Once tucked into a science fiction corner, steampunk has infiltrated the Southern California underground and nowhere was that more obvious than at last weekend's Gothla US, where belly dancers dressed as though they had stepped out of Aubrey Beardsley posters, musicians played with a neo-Victorian flair and merchants like Clockwork Couture dealt in goggles and clock-part jewelry.
"To me, it's like science is art," says Clockwork Couture's Mich Fisher of steampunk. "It's taking science and technology and adding imagination and creativity and sort of spinning it into something completely different."
What makes steampunk unusual against other burgeoning cultures is that it isn't based in music. Sure, there are a handful of associated bands-- like Abney Park (who plays the Knitting Factory on March 19), Vernian Process and The Unextraordinary Gentlemen-- but its roots are in literature and technology. Here, Jules Verne and Nikola Tesla are the rock stars.
Fisher points to steampunk's optimistic approach to innovation and exploration as particularly attractive right now. "We're coming into a period of time right now where a lot of people are depressed," she elaborates. "There are issues to be dealt with and technology is kind of at the root of solving them, so if you can give people something with a little bit of hope and imagination and creativity, there are...people embracing certain aspects of it and having fun."
Below is a starter guide to steampunk-friendly film and TV series. Add your own picks in the comment section.
Fullmetal Alchemist fan video
On the eve of World War I, in a world parallel to ours, alchemy is the leading school of scientific thought and the search for the Philosopher's Stone, the elusive object by which alchemists could create without repercussion, is at the root of society's ills. Edward and Alphonse Elric are the pre-teen sons of a famed alchemist who left them years ago. After their mother dies, they use the science in an attempt to resurrect her, but the experiment goes awry and Alphonse's soul is attached to a suit of armor while Edward loses an arm and a leg. The two then join the quest for the Philospher's Stone to restore their bodies. Hiromu Arakawa's immensely successful manga/anime franchise is as thought-provoking as it is action-packed, constantly asking the question, what are you willing to lose in order to gain? The manga has been running consistently since 2005 and a new season of the anime, which airs Saturday's on Adult Swim, will commence in Japan in April.
Fan video for The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello featuring "Black Day" by Abney Park.
In Gothia, a city that brings to mind scenes from Industrial Revolution novels, a mysterious, virulent disease that seems like a cross between tuberculosis and a staph infection has destroyed the population. Jasper Morello, a navigator whose spiky hair and buckle boots give him a goth club aura, embarks on a mission wherein they stumble upon a cure for "the sickness." Nominated for an Academy Award in 2005, The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello utilizes silhouette animation to stunning effect. The short film is only available on DVD in Australia and New Zealand, but anyone can watch it in the YouTube Screening Room. According to the film's website, this is the first in a series of animated adventures for Jasper Morello.
Steamboy fan video
In an alternate version of Victorian Manchester, Ray Steam is a factory boy by day, steam-powered inventor by night. After receiving a package from his grandfather containing a "steam ball," the young boy is pursued to London, where he encounters his father and becomes entangled in a sinister scientific plan. Like Fullmetal Alchemist, Steamboy is as philosophical as it is fantastical as Ray Steam wrangles with the ethics of invention.Steamboy was directed and co-written by Katsuhiro Otomo, the creator of Akira.
Trailer for The City of Lost Children
A misguided quest for the perfect family led to a clan headed by Krank, a scientist whose inability to dream has caused him to age rapidly. Krank compensates for the lack of night visions by kidnapping children from the port city adjacent to his sea-docked lab and infiltrating restful minds. After the disappearance of his young brother, carnival strongman One begins a hunt with street-wise waif Miette in tow. The Caro and Jeunet film is filled with all sorts of intriguing retro-futuristic details, like brass eyepieces that allow for superb sight, a talking brain encased in what vaguely resembles and old fashioned record player and, of course, the dream-syphoning machine.
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Fan video for The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.
Brisco County was one of the greatest law-and-order men of the Wild West, until he met his demise at the hands of the John Bly Gang. Enter Brisco County, Jr., a Harvard-educated lawyer who gave up the white-collar world for life as a slightly debauched bounty hunter ready to avenge his father's death. But this short-lived Fox series is no ordinary western. Amidst the trains and horse-drawn carriages are a "rocket car" that speeds across the railway with a trail of fire behind it, a "mobile battle wagon" that's part steam-puffing tank and part wagon and a mystical, highly coveted orb that drives one of the series' major subplots. As a bonus, Brisco County, Jr. is Bruce Campbell.