The future ain’t what it used to be. Closer Than We Think revisits the glorious aesthetic of what it used to be through the life and art of Arthur Radebaugh. One of the original “Imagineers,” his artwork peering into the future through extrapolation paired with wild flights of fancy, grounded in industrial design, brought a vision of the future featuring sleek lines, wealthy citizens, and benevolent machines that serve the greater good. Art-deco cars and flying machines, robots, and scenes of home life with helper tech are the gleaming stuff of a future we never saw, that has been replaced with uncertainty in a world that changes too fast to even guess what the next 100 years might bring.
Director Brett Ryan Bonowicz brings us this documentary of a vision and art, combining Radebaugh’s passion for a bright future and keen understanding of industrial technology that has kept his work interesting, even now.
“Radebaugh wore many hats over his lifetime as a futurist, illustrator, airbrush artist, and industrial designer.”
Donald Fagen gave us a nostalgic snapshot of that shiny art-deco vision of the future in his song IGY: On that train all graphite and glitter / Undersea by rail / Ninety minutes from New York to Paris / Well by seventy-six we’ll be A-OK / What a beautiful world this will be / What a glorious time to be free. IGY is an abbreviation for the “International Geophysical Year,” 1958, a year dedicated to scientific research, particularly around space exploration, during the height of the Cold War. America was now fully out of the afterglow of victory in WWII and waking up to the horrors of a potential nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Radebaugh was steeped in that world, somewhere between the exuberance of victory, and the fear of what was to come.
Watching Closer Than We Think is a similar experience to the discovery of a cache of Radebaugh’s work by curator Todd Kimmell while doing random salvage of old negatives from a photographer in Philadelphia. There’s something completely thrilling about running across an unexpected gem of art and science like this doc, and the Radebaugh art.
"…his art and vision provide deep food for thought."