life. A controlled and robotic system of procreation is the final and ultimate step to completely wipe out all that’s irrational.

This projection of futuristic procreation helps to set up conflict in the primary plot focus on marriage for love. Despite the “noble experiment” of having marriages arranged by the courts and complete control over procreation, the law cannot overpower the human instinct for love. The old-fashioned relationship between J-21 and LN-18 proves that love still exists. Inspired by his love for LN-18, J-21 ventures onto a dangerous journey to Mars in order to proof his worth. J-21’s triumphant return marks a victory for love. The movie seems to send a message that even in the coldest form of society, love can conquer all, just like the good old days.

O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow nature not more than nature needs,
Man’s life is cheap as beast’s.

Clementine Chang -- masters

  15. What future films/productions might this film have influenced? Lost in Space? Star Trek? Comment.  
  In short, everything. There are definitely some obvious comparisons, but also many subtle ones as well. The Fifth Element, Star Trek, Minority Report, The Matrix, and The Planet of the Apes just to name a few. The most obvious would be The Fifth Element, the elevated highways and tall standing buildings are almost an exact replica. The set on the planet of Mars echoes memories of Planet of the Apes, the vegetation, and deserts. The man that is frozen and then reborn fifty years later is an age old story, it brings Demolition Man to my mind. So many of the scenes or ideas in this movie have been some how reused or borrowed in today’s modern movie productions.

There is an almost eerie comparison between Just Imagine and We, this observation is based on the scene where the woman comes to their apartment to take an inventory of citizens J-21 and J-23 (forgot the exact numbers). Memories of 1984, ‘Big brother is watching you’ come to mind. There are parts in this movie that can account for every movie that has been produced over the last seventy years of cinema. When they took off for Mars and their ‘friend’ popped up from the lower deck beneath it was somehow reminiscent of Aliens when the Alien organisms hid in the galleys of the kitchen.

This says something about the movies of our time that make hysterical projections of the future, like Minority Report for instance. To say that fifty years from now we’ll have flying cars and three hundred storey towers might actually be an exaggeration. However technology is progressively leaping decades ahead of itself, and seems as though things are accelerating at an exponential rate, Just Imagine could quite conceivably be reality in another twenty or thirty years. The meals as pills was not far off, with the amount of supplements and vitamins we have now its not that naive to think that the onset of flying cars is too far off.

There are many parallels that can be drawn from Just Imagine to several of today’s films, but it would be unjust to link it to just two or three. Would many directors or producers have actually scene this film? It’s hard to say if they were a direct influence, but the similarities between Just Imagine and today’s modern sci-fi motion pictures is uncanny. The techniques themselves are some that have been employed for decades now, most notably the scene with hovering cars; this was extremely similar to how George Lucas managed to get the X-Wing fighter planes off the ground before he had the digital technology to do so. The techniques and story line of this film have had a rippling shockwave effect in movies over the past seven decades.

Mark Cichy -- masters
  16. Is the portrayal of science/the laboratory/scientific gadgets suited to a vision of 1980? What do you think inspired them?  

I think this movie is a rant against prohibition and the laboratory looks like a big cave full of equipment derived from moonshine technology and art deco lighting design.
I don’t really think it’s fair to criticize this movie on the basis of technological accuracy because it’s a comedy with an aim at social/beauraucratic critique rather than a presentation of future technology. It details the machinations of the courts involvement in personal, human affairs.
If you insist on picking on the science there is plenty of material that wouldn’t have been difficult to portray accurately since the standards of the time were better than those in this movie. For this reason, I presume it was deliberate. The portrayal of the lab isn’t very clinical, and appears to be modeled on science at the level of hometown GP’s and lecture theatres rather than on scientific investigative procedure. Science proceeds with wild abandon and little apparent control, which is particularly pointed when single 0 is told there is no use for him just moments after he has been revived from 50 years of death. 1980 is predicted to be a place where the actions of people are tightly controlled while science and technology proceed free from explanations. Airplanes show no clues where the power source might be located or transmitted. The baby machine demonstrates the outcome but gives no clue how it manufactures the babies it dispenses. It isn’t important that food in pill form does not occupy enough volume to supply the minimum required energy to sustain life.
However, it did a terrific job with the video-phone contraption then since even TV’s hadn’t been invented at that time. The hovercraft were also pretty far sighted even if the tail end was too small to be functional.

