Sunday, June 9, 2019

ALIEN 1979

When I think of the films that have given me the most memorably fun scares of my movie life, my mind goes to Wait Until Dark (1967), The Exorcist (1973), Jaws (1975), The Omen (1976), and Alien. In another category entirely are the films I consider to be scary because they are disturbing and unsettling (like Rosemary's Baby which I saw in 1968 when I was still an impressionable Catholic School kid). Those movies are memorable cinema experiences, but too shattering to be labled "fun."
But Alien was another matter. Ridley Scott's science fiction monster movie masterpiece was structured like the classic monster movies of my youth, a movie manufactured to deliver solid, old-fashioned thrills, suspense, and excitement. Seeing it for the first time on opening day in 1979 was a fun, thrill-ride movie experience I've never forgotten. 
Sigourney Weaver as Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley
Tom Skerritt as Captain Arthur Dallas
John Hurt as Executive Officer Gilbert Kane
Veronica Cartwright as Navigator Joan Lambert
Yaphet Kotto as Chief Engineer Denis Parker
Harry Dean Stanton as Engineering Technician Samuel Brent
Ian Holm as Science Officer Ash


WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS MOVIE
In my earlier essay covering Alien’s opening day at Los Angeles’ Egyptian Theater in 1979, I mentioned how I wasn’t initially all that keen on seeing the film because sci-fi flicks—like westerns, sports films, and war movies—are not generally my cup of tea. This wasn’t always the case.
When I was young, television (all three channels of it) was virtually non-stop westerns, sporting events, military combat shows, and sci-fi programmers. And broadcast movies were only more of the same. I remember liking them a great deal when I was small, but after years of exposure to these formulaic, male-centric entertainments, I grew weary of their elemental sameness. What they all seemed to share was a strict adherence to the fundamental format of your average western: evil force terrorizes a township or isolated group, only to be confronted and eventually vanquished by a solitary, lantern-jawed hero (always white, always male) while the women shriek helplessly on the sidelines and the weaker men resist taking action.
Having this macho myth recycled endlessly in films and TV shows over the years may have done wonders for bolstering the egos and fueling the fantasies of adolescent boys of all ages, but the combination of predictability and patriarchal pandering only led to my developing a strong, broad-strokes antipathy toward films that fit into any of the above-named genres.
I never stopped enjoying being pleasurably scared by a good sci-fi thriller or monster movie, but how I longed for some kind (ANY  kind) of deviation from type. Then I saw the advance trailer for Alien. Its biggest appeal being that it didn't tip its hat and give away its surprises. Indeed, what initially attracted me to Alien was it having the confidence and self-assurance (conveyed by its subtle ad campaign) to simply tease. It didn't give away any of its surprises, and by withholding so much, it seemed to promise even more. 
I was immediately drawn to Alien via the comfy familiarity of its setting and premise. It reminded me of Creature Features sci-fi programmers like The Thing from Another World (1951) and The Green Slime (1968). Just two years earlier George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) had spectacularly updated those Saturday matinee adventure serials of the ’30s and ‘40s, so the idea of Alien being a throwback to the tradition of those space invader films of the ‘50s I used to watch on TV as a kid struck me as both welcome and promising. 
And Alien did, indeed, live up to its promise…exceeded it, in fact, by emerging as both a throwback and a work of canny originality. For all its harkening back to the sci-fi monster movies of my youth, Alien, by merely tweaking some of the more careworn clichés of the overly-familiar genre, proved that innovation doesn’t always require redesigning the wheel; sometimes it’s simply a matter of getting that wheel out of a rut. 
Described aptly (if a tad dismissively) by many critics at the time as “Jaws in space,” Alien, at least on a superficial level, does appear to be a film with but one objective: scare the bejesus out of the audience. But the means by which the film goes about achieving this not-so-simple goal is why memories of the original Alien remain indelibly etched in my mind, while the numerous sequels and prequels in the franchise all seem to converge and coalesce into one derivative, pedantic blur.

