Memory: The Origins of Alien

 

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Alien proves the ideal choice as the subject of a second detailed dissection on film.

 

Memory The Origins of Alien

 

Anyone who has seen 78/52, that recent documentary about Hitchcock's Psycho, will know exactly what to expect from this new film which is in every sense a companion piece. Not only were both works written and   directed by Alexandre O. Philippe but the same editor, the same photographer and the same composer have contributed to each one. No less striking is the fact that this film's approach to Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) is identical to the mode adopted in 78/52 and it is obviously not by chance that, whereas the earlier documentary concentrated on the famous shower scene, this new one has at its centre the celebrated shock moment when an alien creature is seen to burst out of John Hurt's chest.

 

In theory, Psycho's most famous sequence, so complex and so original, offers much more opportunity for analysis than the shorter key episode in Alien. But that is no drawback since, as before, Philippe's concerns are wide-ranging. In this instance they include references to Greek tragedy, to the novels of H.P. Lovecraft and to the paintings of Francis Bacon while in a cinema context he contrasts Alien with the far less sophisticated sci-fi horror movies of the 1950s and with the upbeat tone of space tales of the same period (Close Encounters of the Third Kind came out two years earlier and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial just three years later). Similarly, critics and film historians offer many interpretations of Alien: some relate to how it reflected social concerns of the time and others express ideas of it as a many-layered work although the latter sometimes suggest current attitudes rather than those prevailing in 1979. But, if some comments seem unconvincing and if the film's opening in the Temple of Apollo in Delphi never justifies itself, it hardly matters when other ideas are so thick on the ground.

 

Intriguing background information includes the fact that the director originally chosen was Walter Hill and that the Swiss painter and designer H.R. Giger, who contributed so much to the film's impact as a work of imaginative horror, was only brought back in on Scott's insistent having been dismissed by the studio as unsuitable. It is rather better known that although Ripley is one of cinema's best-loved heroines, the role was originally written for a man. What this film lacks is any contribution from Sigourney Weaver the actress concerned or from Ridley Scott (cast members who do appear here are Veronica Cartwright and Tom Skerritt alongside such contributors as the editor Terry Rawlings, associate producer Ivor Powell and Ronald Shusett who worked on the story in addition to being executive producer).

 

Given that Diane O'Bannon is an executive producer here and the widow of Alien's writer Dan O'Bannon, it is no surprise that the film incorporates valuable material about her late husband's career and the screenplays that he wrote which grew into Alien. The wide reach may sometimes make one smile (the crew of Alien's space craft may be viewed as being like family, but does that really justify a clip from Kramer vs. Kramer?), but no less than 78/52 this is a lively and informative work which should have wide appeal for film buffs.             

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

  

Featuring  Diane O'Bannon, Terry Rawlings, Ivor Powell, Ronald Shusett, Veronica Cartwright, Tom Skerritt, Roger Christian, Roger Corman, Ian Nathan, Alan Jones, Tim Boxell, Ben Mankiewicz. 

 

Dir Alexandre O. Philippe, Pro Kerry Deignan Roy, Screenplay Alexandre O.Philippe, Ph Robert Muratore, Ed Chad Herschberger, Music Jon Hegel.

 

Exhibit A Pictures/Indie Sales/Milkhaus, Screen Division-Dogwoof.
93 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 30 August 2019. Cert. 15.