Film Friday: 'Styling and the Experimental Car' takes us from Da Vinci to the Ford MustangFri, 18 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0700
Last time we popped into the Ford Design Studios, it was the late 1960s and everyone was strung out on black turtlenecks and jazz flute.
We're traveling a few years further back in time today, but Ford Design Studios remains our destination.
"Styling and the Experimental Car," released in 1964, doesn't start off like a modern promo piece might. We jump from ancient Egypt's papyrus plant fixation to the birth of the automobile in about 40 seconds -- no one ever accused these film reels of being narrow in scope. Color filters are used liberally, as are the groovy, Monty Python-esque collage animations. A school of Continentals swims across the a map of the United States to the avant-garde musical stylings of a jazz clarinetist, followed by a flock of Thunderbirds.
This fluid, abstract, artistic approach is striking. We'd say it was out of place -- if this film wasn't about the mysterious art of automotive design. But how and why does a spark in a designer's mind make it into production? The narrator explains: "the contemporary stylist is part artist, part architect, part sculptor and part product designer." He focuses "on the future that lies just ahead" to give fickle consumers something they might not have even known they wanted.
Somehow, this framing makes the comparison between Leonardo Da Vinci's hypothetical spring-driven "automobile" seem relatively logical.
"Styling and the Experimental Car" is not all Syd Mead-sketched dream cars. It debuted in 1964; not coincidentally, that's right around the time Ford pulled the sheets off the 1965 Mustang. This reel's objective, then, is to connect Ford's wildest flights of fancy to the very real car. It does so by walking us through a series of concepts. There's gorgeous little Allegro, the Cougar II, the Aurora (a concept wagon that boasted a primitive GPS system and cruise control).
We eventually arrive at the Ford Mustang II concept, a clear preview of what the production 'Stang would look like, before meeting that car in the steel. Horses charge across a plain, a Mustang kicks up dust, and narrator solemnly assures us that the stylist's quest to make his "practical dreams" a reality will go on.
Over the top? Today, maybe. But the experimental feel of the film itself speaks to the bold optimism of Detroit in the postwar era. The results -- like the 1965 Ford Mustang -- speak for themselves. We'll gladly crank up the Alvin Batiste if it means more to that era's cynicism-free daring.
By Graham Kozak