One of the smartest things Alien does is immediately establish a sense of realism via its Used Future look. Alien envisions a recognizably grungy 2122 devoid of 2001: A Space Odyssey sterility and (mercifully) lacking in self-consciously futuristic attire like bodysuits, spandex, or metallics. There’s none of the shiny optimism of Mid-Century Jetsons streamline that flatters our illusions of progressiveness. Instead, the future looks very much like industrial now.
Which leads to the next great thing about Alien’s setup.
In lieu of adventurers, space explorers, Colonial Marines, or other interstellar travelers who knew the job was dangerous when they took it, Alien gives us a motley crew of laborers ill-equipped and ill-suited for the events that await them. The seven-member crew of The Nostromo, a commercial towing vehicle, are essentially space truck drivers who…like your average working stiffs…spend their time getting on each other’s nerves, quibbling about their salaries, and griping about the quality of the food. They have zero interest in anything but finishing their jobs and going home.

The characters are well-delineated in an ensemble-cast sort of way, fleshed out in minimalist detail by the talented actors in a way that sidesteps the kind of war movie shorthand of Whitman Sampler archetypes that marred Aliens (1986) for me. The flinty crew of The Nostromo come across as comfortable with each other, relaxed and natural in their behavior (crucial to rooting a fantasy film in a recognizable reality), and, at first glimpse, refreshingly non-heroic.
The latter goes a long way toward infusing Alien’s disarmingly uneventful early scenes with a great deal of suspense. I like that when ordered by MU-TH-UR, the mainframe computer responsible for running The Nostromo, to investigate a possible SOS signal on a nearby planetoid, everyone is of a different mind about it. No one, not even the captain, leaps to hero mode; they do so more out of professional duty (fear of forfeiting their pay shares) than moral obligation. And since we’ve ready had a foretaste of their workplace fellowship (Parker and Brett are in a clique, Ripley and Lambert have an unexplained friction between them, nobody seems to care for Ash) throughout the expedition—from exploration to alien infestation—there’s absolutely no certainty of what to expect from any of them.

H. R. Giger’s designs for the rapidly-growing alien and that creepy derelict spaceship are as iconic as they are nightmarish, but it’s chiefly through the film’s ability to get me to identify with and relate to the human characters…to get me to see them as real and care about their fates…is where Alien triumphed and succeeded in becoming a genuinely scary movie experience. 

PERFORMANCES
I know others feel differently, but when I’m watching a science-fiction or fantasy film, the details of set design, accuracy of the science, or the sophistication of special effects aren’t nearly as significant in creating a sense of verisimilitude as the characters. If the characters are written with complexity and dimension, cast with actors capable of inhabiting a role and bringing it to life with minimal dialogue and screen time, if they behave and relate in ways consistent both to the character and recognizable human psychology; most any situation or setting, no matter how fantastic, can be made believable and convincingly real. (1978’s Superman: The Movie comes to mind.)

Alien is blessed with an uncommonly talented cast providing a level of ensemble acting I think is uncommon in many genre films. The way each creates a full-fledged character whose life I can envision beyond The Nostromo reminds me of some of the personal, small-scale performances in the films of Robert Altman or Alan Rudolph that have remained etched in my memory.
Perhaps due to the fact that at one time or another I've had co-workers similar to The Nostromo crew, and I always gravitate to the Lambert type (a little high strung and prone to bellyaching), I have a particular fondness for Veronica Cartwright in this film. It’s not just that I’d behave EXACTLY like her character in this situation, but as Tom Skerritt once stated, Cartwright gives the best performance in the film. And I absolutely agree.
With Sigourney Weaver commanding the screen with assurance and staking her claim for movie immortality in this, her star-making feature film debut (not counting a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it bit part in Annie Hall), the strength of the performances of the women in Alien play no small part in it being my favorite sci-fi thriller of all time.
Jonesy the cat is cute and all, but he's a bit of a jerk
and is responsible for far too many deaths and close calls 

