Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Gothic Dieselpunk Movies

Back in January, I wrote about a new Dieselpunk flavor or subgenre that I called Gothic Dieselpunk. In it, I defined Gothic Dieselpunk as “A subclass of Dark Dieselpunk that emphasizes the gothic or the macabre.”

Recently I came across a YouTube video titled, “10 Old Movies Too Disturbing For Mainstream Audiences.” This video just screamed Gothic Dieselpunk to me.

A little shy of 15 minutes running time this video is a well-made review of 10 classic movies most of which pre-date 1950. And just as the title says, most of them are dark, bizarre and disturbing.

Needless to say, this video is NSFW. Plus, it has images and subjects that some might find disturbing.

I'd like to highlight three of the movies in this video.

Freaks (1932)
According to the Atlanta-based indie filmmaker, Bret Wood for,
In writing about film, one tries to avoid labeling any film as "unique." However, there has never been, there will likely never be, a film quite like Tod Browning's Freaks (1932). Set in a European freak show, cast with authentic human oddities from throughout North America, Freaks presents a side of circus life seldom witnessed on film. But what is more fascinating, these diminutive, misshapen and misunderstood carny denizens play out a diabolical fable of lust, murder and an unspeakably shocking revenge. Although many cities and viewers responded to the "freaks" with sheer disgust and moral outrage, Browning is completely sympathetic to them, and allows them to share the same emotions (love, lust, jealousy) and perform the same deeds (sexual banter, murder, marriage) as their glamorous counterparts.

I highly recommend the Dangerous Minds web site "Gorgeous cast portraits from Tod Browning’s ‘Freaks’ (1932)"

Freaks was an inspiration for HBO's Dieselpunk series Carnivale. In 1994 Freaks was selected for the National Film Registry archives, and now enjoys both cult and canon status.

The Man Who Laughs (1928)
Back in 2004, the Roger Ebert wrote,
Movie villains smile so compulsively because it creates a creepy disconnect between their mouth and their eyes. Imagine, however, a good man, condemned to smile widely for an entire lifetime. Such a creature would be bullied as a child and shunned as an adult. "The Man Who Laughs" (1928), one of the final treasures of German silent Expressionism, is about such a man. His name is Gwynplaine. His father was a nobleman. Orphaned as a child, he is captured by outlaws who use a knife to carve his face into a hideous grin. Disfigured, alone, he rescues a baby girl, and together they are raised by a fatherly vaudeville producer. As adults, they star in the producer's sideshow and fall in love. Because she is blind, she does not know about his grin.

Fans of the comic book character Batman would recognize Conrad Veidt’s character Gwynplaine for he was the inspiration for the villain The Joker. Bob Kane, the creator of Batman, explained in a 1994 interview:

Bill Finger and I created the Joker. Bill was the writer. Jerry Robinson came to me with a playing card of the Joker. That’s the way I sum it up. But he looks like Conrad Veidt – you know, the actor in The Man Who Laughs… So Bill Finger had a book with a photograph of Conrad Veidt and showed it to me and said, “Here’s the Joker.”

Haxen (1922)
According to Jeff Stafford for,
Presented in seven parts, Haxan opens with the chapter "Sources," which presents the human conditions that allowed witchcraft hysteria to grow and run wild during the Middle Ages, and moves on to Chapter 2, "1488," which explores and dramatizes numerous rituals and myths about witches with the aid of some striking special effects. Chapter 3, "The Trials," and Chapter 4, "The Torture," have a disturbing intensity due to Christensen's unsparing depiction of how a villager's family is systemically destroyed by false accusations of witchcraft. While many of the persecuted were elderly women whose greatest misfortune was being infirm, mentally ill or physically repulsive, the young were no less suspect and just as likely to be tortured or burned at the stake as we learn in Chapter 5, "Sinful Thoughts." One also shudders at the insidious devices on display and put into action in the name of drawing confessions from so-called witches in the section entitled "Techniques." In the final chapter, Christensen draws parallels between this dark time when ignorance and superstition reigned and his own, supposedly more enlightened era. Viewers will also be interested to know that the director himself appears as His Satanic Majesty in the movie.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Coming to America

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” - Franklin D. Roosevelt

Immigration is a major political issue today in America. However, this is far from the first time Americans have debated this issue. For the first half of the existence of the US, there were no immigration laws. Walk off the boat and the moment your feet hit the shore you could be an American. No papers needed and no questions asked.

The first Federal bill governing immigration was passed in the late 1800s. The Page Law of 1875 was decidedly racist in that it was meant to reduce immigration of women from Asia. The second law was the equally racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was just as the name implied. Also in 1882 was the Immigration Act, which prohibited the entry of “any convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge.”

As horrible as these three bills were they didn’t impact the majority of people coming to America. For most, all they had to do was to get to the US. Things began to change during the Diesel Era and again race played a major role. It was during the 1920s we first have the existence of 'legal' immigration.

