The Celluloid Highways #4 pick - INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (Don Siegel, USA, 1956)
Jack Finney’s novel (serialised in Collier’s magazine) became one of the keynote American science-fiction films when it was adapted for the screen by Daniel Mainwaring and brought to visual life by journeyman director Don Siegel. Siegel was a director of outstanding generic utility, putting his hand to most genres in his long and esteemed career. This would be his only entry in the science-fiction genre, but it has proved to be among his most important and pervasive films. Its importance lies in that fact that every successive generation has taken the themes established in Siegel’s film and applied them to the socio/political concerns of the day. The Phillip Kaufman remake in 1978 for example updated the themes of the original for the post-Watergate generation, but undid itself by overstating the paranoia. Siegel’s film has a greater subtlety and builds its paranoia slowly and surely. The disturbing aspects of the tale slowly creep up on you, in a manner similar to that experienced by Dr. Miles J. Bennell (Kevin McCarthy). Bennell is initially at least the skeptical expert, a man of science and rationality who seeks logical answers to the strange changes in behavior that have been directed to his attention. Science-fiction films of the 1950’s often took the side of either the logic of science and its experts or the brute efficiency of a military response. Here both institutions are found wanting, the military being all but invisible and science being ineffectual. Instead the citizens of small town America who have been duplicated by alien beings who are able to duplicate exactly our cellular structure are able to establish a rule of thumb that deceives outsiders and leads to the hounding and eventual demise of our heroes. What truly makes this film a terrifying statement is the manner in which it dramatizes the nightmarish (but logical) extension of community and consensus - a town of faceless automatons without a single bone of radicalism in their bodies. If one film sums up the uncertainties of 1950’s American then Invasion of the Body Snatchers is it. A truly radical and in places subversive example of science-fiction.
The Film Connoisseur's #4 pick - METROPOLIS (Fritz Lang, Germany, 1927)
Fritz Lang’s masterpiece of German Expressionism is still one of my all time favorite science fiction films of all time. Metropolis is on this countdown for more then one reason. First; its production values. This film was the most expensive silent film ever made! And you see every single penny up on screen. There is genuine artistry in the way this film was brought to life. Intricate miniatures, detailed mate paintings, hundreds of extras and elaborate sets are part of the combination that brought the futuristic vistas of Metropolis to life. One look at the scene where all the workers are slaving away at the “M-Machine” lets us understand the awesomeness of the visuals that Fritz Lang conjured up with his vision. But, this films merits don’t only include technical ones. Yes it is an astonishing film to look at, and yes it has been influential on everything from Star Wars to Dark City, but one of the reasons I hold this film in such high regard is that, like any good science fiction film, this one is a mirror of society. It addresses important themes that mirror the suffering that the working class was going through during the dawning of the great depression. The films themes speak of the unification between the work force and its employers. One can’t exist without the other. In the film, Freder, the son of a wealthy business man, sees the suffering that the poor people are going through and decides to join their ranks and work side by side with them. Even though it was made in 1927, and it is a silent film, its images are too powerful to ignore or forget. It was a film that was way ahead of its time, every time I watch I wonder how the hell they shot such an amazing film in 1927, when visual effects where in diapers. The existing print of this movie has many scenes missing, but thankfully, a lot of it was recovered! It was discovered in a film vault in Buenos Aires! Kino Video (the same guys who released the existing copy of the film) is going to be releasing a new cut of this film, with 25 minutes of footage that had previously been considered lost forever! So be on the look out for that. Metropolis remains a timeless classic that every true lover of films should see at some point.