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Not being one of those mainstream film critics of the ‘70s conditioned to ignore the contributions of Black Cinema, I was aware of both Pam Grier (Foxy Brown – 1974) and Tamara Dobson (Cleopatra Jones – 1973) as trailblazing female action movie heroeines long before Sigourney Weaver blasted that alien “The fuck out into space.”  Yet, factoring in the widespread success and influence of the whole Alien franchise, it’s hard to over-emphasize the impact the character of Ellen Ripley has had on the depiction of women in action and sci-fi films.
By now, most everyone knows that Warrant Officer Ripley was originally conceived as a man; a gender-switch regarded at the time as just another unexpected thriller twist for the audience. As it turns out, having a woman be the sole self-rescuing survivor in a traditionally male-dominated genre came to rank right up there with the hiring of H.R. Giger to design the creature as among the sharpest of Alien’s pre-production decisions. 
Having Ripley be a woman (the role allegedly not altered in any significant way in the transition) adds all manner of intentional and unintentional layers to Alien. For example, the otherwise typical workplace resistance to authority exhibited by engineers Parker and Brett (Kotto & Stanton) has a double meaning when the figure of authority they're resisting is a woman. And although we later learn why Ash behaves as he does, Ripley’s interactions with Ash likely resonate with any woman who’s ever had to deal with men making no secret of their resentment at having to answer to a female superior.
As this pertains to the scene where Ripley orders the infected crew members to be quarantined, it begs the question as to whether or not there would have been such swift resistance to the command had it come from Dallas or Kane. 
A pet peeve of mine is when screenwriters assume they have created a strong, feminist female character when they have really just created a woman who behaves in a macho manner (say, like the hot-rodding women in Russ Meyer's Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill!). Sure, it's important when a woman has agency in a film and her actions propel the plot, but simply ascribing aggressive male characteristics to a woman and declaring "feminist!" only signals to me the writer has little understanding of either.

Ellen Ripley may have evolved into an action-hero type over the course of all those sequels, but in Alien she’s just a no-nonsense type, good at her job and not prone to panic. For all her resiliency, she’s an incredibly empathetic, good-hearted, and sensitive character. Just check out Weaver reactions during the chest-bursting scene…Lambert is horrified and in hysterics (again, me) but Ripley’s face (and it’s the most amazingly subtle thing) conveys both alarm and compassionate anguish for what Kane is going through.
While I fully understand the well-taken criticism, but I'm one of those "nudity is not always sexual" guys. I'm in the camp that doesn't find Ripley's controversial strip to her underwear sexualizes her. It feels like a connecting link to the opening scene where John Hurt awakens from hypersleep and the camera lens lingers on him in his underwear. Both scenes emphasize the vulnerability and humanity of the characters against all that space technology. The contrast of human flesh and the part-machine/bio-organism design of Giger's creature is a visceral underscoring that is chilling.


THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Much in the way Twyla Tharp's loose-structured dance designs made her the ideal choreographer for Miloš Forman’s adaptation of Hair, Alien (and, indeed, the entire science fiction movie genre) owes an unpayable debt to the biomechanical nightmare designs or Swiss artist H. R. Giger. 

It’s not often that one encounters the unimaginable (thank God), but Giger’s exceptionally strange, sexualized, body-horror designs for the film are what set Alien apart from any other film I’ve ever seen. The unsettling blend of the mechanical with the organic—in which both structures and organisms share the same solid/soft, vulnerable/impenetrable contrasts—transport the primal shocks of the average monster movie to places so dark (male rape, impregnation, and violent birth) you feel slightly queasy. Thank goodness Ridley Scott chose to keep shots of the fully-formed alien to a minimum. I was plenty unsettled by the facehugger, the chest-buster, and the ribcage/vertebrae interior of that creepy ship they explore.
Giger's magnificent, ugly-beautiful design work--triggering subliminal impressions of sex, flesh, metal, and machine--heighten Alien's ick factor by making the unimaginable not only possible, but credible. And once a horror film succeeds in making the impossible credible, you're a goner, for then you know you're in a place of the unstable and unpredictable where anything can happen.


In space no one can hear you scream.
I've intentionally left out behind-the-scenes trivia and information pertaining to the making of Alien because the internet overflows with a veritable treasure trove of information, scripts, production notes and all manner of and details relating to the production. Here are links to a few of my favorites.

"This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off."

Copyright © Ken Anderson 2009 - 2019

16 comments:

  1. I commented earlier about this film but some additional thoughts struck me as I read your review (I'll be honest and say most of these come from other analyses of the film though I've read enough reviews that I can't attribute them very well). First, Ripley is the character who does and tries to do the right thing. Too many times the hero is presented as a maverick who bends or breaks the rules. Ripley keeps them and if they had listened to her, they'd have been better off. Second, she creates an interesting contrast with Lambert. Lambert's confrontation with the monster reduces her to a cringing ball of tears... Ripley's confrontation terrifies her (hence her quavery rendition of "You are my Lucky Star" which is such a nice touch) but she still keeps her head. Third, I agree that her underwear clad form at the end does signal vulnerability (remember this is an acid-spewing monster she's after). It's pleasing to note that Weaver is still making films all these years later. In fact, I think all of them had fairly significant "post-Alien" careers.

