Documentary film All Things Bakelite: The Age of Plastic presents the story of the first and most beloved of polymers, which enabled a new era of elegance in the design of common objects. Along with the engrossing tale of the making of Bakelite is also the history of the eccentric genius chemist who invented it, Leo Baekeland, who is now regarded as the father of modern plastics. His painstaking research and experimentation over many years led to a process in 1907 that produced a strong but workable substance with a beautiful finish. The world was transformed, and all around us now are materials made possible by his discovery.
Baekeland was an introvert who loved the time spent in his lab, vastly preferring to work on chemistry instead of dealing with people. When Bakelite exploded in popularity, he became quite wealthy but struggled with the demands of running a business.
“… filled with entertaining and fascinating discussions and interviews about Bakelite and Baekeland…”
Interestingly, while plastics of all sorts are now quite common, there is a great interest in vintage artifacts made of old, original Bakelite. Somewhere along the path of cheap plastic bags and brittle, boring radio knobs, the design and art were lost, but the old pieces are informed by the Art Deco designs of the time and are quite amazing objets d’art. Bakelite is still used as an art medium now, in fact.
Over 100 hundred years down the line, of course, we know that plastics took a toxic right turn into disposable packaging and for single-use items that threaten to destroy the environment. One would like to think Baekeland might have thought twice about monetizing Bakelite if he had any inkling of what would be done with his process over time. He sold his company to Union Carbide, and it used Bakelite as a blueprint for products that resulted in our plastic-haunted world.
The film is short, clocking in under an hour, but every minute is filled with entertaining and fascinating discussions and interviews about Bakelite and Baekeland, featuring among others some members of the Baekeland family. plus some jaunty musical interludes. It is reminiscent of two English documentary TV programs, Connections and The Secret Life of Machines. If you are any kind of nerd, who loves to learn while being amused, All Things Bakelite: The Age of Plastic will delight you.
"…one of the first and most beloved of polymers used to enable a new era of elegance in design for common objects..."