February 07, 2006

History has aptly recorded the Futurist movement, a 20th century artistic ethos centering on a rejection of the past and its traditions, as well as its theatrical descendant, neo-futurism. But sadly, little scholarly attention has been paid to German Retro-Futurism, perhaps because it featured less fetishization of violence and quasi-facism, and more spiffy ray guns.

German Retro-Futurisms few academic devotees all agree that the father of the movement was Arthur Pfannenschmidt, a bootblack in Dresden. Pfannenschmidt quit his day job after, in a burst of DaVinci-like foresight, he sketched out the as yet non-existent Retro-Futurist staples the Transphibious AtomMobile, Mindless Robot Henchman With A Lightning Bolt On Its Chest, and most astonishing of all, The Flying Saucer We Can Obviously See Is A Miniature Held Up By A String. In this singular moment of epiphany, the lowly 19th-century bootblack seems to have predicted much of the contents of the 1952 B-movie Creatures From Moon-Station Zero, despite the fact that he lived years before the invention of both film and stiff, hammy acting.

Pfannenschmidt found an acolyte in a man half his age and much higher up on the social ladder: Klaus Ebersbach, a moneyed playboy who mostly spent his days lounging on a divan comparing life unfavorably to various kinds of venereal disease to whomever he had paid to listen. Ebersbach would contribute to the Retro-Futurist movement mostly with his checkbook rather than his foresight, save for an absinthe-fueled fever dream which modern day scholars agree, after reading Ebersbachs journal entry recounting the dream, was a one-for-one foretelling of The Jetsons. (Contemporaries accused Ebersbachs dream of being just a ripoff of an ether hallucination another man had had about a working-class caveman in a world powered by dinosaurs. A time-traveler who happened to be in Dresden at the time accused both dreams of being ripoffs of The Honeymooners.) (It is a good thing the Retro-Futurists did not know they were in the same city as an actual time traveler, if they had known, most respected scholars agree, they would have shat themselves.)

Arguably the greatest prophet to be born out of the German Retro-Futurists was Gustav Fuchs, who, through his comprehensive vision of the streamlined look of the Retro-Future, was able to forsee that looks influence on the tail-finned automobiles of the 1950s, and from there was then able to postulate mid-century American culture in its entirety. His writings on sockhops and drag races were so ahead of their time as to seem insane to his peers, except for his treatise on making out in the back seat at the drive-in movie. Making out in the back seat at the drive-in movie was actually a popular activity for German youths at the time, with Making out translating from German as performing dangerous unskilled labor, and the backseat at the drive-in movie translating loosely as a hot, cramped factory run by a tight-fisted child-hating miser. Sadly, the diagnosis of Fuchs as insane would eventually prove all too accurate, as he lived out his last days in a cramped attic room, working as a rollerskating carhop in the burger-and-milkshake joint in his mind. (So comprehensive was his vision of 1950s culture right up until the end that it is said his death rattle was the first few bars of Lonely Nights by the Shirelles.)

Though many modern thinkers have attempted to co-opt the Retro-Futurist moniker, its original German incarnation remains perhaps historys purest ideology dedicated to predicting someone elses prediction of the future which would itself never quite come true. Sadly, Retro-Futurism has no monuments in our modern world, save perhaps for a statue which is standing in the narrow Dresden alley where Pfannenschmidt had his bootblack stand.

It is a large broze reproduction of one of the father of Retro-Futurisms rare works in sculpture: Googly-Eyed Space Alien (On Whose Back You Can Totally See The Zipper).

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