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  2. That's very commendable of you to attribute some your analytical points to any of the reviews of ALIEN you may have read. That's very fair-minded, but I also think that a review or film analysis can articulate ideas we may already hold; the journalist perhaps simplifying unwieldy concepts we've intuited.
    In the case of this film, I think everything that can be said about ALIEN has been said in one way or another. Like you, I like that Ripley is a hero who doesn't really think of herself as heroic. As Weaver has stated in interviews, Ripley believes in certain things very strongly when the film begins, and by the end, show no longer is sure of what she believes.
    She's the hero that simply wants to do the right thing, and while a survivor, she doesn't think of her own needs first. She's much more likeable and compassionate than those tiresome "maverick" heroes in so many action films.
    Similarly, I too think the contrast between Ripley and Lambert adds an interesting element to the film. For me, Ripley is what people would like to be in in crisis, Lambert is probably closer to what most are.
    And yes, everybody involved has had terrific post-ALIEN careers, but in researching the film and looking at just a few of the seemingly millions of videos on YouTube, it's fun to hear (via interviews and audience Q & As) a kind of amused resentment from Veronica Cartwright in reference to the large amount of her scenes that were cut out of the theatrical release (now available as DVD extras). In one instance, when asked what was the most enjoyable scene she participated in, she answers that it was when she got to smack Sigourney Weaver. In a different interview, Harry Dean Stanton speaks about how much footage there was of Lambert in the original cut of the film, and laughingly adds... "Until Sigourney saw it."
    Maybe some of that tension is what makes those scenes with the crew so compellingly real!
    Thanks for reading this and for your always thoughtful observations and input.

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  3. Wow, Ken, great take on this great film. Your brilliant, thought-provoking analysis of the patriarchal structure of most science fiction narrative prior to this ground-breaking, seminal film, and the subtle way that Ripley's character subverts all of this, immediately brought to mind a much earlier example: Anne Bancroft as the courageous Dr. Cartwright in the 1966 film 7 Women. Directed by a man who probably did more for boozy, rowdy, macho-myth-making than practically any other 20th Century figure, none other than John Ford himself.

    John Ford, that racist filmmaker par excellence. John Ford, the man of whom David Thomson once wrote, "It cannot be escaped that his curious Irish/American romance CELEBRATED the TYRANNICAL HERO without any great qualification or demur." John Ford, the man whose fraudulent rewrites of actual Western history still inspire Oregon yahoo militia men to play Cowboys and Indians with Federal agents in the 21st century, unlawfully occupying government land and actually, disgracefully, winning their court battles in Trump-era America.

    But Ford's last film, 7 Women, an autumnal, mournful work, almost feels like that Ol' Irish Catholic Act-of-Contrition. Unlike virtually every single one of the man's many prior films, all of the major characters in 7 Women are female. And while the hateful bigotry is on full Fordian display, with the Mongols viciously caricatured this time instead of the Indians, you almost feel like the old man is trying to atone for all of his past sins.

    But Ford's conception of Dr. Cartwright in this film, and the performance he elicited from Anne Bancroft, may be the only reason the man got into Purgatory, and not that other place. Dr. Cartwright may swagger around as arrogantly as John Wayne, but she carries medical supplies, not a gun. When a Cholera outbreak strikes the mission, she courageously takes charge, but as a caretaker, not as a strutting cowboy. Through Anne Bancroft in this film, and a few of the other performances, notably Margaret Leighton and Mildred Dunnock, Ford rings so many radically different permutations on his prior fantasies of booze-soaked male heroism, as to practically deconstruct his entire previous oeuvre. With about ten Hail Mary's and three Our Fathers and a Glory-Be or two.

    I truly believe, Ken, that 7 Women may have been a forerunner of Sigourney Weaver in Alien. And I didn't even realize it till I read your great piece here. Check it out if you can. I'm not sure if you've ever mentioned it in Le Cinema.

    Thanks, as always, for letting me go on...