Nativist Political Cartoon - 1921

The Immigration Act of 1917 was one of the first major immigration laws with wide reaching implications. This law included a literacy test, which required reading short passages in any language, and if a man was literate and his wife and children weren’t, they all still earned access to the country. It was thought that the law would reduce the number of new arrivals (mainly from eastern and southern Europe) by more than 40 percent. In reality, only 1,450 people of 800,000 immigrants between 1920 and 1921 were excluded on the basis of literacy.

The legislation with the biggest impact was the National Origins Act of 1924. The law was primarily aimed at further decreasing immigration of Southern Europeans, countries with Roman Catholic majorities, Eastern Europeans, Arabs, and Jews. Virtually all Asians were forbidden from immigrating to America under the Act.
A group of Chinese and Japanese women and children wait to be processed as they are held in a wire mesh enclosure at the Angel Island Internment barracks in the late 1920s. AP

The Immigration Act made permanent the basic limitations on immigration into the United States established in 1921 and modified the National Origins Formula established then. In conjunction with the Immigration Act of 1917, it governed American immigration policy until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which revised it completely.

For the next four years, until June 30, 1927, the 1924 Act set the annual quota of any nationality at 2% of the number of foreign-born persons of such nationality resident in the United States in 1890. That revised formula reduced total immigration from 357,803 in 1923–24 to 164,667 in 1924–25. The law's impact varied widely by country. Immigration from Great Britain and Ireland fell 19%, while immigration from Italy fell more than 90%.

Newspaper headline from 1921

The Act established preferences under the quota system for certain relatives of U.S. residents, including their unmarried children under 21, their parents, and spouses aged 21 and over. It also preferred immigrants aged 21 and over who were skilled in agriculture, as well as their wives and dependent children under age 16. Non-quota status was accorded to wives and unmarried children under 18 of U.S. citizens; natives of Western Hemisphere countries, with their families; non-immigrants; and certain others. Subsequent amendments eliminated certain elements of this law's inherent discrimination against women.

The 1924 Act also established the "consular control system" of immigration, which divided responsibility for immigration between the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. It mandated that no alien should be allowed to enter the United States without a valid immigration visa issued by an American consular officer abroad.

Health inspection of immigrants at Ellis Island in 1921

It provided that no alien ineligible to become a citizen could be admitted to the United States as an immigrant. This was aimed primarily at Japanese and Chinese aliens. It imposed fines on transportation companies who landed aliens in violation of U.S. immigration laws. It defined the term "immigrant" and designated all other alien entries into the United States as "non-immigrant", that is, temporary visitors. It established classes of admission for such non-immigrants.

As a divided America struggles today with the issue of immigration we need to remember that the ideas of 'legal' and 'illegal' immigration date back only to the 1920s and like so much of American history are tied to race.

Sources: Immigration to United, Smithsonian Magazine, LA Times

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Pegasus City Brewery

Pegasus City Brewery
"Give me a woman who loves beer and I will conquer the world." Kaiser Wilhelm

I’m always looking for a great local beer. Not long ago I found one brewed here in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex that not only tasted great but had a very Dieselpunk label: Pegasus City Brewery.

Pegasus City Brewery was founded by Chris Weiss, Will Cotten, and Adrian Cotten. The founders along with a small team put out five main beers along with four seasonals. Each can comes in a cool black with a great art deco illustration.

Of their five main beers my favorite is the Sixth Floor Easy Porter.

Their beers are sold throughout the Dallas area. In addition, they have The Tiny Tap where you can go and relax while you enjoy their beers on tap. Visit their website here.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Batman: The Animated Series on Amazon Prime

In a previous post I wrote how Dark Deco is a new flavor of Dieselpunk. The term was coined by the creators of Batman: The Animated Series, which also played a major influence in the style and tropes of the flavor.

Now the entire series is available for free streaming to Amazon Prime members. This series is a much watch for fans of Dark Deco.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Dieselpunk Dames on Pinterest

As Dieselpunk grows in popularity so does its presence on the Internet. And a fun resource is Pinterest.

One of my recent discoveries on Pinterest is "Dieselpunk Dames", which is owned by Ian Farrington. Note: Some images at this board might be NSFW.

Sunday, April 29, 2018


In my previous post, I reviewed Blade Runner 2049. Most know that the original Blade Runner was based on the Philip K Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? However, most don’t know that the basic premise behind the novel long predates it. Like so much of the modern world it’s rooted in the Diesel Era.

