“Vintage Tomorrows” has got to be the best title you could give a documentary on the steampunk movement and it lives up to it. This is a much-needed comprehensive look, both informative and quite a lot of fun. The documentary made its world premiere at the Comic-Con Int’l Independent Film Festival this last weekend.
Produced and directed by Byrd McDonald, this documentary is based on the book, “Vintage Tomorrows,” by James Carrott and Brian David Johnson. They’re in the doc and so are many other notable figures. Interviews and appearances include authors William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (The Difference Engine), Cherie Priest (Boneshaker), China Miéville (Perdido Street Station), Cory Doctorow (Makers), Gail Carriger (The Parasol Protectorate series), Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett (Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel), Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (Steampunk, The Steampunk Bible), Nisi Shawl (Everfair) and Phil and Kaja Foglio (Girl Genius), and founder of Steampunk Magazine Margaret ‘Magpie’ Killjoy.
What’s all the fuss about, you ask? The story of steampunk, followers will tell you, is for everyone. To give a sense of the many voices and answers to the question, “What is steampunk?” we begin with a whirlwind of responses from many of the participants. Initial segments are sliced together with one person seeming to complete another’s sentence. “Steampunk is…” leads to answers such as “based upon science fiction of the 19th century” and on down to line to rallying cries such as, “you show up in a top hat and spats and you’re there to cause a riot!”
For an ostensibly literary movement, you would expect a rather low-key and subtle vibe running throughout. And, darn it, that is basically what you have and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, what people who are involved with steampunk would have you know is that there’s a strong sense of wonder, adventure, and excitement attached as well. And things are evolving. What may have begun as a quirky meeting of minds, circa 2005, has found formidable and creative leaders in the last ten years.
Steampunk today takes itself more seriously. The irreverence has been tempered a bit with a higher level of self-scrutiny. For instance, as the documentary explains, in order to be more inclusive, steampunk needed to confront the Victorian era’s colonialism and elitism. While history is what it is, attempts are made to address the past. For instance, you hear one participant say she no longer wears a pith helmet, an obvious symbol to her of colonialism.
Attempts to bring the Victorian era into the 21st century are likely to always be weird but that is part of steampunk. Enthusiasts will tell you that a big method to the madness is an attempt to get back to something tactile and real. While a steampunk follower may own an iPhone or iPad, that doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t do it grudgingly. A recurring battle cry is that we’ve lost something vital with today’s technology. There is no steampunk smart phone or laptop. However, we have each other. We have community. Steampunk encourages you to not be afraid to look backward as you find your way forward.
Be sure to visit the official Vintage Tomorrows website right here.