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Podcast logo of black retro UFO on a red background with the text Every Single Sci-Fi Film Ever*. *Almost.

7. Just Imagine a Musical Rom-Com Sci-Fi Film!

As with all episodes of this podcast there are spoilers ahead!


I would love for you to join in by watching the film Just Imagine which can be found here.



How did the US make a lighthearted, musical rom-com in answer to the grand German dystopia of Metropolis?


Just Imagine was made by David Butler who was hot off the success of another musical: Sunny Side Up (1929).


The film was released in November of 1930 just over a year after the Wall Street Crash. Sound had become commonplace in movie theatres and musicals were drawing in the crowds. Just Imagine had a budget of approximately $1.1 million.


The film is set in 1980. Unsurprisingly there are no synth bands or shoulder pads. There is, however, a glorious retro-futuristic glimpse into what the vision of the future looked like for the people of 1930. The film is very different to its big budget predecessors Aelita Queen of Mars and Metropolis. Just Imagine is a light-hearted, comical, musical rom-com and offers very little anxiety about technology or the future. I had considered titling the episode Just Imagine Being Optimistic About the Future! Luckily I have procured some heavyweight experts to explain how techno-optimism was par for the course in the machine age USA.


The Experts

Jay Telotte is a Professor Emeritus of film and media studies at Georgia Tech. He has written extensively about film history for decades including many books and articles on science fiction cinema. He wrote the article Just Imagine-ing the Metropolis of Modern America in 1996.


Lisa Yaszek is back with us! She is Regents' Professor of Science Fiction Studies at Georgia Tech, has written/edited multiple books on science fiction and teaches Just Imagine as part of a futurism, fashion and science fiction design class. She has recently received the SFRA Award for Lifetime Contributions to Science Fiction Scholarship.




00:00 Intro to the show and guests

01:41 The perfect storm for a musical rom-com sci-fi

04:55 Musicals

08:19 Science Fiction

10:26 Swedish accents, gender and the other queen of Mars

15:10 Optimism, World's Fairs and technocracy

19:53 The futurists and fashion

24:26 Visionary tech hits and misses

28:50 Good and evil of sci-fi fashion

31:47 The death of the big-budget futurist film

33:27 Visual legacy: Flash Gordon, Frankenstein & Buck Rodgers

35:29 Sci-fi musical Vs sci-fi horror

37:34 Conclusions

40:07 Recommendations

The shownotes

• David Butler had a very long career including many musicals. You can learn more about him here. His IMDB listing is here.

• A nice timeline on the building of The Empire State Building.

• You can learn about The Titan City Exhibit here

• The Machine Age covers much of the early 20th century. Jay has written a book about science fiction and the machine age which focuses on its peak period between the two world wars.

• You can watch Sunny Side Up by David Butler and featuring El Brendel here.

• The Wikipedia page on the top ten films of 1929 is here.

• I remember reading about the influence of the depression on Broadway and how performers relocated to Hollywood. But Jay is absolutely correct in the lack of influence of the depression on Hollywood musicals. As he states musicals were a huge success before the Wall Street Crash!

The Jazz Singer is often wrongly attributed as being the first synchronised sound film (It's close!). You can watch it on YouTube here. 

• IMDB pages for David Butler's films Delicious and A Connecticut Yankee based on Mark Twain’s novel.

A bit of information on Amazing Stories magazine which was started by Hugo Gernsback in 1926. The illustrious and occasionally controversial annual Hugo Awards for science fiction and fantasy literature are named after him.

• You can learn more about El Brendel from his IMDB page.

• An interesting article about world’s fairs can be found here.

The Wikipedia page on the Technocracy Movement.

• You can learn a bit about Frederick Pohl here.

Herbert Hoover’s presidency is interesting. Generally thought to be a progressive and a humanitarian he is often remembered as the man at the helm when the Great Depression took hold of the US.

Ralph 124C 41+ is a science fiction novel by Hugo Gernsback.

• A bit about the Italian Futurists can be found here.

• The Cardassians are an alien species from Star Trek. They are generally not very nice. 

• More about the wondrous world of the roaring 20s flappers can be found here.

• IMDB pages for The Mysterious Island and La fin du monde.

THX 1131 is George Lucas’ dystopian film that was based on the student short film he made while he was at the University of Southern California.

The Island of Lost Souls (1932) is a sci-fi horror based on the HG Wells novel The Island of Dr Moreau. It was directed by Erle C Kenton and stars Charles Loughton as Dr Moreau. You can watch it here

• You can find more information about The Invisible Ray here.

SOS Tidal Wave can be viewed here.

The Futurist Manifesto by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti.

This is the website Lisa mentioned at the end. I think it is an absolute beauty of a site!


We will be speaking about the 1933 original King Kong!


You can watch the film here. The film is available to buy or stream on many channels. You can check the 'Just Watch' website if its available in your region to get details on where.

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