Monday, April 6, 2009

Alien Trespass

So I managed to talk Jenny into seeing Alien Trespass with me on opening weekend. This after getting her to sit through Invasion of the Humanoids a few days before. Needless to say, after that first swim through the depths of schlock cinema Alien Trespass was a hard sell.

Should you see it? That's a tough question to answer.

Alien Trespass attempts to recreate the look and feel of a 1950s grade-z monster flick. You know: rubber suits with zippers on the back, lame matte paintings, and cheap desert locations. Back then it seemed that all the aliens were landing in desert communities just a few miles away from Hollywood.

While a pretty funny movie, Alien Trespass doesn't play for laughs. Each goofy line is delivered with earnest pluck. Despite knowing asides to commies and Edsels (they'll be around forever, don't you know?), the movie aims for a time-capsule vibe, as if this piece of 1957 flotsam just drifted ashore. In color.

For some reason, I flashed back to Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho. There, you find dedicated filmmakers, costumers, cinematographers, all trying to recreate that certain frisson. Color is judged a must for contemporary audiences. Otherwise the project is all about authenticity.

No surprise then that the tiny audience (maybe a dozen, mostly our age or older) laughed just as heartily at the meta-jokes as they did at the lines. Oh goodness, look at the cheesy rear projection! Wow, that shot is out of focus! Didja see that? The car stopped down the road as if caught in freeze frame, but the grass is still swaying in the breeze.

Movies like Alien Trespass and The Devil's Rejects and Grindhouse - and one presumes Robert Rodriguez's hoped-for Machete - play off that media knowledge, the ways some movies only comment on other movies. As you'd imagine, the audience for that kind of experience is pretty slim. [Follow-up: Here's my review of Machete (the movie).]

I enjoyed Alien Trespass they way I'd enjoy an evocative essay about exploitation cinema, as a kind of cultural homework, the way I enjoy photographing tropical deco architecture in South Beach. In that mindset, I'm not looking at the "text"; I'm studying the context. If you dig that process, see Alien Trespass. Otherwise, I can't promise much.

A few years ago, Jenny and I drove to Bisbee, Arizona. We stayed overnight at The Shady Dell, where you can eat in a 50s diner and sleep in an airstream trailer. We paid a premium and rented a real swell lodge for the night, watching It Came From Outer Space on a black and white TV that evening. It was a blast, sort of. But so much of the pleasure was of the "look at us, we're paying to watch black and white TV" sort. We purchased a passport to the past, but we could never quite forget where we were.

Maybe the problem is similar to both attempts: We can't close our eyes tightly enough to ignore the world we seek to depart.

I'd sure love to learn how.

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