Sunday, 24 March 2013
To Roger Corman
After all these years of movie viewing, one can almost watch a particular film of a particular genre and say, “Yep, that’s a Corman!” For me this is particularly true in the case of Roger Corman’s involvement and influence in the genre of science fiction film.
Roger William Corman
- Born: 5 April 1926, Detroit, Michigan, USA
- Studied engineering at Stanford.
- After working only three days as an engineer at U.S. Electrical Motors he quit.
- Corman took a job as a messenger for 20th-Century Fox.
- Rose to the position of story analyst.
- Studied modern English literature at Oxford and roamed around Europe for a year.
- Returned to the U.S. intending to become a screenwriter/producer.
- Corman sold his first script in 1953, "The House in the Sea," which was released under the title “Highway Dragnet” in 1954.
- Aware of the discrepancy between his initial intention or vision behind his film and what actually turned out on the screen, Corman turned to becoming a producer with the film, “Monster from the Ocean Floor” in 1954.
- Corman then struck a deal with a company called American Releasing which became the well-known American International Pictures (AIP). Corman was now part of one of the most successful independent studios.
- Lacking any real formal training, Corman took to directing and over a 15 year period directed about 53 films, mostly for AIP.
- Corman’s movie-making “trademark” was his uncanny ability to put together quick, cheap productions sometimes even several movies in his capacity as director or producer or both in just a single year! For example, nine movies in just 1957, not to mention the original version of The Little Shop of Horrors which he shot in just two days and a night in 1960!
- Both critical acclaim and commercial success came with a series of adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories, often starring (who else?) Vincent Price.
- Corman’s 1962 film, The Intruder concerning racial integration in the South won a prize at the Venice Film Festival, but it was not a commercial success. As a result, he shied away from making films containing overt or direct messages, in favour of films that were entertaining while leaving the social and political issues to filter through beneath the surface.
- Corman left AIP after it began re-editing his films without his knowledge or consent and he retired from directing to focus on production and distribution through his own newly-formed company New World Pictures. This company went on to deal with low budget films through to distributing the films of the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini and François Truffaut.
- After selling off New World in the 1980s, Corman was involved with various companies such as, Concorde Pictures, New Horizons, and Millenium Pictures.
- Corman has published his biography "How I Made A Hundred Movies in Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime,” and returned to directing with the film, Frankenstein Unbound in 1990.
- In 2009, Roger Corman was honoured with an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement.
It seems that Roger Corman could be viewed from a variety of stand points, among them being;
- A prolific producer
- Frenzied pace-setter
- "The King of the Cult Film"
- "The Pope of Pop Cinema"
- Mentor of greats such as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson, James Cameron, Robert De Niro, Peter Bogdanovich, Joe Dante and Sandra Bullock
Whatever the case may be, Roger Corman has never pretended to have been a great director or producer. It seems clear that his intent has been to create profitable and successful films that people will enjoy watching, hopefully more than once. I know I have! And here are some of those films by the maestro, Roger Corman that will be featured in this blog;
- The Daythe World Ended 1956 (Director, Producer: Roger Corman's entree into the realm of science fiction.)
- It Conquered the World 1956 (Director, Producer)
- Attackof the Crab Monsters 1957 (Director, Producer)
- The Brain Eaters 1958 (Executive Producer)
- War of the Satellites 1958 (Director, Producer)
- Attack of the Giant Leeches 1959 (Executive Producer)
- The Man with X-Ray Eyes 1963 (Director, Producer)
Enjoy this film clip featuring Roger Corman;
©Chris Christopoulos 2013
Friday, 22 March 2013
Overall, Quite Good
- Director: Rudolph Maté
- Producer: George Pal (See my tribute to George Pal)
- Written by: Sydney Boehm
- Music: Leith Stevens
- Cinematography: W. Howard Greene; John F. Seitz
- Editing: Arthur P. Schmidt
- Release date: August 1951
- Running time: 83 minutes
When Worlds Collide began life as a six-part monthly serial from September 1932 to February 1933 and as a 1933 science fiction novel both co-written by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer.
