Introduced by Sir Christopher Frayling
Although the streamline moderne style, which has come to define Things to Come in popular imagination, appears only in its final part set in 2036, it makes a profound visual impact. The ‘age of mechanical perfection’ (in H.G. Wells’ words) is overwhelmingly white in both architecture and clothing, cutting a serene image of a world cleansed of manual labour, disease and suffering. Wells, on whose 1933 book the film was based, prophesised that clothing of the enlightened future would be ‘austerely beautiful’, machine-made to measure and utterly disposable. He nevertheless elaborated more on the social and cultural conditions at the root of the new fashions than questions of style per se, allowing the film’s costume designers to do their own bit of magic. As the film travels forward through a hundred years, the costumes perfectly register social and political progress, as well as regression. The final look is an intriguing fusion of angular modernism, elements of heroic warrior wear and classical garb, as seen in the 1930s couture.
UK 1936. Dir. William Cameron Menzies. With Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman, Ralph Richardson. Costumes John Armstrong, René Hubert, Cathleen Mann (as Marchioness of Queensberry), Sam Williams. 35mm.
Sir Christopher Frayling is an educator and writer on the cinema, art, design and popular culture. His latest book The 2001 File: Harry Lange and the Design of the Landmark Science Fiction Film was published in 2015.