Reviews

Surveying the Design of Everyday Objects in 'Objectified'

Gary Hustwit's films are linked by a concern with the role of design in what people do everyday, largely as part of the little-thought-about background to daily life, particularly in cities and in the postindustrial consumer societies of North America, Europe, and East Asia.


Objectified

Director: Gary Hustwit
Cast: Paolo Antonelli, Chris Bangle, Andrew Blauvelt
Distributor: Cinedigm
Rated: NR
Year: 2009
Release date: 2012-11-06

Objectified (2009) is the middle film in Gary Hustwit's "design trilogy", which also includes Helvetica (2007) and Urbanized (2011). All three films have been available for viewing via different platforms for a few years. Now a Blu-ray edition adds to the list of options for Objectified, which is also avaliable on standard DVD, on Netflix, and for rent or download online via the film's website.

More than simply being concerned with elements and objects of, and by, design, Hustwit's three films are linked by a concern with the role of design in what people do everyday, largely as part of the little-thought-about background to daily life, particularly in cities and in the postindustrial consumer societies of North America, Europe, and east Asia (of the three films, Urbanized is the one that steps the furthest outside of that geography).

Relying on a variety of informants, including designers, critics, journalists, and museum curators, Objectified addresses everyday objects, from vegetable peelers to cars. Design here is represented as a mediating practice, shaping people's relationships to objects. One of the strengths of the film is its recognition of how complicated those relationships can be, relating to the use of our bodies, affect and emotion, and the environment, as well the more obvious utilitarian needs and wants that are filled by laptops, toothbrushes, and chairs, to cite a few of the items that get sustained looks in the documentary.

Objectified moves from more philosophical discussions of design -- what is it, why is it important, what makes for "good" design -- to more concrete and political considerations of the practice, notably the role of design in promulgating wasteful, and socially unequal, consumer and corporate cultures.

In her review of the film for PopMatters, Cynthia Fuchs characterizes Objectified as "illustrative rather than provocative" (24 November 2009). Another way to think about the film is as a general primer on the design of everyday objects. In serving that function, the movie is likely to prompt reactions such as, "That's interesting", or, "I hadn't thought of that", but doesn't examine any aspect of its topic critically or deeply enough to engage in much beyond the raising of key questions on topics such as sustainability or consumerism.

The film's final sections on the experimental designs of Dunne and Raby and on facilitating user participation in design are emblematic of the film's limitations. Both of these subjects, because they are more abstract and speculative than others in the survey, not only merit more time and attention, but almost demand it for clarity's sake.

The new Blu-ray features a crystal clear image and soundtrack, but having seen Helvetica in HD via Netflix on a Roku and Urbanized via a classroom computer at my university, I don't think that the disc is essential for anyone who has already seen the film, owns it on DVD or from a download, or has Netflix streaming. Hustwit and director of photography Luke Geissbuhler select and frame images which can be insightful or humorous, and are, as Fuchs puts it, "illustrative", in the best sense of that word, but the film's images are also, by their natures, mundane. In that context, higher resolution is just higher resolution, not a revelation.

The Blu-ray does include additional interviews. Depending on which points of interest draw your attention, this extra material may or may not offer some satisfaction through additional depth. The disc also includes liner notes by Hustwit. Both of these supplements have been ported over from the DVD.

One arguably ironic quality of the Blu-ray, is the lack of a menu for easy navigation. On my home player at least, the only way I could move between chapters and to the extra material was by skipping between segments. Pushing the "Disc Menu" button simply reset the disc to the beginning of the documentary.

There is, of course, value in a well-constructed survey. There's a reason that most college majors begin with one. A good survey will provide moments of insight and spark greater interest in students. But acting on those impulses and inspirations will always require additional study. Objectified may be little more than a brief survey on the design of everyday objects, but it's at least effective in that pursuit.

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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