In the cinema, plastic seems to have no history. Since the end of the fifties of the last century, it has quietly spread in interior environments, discreetly calling itself kitchens, furniture, clothes and everyday items. Filmmakers and screenwriters did not immediately realize the arrival of this new material in post-war industrial societies, and at best made it a purely decorative element, if not a guarantee of modernity. Hence, as an accessory, something plastic undeniably characterizes the ‘pop’ aesthetics of the ’60s, adorning it with its perfect curves and colorful translucent leaves. Little by little, it becomes an element of a fetish, as in Barbarella (1968), Roger Vadim’s intergalactic bushid, in which adventurer Jane Fonda wears an extravagant plastic armor that molds her silhouette.
Only the rare directors, the most critical of consumer society, get a real look at it and start playing with it. Jacques Tate is one of the first to mock her, placing her among the absurd trinkets that have come to burden France with the “Glorious Thirty”. in my maternal uncle (1958), his character of Mr. Hulot, a cute, awkward dreamer, is set at the Plastac factory, which makes pipes. Pathetic supervisor of the production unit, it allows kilometers of red pipes to flow, as if they were laid with a shovel by a machine that became out of control. No doubt: for Tate, plastic is a kind of “fecal” material for advanced productivity.
Ten years later, Italian Marco Ferreri, a great Rabelaisian satirical writer, took things from an even more absurd angle. in Disintegration, eroticism and red balloons (1968), Marcello Mastroianni plays a chocolate factory manager who is derailed with a dumb piece of elastomer: an inflatable balloon wonders how much air to inflate it before it explodes. This question takes on delirious proportions, so much so that this promotional thing, in and of itself useless, seems to contain all the nothingness in its case. According to Ferreri, new shaped and adaptable materials such as plastic, which are used for everything and above all for nothing, open up to modern man the era of the metaphysical void.
According to Marco Ferreri, new materials used for everything and especially for nothing, open up to modern man the era of metaphysical emptiness.
If cinema does not often put plastics in a story, it remains a good observatory to gauge the extent to which perceptions of matter have evolved, from the joyous promise of a universal paste capable of endlessly reproducing things, to demonstrating the power of human removal over matter, until The current saturation of his planetary waste. This includes looking at two iconic films, nearly sixty years apart, and observing the transformation from one to the other.
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