The Royal Observatory is probably best known for being the home of the Prime Meridian, but I went there to check out an amazing Steampunk exhibit dedicated to “the longitude question.” Thousands of seamen lost their lives because they couldn’t be sure where they were when they were in the open ocean, so the British Parliament implemented a competition in 1714 and offered a reward of 20,000 pounds to anyone who could figure out how to calculate longitude when out to sea. Little did the Longitude Board know that it would be 50 years before anyone could find the answer.
The exhibit, Longitude Punk’d, is set up as a series of submissions to this contest and is intermixed with the Observatory’s collection of real and sometimes bizarre submissions. There are many buildings in the Greenwich Observatory complex, and this exhibition takes advantage of the historic Flamsteed House that sits on the grounds. There is normally already a gallery dedicated to longitude in the house, but for now the Steampunks have taken over that gallery as well as several other rooms as well as the courtyard to show their amazing contraptions and costumes.
Throughout the house you can read “The Rime of the Ancient Commodore,” which is a whimsical epic poem about one of the artists’ alter ego and his unique quest for the answer to the longitude question. His theory? Animals know exactly where they are, so if you can learn to talk to animals, all you have to do is ask for directions 🙂 Make sure to take the time to watch the series of short films embedded between display cases to meet the artists and find out the ideas behind their amazing creations.
The exhibit costs 8.50, but you also get admission to the Cutty Sark and the complementary and more serious examination of longitude at the Maritime Museum called Ships, Clocks and Stars any time within a month of your first visit. It will run between now and January 2015, so don’t miss your chance to get punk’d!
But even if you aren’t in town in time for the exhibit, there is a ton to see at the observatory for fans of the Victorian era, and I am going to post soon about their permanent galleries as well so stay tuned.
One of the biggest leaps forward in human history was when we started to use the movements of the stars, sun and moon to tell time. And as far as we know, we are the only animals that do. You may find yourself noticing a slight bend in space and time as you approach the Observatory, or perhaps it was just the long trek up the steep hill that made the minutes seem like hours!
Eventually, humans invented machines to keep track of the units in which we divided the world and some would argue that these machines now rule our lives. But no matter how you feel about clocks and schedules, you can’t deny the ingenuity and skill that has gone into inventing, improving and crafting timepieces. And if you are a steampunk fan, you probably can’t get enough of the shiny gears and complex mechanisms that had their heyday in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Royal Observatory (also called the Greenwich Observatory) is the home of the Prime Meridian line, and the site for calculating Greenwich Mean Time since the 19th Century. This means that even more than anywhere else it has been imperative that they keep accurate time, and they celebrate this history in their exhibits. After I was done at the Longitude Punk’d galleries, I took a stroll through the rest of the Observatory and I found amazing machines for seeing the stars and terrific time-keepers. I had accidentally used up a lot of my battery during the first half of the day at Longitude Punk’d and the Cutty Sark, but even with a full battery I don’t know if I would have been able to fit all of the beautiful pocket watches, nautical devices and astrolabes onto my memory card anyway!
Here’s a sampling of what there is to see in the history galleries.
In addition to the Observatory, you can also visit the Astronomy Center for free. There are lots of exhibits there for amateur astronomers, as well as London’s only planetarium.
Have you ever visited the Royal Observatory or Astronomy Center? Did you have a favorite part?
You can’t help but get swept up in this beautiful and tragic love story. Without words, Director Andrey Shuskov weaves the tale a woman who is torn between her love for her husband and her loathing for the clockwork world they inhabit.
The Hellboy movies are in that category of films that skirt Steampunk without it being the main focus. In both Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008) you can find steamy fodder for your punked out imaginings. Plus, those filed-down horns sure look like goggles!
Some fun facts and context
۞ Hellboy first came onto the comic book scene in 1993. Since then there have been dozens of comics and collections, as well as two major motion pictures, two video games and two animated short films called Hellboy: Sword of Storms and Hellboy: Blood and Iron. You can watch both animated films in their entirety under the gallery of photos below.
۞ I also found a bonus “animated comic” in the special features of Hellboy 2 called the “Zinco Epilogue” where (in my opinion) the creepiest villain of all time, Kroenen, is shown being revived by a man called Mr. Zinco and his team of scientists.
۞ The world of Hellboy was created by Mike Mignola, who wrote another awesome Steampunk book, The Amazing Screw-On Head (2002) which tells the tale of an American Civil War-era spy. In 2006, a pilot was aired on scifi.com in a contest to see if it would be made into a show, but it didn’t make the cut. The 22-minute pilot was released on DVD in 2007, but you can watch it by clicking here.