Nancy Gibson -- masters

  17. What is the role of nature in the film? Has the environment deteriorated? Explain. Compare the portrayal of the environment in Just Imagine to Metropolis, Caligari and Golem.  
  In all four movies, nature represents the antithesis to architecture, which is the realm that man, the visionary, dreams up and creates. The city, embodiment of the fantastic scale of human achievement, is threatened by the realm of disorder and irrationality. Because of this, man seeks to conquer nature and contain it. In Just Imagine, the scientist explains to J that Mars is the final realm left for man to explore, as he has already succeeded in controlling the earth, the waters, and the sky. When the crew arrives on Mars, its landscape is wild and its people are incomprehensible; Double-O observes its resemblance to nature on Earth, similar to his homeland fifty years ago. Nature is the unconquered frontier, still untouched (but not for long) by the progress and order of the modern metropolis. Seen in this way, it is almost logical that Mars should look like any untamed forest on Earth.

In Metropolis, the juxtaposition between nature and the city is stronger, because nature has actually been contained within the built environment. In the House of Sons, a utopian concept of nature has been assembled: it is Central Park, sitting amidst the skyscrapers of Manhattan. It is a fallacy that survives only through the labour of the workers in the underworld. Like these workers, nature is subjected and controlled to serve the priviledged classes. When the workers free themselves through the destruction of the machines, they also release the force of nature. The underworld becomes flooded and the conflict is suddenly obvious: the existence of Metropolis in its authoritarian state depends on the containment of nature, which is like the mob in its unpredictability.

The cities of The Golem and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are different from the ordered metropolis of these futuristic visions. In their labyrinthine complexity, these two cities are almost medieval in character. Still, they reflect aspects of humanity against nature: the complexity of the human psyche, an alternate realm from nature. In the Golem, nature sits directly outside the city’s gates. The scene here contrasts sharply with the insanity of the mob that chases the Golem within the gates: it is a place of honesty and sensitivity. The child draws out the Golem’s emotional side, his yearning to be accepted; through trust, the child unknowingly defeats the Golem. In Dr. Caligari, the garden also provides relief from the gothic city, where murderers hide in the shadows of the buildings. The garden, an extension of the asylum, is a place of reason, where the perspective of the plot can finally be understood.

Olivia Keung -- masters

  18. We KNOW how fraught with technical challenges space travel is. Comment on the space rocket that was invented by Z4. How does this rocket relate to current futuristic films and their portrayal of space travel (Star Wars, etc.)  
  Travel is at the base of life; in fact. life can be identified with travel. Greek philosophers were used to say that “everything flows” which means that everything moves and evolves into a new state. There are different sorts of travels, geografical and mental, and without doubt travel is influenced by time. In the past there were migrations of people going from one continent to another, as far as their technology allowed them. Then conquerors, like Alexander the Great and the Romans, arrived as far as their knowledge took them, reaching the ends of their world. In medioeval times, when the achievement of spiritual life was the goal of human beings, pilgrims travelled on foot to holy places while writers like Dante and Chaucer were writing about this unique experience. In the XV century, Columbus headed towards a new world and from then on places that no one could have ever conceived, the real form of the earth itself, were definetely discovered. Once the earth was known, human beings started looking to stars and Galileo first and Newton then gave scientific bases to actual sky explorations. In 19th century France, Jules Verne became famous because of his characters able to go under the seas and up to the sky with rudimentary rockets while, with the new century, Meliès, the inventor of cinema together with brothers Lumières, in his first film showed a rocket hiting an eye on an animated face of the moon. In 1930, the year of “Just imagine” production, the United States of America were coming out of the “roaring twenties” which had brought Prohibitionism and, in the end (1929), Depression. Oh nostalgia of the good old days when the search for gold had reached its climax and anybody had the opportunity to gather a little fortune of its own.!! To escape difficulties, instead of travelling towards insanity as they were doing in a complete different culture (Germany of Caligari and Metropolis), players in this film with an incredible, and perhaps too superficial, amount of fantasy and imagination travel through time, going from fifty years before (1880) to fifty years ahead, in 1980 (has Orwell ever seen this moction picture before writing in 1949 his novel, 1984 ?). The movie director seems to think that by that time the moon would have been already discovered for certain (in fact man landed on the moon in 1969 and only some months ago a robot has sent photos back from Mars) and other undiscovered worlds would have lain ahead. But even in the future people will be still dealing with problems, of a different nature of those in the 30s but still problems. And as Astolfo in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso goes to the moon to collect the wits of Orlando - mad because of his passion for Angelica - (“A place wherein is wonderfully stored whatever on our earth below we lose”) so scientist Z4, suggests, to avoid dictatorial imposure to marriage on the leading character, to send him to Mars in his just invented rocket in order to explore the planet and find recognition and an unexpected and brilliant solution to his hopeless love. This started a never ending series of films about travels through the stars, from Star trek to Star wars, to 2001: a space Odisssey, Lost in space, etc., that deal with rockets and space and talk of problems apparently related to other worlds, but actually reflecting important unsettled questions of our planet and life. Mars in “Just imagine” is considered to be the new frontier, the same that Roosevelt with his New Deal and Kennedy 30 years later tried to reach in different difficult moments. The idea that technology, rockets and space are the answer to human problems is still influent. Maybe the solution is not at all out there, but if the use of technology makes man reaching always new frontiers that will, for certain, be at least the response to endless human urge to knowledge expressed by Ulysses in Dante’s Comedy as “Nati non foste a viver come bruti, ma per seguir virtute e conoscenza” (“Ye were not form’d to live the life of brutes, but virtue to pursue and knowledge high”).

