“Don’t be tricked by the verisimilitude into forgetting this is fiction”*…
Thanks to obsessive online forums that pore over a production’s every anachronism , [the entertainment industry] requires increasingly discerning and dedicated prop hunters. Nowhere is this more apparent on set than with the technology that surrounds actors. Mad Men inspired its dedicated watchers to complain that the Sterling Cooper office’s IBM Selectric typewriters were a year ahead of their time, and the numerous period-specific shows that followed have only had to be more diligent.
Now, as television is trending toward ’80s-era creations like Stranger Things, The Americans, Halt and Catch Fire, and The Goldbergs, decorators are finding it increasingly difficult to fill their sets with gadgets that won’t cause persnickety fans to froth at the mouth. It’s a very first-world Hollywood problem, but a fascinating one. The breakneck pace of consumer technology development — the same thing that has brought us generational inside jokes and those viral “Kids React to Old Computers” videos — is trailed by landfills full of mass-produced gadgets. They are not made of metal or wood, but a beige and flimsy plastic that tends to yellow over time. As the production designer for the first two seasons of The Americans, John Mott, put it, the ’80s “were also a time where design had kind of lost its way.” As a result, gadgets from that era don’t tend to be on most collectors’ radars, even if they’re in high demand in the entertainment industry…
It can’t just be a computer from the ’80s — it has to be THE computer from the ’80s: “How Hollywood Gets Its Old-School Tech.”
And for more on the viewer-side energy driving this, see “The Internet Is Spoiling TV.”
* Sha Li
As we aspire to accuracy, we might recall that it was on this date in 1970 that Gimme Shelter was released. A Maysles Brothers documentary edited by Charlotte Zwerin and produced by Porter Bibb (with incidental assistance from your correspondent), it chronicled the last weeks of The Rolling Stones’ 1969 US tour, which culminated in the disastrous Altamont Free Concert.
One of the most immediate and compelling documentaries ever committed to celluloid, it was released twelve months to the day after the era-defining tragedy that it depicted. Before directing Gimme Shelter, Albert and David Maysles had made vérité documentaries focusing on celebrities such as Marlon Brando, Orson Welles, Truman Capote and the Beatles and it was the latter experience that convinced Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones to invite the brothers and their creative collaborator Charlotte Zwerin to film the free concert they were headlining at the Altamont Speedway. The concert was attended by an enormous 300,000 people but the free love party was so large that the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang were recruited in the last minute to act as security for the event. Rather than being a West Coast version of Woodstock (which had been held earlier that summer) Altamont instead became infamous for the death of Meredith Hunter, an 18-year-old African-American man, stabbed to death by the Hell’s Angels after drawing a long-barreled revolver. Amazingly, the Maysles caught the incident on film, turning Gimme Shelter into, as Amy Taubin succinctly put it, rock ‘n’ roll’s answer to the Zapruder footage of JFK’s assassination. Not only does the movie feature the fatal incident but, even more compellingly, in one scene we see a clearly affected Jagger watching the incident again as the Maysles edit the footage. A great concert film as well as a hugely important cinematic document hugely altered the trajectory of the Maysles’ career and remains, along with Don’t Look Back, one of the most important music docs ever made.