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    1. Hi Rick
      John Ford's 7 WOMEN is one of my favorites! (Betty Field:" "Are YOU the doctor?! But you're a woman!!" Anne Bancroft: "Unless a lot of men have been kidding me.")
      I was introduced to it be my sister (who sought out and clung to any film with strong women roles) and I'ved loved it ever since. The only thing preventing me from writing about it is the lousy copy I have would make such hazy screenhots. But I really don't need to, for your remarkable write-up says it all.
      You make a great case for it standing out as both typical and atypical of Ford's output, and why it bears seeing simply for its radically progressive heroine.
      I'm thrilled that you brought the film up in the context of ALIEN because its good to remember that Ripley had her antecedents. I also applaud your assessment of John Ford, his work, and the lingering legacy of a certain kind of normalized alternate reality.
      I hope you wind up inspiring a few readers to seek out this film (you're right, I've never brought it up on this blog). You certainly jogged my memory, reminding me of another war film I did happen to like directed by James Cavell titled FIVE GATES TO HELL, which has a lot of Army nurses turned into guerilla fighters.
      Thanks for your kind words and for comments expressed her, a virtual think piece on Ford, Feminism, and Film in compact form. Much appreciated, Rick!

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    2. I can definitely sympathize about bad-looking copies of 7 Women, Ken. BUT WHY HAS THIS MOVIE NEVER BEEN GIVEN THE PROPER RESTORATION IT DESERVES??? I guess because so many have criticized the very studio-bound look of the film, a proper high def restoration is not as big priority as for, say, one of the director's Monument-Valley-Widescreens. (And I get that Ford was on oxygen while filming it, but c'mon now! It looks like an episode of Bonanza for Chrissakes!)

      But all of the available copies of 7 Women that I have come across look uniformly awful. Terrible, even. I felt like watching it recently, so I found a website that posted it, but the visuals were so lousy, I went on YouTube and paid for a rental (the only place where it was legit, and available.) BUT THEN THE YOUTUBE RENTAL LOOKED EXACTLY THE SAME!!! A travesty.

      Thanks for the generous feedback, but I think my post may have been a little out-there, since you were talking about science fiction narrative, and I brought in a Neo-Western. Glad you understood me.

      Also, many critics have commented on the great ending of 7 Women, and how poignant it is, in context, since this was Ford's very last film. They have also taken Dr. Cartwright last line, "So long, ya bastard!" as a sort of final farewell by the director himself, to movie-making, and to the world itself, for that matter. Plus, I love how Ford was generous enough to have Dr. Cartwright still standing, fully alive, as the film fades out, even though Tunga Khan has just succumbed immediately to the very same poison she also drank. And I think Ford really knew what he was doing in that last shot, knowing that the viewer would probably anticipate her immediate death, but instead, he just sort of freezes the moment in time, as if for all eternity. (Of course, he may have just been being gallant, or gentlemanly, since this was his first female protagonist. But its still great stuff.)

      Thanks again Ken...

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  4. I really, honestly don't even know how to comment LoL I'm a science fiction fan above anything else but I'm just so passionate about this that I can only repeat endless praise like a mantra!
    I just loved your essay about this movie cause it highlights most of the things I loved about it but could never quite put a finger on it. I think this movie has been re-evaluated many times in the past 40 years (despite its own franchise trying to kill its long-lasting momentum) and even though I love all the symbolism that has become the most praised aspect of this film for modern viewers, what I really love about it is what we can see: a cast of actors excelling in roles that could be considered too short or too flat for many an actor / a crew of relatable characters in a relatable and very possible future. I just love this type of working class futurism that is very common in sci-fi books but that never really made it into american cinema: From what I can see, most nowadays millionaires already live 100 years ahead of us, so let's imagine what the future will really be like for the people that live in the real world. Everything in the movie just feels palpable, and I could see most of my uncles and aunts working in the Nostromo and THAT alone gives me joy! Science fiction has the power to move me in a way most films can’t, it somehow feels more real and more plausible than any biopic or documentary cause when it’s done right it shows us the inevitable, and THAT I respect. Also, giving that it was produced in the apex of the practical effects, I never fall into disbelief. The ultra detailed backgrounds, the color, the lighting, you’ll see many attempts to recreate that, but nothing will surpass it. I’ve only had the same sense of atmosphere and complete diving with Blade Runner.
    One thing I think is funny is that this is a horror movie but it never scared me, maybe cause I was born in 1991 and in my childhood there were many sci-fi shows on TV that incorporated elements of the Alien movies (which by then had become sci-fi tropes). But if it's not scary for me it can be many other things at once and for that I'm glad.
    Also, I don't really think there's anything exploitative in the underwear-Sygourney at the end of this movie. I don't know if that's cause I'm gay (hahaha) but that really doesn't say "sexy" to me, and believe me, I can recognize unnecessary/exploitative skin showing from miles of distance.
    Well, I didn’t really say anything but I really wanted to be a part of this celebration!! I’m planning to rewatch it again soon and maybe I can contribute to something more than fanboying hahaahaahaha!

