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Weekend Reel Reads: The Origins of Aliens, Drivers and One Scary Shark

Weekend Reel Reads: The Origins of Aliens, Drivers and One Scary Shark

Weekend Reel Reads is a regular feature that gathers lengthier stories related to the world of film criticism you may have missed during the week. If there’s anything you think would be ideal for future installments, please let us know at critic@indiewire.com.

Jaws: The Oral History:

This feature from Empire Magazine is less of an oral history of the Spielberg classic and more of braid of interviews featuring three of the notable behind-the-scenes talent of the film: producer David Brown, co-writer Carl Gottlieb, and author of the source material Peter Benchley. The most intriguing element of the piece is that none of the three men can agree who wrote Quint’s famed USS Indianapolis speech.

“Carl Gottlieb: Roy Scheider committed first. But ten days before we started the movie, we didn’t have the other two protagonists. Steven and I were of the mind that the guy who was going to be the scientists must at least have the appearance of an intellectual. We both knew Richard Dreyfuss’ work, Ricky was a friend of mine and he had turned down the part already. He said, ‘This is a movie I’d rather see than be in’. Still, I got him to Boston, where we were filming. I said, ‘You’ve got to come and talk to Steve. I’ll be there, we’ll all be pals and it’ll be great’. He walked in the door wearing the hat and glasses he wore in the film, and with a beard; we took one look at him and said, ‘Don’t change a thing’. Then we talked him into doing the movie.”

My obsession with Andy Milligan’s cult horror movies:

In light of the release of the Andy Milligan film “Nightbird” on DVD, acclaimed director Nicolas Winding Refn offers up his personal history with Milligan’s work. For anyone who’s a Winding Refn fan, this is an interesting peek into his past that also serves as a crash course in Milligan’s filmography. The process that Winding Refn had to go through in order to shepherd this film to daylight is fascinating, even by itself.

“Few filmmakers can boast of having a recognisable style, but when you see a Milligan movie, you are in no doubt whose film it is. He was sort of a Douglas Sirk figure – there’s so much subtext in his movies. And the more you get into them, the more you realise that they were made by someone who was very tormented, and very intelligent; a sensitive man who used film as an artform to express his views on life. I see a lot of similarities between him and Fassbinder. Both were angry and troubled characters, both were gay, of course, and both worked in theatre as well as film.”

A Closer Look at Prometheus’ Sci-Fi Roots & The Prometheus Effect: Examining the Film’s Literary Ancestry:

Now that the discussion of the film’s relative merits has reached a kind of critical mass, the search for the origins of the narrative that searches for the origins of life has created a vortex of well-informed cultural genealogy studies. Den of Geek’s Ryan Lambie and LitReactor’s Jon Korn have each crafted a helpful guide to where some of the lofty ideas and design elements of Ridley Scott’s movie may have come from. For those literarily inclined, Korn’s list closely examines the ties to H.P. Lovecraft and Arthur C. Clarke. Lambie’s collection casts a wider net, delving into the films and television shows that (sorry) share the same DNA.

“Many readers will surely be aware of the classic Quatermass And The Pit, one of several classic science fiction thrillers written by UK screenwriter Nigel Kneale. Appearing first as a TV serial in the late 1950s, before appearing on the big screen as a Hammer movie, Quatermass And The Pit saw a group of scientists (among them the titular Professor Bernard Quatermass) discover an ancient vessel buried deep beneath London. This vessel, it’s revealed, belonged to a race of long-dead Martians whose experiments resulted in the human race. Prometheus’ spooky atmosphere of scientific curiosity can be traced right back to Quatermass And The Pit, we’d argue, and the somewhat puzzling references to ‘Martians’ in Prometheus’ script could be read as a vague reference to Kneale’s classic tale of god-like extraterrestrials.”

“This is a classically Lovecraftian setting: an unknowable, dread-filled pit of deep horror. Even the bas-relief is a direct nod to a similar, smaller piece in The Call of Cthulhu, which is decorated with an image Lovecraft describes as ‘…a monster, of a form which only a diseased fancy could conceive.’ Just in case we miss the influence, once the explorers upset the stasis of the place these vessels start overflowing with black goop that transforms into deadly, squid-like creatures. H.P. in the house!”