- Richard Derr (David Randal)
- Larry Keating (Dr. Cole Hendron)
- Barbara Rush (Joyce Hendron, Cole’s daughter)
- John Hoyt (Sydney Stanton)
- Peter Hansen (Dr. Tony Drake)
- Alden Chase (Dr. George Frye, Dr Hendron's second in command)
- Hayden Rorke (Dr. Emery Bronson)
- Frank Cady (Harold Ferris, Stanton's assistant)
- David Randall, a skilled pilot is paid to deliver some mysterious and secret information from one esteemed astronomer to another astronomer, Dr. Hendron
- Hendron confirms the sender’s shattering findings that a planet called Zyra, orbiting a sun called Bellus, will enter our solar system. The sun, Bellus will collide with the Earth and bring about human civilisation’s end.
- a UN body is informed that the world is about to end, and that the only hope for humanity’s survival lies with the construction of a rocket-ship to send a select few (40) to the planet Zyra as it passes. The urgent information about humanity’s fate is met with by the response that there “is no cause for alarm.”
- We learn that two philanthropists pledge to help Dr. Hendron finance the building of this rocket ship that hopefully will take them to the planet Zyra, assuming that it is habitable for humans.
- Sydney Stanton, a cynical and bitter wheelchair-bound old man puts up the rest of the money, provided that he is taken on board the rocket ship.
- The problem is that only so many passengers and only so much cargo can be accommodated on the rocket ship, not to mention that the countdown is on for the approach of doomsday! Will this modern-day Noah's ark save what remains of humanity from total extinction When Worlds Collide?........
Points Of Interest
Even though the film, When Worlds Collide was made (at the time of writing) 62 years ago, it does remain relevant to the concerns about potential threats to humanity’s existence in the 21st. century such as global warming; earthquakes and tsunamis in the Indian Ocean and Japan; devastating floods in England and Australia; Hurricane Sandy in the US; meteors hurtling across the sky and blasting out windows in Russia and more. With such events seeming to occur with greater frequency and impact, our minds tend to become more focussed on the rather precarious nature of our existence. Even on a more personal and individual level, as we continue on our journey through life, we eventually come to the realisation that the number of days that lie ahead of us will be far fewer than the number of days that lie behind us. The important question then for civilisation and for individuals is how do we meet the challenge presented to us by our inevitable mortality, the impermanence of any civilisation and the transitory nature of our existence? The characters in the film, When Worlds Collide, find that circumstances have forced them to consider such a question head on as the countdown is on to the end of the world. In the film we see aspects of ourselves as we witness people……
At their very worst:
In the film we see people acting selfishly, not caring about anyone else's survival, and merely just looking out for Number One. For instance, Stanton bankrolls the whole rocket ship project not due to any sense of altruism on his part but rather as a means of buying his own survival. Here we see a man used to “weighing the percentages,” who doesn’t “deal in theories, only realities” and who views civilisation as merely being governed by the principle of “dog eat dog” and the “law of the jungle.”
We also see reason being replaced by fear and desperation as the work crews question “Why should our lives be decided by a raffle?” and attempt to gain entry to the rocket by means of mob violence. Would we act differently if we were faced with such a threat to our very survival?
At their very best:
The worst possible state of affairs can also bring out the best in people. In When Worlds Collide we see examples of self-sacrifice whereby characters find themselves forced to decide between saving their own lives or opting for something more ethical, moral or just more important than life itself.
The rather blatant but understandable attempt by Dr Hendron to rig the lottery so that his daughter and future son-in-law, David can get a seat on the ship, manages to produce a dilemma requiring an ethical and moral decision to be made by David. We know earlier that David did not succumb to the offers from “Donovan from the Sentinel.” So some kind of moral framework is being established here for which we can forgive him his obvious past philandering and womanizing ways. Hendron did “stretch the point to include” David who according to David himself would be little more than an “aerial taxi driver.” David’s sense of ethics therefore won’t allow him to go along with Hendron’s decision.