Adriana De Angelis
  19. It is only 50 years. What happened to any memory of the past by inhabitants of the present? How did such memory disappear so quickly?  

Back to the future, ahead to the past

Memory does not desappear so easily. But it can be repressed, hidden or even altered, infuencing our understanding of the present. Memory is present in many aspects of the movie. Apparently in a not-so-far future, people live a very different reality, where technical progress is leading to a “better society” by means of simplifying everyday problems, but paying in change the price of their private life and feelings, restricted by an intense icy overplanning. Playing with dates, the authors seem to place the action in the future, but in fact, we are actually looking at a portrait of 30s, whose most peculiar aspects are sharpened by the precise excess of “futuristic” technology and ordered organization.

Science offers the possibility of eating simple pills, communicating in real time, escaping urban traffic by flying d getting ready made babies, but in doing so it cannot avoid a necessary paternalistic order to reduce middle class desires to a couple of numbers. Paradoxically the role of science, in the movie, is to make clear the subtly underliyng contraddictory condition of the 1930 bourgeouisie, depressed not only by the economical crack, but also by the gap lying between desire and social conventions, their own life gap. The attempt to sublime by means of rich technology all passions, feelings and desire in a well ordered and functional society is worthless. So, if science is reduced to nothing but mercyless memory of the present condition of man, memory of the past takes place in fact in the protagonist’s words as a struggling nostalgia for the last 50 years.

In his Back to the Future, single 0 is the only person who sees at same time both real contraddictory present and the only possible escape way, ahead to the past. Troughout his words give me old good days he is literally suggesting to J21 that the only possible way of ransom is actually nostalgia for 1880 true love, when the pioneer spirit was still standing as founding stone of american people’s sober integrity. What seems to be the moral?: is it perharps that only when we get drunk by excess of science, communication, speed, order, then we can temporarily stand our real daily life by means of a simple, brief clowny laugh? No, the answer lies in a more powerful device.

Single 0 wakes up in a dream, a dream that can last all his life, but it does not matter - it is just a dream: as far as we can find escape in nostalgia, we will feel safe at least in the last shelter of modern man, our mind.

What a difference between the beautiful city of Just Imagine and the labyrinthic city of our psyche presented in The Cabinets of Dr. Caligari, where we face the real power of the unreal, the onyiric insanity of our psychological and emotional needs, which is well capable of affecting our life much more than real science. Being all of these aspects already rooted in the raising modern city, they make it definitevly a dedalus with no escape way except for our inner selfconscious confrontation with actual facts of life.

What a difference between the astonishing potential power of the both beautiful and threatning Lang’s Metroplis left in man’s hands, and the useless beauty of the art decò decorative backgound which traces the skyline of Just Imagine’s city.
In the latter the outside architecture is merely representing the exterior life that took place on the Earth, shining of science and progress, but left in the background. On the opposite, interiors are almost depressing, despite their technological equipements. on Mars, where all sets are conceived as richer deco interiors, we almost feel at home in redescovering true values, easily becoming able to understand the difference between the good and the evil, altough they apparently presented the same face.

WhereasWiene’s expressionist city describes the modern problem of urban life and explains the necessary steps to deal with it, Lang’s Metropolis suggests a possible open ended solution, based on dealing with temporary balance and unbalanced crisis for the rest of our life. The modern city is a dangerous but potentially heroic structure, a device for a better life, which demands both understanding and partial acceptation of nowdays conditions. On the opposite in Just Imagine the city has no active role: here we are told that the modern man has to boldy go where no man has gone before to be back to the future as an acclaimed hero who is leading his people ahead to the past, gaining his right to love again. I saw enough. Beam us up, Scotty.

Francesco Mancini

  20. And what about the portrayal of Mars itself?? Place this image in terms of actual scientific knowledge about Mars in 1930. What do you feel was the motive of this portrayal of Mars?  
“Satellite’s gone
Way up to Mars
Soon it will be filled
With parking cars”

Satellite of Love – Lou Reed

Captain’s Log.
Stardate 17061971.33
Location: approaching Solar System, Milky Way.