The shameful legacy of the Olympic Games:

With the 2012 Olympics in London swiftly approaching, the history of the event’s past incarnations will be no doubt discussed and remembered many times in the coming weeks. The 1936 Olympics in Berlin represent a piece of Olympic history, but a tarnished one nonetheless. One of the ways in which those few weeks under the Nazi regime will be long represented is through Olympia, the documentary crafted by Leni Riefenstahl. Alex von Tunzelmann’s brief history of the film in The Guardian examines Riefenstahl’s other work  and gives a specific examination of the moments of “Olympia” that will persist in both sports and cinema history, for better or worse.

“Riefenstahl claimed that Goebbels did not want her to show black athletes in the final film but, in the context of Hitler’s remarks, it is hard to argue that there was anything subversive about the way she depicted them. The only shot that might have raised Nazi eyebrows is when Owens wins the long jump. For a moment, he makes direct eye contact with the camera, and smiles a bashful, slightly goofy smile. In a film that permits its subjects little by way of individualism, this looks almost like an acknowledgement that he is a human being.”

Prometheus: Loving the Alien

If you’ve seen Prometheus already, you may remember that one of the first names in the closing credits is that of HR Giger, the artist responsible for many of the designs of the original “Alien.” Sukhdev Sandu’s piece in The Telegraph examines what informed Giger’s work and how the xenomorph he helped fashion shares inspiration with his other work.

“Equally, it’s possible to see Giger as a thoroughly modern artist whose paintings and sculptures were indirect responses to nightmares both real (Hiroshima) and apparently imminent (the Cold War). His fleshscapes that teem with embryos, foetuses, insectoid creatures and mutant beings aren’t just examples of his passion for fantastic and grotesque art, they are also a jaundiced reading of Western society’s apparently mistaken belief that ‘man is the centre of the universe.'”

Who Loves You and Who Do You Love? Richard Dawson, Fantastic ’80s Movie Villain

After the passing of legendary media personality Richard Dawson earlier last week, Will Leitch penned a personal tribute to the 1987 film “The Running Man,” singling out Dawson’s performance as the main point of appeal. Part of the ongoing Grierson & Leitch series at Deadspin, Leitch’s remembrance of Dawson’s Damon Killian character highlights the game show host’s ahead-of-his-time instincts, the knowing way that the man’s persona bridged the large and small screens.

“For all the talk of the movie supposedly being ahead of its time, Dawson’s performance is the only thing that feels modern anymore; you can imagine him as an evil, conniving media-monster villain just as well today as 25 years ago. He’s basically Simon Cowell crossed with Bob Barker with some Howard Stern thrown in there for good measure: That’s all to say, he’s basically Richard Dawson, who had the ‘I know all this shit’s ridiculous so let’s just have fun’ wink decades before it became the default cultural setting. It’s perfect for The Running Man, which wants Dawson to be the loathsome bad guy … but is fully aware that he’s the most charismatic actor in the film. (Casting the glib, smooth-talking Dawson opposite a still-struggling-with-the-language Schwarzenegger is a joke that’s so effective it’s almost mean.) You never cheer for Dawson’s Killian—Dawson is charming and funny but neverlikable; he’s far too much of an opportunistic huckster for that—but you do keep waiting for him to get back on screen.”

Don’t Like the Movie? Let’s Talk About It

Whether you watched it on the SciFi channel (before its SyFy days) or are only now catching up with its many episodes on Netflix Instant or have never seen a moment of it, you’re likely familiar with the format of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The black outline of a movie screen with three hecklers of assorted species silhouetted in the bottom lefthand corner has become a shorthand for “bad” movies and those who choose to poke fun at them. In a New York Times profile, Paul Brownfield speaks to Joel Hodgson, the creator of the show and of the more recent “Cinematic Titanic” tour, which brings the experience to a live setting.

“If ‘Mystery Science Theater’ was part insult comedy aimed at movies, there was also something congenial in the show’s tone. (Perhaps it was the puppet robots, or that it was all being produced in Minneapolis.) Six writers had to deliver a 90-minute episode every week, Mr. Hodgson said, with 600 to 800 riffs per movie, ‘when all the pistons were firing.’ In devising the lines, no reference (Bella Abzug, Roy Lichtenstein) was too outré or rejected initially, Mr. Hodgson said. As he tried to convey to the students at Bucks, it’s best to brainstorm nonjudgmentally first and figure out what’s funny later.”

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