As was mentioned in the film’s synopsis, acts of selflessness were shown when the two philanthropists pledged (with no strings attached) to help Dr. Hendron finance the building of this rocket ship. Another such act, but on a more personal and emotional level, was Doctor Drake’s convincing David to go on the flight, even resorting to deception by stating that, “if Frye doesn’t make it, you’ll be in command of the ship.” Of course, there is nothing medically wrong with Frye! Despite Drake’s involvement with Joyce Hendron, he places the happiness of the woman he loves above that of his own feelings and desires. If her happiness lies with being with David, then he’ll be the one to make it happen.
Placing their lives in perspective:
Money, material possessions and all those petty concerns and conflicts no longer seem so important when faced with the inevitability of total annihilation. For example, following from Bronson’s earlier comment that a “day will come when money won’t mean anything,” we see David Randall in a nightclub contemplating a dollar bill. Knowing that it soon will be of no use to him, he decides to light a cigarette with it. This one action demonstrates how aspects of life that were once taken for granted and were seen to have been important no longer matter when faced with a threat of such magnitude as the one being faced by the film’s characters.
The petty conflict developing between David and Dr. Drake over Joyce Hendron is soon seen by both of them for what it is. Just as they are about to come to blows, the radio operator merely has to turn up the radio’s volume where they hear an urgent plea for more penicillin. Without anyone having to saying anything obvious, they both come to their senses and focus on what is important. Even a bit later when both men are rescuing a young boy from a rooftop, it seems as if Drake is about to leave David behind. However, he quickly circles back in the helicopter and picks David up. It seems that there are far more important things in life than petty jealousies and rivalries in the face of the devastation around them.
There are times when even one’s personal life and survival is a secondary concern when faced with the prospect of losing something or someone who is more important than life itself. An example of this is young Eddie deciding to stay behind with his sweetheart, Julie Cummings rather than taking his place on the ship and possibly living life without her. Fortunately, it worked out well for both of them.
Seeking spiritual strength:
When faced with the prospect of death and total loss of everything, it is no surprise that we learn in the film that never have people “felt so close to God.”
Reflecting on what one’s life has amounted to, wondering what will happen when we die, thinking about whether or not there is an afterlife and so on. Such thoughts probably occur to most of us at some stage in our lives and probably more so for many people when faced with the prospect of inevitable and imminent extinction. Only a select few in the film can be physically saved. The rest of humanity must cling to some hope of salvation after the Earth’s destruction, even if it is in the form of faith in humanity’s rebirth in both a spiritual sense and as a species.
There are of course some aspects to this film, When Worlds Collide, that tend to detract from its finer qualities. Among them are;
- A rather ageist view that no senior citizen can possibly be useful to a new society. As Dr.Hendron stated, “This new world isn’t for us.” Have we really changed our perceptions as to the worth and value of our older citizens significantly since that time?
- An awful representation of the planet Zyra. Just look at it. Words are not needed.
- A mixed collection of special visual effects ranging from a convincing interior room shot during an earthquake through to disaster-type stock footage. Some scenes look convincing but others plainly do not.
- Suspect science even for the times. For example, human beings and much of everything else would have been vaporized from the star Bellus’ heat long before being hit by it.
- Overdone parallels with the biblical story of Noah and the Great Flood complete with quotes from The Book of Genesis, a craft being constructed to take the chosen few to safety, livestock being led in to the ship two by two, ethereal music and on it goes.
©Chris Christopoulos 2013
Friday, 8 March 2013
"The next one"
A Tribute To George Pal
(February 1, 1908 – May 2, 1980)
The Hungarian-born American animator, film producer and director, George Pal, is primarily associated with the science fiction film genre. Among the great productions of George Pal which will be featured in this blog are;
- Destination Moon (1950 - Oscar: Special Effects 1950)
- When Worlds Collide (1951 - Oscar: Special Effects 1951)
- The War of the Worlds (1953 - Oscar: Best Special Effects 1953)
- Conquest of Space (1955)
- The Time Machine (1960 - Oscar: Best Special Effects 1960)
George Pal’s Early Life and Career
George Pal’s Early Life and Career
- Born in Cegléd, Austria–Hungary.
