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VINTAGE TOMORROWS (review)

Review by Elizabeth Weitz
Produced by Byrd McDonald, Sean Hutchinson, 
Emmery McNamara, Alan Winston
Directed by Byrd McDonald
Featuring Brian David Johnson, James Carrott,
William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Cherie Priest,
China Miéville, Cory Doctorow, Gail Carriger,
Paul Guinan & Anina Bennett, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, 
Nisi Shawl, Phil & Kaja Foglio, Margaret ‘Magpie’ Killjoy

I’ll be honest with you, I never got into steampunk.

Sure, I love Jules Verne and H.G Wells (The Time Machine is in my top five favorite books of all time) and I absolutely adore the history of the Industrial Age when everything was made to be huge glorious tributes to iron and metal, constructed with hundreds of levers and buttons and widgets.

But steampunk? I just couldn’t see past the goggles and top hats.

Of course, I never bothered to explore below the surface of the culture because I am, essentially, an asshole.

But Byrd McDonald’s documentary, Vintage Tomorrows, changed my perception of the culture thanks to in-depth interviews with some of its most illustrious members, bringing to light the long history of the culture (we’re talking decades here) which only seemingly exploded into the public consciousness just a few years ago thanks to the burgeoning realm of steampunk literature and its presence at cons.

Unlike a lot of other cosplay cultures (and I hesitate to use that phrase after seeing the documentary) steampunk isn’t merely playing dress-up or emulating a specific genre.

For the more involved members, it’s about intimately honoring the past while at the same time twisting and tweaking it, eliminating the dark remnants of sexism, racism and Colonialism (but still recognizing that it existed so as not to lessen its impact on those it harmed) and coloring it with an optimistic technological futurism that is connected to our humanity in a way that it is not in today’s real world.

And that, my friends and fellow stubborn assholes, is at the heart of this steampunk documentary…to be connected to technology in a tangible way and making it ours instead of the other way around.

Technology, while wonderful, has also allowed a certain level of disconnect to occur. We throw out things that no longer work because we have no way of fixing them. Once ago we could take things apart, tinker with them, reconstruct dead parts, but now, we would need a clean room and a PhD before taking out a battery.

In steampunk, the opposite is true.

Tinkering is not only expected but it’s damn near a religion. You are expected to remake things in a historical fashion. You are to be a learned person who knows the intricacies of technological Victorian London or turn-of-the-century New York City and understand how to make devices to solve crimes, fly to the moon or create a mechanical carriage with a three-story home on it, complete with a library (and yes, this is an actual thing and it is called the Neverwas Haul built by Shannon O’Hare- it’s in the documentary).

How amazing is that?

Now, am I convert after watching the documentary? I don’t know. I’m not as pompous in my assessment of it anymore and I will definitely check out a few of Gail Carriger’s books or take in one of Abney Park’s music shows (which looks to be one hell of a good time), and maybe, just maybe, I will seriously consider wearing a handmade Victorian dress fitted with a holster because “Why Not?” the people in my neighborhood already assume I’m weird and it looks like it’s a lot more comfortable than shoving my ass into a pair of skinny jeans.

So perhaps that is the best praise one can give it, that it will definitely change the way you see the sub culture and perhaps inspire you to seek out more information on it (especially if you are interested in the Maker aspect of it).

So congrats Mr. McDonald, you made a film worthy of changing one culture snob at a time…I can think of no better way to twist history than turning this asshole into a potential fan.

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