    PS. I came here because I had just rewatched Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and I knew you would have something about it. By the way, Veronica Cartwright was there too. What a national treasure she is!

    See you soon, Ken! Thank you for your blog!!

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    1. Hello, João Paulo
      As a real fan of science fiction AND someone who appeared on this planet several years after the debut of the original ALIEN, I'd say you most certainly contribute a great deal more than fanboying. For one, given my coolness to the genre, it's valuable to hear from someone who values it (above anything else!). Secondly, I'm always intrigued when something that was truly new and frightening in one generation (not only did the entire theater erupt into the loudest scream you ever heard during ALIEN's chest-bursting scene, but you had to peel me off the auditorium ceiling), that's not frightening at all to another. Also, your appreciation of the film's practical effects reminds me of all I found lacking in the CGI of the othe films in the ALIEN franchise.
      I love enthusiasm for movies, and yours is contagious. Particularly when you cite the used future of the average person...in which you can imagine your aunts and uncles on the Nostromo and a future of survival (Yaphet Kotto was one of the first Black men I ever saw in a sci-fi film. And whether screenwriters or casting people recognize it or not, it signals volumes to Black audiences when we see ourselves represented in the future (one of the most jaw-dropping things about LOGAN'S RUN, STAR WARS, and 2001 are its absence of Black people).
      Lastly, have you ever seen Veronica Cartwright as the kleptomaniac in THE CHILDREN'S HOUR? She really is the best at playing neurotics, and her emotional breakdowns are brilliant.
      Thanks, so much for your excellent contributions and comments here!

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  5. Great writeup, Ken--one of my strongest moviegoing memories was seeing this the night it opened with my roommate's girlfriend (long story). I was all in and wore a Nostromo crew cap for a year. For me, it paradoxically seemed that both there was nothing new in it and that *everything* was new in it. Two notes:

    This may have been Sigourney Weaver's big break, but for me, it was also the breakthrough movie for the rest of the cast. Though I couldn't name them at the time (I didn't connect *this* Veronica Cartwright with the one in The Birds and a hundred other things in the 60s), after Alien I could name them whenever they showed up in something new and, especially, going back to older stuff. When I saw it, I had no idea how many things Stanton, Kotto, Skerrit, etc. had been in before.

    The other thing is, as good at Aliens ('86) felt at the time, I resist the idea that every idea in a movie needs to be "explored," especially something that was as unique as Alien was when it came out.

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    1. Thanks, MDG
      Someone else who got to see it opening night! And I'm jealous of your Nostromo crew cap.
      I agree with you that ALIEN was quite a breakthrough film for everyone involved. As I said in my ALIEN 40th Anniversary post, Cartwright had been a longtime favorite of mine, her work in 1978s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS making her both the main person I wanted to see and most familiar name in the ALIEN cast.
      But the cast of character actor veterans we'd seen but barely recalled in film after film for yeas, all seemed to become more "visible" after ALIEN.
      And I'm 100% with you that not every idea in a film has to be expounded upon. For me, ALIEN is a stand-alone film and I don't consider all the information that's been provided in the sequels and prequels at all. It's just not necessary for me to enjoy it, and puzzles are sometimes more fun when you are asked to fit all the pieces together in you mind, not have them explained and extrapolated on so much in expanded sequel narratives.
      Thanks for commenting, MDG!

