Futurism burst onto the scene in Italy in 1909 as an artistic crusade to reject traditional forms and incorporate modern technology and energy into the work. It’s forward thinking mandate has called artists of all mediums to imagine what the world could be. In 1958 Arthur Radebaugh started the syndicated Sunday comic Closer Than We Think! which ran in newspapers until early 1963. His optimistic brand of futurism epitomized America’s post-WWII era feeling of hope and pride and love of all things sciency.
Now, a film project hopes to shed new light on the life and art of futurist illustrator Arthur Radebaugh and his Sunday comic strip that predicted the future. From Robot Driving to Space Monkey Colonies, Radebaugh’s visions of the future heavily influenced The Jetsons and many of his prognostications have come true in the decades since the strip first ran in newspapers. Writer/Director Brett Ryan Bonowicz, whose thriller THE PERFECT 46 about a match-making website that goes horribly wrong played numerous festivals and universities in 2014, has taken to Indiegogo to find funding, as well leads on the life of the elusive artist, who sadly passed away in 1974.
Bonowicz has already interviewed designers Syd Mead (Tron, Blade Runner), and Rick Guidice (NASA), Futurists including Kirk Citron (Editor of The Long News), scientist Aubrey de Grey (SENS Research Foundation), historians of mid-century futurism Hampton C. Wayt (Curator of Driving Through Futures Past) Todd Kimmell and the other curators of the exhibit Radebaugh: The Future We Were Promised and Matt Novak of the Paleofuture blog. However, part of the purpose of the Indiegogo campaign is to reach out and find people that actually knew Radebaugh, or may have more of his work stowed away in their attic. Despite his influence, no audio or video of the futurist has yet been uncovered.
I had a chance to speak with Bonowicz about the film, and his crowdfunding campaign.
Bonowicz: What we’re exploring in the film is futurist illustrating. Radebaugh was a futurist illustrator and he used his predictions in Closer Than We Think! to communicate to the masses each Sunday the possibilities of the future at a time in the 1950s after the launch of Sputnik and when NASA was just taking off. Since no audio or video exists of Radebaugh, we’ve interviewed Syd Mead and Rick Guidice, both futurist illustrators and asked them about their techniques and approaches toward futurist thinking.
BEARS: How did you discover Arthur Radebaugh?
Bonowicz: Reading Matt Novak’s Paleofuture blog around 2008 or so. I had just started researching the history of eugenics as I was building the story for The Perfect 46 and kept coming across all of these retrofuture blog posts about Closer Than We Think! and Arthur Radebaugh. During pre-production on The Perfect 46, we considered using Radebaugh’s art in Jesse Darden’s office.
Bonowicz: There’s very little known about Radebaugh. A basic bio, a few print interviews, and some of his art. By casting a large net with this campaign we’re hoping to uncover aspects of the man we haven’t uncovered in our research thus far. We’re looking for missing Closer Than We Think! strips, looking for any of his later work that might have been collected by someone and stored away for decades. We’re also looking for anyone that may have worked with him or knew him personally.
In collecting Radebaugh’s art I’ve dealt with collector’s in the Netherlands and collectors in Kansas, his art has made it around the world…we know its out there, and we’d love to include it in the film.
BEARS: What do you think Radebaugh would say about our world today?
Bonowicz: I think he’d be surprised where the space program is. He had us mining on the moon and colonizing deep space on what he called “Space Mayflowers.” Many of his consumer products have come true, so I think he’d have a certain level of “I told you so” about Nest and smart home products in general.
Bonowicz: He predicted something called “The Visaphone” which is basically FaceTime. Since it’s a product of the 1960’s it comes in three parts and sits on a desk, but it’s essentially right.
Universal Language Boxes is something we’re seeing come to fruition now. He predicted electric cars and autonomous cars except he called it “Robot Driving”
He had two strips about education. “Every Home a Classroom” and “Push-Button Education.” What he describes in those strips are Khan Academy and Udacity.
There’s a strip called “Computer Navigation” that instantly makes you think of GPS, but as the strip describes it, it would only apply to airliners.
That being said he also predicted “Moon Honeymoon” a time in which people would casually Honeymoon on the Moon, so his predictions weren’t always spot on.
BEARS: What do intend for the style of this doc?
The structure of the film lets us explore futurism, what its role in society is, and how artistic futurism ages with time. We’re talking to scientists, futurists, artists, and historians, telling the story of Arthur’s life and exploring what it means to predict the future. In the same way that Arthur’s art is a time capsule of what society hoped and feared and dreamed, we hope the film is the same. Any predictions of the future in our film will be a similar time capsule, one that reveals the hopes and fears and dreams of our 21st century.
Bonowicz’s CLOSER THAN WE THINK is crowdfunding now. His film THE PERFECT 46 is available on Vimeo and played many festivals including Other Worlds Austin where Bonowicz took home the Best Director award.