First officer came to tell me we just jumped into hyperspace. We’re going to reach this planet soon. Mars.
Yesterday during our daily meeting the crew and I watched decided to watch a movie which was supposed to talk about the future. Well, our past actually.
It was a strange feeling. They knew very few things at that time. All missions, all attempts to exploring Mars started later. 10 maybe 15 years later.
And the journey! It was such a short journey! I wonder how many years it took with no warped speed!
It was really a strange feeling; all the people could breathe with no problem at all...and we need a very very expensive technology just to move one foot. And what about the people? I do wonder whythey thought about martian people as a sort of carribean dancers! It was 1930, i know, a very bad period. Poorness, suffering, economical difficulties. They just wanted to have fun, don’t think, just having fun. Everybody sings in the film, all the time. People from Mars dance and sing too. Were things on Earth very bad? So, just look at the sky! The new frontier, there was no chance to go West anymore, the sky seemed to be the only way out!
Just imagine.Just imagine and you can get it, it seems to say.
Do not think of your ordinary life, just smile and sing, everything will be great. If your life here is not that good: catch a ride and fly to Mars. New place, new life. And then come back as a hero and everything will be amazing. That’s what they must have thought while making it.
It was Mars, but it also seemed just a stage where to dance onto. Everything had to be easy over there, and every problem you might face had to have a proper solution. Maybe for this reason Martian people has a double identity, you always know how to solve problems. If you meet the evil, you can always call the good ones!
I’m feeling we are reducing speed. In few hours we will be revolving around Mars. I’ve got time enough to study a bit more.
Hey, who tooks my copy of John Carpenter’s Ghost of Mars???
End of transmission. File saved.

christian n. tognela

  21. What architectural elements ground this film in 1930?  

The movie “Just Imagine” shot in 1930, describes how life could have been in 1980;
the scenery is very similar to the one of “Metropolis”, both movies describe the city of the future in which technology and new infrastructures have a very important role and both refer to New York which, in the period the movies are shot, is the symbol of modernity.
Probably for the fact that in 1930 New York is the most modern city in the world, the architectural elements represented in the city of 1980 in “Just Imagine” and in that of 2000 in “Metropolis” are those belonging to it.
In 1930 New York was in fact the only skyscraper city on earth, except for Chicago, and Just Imagine’ s futuristic city is obviously inspired by the design of New York architects such as Harvey W. Corbett (one of the principal designer of the Rockfeller Center) and expecially from the work of Hugh Ferris whose book “The Metropolis of Tomorrow” was published in 1929.
Ferris’ ideal metropolis, based on some of the most prominent American skyscrapers, has widely spaced towers raising from lower buildings, linked by multi-level walkways and bridges, and Corbett himself, designing the Rockfeller Center, proposed schemes for a multi-level city.
Just Imagine’s city with its layout of buildings and avenues more regular and widely spaced shows all those characteristics of New York of ‘30s even if traffic is on nine levels, airplanes land on the roofs of the building, people is identified by a serial numbers and babies are born from vending machines.

Federica Martella

  22. What was the motive behind/inspiration for the Martian costume design??  
  23. What is the role of Single Zero? How is he instrumental in connecting the past to the proposed present? Is he effective?
  24. Connect and compare the role of the inventor/scientist in Caligari, Golem, Metropolis and Just Imagine. Why does such a character/role continue to be a central part of these films?  
  The role of the inventor/scientist figure is crucial in elaborating one of the central themes in each of these futuristic films. He is introduced as other than the city folk and far removed from the mainstream ruling order of society. In Caligari for instance he enters the stage as part of the circus. In Metropolis his house stands in sharp contrast to the futuristic lines of the highrise, described as being forgotten by the hands of progress it is decidedly sacral in form.

The inventor acts a foil to the state leader and stands far removed from the concerns of the average citizen. Characterized as a wise old benevolent figure the inventor personifies a particular view of science and reveals a humanistic ambition. In Caligari for instance, the scientist is the psychiatrist. His figure brings into question the sanity of the modern condition. In ‘Golem’, the creator is a spiritual figure in possession of a sort of mystic power. In the case of ‘Metropolis’, he is the hurt lover struggling against the authority of a dictator. While in ‘Just Imagine’, he is the benevolent father figure; benign yet powerless before the tribunal. In each case, his creation is presented as a political tool to be used to over throw the stability of the state.

We are introduced to the inventor in his presentation of his animate creation to the captive audience. Characterized by his access and command of a boundless knowledge he is able to utilize it to transcend the confines of the modern city. Pushing through the frontiers of space and time, and defying mortality through his muse; he presents his work as a solution to the disharmony plaguing the group. But ultimately the experiment breaks down in some way and fails, revealing an ultimate skepticism towards un-discriminate progress.

Julia Farkas -- masters


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