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QUACKCAST 491 - Getting retro right!

Ozoneocean at 12:00AM, Aug. 11, 2020

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DD member Furwerk Studios posted in our forum about how annoying it was that movies try and do an 80s retro thing often get things totally wrong and end up looking dumb because of it: Not just superficial looks-wise but stylistically too in terms of the kinds of shots they do, lighting and story structure. I thought that'd make an interesting topic for a cast!
Why do people often mess up retro stuff? We're not talking about historical accuracy here, that's slightly different, what we're talking about is setting something in an era and getting the “feel” of that era right. It pays off hugely when it works, but when it doesn't it comes off as superficial, disappointing and ignorant.

This happened a LOT recently with stuff set in the 80s because 80s fashions came back and people thought it'd be fun to capitalize on the nostalgia. Some do it right and some do it wrong. The important thing to remember when going for a retro feel is NOT to treat an entire decade as a “thing”. Decades are made up of many different fashions across many different countries! During the 1980s for example the styles at the start of the decade were much more like the late 70s and at the end they were similar to the early 90s, and in places further away from the fashion capitals older fashions lasted for longer. The 1980s weren't a decade of pink hoodies with loud patterns, shoulder-pads, big hair, denim jackets, and “momjeans”, it was a lot more varied than that and not all those things were done at the same time. Jeans are a good example: They changed shape a LOT during the 1980s, from flares at the start, straight legs, boot-legs, skinny jeans, stonewash jeans, tapered jeans with slim waists baggy legs and slim ankles, and baggy 501s. All of those cropped up at different times in the decade.

Aside from compressing entire decades just down to one “look” the other issue people run into is projecting modern styles onto the past: Mullet hairstyles in the 1980s are nothing like what they are now for example: you didn't typically shave the sides of your head or have a crewcut with long hair at the back for a mullet. Mullets existed previously, even in the 1970s, but only started to become an 80s thing in the mid 80s. Hair would be slightly longer at the back. if you wanted to highlight that you'd use gel or hairspray or something to slick down the sides of your hair to make them flat. Towards the end of the 80s mullets grew longer at the back and shorter at the front, but shaving the sides wasn't popular. Tattoos, baldness, body piercings, and facial hair were not as common in the decade either, all of them had heavy symbolism and said something about the person who had them, while today they're mainly just aesthetic choices of the individual. Tattoos meant a person was tough or had a rough life or profession. Beards were hyper masculine. Baldness meant you were tough or had an alternative lifestyle. Multiple piercings was much the same.

That said, you don't always have to go for authenticity, as long as you understand what you're doing and know how to have fun with it. Kung Fury is a good example of this. It sardonically uses an 80s retro feel while winking at the audience with its tongue in planted in its cheek. Napoleon Dynamite has a weird indeterminate 1980s feel to it while NOT actually being set in the 1980s.
Do you know any examples of retro done wrong?

This week Gunwallace has given us the theme to Gumshoe - Groove on into this black and white world of cool. Lazy coiling blue smoke floats out and leads the way down to this underground world of jazz and sophisticated glitz. Let the bass walk you through, take a twirl with the glittering piano keys, high-five those highhats, and take your place at the bar in the coffee lounge. Make your’s black, no sugar. You’re staying up all night for this one!

Topics and shownotes

Forum thread about bad retro attempts -
Fave retro comic on DD, Satan Ninja 19X

Featured comic:
Hel's Ferrywomen -

Featured music:
Gumshoe -, by Pencilz, rated T.

Special thanks to:
Gunwallace -
Tantz Aerine -
Ozoneocean -
Pitface -
Banes -

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Adam Dravian at 3:03AM, Aug. 22, 2020

Thanks for the shoutout. I'm glad you think Satan Ninja 198X did the retro thing right.

