There was a widespread Art Deco revival during the later 1970s and '80s, which like the original took place during the second half of a rising-crime period. Similar environments breed similar outcomes, whether consciously or not on the creators' part.
And yet the neo-Deco buildings didn't look nearly as awe-inspiring as the originals, although a real breath of fresh air from the soul-less mid-century and the mid-century revival of the past 20 years.
At first I thought it was just a case of a somewhat weaker visual culture, so that although there was a similar outcome in the '80s as in the '20s, its peak wasn't quite as high. But after watching Blade Runner again recently, it struck me that maybe all those people who would've been contributing to an architectural culture that would've been just as inventive and spellbinding as Art Deco, had instead switched over to working on the visual design of movies.
It takes an awful lot of people contributing to the overall look of a movie, multiplied by all movies being made in a year. And some of them are the very same jobs needed to make a building, from the production designer (a general overseer) down to the carpenters who build sets and craftsmen who make relief sculpture for decoration.
The movies of the Jazz Age were heavily visual, just like they would become once more during the New Wave Age, but they still weren't as sublime as their descendants would be. Blade Runner looks better than Metropolis, and the Star Wars or Indiana Jones movies look better than The Thief of Bagdad, as wonderfully epic as the '20s movies already look.
So if you combine both architecture and movies into the visual culture, the '20s and the '80s don't seem so different in how high they soared. It's just that more of that excellence went into buildings in the Jazz Age, and more into movies in the New Wave Age.
That gives me hope that during the next such phase in the cycle, we'll enjoy yet another period of a spectacularly moving visual culture. Whether the bulk of that energy goes into movies, buildings, or something new, doesn't really matter so much -- it'll be a pleasant surprise. The important thing is that we'll eventually pull ourselves out of the ever blander world of the past 20 years.
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