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  6. Wonderful, wonderful article on a great movie, Ken. What a cast! After many viewings it is still a shock to see them all picked off,,one by one, by one of the scariest monsters ever. Amazing creature design--and so true about the grunge-future look--this is one of the films that started the trend!
    Every time this is on, I watch it, and I love Aliens just as much--maybe even more in some ways! Need to do an Aliens binge one of these days.
    -Chris

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  7. Hi, Chris
    You're so right on all counts. ALIEN is distinguished by its remarkable cast, trend-setting grunge future look, and the startling design of its equally influential alien creature.
    There's also something about it that is so simple...classic, maybe...in its form and structure, which has allowed for viewers to project upon it and extract from it all manner of theories and subthemes.
    Like you, I find it somehow hypnotically watchable whenever it comes on, and I'm as surprised as anyone that it still "works" so well after all these years. Thank you reading this post, glad you enjoyed it, and I appreciate your contribution to the comments here. Good to hear from another ALIEN fan!

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  8. First time I watched Alien and heard Cartwright screaming an unexpected feeling of deja vu came over me. It made no sense....why did her screaming sound familiar to me? When I figured out that her screaming in The Birds was in my hard-drive, I smiled.

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    1. Ha! Nice cross-association there. Cartwright is one of the best screamers (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) in the business!

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  9. i tend to favor tamara dobson over pam grier even though i love pam grier because so often pam's characters were stripped naked for the audience to masturbate over more than empathize with. when tamara dobson takes off her clothes in cleopatra jones it's to make love to the delicious bernie casey. and even when dobson jettisons part of her dress in cleopatra jones in the temple of doom or whatever that insane move is, it's to beat the hell out of the villains. unfortunately, pam grier was diminished to the precursor of vanessa del rio more than she was elevated to the status of warrior sigourney weaver. then again, just to prove that misogyny and female objectification is almost colorblind in hollywood, ridley scott decided that alien just could not end without the camera going between weaver's legs and ogling her crotch clad in skimpy underwear. none of the men had to wear bikini drawers in space, but that's what scott did to his hero. scott would have never made tom skerritt wear a jockstrap in the final scene and skerritt would never have done it.

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    1. Hi Peter
      Interesting (fascinating) points you bring up. Especially the spot-on observation that a male action hero in skimpy BVDs or jockstrap in their final scene is something that would simply never happen in homophobic Hollywood. The argument is that it would spark homosexual panic in its adolescent male demographic.
      I'm not of the mind that all nudity is sexual or that all expression of female sexuality (even under the male gaze) is demeaning or misogynist, but I do tire of film's that can't help reinforcing the dominance of a woman's physical appeal.
      I think you've given me an idea for an essay I'd like to explore: nudity and power. There's a presumptive loss of power ascribed to undraped individuals in movies. It would be worthwhile to explore this in terms of self perception (a woman may feel no personal loss of power, but the male gaze may ascribe it...whose opinion wins?
      If I get around to it, I'll be sure to mention that your thought-provoking contribution here is what sparked the idea. Thanks, Peter. Good to hear from you again!

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  10. *aw shucks. tweren't nothin* big ole grin on my face. i can't remember the last time i was anyone's inspiration. in this time of pervasive contagion, it makes me feel kinda warm and fuzzy all over in a way which has nothing to do with an impending fever. lol.

    it's so funny when i rant about female nudity and its representation in hollywood because of my love for the nude male form and my consternation over the fact that male nudity (especially well-lit scenes that last for more than a microsecond and show more than an obscured tush) is still rare in mainstream movies may make me look hypocritical as i deride the prominence and prevalence of scenes depicting female nudity. i am compelled to express my frustration at how often hollywood nudity is used against female actors and female characters to titillate not only male viewers but as quiet as it's kept, the fetishes of specific male directors as well as a usually, mostly male crew. truth be told, i am not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but for as much as i love movies, i remain so disturbed by how many movies hinge upon female degradation, assault, humiliation, and objectification.

    i realize that much of the dearth of male nudity in hollywood has less to do with the fact that male actors are afraid that they'll become fodder for masturbatory fantasies like my own than it can be attributed to male actors's fear of appearing vulnerable. i was like a kid in candy store when i discovered some of hollywood's most macho men like yul brynner and burt lancaster had posed nude for photographic projects before their hollywood fame. yes, often, photos may give a false impression, but for lancaster and brynner, they appear more powerful nude than they do in their most macho hollywood performances.

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