“This means something. This is important.”

Ever since I first saw Close Encounters (must’ve been on TV before I was ten) that line has come to mind whenever I see a big pile of mashed potatoes. But I got two things wrong. Firstly, Richard Dreyfuss doesn’t say that line during the mashed potato scene, but earlier. And second, I remembered the movie being a long, slow, boring build-up to a brief, awesome alien sequence, but it’s more of a medium, slightly boring buildup to a long, quite boring alien sequence. Either way, it’s safe to say it’s not my favorite Spielberg movie.

I’ve been meaning to watch more movies from 1977, the year I was born, to figure out what people were up to back then, but it only raises more questions. How was Richard Dreyfuss allowed to be a movie star? I wonder if Spielberg and Lucas (for Star Wars) being up for the same best-director oscar was the ’70’s equivalent of when Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line were nominated for best picture, only back then Spielberg was the arthouse favorite and in ’98 his was the slam-bang commercial juggernaut to Malick’s more contemplative war movie. How did Francois Truffaut end up co-starring in a Hollywood movie, and did it help his later films get into American theaters?

F. Truffaut, and is that Bob Balaban?

Some thoughts:

Is the movie endorsing men having extra-marital affairs and abandoning their families? Dreyfuss has three kids, but when his wife doesn’t understand him he bonds with Melinda Dillon instead, then at the end he leaves not just his home but the planet.

The government is preparing some guys in Devo jumpsuits to go into space as earth ambassadors, but the only time we see them in training it’s at a last-call religious meeting. Gives the weird feeling that they’ve been selected for some kind of Christian mission to the aliens.

Jeez, but Teri Garr as Dreyfuss’s wife is shouty and has no patience at all. I mean admittedly he builds a full-on rock reconstruction of Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower in their living room, but she has already moved out by then, always having seemed more hysterical than sympathetic. Good contrast was Barbara Rush in Bigger Than Life, whose husband is losing his mind, but she never stops trying to help him. Compared to that, Garr is a one-dimensional bitch whom Dreyfuss was right to leave (though it means leaving the kids in her care, so there’s no winning this one).

Teri Garr is unhappy:

Some guy named Larry (Josef Sommer of Stepford Wives) shows up at the Devil’s Tower then falls behind and gets gassed (the visual effect of the gas shown with dazed little birds falling in front of the camera – classy). Who was he? Besides the gassing/evacuation/secrecy, the government seems surprisingly non-hostile.

Wow, Lance Henriksen looks young.

All the backgrounds look fake – even in Wyoming. They’re not fake in a latter-day CGI manner, but in an old-timey studio painted-backdrop kind of way – and the forest Dillon runs through after her son looks so carefully arranged. Strange that a movie which was probably state-of-the-art in ’77 (with the the effects guy from 2001: A Space Odyssey) seems quaint now, years more old-fashioned than its contemporary 1977 Star Wars.

Dillon under a false sky:

The first encounter with the aliens by Melinda Dillon’s young son (Cary Guffey, cast next in a couple of Italian-opportunist alien comedies) foreshadows two later Spielberg productions: Poltergeist (toys coming to life, scary tree shadows waking the kid) then E.T. (the aliens raid the fridge).

All this gentle-alien cuteness, communicating through music and sign language, abductees returned unharmed, the slow buildup to the slow conclusion – it all seems anticlimactic after you’ve watched Mars Attacks a few times.

Time out from Shocktober to watch some Pixar films in 3D – coincidentally the only two Pixar films I’d not seen in theaters. The 3D effect works nicely, but I didn’t find it especially amazing or engrossing here, not as much as with Coraline. Seems like a plain ol’ 2D double-feature would’ve been equally effective.

I was hoping Katy would be wowed by the sequel, but it was late and she was tired. In fact, it was too late… after the tenth time the toy dinosaur told us to go buy snacks during the intermission segment, I went to buy snacks only to find that the snack bar had closed.

The barbies in part 2 are awesome, but the ones in Small Soldiers have got ’em beat.

I still think the “When She Loved Me” song is pretty.

A government paperwork wonk named Wikus is given the task of going door-to-door in the South African slums and telling all the aliens from another planet they are to be relocated. When he discovers one alien (and his young son) who has been reassembling their technology underground in order to retake control of their mothership, Wikus accidentally exposes himself to a chemical that transmogrifies him into an alien. Kickass action involving disintegration weapons and armored body suits follow. Weird, thrilling, completely unique movie – influences seem to be Cloverfield (handheld camerawork + action fx) and The Fly (Katy would not enjoy the Wikus-to-alien transformation).