On January 25th, 1921 the play RUR or Rossum’s Universal Robots premiered. Written by Karel Capek, RUR was a smash international success. The play’s storyline should be all too familiar to us,

The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people, called roboti (robots), from synthetic organic matter. They are not exactly robots by the current definition of the term: they are living flesh and blood creatures rather than machinery and are closer to the modern idea of androids or replicants. They may be mistaken for humans and can think for themselves. They seem happy to work for humans at first, but a robot rebellion leads to the extinction of the human race. (Source: Wikipedia)

Image from the original play of R.U.R
In addition to Blade Runner, the play has ties to the Dieselpunk television program Batman: The Animated Series. In the two-part episode Heart of Steel, a machine named HARDAC created mechanical replicants of people with the goal of replacing humans, which is clearly similar plot to RUR.

Not only was the episode plot inspired by the play but it also contained several nods to it as well as to the movie Blade Runner. The name of the creator of HARDAC machine was Karl Rossum, which is an obvious combination of a variant of the playwright Karel Capek with the name ‘Rossum’ who was the inventor of the robots in the play. Interestingly, Karl Rossum was voiced by William Sanderson, who played the genetic designer J.K. Sebastian in Blade Runner. In addition, one of the robots in the episode is seen driving a car with “RUR” as the license plate number.

HARDAC from Batman: he Animated Series
One can't help but notice the similarities of RUR to the SYFY channel's reimagined Battlestar Galactica. In this rebooted series we find that the Cylons had been created by humans as slave labor and had 40 years earlier rebelled against humanity. And like RUR we find that all but a small number of the human race are destroyed by their creations.

Capek’s gift to us is more than his Proto-Dieselpunk play, which sparked so many science fiction stories. It was Capek who coined the English word ‘robot’, which he based on the Czech word ‘robotnik’, which means ‘slave’.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Blade Runner 2049 - Movie Review

Back in 1982 the Dieselpunk classic Blade Runner was released. This movie set the standard that would inspire the Dark Deco look later found in Dieselpunk productions such as Batman: The Animated Series.

In 2017 Warners Brothers studio released a long awaited sequel, Blade Runner 2049, which is now on DVD/ BluRay.

The protagonist in this sequel is a Blade Runner named K (Ryan Gosling), which is short for KD9-3.7. K is not only a Blade Runner but is also himself a replicant. He dutifully does his job of ‘retiring’ rogue replicants and then goes home to his holographic girlfriend (think of her as an holographic Alexa with artificial intelligence) named Joi (Ana de Armas).

The world of Blade Runner 2049 is even harsher than it was in the original. The environment is more devastated and more bleak. Most people are packed into slums where they’re dependent upon food processing technology since the world-wide ecology, which had been in decline in the original, had completely collapsed several years prior.

The corporate bad guy in Blade Runner 2049 is Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) of the Wallace Corporation, which is the successor-in-interest to the Tyrell Corporation. The Tyrell Corporation had gone bankrupt shortly after 2022 when replicant technology was outlawed. Niander Wallace had successfully lobbied for a return to replicant manufacturing and has a monopoly on their production as well as the food production technology.

The sequel brings back three characters from the original. Harrison Ford reprises his role as Rick Deckard while Edward James Olmos appears briefly as Gaff. We even see a CGI creation of Sean Young as Rachel.

Blade Runner 2049 opens with K hunting a replicant named Sapper Morton who is superbly played by Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and 2). What K discovers at Sapper’s farm sets into motion events that threaten to blow their society apart.

Blade Runner 2049 is a visually stunning movie. The sets are amazing and the special effects are awe-inspiring. I’m reminded of Buzz Aldrin’s description of the moon as being “Magnificent desolation”. His poetic description of the lunar surface also applies to the world of Blade Runner 2049.

In addition to grand sets the technology is intriguing. The technology is at times retro while at times futuristic. The technology has a hands-on depth to it. There's definitely an alternate history feel to the tech.

One criticism I have is its length. It’s a loooong movie. Blade Runner 2049 clocks in at 163 minutes, which is nearly the same length of 2001: A Space Odyssey. In addition, I found much of the pace and acting as subdued. Gosling’s acting I found to be especially subtle, which made moments where he did express emotions all the more poignant.

Another criticism I have is that I thought the characters of the sequel were less interesting than those of the original. None rise to the level of those in the original, human or replicant. Of all of the new characters I found the holographic Joi to be the most interesting.

This is a Dieselpunk blog and therefore I want to address the question that’s probably on the minds of all of my readers: “Is this sequel Dieselpunk?”

In a word: no.

While Blade Runner 2049 is an amazing movie it lacks the dark decodence of the original. There’s one scene with a holographic Frank Sinatra singing ‘One For My Baby”, which he did record in 1943. However, the scene was placed in nuclear devastated Las Vegas and it therefore had a more of a early 1960s Rat Pack setting than one of decodence. And the creators of Blade Runner 2049 focused on giving Los Angeles less of a Metropolis feel and more like a dystopian future Beijing.

While Blade Runner 2049 is an amazing movie I can’t call it Dieselpunk.