Nostalgia is imbedded into our culture, from the obvious being fashion trends which probably have been rehashing itself since the beginning of mass media to food (which is a completely different article). Somewhere in the middle is film and episodic television. Obviously for film nostalgia can be seen as early as the 1950s with films such as SINGING IN THE RAIN and SUNSET BOULVARD, harking back to the silent era of cinema, and television presenting westerns programs such as GUNSMOKE, that presented a simpler time in the frontier west that. Film and episodic story telling though sat in safety place of being nostalgia more then retro though and therefore it is an enjoyable experience to watch these stories regardless of your own age or time period because they present a beautiful lie that we can use to escape from are ambiguous current present.
There is a recent trend occurring in film and episodic story telling that is happening right now. It is a scenario in which the past is being presented as our present or more clearly, storytellers are making it quite apparent that they want to make things that do not seem dated. This is retro. Retro, is a present stealing what it wants from the past. Retro is very prominent in fashion in that it takes what worked ten to fifteen years ago and improves on it. Retro appears in automobiles all the time, as car makers pull out an old beloved model, such as Shelby Mustang, and give it current day perks, like heated seats, or flashy car paint. Retro, unlike nostalgia, interrupts the norm but doesn’t affect us emotionally. Mainly because when retro appears we can choose to ignore it, we can choose to have the current haircut or keep the one we have been happy with for the past five years. Nostalgia on the other hand affect us because we choose to let it to. Nostalgia is the cute doll you keep, a kit cat clock, or a band that intentionally is trying to sound like it was from your childhood (think Elton John’s Crocodile Rock). Nostalgia is meant to provoke emotion, Retro is meant to provoke a familiar recall of what was in the most ambiguous way, such as the return of acid wash jeans. We know that was a fashionable twenty five years but it did not dictate how we felt at the time about whatever was going in are lives.
This new trend of Retro cinema that I have not seen occurring cinema until about five years ago with the film DRIVE (2011, dir.Nicolas Winding Refn). The film is on paper, a very run of the mill action film, but Refn mixes in an 80s sounding score, dated clothing, and a variety of sets that do not scream a particular time period to create a film that is clearly not present day but is definitely not a film that takes place in the past. This is Retro appearing on screen. More recently is the film, It Follows (2014 dir. David Mitchell), a film with worn out furniture from the early 80s and dated props such as analog TVs, type writers, and land line phones. However the characters in the film wear current clothing, one character using some futuristic e-reader, and other scenarios that indicate this film should be present day. This is Retro appearing on the screen. Next is, in the world of episodic story telling is GOTHAM (2015 to present, FOX). A show that’s premise is the city of Gotham before Bruce Wayne grows up and becomes Batman. The story plays up to crime genre motifs, with trench coats, big cars, steam coming out of manholes on the city streets. Yet buildings and interior aesthetics vary from art deco to current trends and characters sense of fashion can vary from 1940s to current (such as detective Gordon’s hairstyle), then there are the use of old heavy bulky telephones, then a nod to flip open cell phones that were prevalent ten years. This is retro appearing on the screen.
Now, my critique of any of this is irrelevant at this juncture. This is not a dislike or enthusiasm of the material but just examples to point out RETRO media story telling.
Retro is not to be confused with post-apocalyptic material, such TURBO KID, MAD MAX, or THE WALKING DEAD, to name a few. These sort of media stories coincidentally or purposely have to use props, costume, or score that speak of a specific time period or provoke a certain time period because the story has no other choice. Therefore Retro, is an intentional act of the director and producers. It is an aesthetic choice that is design to distract from the story, but not define it. Retro, is not the act of a certain time period but looking off such as BLADE RUNNER or MINORITY REPORT. Retro is a presence in the film while being in a presented as a present state, such as THE LOBSTER. Finally, Retro is not in quotation, or is designed to be used in an ironic way such as THE GREASY STRANGLER (2016, dir. Jim Hoskling) which is a film set in the present but with everything around the film set in dated period way, from the characters giving tours of famous disco locations, to using phrases like “Bullshit Artist,” everything within the film is joke within a joke within a bad joke. It is dated for the sake of being funny and cool. Retro, appears but does not dictate the attitude, of the characters or the story such as WRONG. Retro creates emotion but most importantly it does not create nor demand a sense of joy or happiness from the audience the way nostalgia is supposed to.
So Retro, in many ways falls more into the realm of Camp then say Nostalgia. However, the goal of Camp is quite different then the act of Retro. And Retro in many ways is designed to appear like Nostalgia’s cousin. Retro is an aesthetic first. Therefore Retro is similar to camp in that it defines a state of what something is and is not, were as nostalgia works on the simple premise of being there to evoke a fake reminder of what was, it works on an emotional level and the aesthetic is irrelevant to its’ act. Is Retro the next camp than for visual media story. Will we see a slew of films with a goal to have a presence in the present and fail in trying or is this an isolated period where the current aesthetics of society are just being reflected into our media?
Retro, is a unique and relevant idea, as it is creating a brand new aesthetic for visual media. It shows that a story maker can tell their story in their respected medium and not abide by certain aesthetical rules of the current time and that title card fonts, wallpaper, dialogue, can provoke reaction from the audience more than pacing, lighting, or acting can.
In conclusion, Retro is a new device, that although has been around in other fields is only now entering the world of cinema and episodic storytelling. By doing so, we are experiencing a new fleet of tactics to tell a story. And in doing so, is creating a new way for us to understand and experience story.