Review by Andrew Murray
The Art Deco age has long been a playground for artists, film-makers and other raiders of a lost aesthetic. It’s an era that can seem both modern and antique. The building-blocks of modernity are in place – the train, the aeroplane, the moving image – and the sleek contours of the decorative modern style aspire to a future beyond steam, propeller and silver nitrate celluloid. The term ‘Art Deco’ wasn’t coined until the sixties – a conscious act of looking back and repackaging the era as a wonderland ripe for plunder and play. And how we’ve played, from Raiders of the Lost Ark, to the enduring popularity of Poirot, to video games like Bioshock, to the current cosplay culture of steampunk. High-minded Bauhaus modernism was all very well, but it was a bit austere, a bit Spartan. Deco was modernism unafraid to have fun.
Piet Kroon and Illuminated Films came to the party with T.R.A.N.S.I.T., as joyful an encapsulation of Deco as you could wish to spend twelve minutes watching. It’s a tale of thwarted passions and intrigue played out in reverse, as luggage labels peel away from a suitcase and we are transported back in time to Cairo, the Orient Express, Venice, Baden-Baden, to discover, step by step, the innocuous beginnings that will lead to blood and betrayal. The bullet returns to the revolver, the chloroform pad returns to the trench-coat pocket, and at last we see the beginning, an innocent flirtation that we, as with Deco, can savour with the full experience of hindsight.
A talented team of animators have rendered each of the seven locales in a distinctively different style, all joining together, like the fractured shards of a Venice mirror, to produce a sympathetically variegated whole. The Orient Express and the South American steamer are born of the travel posters of the era, posters whose style was boldly modern, near-fetishistic in their celebration of the thrusting lines of locomotive and liner; and deeply romantic in their promises that the wonders of engineering could transport us to lands of enchantment, Shangri-las as unreachable to most people as the far side of the moon.
T.R.A.N.S.I.T. is a film for anyone who’s ever flown with Indiana Jones in those beautiful flying boats, joining the dots-to-dots of a world map that still contains Siam and Ceylon; for anyone who’s ever given their little grey cells a work-out with Poirot’s clockwork crime conundrums; anyone who Bioshocks; anyone who steampunks; and anyone who’s ever passed by the antique-futuristic theme park called Art Deco, and hopped over the fence to have a play.
Andrew Murray 2015 Images © Illuminated Films