The director on Peter Jackson’s involvement:

There’s no way I could have gotten this film made as what I wanted to make, without his involvement. So it’s much more than just saying, “Go and do what you want.” It’s “Can I put a guy in the movie who’s never acted before, but I think he can carry the lead role?” There’s no way that would have happened if he wasn’t producing it. So he said “Yes.” And then, “Can they keep South African accents? And they’re thick accents.” “Yes.”

See, used to be I’d go to the video store and rent anything that looked interesting, and I’d come home with wild, awesome, insane movies. But one Tetsuo The Iron Man and a pile of Richard Kern films later, I start to get wary of the weird stuff. It seems the few weird, random films I rent these days are crappy movies trying too hard for cult success (Sukiyaki Western Django, Tokyo Gore Police). Eventually I get this crazy idea that I should seek out good movies instead of bad ones, and become obsessed with lists of great and important films and magazines like Cinema Scope. So imagine my surprise when C.S. did an article on Craig Baldwin, one of those purveyors of cult-reaching found-footage hyper-weirdness peppering the video shelves. Bug had been a C.S. recommendation and that wasn’t so bad, so I finally overcame my angry memories of Baldwin’s Negativland documentary Sonic Outlaws and I rented this.

And wow is it a mindblowing pile of awesomeness. Footage from ALL sources (godzilla/molemen/cartoons, star trek scenes played as news footage, actual news footage superimposed with sci-fi business) combine to form a tell-all exposé of aliens from planet Quetzalcoatl who landed on earth in the year 1000 and live underground for centuries, waking after nuclear bomb tests to affect global climate change and politics in South and Central America and the U.S., leading to annihilation of the planet in the future year of 1999.

Movie is a wild, hilarious masterpiece of montage, with the nutty stuff woven into actual history, then 45 minutes in, after I thought it had just ended, it refocuses on Africa and becomes kind of dull. Turns out this was the short RocketKitKongoKit (1986), with no opening title so I didn’t know what was happening. Story is more news reporting with less fanciful writing, with stuff on Mobutu (evil ruler of Zaire/Congo) and others I already can’t remember, and I think there was stuff about Germany in there. Loved the conspiratorial half-whisper of the narrator in the first film, so the dull, accented narrator of this one lost interest in comparison.

Next up on the DVD: Wild Gunman (1978), apparently featuring scenes from a dragon’s-lair live-action cowboy video game, but I guess they didn’t have laserdisc players in ’78. Clever montage of advertisements, cowboy shows, repeated bits back and forth (not quite Martin Arnold-obsessive, just for fun). All three movies are divided into numbered sections… the last one used reverse-images of a girl holding up numbers and this one’s got film countdown leader. Playful and fun, brings back the energy the middle film lost.

Internet says Baldwin is a Bruce Conner devotee – no surprise there.

Video distributor says:

Baldwin’s “pseudo-pseudo-documentary” presents a factual chronicle of US intervention in Latin America in the form of the ultimate far-right conspiracy theory, combining covert action, environmental catastrophe, space aliens, cattle mutilations, killer bees, religious prophecy, doomsday diatribes, and just about every other crackpot theory broadcast through the dentures of the modern paranoiac… a truly perverse vision of American imperialism.

T. Maloney in Senses of Cinema:

On the surface RocketKitKongoKit is the true story of a German rocket firm leasing land in the Congo (then called “Saire” under Mobutu’s reign), for testing rockets. The larger implications, that of Europe’s colonial attitude towards Africa in the 1960s and the exploitation of its people for a program the Europeans didn’t want in their own backyard, is not an entirely inaccurate one. History is, of course, highly malleable, and interpretations of any event can continue for decades – especially with relatively recent and well-documented events. The direct links between the ESA’s rocket program and deteriorating conditions in Africa are made more forcefully than would a more conservative historian, and the information is presented with the authority and integrity the documentary form affords.

and on Trib 99:

Organised into 99 chapters, each with a terrifying title screaming out in full screen capital letters, (9) the structure of the film invokes both conspiracy theories and biblical texts. And yet a great deal of the narration in Tribulation describes a readily verifiable history of American intervention in Central America from the 1960s through the 1980s. It is mixed in with vampires, voodoo and killer robots, but it is there.

