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Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Neon - David Young (visiting from Sydney) reports on Lawrence Johnston's new film at MIFF

Part of going to film festivals now seems to involve the inclusion of advertising, just like at the "normal" cinema. The crassness of commercial cinema advertising is more than matched at MIFF by a packaged popcorn promotion and the mindlessly stupid ads, by the Victorian Government, for customised number plates. However, they were worth enduring for Lawrence Johnston's dazzlingly colourful doco Neon (Australia, 2015), which covered the subject both informatively and entertainingly. 

Lots of archive photos and motion footage show the history of neon, from the early illumination of Parisian buildings in the 1890s, Nikola Tesla's development of the process of making a neon sign a decade later, the setting up of the Claude Neon company after WW1 in the USA by Frenchman Georges Claude, who spent the 1920s suing anyone who tried to make their own neon signs until expiration of his patents in the early 1930s opened the industry to everybody. 

Hollywood was quick to see its potential as a sign of modernity - who could forget Busby Berkeley's dancers and their neon violins in Gold Diggers of 1933? Las Vegas gets lots of mentions in post-WW2 history, and there is a brief international round up of notable neon advertising, including, naturally, Melbourne's own Skipping Girl. The talking heads are suitably enthusiastic and varied - there are collectors of old signs, artists who work in the medium, and a couple of people who have started their own museums - the Boneyard in Vegas features salvaged 90ft high signs amongst the rocks and sand. Regret is also expressed for the eclipse of relatively eco-friendly neon by the less eco-friendly LEDs and plastic signage now used because of economics. The cinematography is gorgeous but the music is a little overdone at times.

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