- Pal’s stage-entertainer parents later divorced, and he was raised by his grandparents
- 1928: graduated from the Budapest Academy of Arts at age 20 with a degree in Architecture and he possessed highly developed drawing skills.
- 1928 to 1931: made films for Hunnia Films of Budapest, Hungary. At Hunna he quickly learned the craft of motion picture cartooning.
- 1931: at age 23 married Elisabeth "Zsoka" Grandjean.
- Moved to Berlin, a centre for film innovation, and founded Trickfilm-Studio Gmbh Pal und Wittke. Pal developed his own style of making inanimate objects move, using the developing art of stop-motion photography.
- Patented Pal-Doll (or Puppetoons in the USA).
- Working in Prague, Pal make ad shorts or animated advertising featuring cartoon "puppets" without strings such as cigarettes with faces, arms, and legs strutting and singing on theatre screens looking as if they had been drawn by a cartoonist.
- Pal left Germany as the Nazis were rising to power.
- 1940: Pal emigrated from Europe at age 32 and began work for Paramount Pictures and obtained American citizenship.
- In the 1940s, he made the Puppetoons series as an animator. As stated in the Ray Harryhausen tribute post, Ray Harryhausen was employed on staff by George Pal during the Puppetoons period.
- 1943: Pal was awarded an honorary Oscar for "the development of novel methods and techniques in the production of short subjects known as Puppetoons."
- 1950s and 1960s: produced several science fiction and fantasy films four of which were collaborations with director Byron Haskin.
You might ask why the addition to the title of the words “The next one?” When asked which of his films was his favorite Pal would reply, “the next one.” Each of his films was apart of a vision that in some way contributed to;
- Opening up and extending our vision of the universe.
- Ushering in the era of the golden age of film science fiction with “Destination Moon.”
- Showing us how not only governments, but also groups of like-minded individuals with the vision, will and resources can send spaceships to the surface of other worlds.
- Our wonder and entertainment as we watch in horror the destruction of Los Angeles by forces powerful beyond our comprehension.
- Encouraging a belief in heroes we can look up to and emulate who possess ideals and courage and who dedicate themselves to the pursuit of science and truth.
- Our understanding of our place in the universe and the forces that shape our destiny.
- Fostering a belief in how we as individuals and collectively can meet any challenge to humanity and hope and strive for a better future.
- The development of talented artists, writers and filmmakers, as well as pioneering scientists and astronauts who were inspired by the grand visions of George Pal….
Watch and enjoy the following video clip, "George Pal: Discovering The Fantastic:
Tuesday, 5 March 2013
An intelligent and thoughtful Film
- Michael Rennie as Klaatu
- Patricia Neal as Helen Benson
- Billy Gray as Bobby Benson
- Hugh Marlowe as Tom Stevens
- Sam Jaffe as Professor Jacob Barnhardt
- Frances Bavier as Mrs. Barley
- Lock Martin as Gort
- Frank Conroy as Mr. Harley
- Tyler McVey as Brady
Essentially, The Day The Earth Stood Still is about a man from space who comes to Earth to warn its inhabitants about the consequences that will befall them should they threaten peace in the universe by extending their nuclear arms technology beyond the confines of planet earth. After spending time with humans, it becomes apparent to him that drastic action must be taken to get humanity to pay attention to his message. He decides, therefore, to stop all machinery on Earth for half an hour as a demonstration of his power.
Will this demonstration succeed in bringing humanity to its senses? Will the earth need to be destroyed to ensure the peace and well-being of the rest of the universe?
Go to the full Lux Theatre old time radio presentation featuring Michael Rennie to experience what it was like on.....
Go to the full Lux Theatre old time radio presentation featuring Michael Rennie to experience what it was like on.....
The kind of distrust, fear and hostility that was portrayed in the film is better understood when seen in the context of the times;
- The dictator Joseph Stalin was still in power in Russia.