۞ But it was the dark and spooky director Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) who brought these characters to life on the silver screen. With the assist by Peter Briggs of Alien vs. Predator fame, Del Toro wrote both feature length movies and was a creative producer on the animated films. You can see a kindred spirit to the style of Pan’s Labyrinth in the visage of death in Hellboy 2.
۞ “Hellboy” is the name that was given to the little red demon discovered by Alliance soldiers when he was “born” in the wake of WWII in 1944. It is revealed during Hellboy (2004) that his “true” name is Anung un Rama which loosely means “and upon his brow is set a crown of flame.” During the movie, a many-times-resurrected Rasputin (Karl Roden) forces Hellboy to accept his role in the rise of the Ogdru Jahad, a phylum of Cthulu-like monsters that would make H.P. Lovecraft proud. One of Hellboy’s special features is a giant arm made of stone, which can act as the key to open the Ogdru Jahad’s crystal prison in another realm. Luckily for humanity, Hellboy stops (most of) the creatures from entering our world and thwarts Rasputin’s nefarious plot.
۞ This supernatural detective love cats and enjoys big guns and fine cigars. He was raised like an ordinary boy by Professor “Broom” Bruttenholm, a founding member of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). Hellboy’s aging process is described as “reverse dog years,” so Broom knows that Hellboy will outlive him and worries about his future. Prof. Broom is played by John Hurt, who also lends his voice to the animated films. It took me awhile to realize that I was I was looking at the actor who played Mr. Ollivander from the Harry Potter films, as well as the villain from another wonderful comic-turned-movie, V for Vendetta.
۞ Hellboy is joined in both movies by his buddy and fellow freak, Abraham Sapiens. Abe is a fish-person a la the creature from the Black Lagoon, and was actually portrayed by multiple actors. Doug Jones is the one who had to crawl into the prolific prosthetics, but the voice of Abe in the first movie was actually done by actor David Hyde Pierce who goes uncredited.
۞ Hellboy’s lady love is Liz Sherman, a reluctant pyrokinetic agent for the BPRD. In the movies and animated shorts she is played by Selma Blair. Belief in psychic abilities and clairvoyance (ie, communicating with spirits from the “other side”) reached their pinnacle of popularity during the Victorian era. If you are looking for an absolutely amazing non-fiction book about what happens after we die, check out Mary Roach’s hilarious and poignant Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. You can read a description here.
So where is the Steampunk in all of this?
In the first movie, Hellboy has an enemy named Karl Ruprecht Kroenen. In the comics he is just another Nazi in a gas mask, but Del Toro creates a truly creepy new backstory about a man obsessed with surgeries. His fetish has left him without things most of us take for granted, like eye lids, lips, etc. (you know, the little things.) In return, his research has also given him preternaturally long life do to a body filled with saw dust and clockwork. I have a feeling it is this guy’s cringe-worthy visage that boosts the movie from a PG to a PG-13. [Shudders]
But it is a Victorian-era villain who directs the action. Grigori Rasputin (played by Karl Roden) was born in 1869, and was living high on the proverbial hog off the Russian nobility during the early 1900s as a royal physician. According to the movie, he has been resurrected in 1944 and is there at the beginning of Hellboy’s life. His terrible plot continues to unravel 60 years later (give or take a resurrection and some minions) he attempts to use Hellboy to bring the world to its knees.
If we move on to the enemies and allies of Hellby 2: The Golden Army, we need not look any further than the title. The Golden Army was built by a goblin blacksmith to end the war between humans and supernatural beings like trolls, fairies and elves. The King of the elfs, Balor, tries to make it so the army can never be awakened, but thousands of years later and in the hills of Ireland the clockwork army lays dormant. Don’t be fooled by their egg-like appearance, these “seventy times seventy soldiers” pack a wallop as big as Hellboy and they put themselves back together seemingly without end.
There is a gorgeous animated prologue to the movie that tells the whole story and you can watch it below.
Luckily for Hellboy, he does have some Steampunk fighting on his side, too. Johann Krauss is an agent for the BPRD, but he and Hellboy do not cross paths in the comics. According to the books, Krauss suffered an accident in 2002, but in the second installment of Del Toro’s Hellboy movies his suit definitely looks like it is from the turn of the 20th century. He no longer has a body, so the suit contains his ectoplasm, another popular trope in the Spiritualist movements of the early 1900s.
Check out more videos and photos from the movies below, as well as steamy homages to Hellboy and his buddies I found online.
This is the prologue from the second Hellboy movie. It tells the origin of the Golden Army and it has tons of machinery and gears.
For all my fellow gear and cog enthusiasts…