Wednesday, November 5, 2014
I have enjoyed watching movies, discussing them, and just plain having fun thinking, quoting, and referencing them as long as I can remember. In recent years I have taken a number of film studies courses. My scholarly background is in literature, and those films which weave images and words, as do certain stories and poems, into fabrics of meaningful themes appeal to me. I think the relevance of movies is valued by many people, particularly Americans, since they are part of the backdrop of our existence. Films bookmark our personal narratives.
I am exploring movies, one a week, after this post, usually on a Sunday, in depth. SPOILER ALERT: In order to deeply delve into its meaning, I will have to reference a movie's narrative. Most of what I say will be my own views on the subject matter. If I am borrowing from others, I will provide references.
I was lucky to have a father who loved movies. He especially liked science fiction. I guess that’s why the first movie I saw in a theater was Forbidden Planet. I didn’t know anything about Shakespeare when I saw this film after it was released in 1956. And it was much later that I learned that it was a sci-fi version of The Tempest, with Walter Pidgeon playing an intergalactic scientist version of Prospero. I do remember that seeing luscious Anne Francis in shiny skimpy outfits propelled me into an early puberty. The invisible monsters generated from the main character’s id accompanied by the film’s eerie soundtrack frightened me into the cringe position in my all-too-vulnerable theater seat.
The movie is an overachiever. It has special effects that rival and probably inspired some of the scenes in Star Wars. Picture Obie-Wan walking on the catwalk and compare the background scenes in FP showing the world of the Krel. Also, see how the humor of CP30 and R2D2 owe a debt to Robbie the Robot. You can also find foreshadows of Captain Kirk in the form of Leslie Nielsen’s ship captain and “Bones” McCoy in Warren Stevens’ doctor. Its themes are mature: Is it better to withdraw from society and its problems, as does Morbius, or participate in it and try to improve conditions; By isolating a child in an attempt at protection, does a parent not prepare an offspring for the tests of life?; How do we protect ourselves from our own demons that lurk below our civilized surfaces?
The film established high expectations that other science fiction and horror films of the time did not meet for me. I remember hearing someone on TV calling these films “Insect fear flicks of the Fifties.” You would have needed tons of Raid to deal with all of the big bugs in those films. (I’d have to say that Them!, even with its hokey giant ants, was the best from that hive of entertainment). At the other end of the quality spectrum, although not vermin-infested, and released later, who could forget, as much as you might try, the schlock winner Monster Zero, staring Nick Adams and an all-Japanese cast? The Japanese actors play alien clones. That’s right – these Asians really do all look alike! Do you have any favorite sci-fi films from the 1950’s?
I'll be talking about all types of movies, the good, the bad, and the ugly (yes, Clint Eastwood films, too), which have interesting ideas and ways of presenting themes. I invite you to participate in this quest for meaning in motion pictures.
Next week’s film is Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.