- The Soviets were not far from testing their own hydrogen bomb.
- In 1949 China had been taken over by the Communists after a civil war.
- The Korean War was at its height.
- (See my post, “Sci-Fi on film 1951” for a more complete overview of the times)
- There is no mistake about the anti-war sentiments being expressed (and expressed they are) through the character Klaatu’s very words when he states that, “ the threat of aggression by any group, anywhere can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all or no one is secure.” He speaks from the stance of someone who comes from a place which has put together “an organization for the mutual protection of all planets and for the complete elimination of aggression.” This state of affairs is enforced by the creation of “a race of robots” whose “function is to patrol the planets in spaceships.…and preserve the peace….The penalty for provoking their action is too terrible to risk. The result is we live in peace, without arms or armies, secure in the knowledge that we are free from aggression and war, free to pursue more profitable enterprises.” At the cemetery Carpenter informs Bobby that where he comes from they don't have any wars. Bobby responds by saying, "that would be a great idea!"
As was pointed out above, the 1950s were a time of fear, suspicion and distrust and the film clearly reflects this. In the film, The Day The earth Stood Still, it is suggested by one character that the saucer is really from (where else?) Russia. The TV / radio presenter further expresses this atmosphere of fear through his assurance that “…so far that there is no reasonable cause for alarm. Rumours of invading armies and mass destruction are based on hysteria and are absolutely false. I repeat, they are absolutely false.” And what happens soon after the saucer lands? It is surrounded by heavily armed soldiers and the spaceman is then shot by one of them soon after he emerges from the ship, despite declaring, “We have come to visit you in peace and good will.” What kind of world has greeted the visitor!? The kind of world that would destroy “… a gift (that we could have used to study) life on other planets.”
- The pervading sense of fear and insecurity of the times is felt as Klaatu or Carpenter wanders the city and we can hear the urgent and panicked news bulletins coming from the houses he passes. When Klaatu enters a boarding house with a room for rent the occupants of the boarding house don’t notice him as they are focused on the TV bulletin where a warning is being given concerning the alien from space being on the loose. We notice that when Klaatu enters, his outline appears in darkness. The others turn to look at him in fear, and their relief is evident when the lights are turned on revealing just a man looking for a room. The "strange unreasoning attitudes" of the people are further fueled by the media. For example, in one broadcast listeners are told that the spaceman is a "monster" and a "menace from another world" who must be "tracked down like a wild animal." Carpenter is the only one being interviewed who is capable of accurately commenting on what people should be concerned about, namely "substituting fear for reason." Not surprisingly he is cut off mid sentence since what he has to say is not what the media wants to hear. Fear and sensationalism and not reason or thoughtfulness sells. Yes, it was a time where according to Carpenter "everyone seems so...." and accurately labelled by Helen "Jittery."
- Interestingly enough, the film portrays a time that is unimaginable today in terms of attitudes towards personal safety and the safety of loved ones. At one point, Klaatu (alias Carpenter) suggests that Mrs. Benson’s young son, Bobby “might show me around the city.” What mother of today would allow her son to roam around the city with a virtual stranger? We also see a young child who was questioned by the soldiers pursuing Klaatu playing on the streets after dark. Not many parents would feel comfortable with that these days!
- At Arlington National Cemetery, Bobby explains to Klaatu, “That’s my father. He was killed at Anzio.” Unfortunately, many boys of his age would've been able to say something similar. Too many fathers were away in the army and were killed in war when their sons and daughters were still only babies. We can better understand why this boy takes such a liking to this stranger who is almost like the father he never really had.
Patricia Neal’s single mother character is probably representative of many war widows of the time who were face with very difficult choices and very few options. She is faced with living at a boarding house and supporting herself and her son on her own. She works as a secretary in an office in an era when women were expected give up their war time jobs to returning servicemen, get married and become stay-at-home mothers. To make matters worse, she could have wound up with a selfish, opportunistic and weak fiance (Tom Stevens) who wants to get married quickly as a career advancing selling point and who doesn't "care about the rest of the world."
