Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pod Power: The INVASION

Left: The Senate Theater, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, circa 1980s.

Right: The Senate's electric eye. The doors magically opened automatically, an appropriate touch to the wonderful old theater which screened the sci-fi and other genre films of Universal International and RKO.

When the theater was razed it was reported to me that the mayor of Harrisburg, to his eternal shame, took an ax to the doors of this beautiful deco entrance. Through no fault of its own the Senate was reduced to showing porn - on Market Square! gasp! - during its final days. (But that's NO EXCUSE!!!!!)

A genric Hilton Hotel now stands where this beautiful vintage theater once entertained countless Harrisburg moviegoers of all ages. By a happy coincidence Open Stage of Harrisburg, one of the area's most progressive theater companies, is now situated in the small street which ran just behind the Senate's CinemaScope screen. (And where I always enjoyed the posters and billboards for coming attractions when downtown was still the place to be on a Saturday afternoon)

This is where I first saw THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD.

Photos: by/COPYRIGHT by Ross Care, 2007.

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THE INVASION

My fascination with fantasy/genre films probably began when I was terrified by THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD at the tender, impressionable age of 10.

Fantastic as it may seem today, I was so affected by THE THING (and as much by what was UNseen in this film, as by what WAS) that I was afraid to go down into the Senate's basement lounge to get to the pay phone to call my dad to come get me.

And so I felt a combination of obligation and interest, perhaps more curiosity than actual interest, to take in the current remake of one of my favorite adult sci fi films, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.

About THE INVASION (as it’s now called) the LA Weekly wryly commented: “Not that using actual pod people as actors is the only innovation German director Oliver Hirschbiegel (he of the egregiously overrated Hitler biopic DOWNFALL) and debuting screenwriter David Kajganich bring to the table.”

And: “The whole point is that these people are supposed to have a difficult time camouflaging their emotions…..”

At any rate on Monday I managed to drag myself to a 5.25 screening at the Century Ventura 16, a cavernous and intimidatingly vast movie factory where simply finding the correct theater down one of the endless Haunted Mansion-esque halls is your first major challenge.

Even though I was a bit late I was still forced to endure the obligatory assault of trailers, during which all the films previewed seemed to have been inspired either by the finale of THE WILD BUNCH or a reworking of the Charles Bronson DEATH WISH/“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” revenge genre.

As for the INVASION, well, I hardly know what to say…. After the previews I felt that the film’s overriding irony that only by BECOMING pod people can the human race seem to achieve any kind of peaceful, none-violent coexistence on this planet made real sense.

In another telling comment on our time there was no compelling romantic interest at all, just a kind of low-key-to-the-point-of-ho-hum affair between Nicole Kidman and the maturely hunky new James Bond, Daniel Craig. However, the major bond here is a kind of obsessive NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER spin on the relationship between single/estranged mother Kidman and her virus-resistant son.

(Has Nicole become, is she now camp? See Gus Van Sant’s TO DIE FOR. But that’s a whole other article).

THE INVASION is certainly not without interest and it is extremely NOW with its (yes, obvious) allusions to AIDS, the environment, and the current global political madness. Actually after watching it I mused that this is a film absolutely overripe for the kind of probing review Charles Leayman, my associate at the late lamented Lancaster Independent Press, used to do so well in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

I can only hope that somehow Chuck may bestir himself from his pastoral torpor and rise to the occasion once again, somehow and somewhere. THE INVASION was made for your special perspective on (and intelligent skewering of) contemporary films, Chuck….

In the original 1956 film, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, when Dana Wynter says to Kevin McCarthy (who has just romantically quoted Shakespeare to her) “that way lies madness…..” you felt, you knew that these were two human beings whose human qualities (for better or worse) and lives were infinitely worth saving from the pod invasion. And that the madness to which this attractive, civilized couple were referring was the good human madness, with all its bittersweet emotions and complex foibles.

In THE INVASION most of the characters seem simply mad (and annoying) and so in many ways the podization of the human race does seem sort of preferable to the sound and fury which contemporary life seems to have become.

I don’t have to go on at length about THE INVASION to suggest what that tells us about the way we live now and what we have become without any help from an alien virus.

BTW if you see THE INVASION be sure not to leave during the credits because there’s a trippy visual sequence backed up by John Ottman’s fine orchestral/electronic score that finally provides one of the best and most compelling sequences in the film.

And lest we think civilization (and romance) as we once knew it is dead, Rufus Wainwright is doing a Judy Garland evening at the Hollywood Bowl on September 23!

Note: See below for a photo of the orginal INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS stars.

Ross Care

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