Ozoneocean at 7:16PM, Aug. 17, 2020

Hahaha! I till have some white jeans from the 1980s. I barely fit into my 80s jeans... too thick around the middle and my legs are more muscular now. They were only sticks back then XD

plymayer at 5:20PM, Aug. 13, 2020

One thing I remember about the chicks in those early 80s days was that they all dressed like hookers.....Which was kind of nice, but sounds kind of pervy now.

plymayer at 5:19PM, Aug. 13, 2020

Okay, I don't wear white jeans any more. But pretty much every thing else is the same in my wardrobe.

plymayer at 5:14PM, Aug. 13, 2020

Retro? I am not trying to be retro. Okay, I still wear the same kind of clothes I did in the 80s.... So what? Something works for me I keep at it.

PaulEberhardt at 5:24AM, Aug. 13, 2020

@Gunwallace: Whereas pubs and clubs today smell the way they actually smell... ;) It's true. There used to be a weekly panel show with high-ranking politicians, where you could see less and less the longer it went on (especially when ex-chancellor Helmut Schmidt was present, who was an extreme chain-smoker even by 70s-80s' standards). During that hour everyone would have at least three or four beers, too, while the discussions stayed perfectly serious and at a high intellectual level. These shows are sometimes rerun late at night, when one of the now historic events discussed there has its anniversary or something. I doubt that today's politicians could or would be able to pull off something like this.

Ozoneocean at 7:40PM, Aug. 12, 2020

@metsuke Love your comic :D

Ozoneocean at 7:40PM, Aug. 12, 2020

@Gunwallce- yes, that was disgusting

metsuke at 2:32PM, Aug. 12, 2020

I dunno, I like my main character's mullet, kinda shaved/buzzed, maybe its not authentic to the 80's, but he was abducted in 1975 by aliens, pre-mullet and then grew it out while fighting on another planet's interplanetary arena, not affected by fashion trends here on Earth. You can take a redneck away from mullets, but you cant take the mullet out the redneck. I also gave him a hair flip in the front as an homage to Herge. Party in the back and FRONT, yee-haw :)

Gunwallace at 12:38PM, Aug. 12, 2020

My family was watching a movie set in the 80s (made in the 90s) which had a scene in a large hall. My daughter asked if the place was on fire, because there was so much smoke everywhere. It was just that thick fog of cigarette haze that was always present back then.

Ozoneocean at 8:52PM, Aug. 11, 2020

That's an interesting point!

EssayBee at 3:59PM, Aug. 11, 2020

Another problem of doing retro is that such stories will very likely be viewed through today's social lens, so staying true to period vernacular is a sure way to offend folks, even if the dialogue fits with the period. (I saw this sort of criticism leveled at Jonah Hill's "Mid90s.")

Ozoneocean at 9:47AM, Aug. 11, 2020

That's very true. The 1970s were rather dull in colour, especially interior design, the colours of cars, and fashions. It's very evident in film and TV series from the era, even the early 80s was a period of browns and beiges.

PaulEberhardt at 9:43AM, Aug. 11, 2020

I remember a lot of beige tones from the 80s, that tended to make cars, furniture, bathrooms etc look kind of worn and nicotine-stained even when brand new. People liked the aesthetics of dilapidation (not to be confused with "shabby chic" - whimsies of more recent decades!) even if many wouldn't admit it. Immaculately white trainers were a thing too - I remember my grandmother commenting that Americans must have very clean streets for them to come up with this kind of thing (for every newfangled fashion originated in the USA, of course). ;) As for leftovers from the 60s and 70s my first thought goes to ex-revolutionary teachers with an overblown idealism that made them truly unbearable. Teachers in 80s and 90s movies were often portrayed as stuffy and strict, and this type did exist too, but more of them were actually of the other type - or it's just that the most traumatic memories stick best. The 80s are long ago, after all, even if it curiously doesn't always feel that way.

Ironscarf at 5:58AM, Aug. 11, 2020

I think the seventies are the biggest victim of this. They are always portrayed as a riot of clashing colour, but having lived through it myself I remember almost every colour being some shade of brown. The bright colours at the beginning of the decade were a hangover from the sixties. When dayglo started to appear in the eighties it was visually shocking. I recall stopping dead at the sight of a dayglo orange shirt and it felt like aliens had landed.

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