Whether intended or not, one can’t help but see Klaatu as a kind of Christ-like savior figure who holds out to us the promise of our own salvation. He has come here (from up above!) -“I traveled 250 million miles”- to deliver a message of peace. His attempts are rejected by the world’s leaders who are too caught up with their own petty political squabbles (“Our world at the moment is full of tensions and suspicions.”) Klaatu then determines to understand humanity by living among people and adopting the name “Carpenter.” That he is a gifted stranger with acute powers of observation and insight there can be no doubt. Klaatu even has what seems to us advanced healing powers as reported by one physician who stated that Klaatu had cured his bullet wound with a salve he’d brought with him. Klaatu is eventually betrayed by a Judas-like informer (Stevens) who is intent on being “the biggest man in the country” and is killed by the military, only to be resurrected for a time. Sounds roughly familiar?
There appears to be a rather “old testament” dark and vengeful side to the character Klaatu and what he represents. We have a sense of a “salvation OR ELSE!” message being given if humanity doesn't come to its senses. The kind of power we are dealing with here is evident as Klaatu and Helen are being hemmed in by the military and he states, “I’m afraid of what he (Gort) would do if anything should happen to me. There’s no limit to what he could do. He could destroy the Earth.” The sense of menace to our very survival is so strong that, not only Helen, but we, the audience would “remember those words,” “Klaatu Barada Nikto,” and we wouldn't hesitate to repeat them back to Gort if anything were to happen to Klaatu! The message is quite clear: We act foolishly at our own peril and we if we choose to ignore the message of peace, we will fall to an unimaginable and implacable force that will show us no mercy. This force is revealed to the audience in the form of a large indestructible robot equipped with a powerful laser-like beam able to dissolve tanks, cannons or the entire earth. We will be rewarded if we do good and punished if we do wrong. In short, “your choice is simple: Join us and live in peace or pursue your present course and face obliteration.”
- At the Lincoln Memorial, Carpenter is very impressed with the words from the Gettysburg Address on the monument, “That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth.” For Carpenter, “Those are great words. He must have been a great man. … That’s the kind of man that I’d like to talk to.” Which leads us to Professor Jacob Barnhardt and those characters like him. He represents those respected individuals and groups who pursue the ideals of knowledge and truth and whose minds are open to unimaginable possibilities. By producing such people, past and present, it is as if humanity has demonstrated its innate capacity to strive for and attain something better, whether it be truth, peace or freedom, despite its capacity for self-destruction.
Points Of Interest
- Although it worked quite well with Earth vs The Flying Saucers, this is one classic science-fiction I would not want to see colourized. It is almost film noir-like in its use of light and shade and camera-work, all of which would be spoiled by any tampering with aspects of its visual presentation.
- Bernhard Herrmann’s haunting soundtrack with the use of theremin (actually two theremin instruments and other electronic instruments), combined with images of Gort’s passive and menacing silent presence adds to the film’s chilling and spine-tingling mood and atmosphere.
- The flying saucer looked quite impressive as it landed, along with the way it splits down the centre to open.
- What an excellent choice in having Michael Rennie play the part of Klaatu! He portrayed the stranger in a strange world role remarkably well. He conveyed the air of high-moral, all-knowing and benevolent visitor, tinged with an undercurrent of darker possibilities very effectively.
- The method used of cutting all electricity was "a brilliant idea." Its selective application fit the criteria of being "dramatic but not destructive." Get a pen and paper and jot down all the ways your life would be affected during say the course of a day if all electricity was suddenly cut off. Now extend that list to the effects on you local community, then your country and then the entire world. Our means of power and strength is also our weakness.
The best way to appreciate the 1951 version of The Day The earth Stood Still, is to watch the 2008 remake starring Keanu Reeves. After enduring this version featuring Keanu Reeves’ wooden performance punctuated by some fairly impressive special effects, you’ll soon see why the original version stands head and shoulders above that effort. The 1951 film holds up very well even in the 21st. Century. It shows that sometimes you can do more with less…
©Chris Christopoulos 2013