Monday, September 22, 2008

Film #79: Power of Ten

First off, lemme show you some chairs. See if you can recall your ass resting in one of these...

Now you see two people.

They are husband-and-wife artisans Charles and Ray Eames. First off, may I opine that this must be the coolest couple of all time. They seem so happy working and playing together. Here's another photo:

Now, I could pretend I know everything about the design of this industrious team. But I don't. So I leave it to you go visit the Library of Congress's website and Craig D'ooge's magnificent overview of their times and works. My favorite quote from the piece: "The Eameses' influence on American style and taste is so profound as to be almost indiscernible. But every time we pick up a Pottery Barn catalog, snap together a shelf from IKEA, or spread out a rug from Pier 1, Charles and Ray Eames are not far away. In part, this is because of their design philosophy, which was founded on finding lasting solutions to fundamental needs, but also because they worked closely with large corporate and government entities to expose their design solutions to as many people as possible."

Okay, so we've read about their design achievements. But why is the Eames-directed Power of Ten so great? Made in 1977, Power of Ten stringently follows the letter of numerical law, and graphically maps our outer and inner worlds based on a strict measure of time and distance. It takes us from an idyllic picnic to the outer reaches of space, and then back to a visit with the tiniest of the world's building blocks. It is narrated by Philip Morrison, one-time Professor Emeritus at MIT and cohort of J. Robert Oppenheimer, developer of the nuclear bomb (after surveying the damage of Hiroshima, Morrison became a staunch supporter of nuclear nonproliferation). To boot, Power of Ten is completely a product of Charles and Ray Eames' visionary school of design (I feel its graphic design looks years ahead of its time). This film has been spoofed and paid tribute to for decades: it's been needled The Simpsons and aped by scads of filmmakers, including Robert Zemeckis, who had his crack FX and sound teams concoct the amazing opening zoom-out for 1997's Contact, in an extended tribute to the Eames' film).

Power of Ten is the sort of staggeringly basic-knowledge movie that has begged to be crafted ever since the medium of film was invented. It's astounding that it took the quixotic, joyous Eames couple to do it, despite their obvious overuling passion for practical designs benefiting the everyman. Then again, now that I consider it, I suppose Power of Ten was very much a part of this same shared devotion. It's scored by Elmer Bernstein, the late musical master who provided backing for over 200 movies and TV shows, including To Kill A Mockingbird, The Man With The Golden Arm, The Age of Innocence, Throughly Moderm Millie (for which he won his only Oscar, in 1967), Hud, Animal House, Meatballs, Trading Places, The Grifters, and Far From Heaven.

Watch Power of Ten below!

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