Fifth movie by writer-turned-director Cohen, and it’s surprisingly good – better and less campy than The Stuff. Tightly written (gets a lot done in 90 minutes) and fun to watch, kinda the opposite of Cohen-penned-but-not-directed Maniac Cop. Has that dull 70’s color, with get-the-job-done cinematography, but some odd creative shots keep things lively.


A sniper starts shooting citizens with fake-blood paintballs, causing them to boogie wildly in the streets. Pained-looking detective Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco of The Honeymoon Killers) goes up to talk to the killer. Asks his motivation, and we have our title. In a TV montage, the killer’s mom provides a sweet JFK-conspiracy reference and an announcer with a washcloth in his mouth gives us exposition.

Our freaked-out hero:

Our cop Tony goes home to his girl Casey (Deborah Raffin of Scanners II, who wears giant joke glasses throughout the film for some reason) and fakes like he’s going to finally divorce his separated wife Martha (doomed-looking Sandy Dennis of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, 976-EVIL)… but Tony is super-Catholic, which means lying to his live-in much-younger girlfriend is okay, but divorce is absolutely not.


More crazed killers take out more innocents, and obsessed Tony makes it his job to confront them all and ask “why did you do it” right before they commit suicide. He seems to be the only cop working on the biggest case in town. In middle of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, cop Andy Kaufman (!!!!!!!) shoots some people. Mesmerizing scene, both because I’m wondering what Kaufman (a year after his mighty-mouse SNL debut) is doing in this movie, and because the crowd is so well-integrated into the scene that it looks like the parade was staged for the film, unlike the crappy parade shootout in Maniac Cop.

I’m not kidding – you can ask anyone. That’s Andy Kaufman.

This time Tony was warned beforehand of the killings by a beardy cultist (Sam Levene of Sweet Smell of Success and some 40’s noirs). Tony sleuths out that each of the killers had talked to a blurry-faced young man named Bernard (who later turns out to be Full Moon Pictures regular Richard Lynch). Movie now goes wacky… Tony finds the suspect’s mom, who reveals (via a sepia-toned nudity-filled flashback) that she was impregnated by God, a virgin when her hermaphroditic “son” was born – but due to some visual details in the flashback, the audience suspects not God but aliens. Tony talks a War of the Worlds-referencing polka-dot-hatted science editor at the newspaper into printing the story, which refers to Tony as a “suspended lieutenant” (we didn’t get a scene of his suspension, but if we were wondering why he never spends time at the station with other cops, now we know – that’s some script efficiency!). Meanwhile, seemingly undoing that script efficiency, a velvet-jacketed pimp stabs a cop on a stairwell with no connection to anything else.


Tony tracks down God, who turns out to be a glowing, nightie-wearing hippie basement-dweller who makes our cop see fires everywhere but seems to be unable to control his mind like he can control others. Why is this? Well, in the next scene, Tony visits a woman in a derelict nursing-home with a similar story (alien abduction, virgin birth, this time shot with greens and oranges with a disturbing closeup on a rubber vagina) played by Sylvia Sidney (of Fury and You Only Live Once in the 30’s, and recognizably the Slim Whitman-loving grandma in Mars Attacks!) and finds out he is her son, therefore the half-alien kin of God.


Back to Tony’s personal life, Martha (who now looks like she has a cold) meets Casey for the first time, and the third line Casey ever speaks to the wife of her boyfriend is “why weren’t there any children?” Tacky, but there’s that efficiency again! Tony catches up with the cop-killer pimp and practices his God-powers by making the guy kills his friends then himself, then confronts Bernard-God, who has a vaginal Jesus-wound in his side (a born counterpart to Marilyn Chambers in Rabid) and strangles him (willowy, psychic Bernard-God doesn’t have much practice with physical activity).

What I learned about life in the 50’s from watching The Day The Earth Stood Still:

Women scream and fall down when confronted with danger

Day The Earth Stood Still

In an emergency, army men ignore women entirely and let them get away.

If a spaceship lands in Washington DC, it’s okay to leave it guarded by two men and some police tape

Scientists necessarily have frizzy hair.

When you ask a US general to summon representatives from every country, the only one they’ll contact is Russia, whom they know will say “no” anyway.

Saying “klaatu barata nikto” can help in a lot of situations, not just when retrieving the book of the dead.

Day The Earth Stood Still

Even aliens believe in God. Lady: “He has the power of life and death” Klaatu: “No, that power is reserved for the almighty spirit”.

Kids say “golly” an awful lot.

The cold war was pretty serious stuff.

Aliens are well-mannered white men.

Day The Earth Stood Still

“The decision rests with you”