Whilst I’ve been away from the studio, I’ve not been completely idle in my work or thinking, looking at a potential new piece inspired by Cowboys & Aliens (2011) which really fired up my imagination. I was thinking in anthropological terms how people – both white and Native American would cope under an alien invasion – moving forward seeing it as an occupation of the aliens, who had originally come to colonised by the “Dar” people. With the help of another alien – a friendly one taking a female form “Kai Chak Ra” who makes herself know to Zeke and Verity who before the attack had been leading a wagon train to their new home.
My initial thoughts were to make an animation of how both White settlers and Native American’s would’ve already come together, putting their differences aside and forming a resistance against the invaders of not just their home, but their planet. I’ve also been thinking about how it could be a cross-sectional model miniature, allowing you to look cowboys and Indian figures living in a gold mine that has been re-purposed as an underground base. I’m still unclear as to any real direction but feel there’s something to explore.
I also noticed a lot of differences in the film adaptation of the comic book. We don’t begin with a wagon train almost at the end of their journey, instead we have a confused Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) the comic’s heroes are Zeke and Verity who work together using their unique skills to save the day. We feel more danger in the original comic book, as much as we see danger, explosion and people being abducted, there feels more at threat in print. Maybe it’s what you can get away with in a different medium. The relationship between the Cowboys and Native Americans is resolved much earlier in print. We don’t meet them in the film until halfway through, and with the help of a friendly Native. The Apache who’re depicted know the alien invasion is beyond what the Whites could accomplish, they aren’t stupid, 2 dimensional people, instead given minds that can see what has to be done and work together far earlier. The earlier alliance allows for more action early on, it’s all about survival. Whilst in the film its takes a lot longer, getting others onside, before the final showdown that brings both sides into a harsh rocky landscape. There’s no abductions in print, all the victims are presumably killed.
There have been a few times were the two genres have collided – more recently with Westworld which was successfully adapted and expanded for TV. Both a very rich genres to explore, especially when they work together. I’m still unsure where to take the possible idea of an occupation. Should it be an animation – a series of shorts that build up a to a successful alien retreat. America is very much divided at the moment under Trump – who is not the worlds biggest fan, In his own country, you either love him or loathe him. You could see his time in office as an occupation or an invasion, which I could bring adapt for a possible piece, which would be very exciting and very decisive. However using Cowboys it wouldn’t work in terms of the gun-control which they would be all for. I think this idea needs more time to develop so it’s not so blatant.
Now those who are regular readers of my reviews know I’m not big on horror, however the more I heard about Get Out (2017) I knew it was probably something I should check out. Being more than the regular run of the mill horror film, with the formulaic jumps and build-ups to the next time you jump out of your seat. Here there’s something more subversive going on which is bringing an audience who may have stayed away. There’s also the non-controversey by raised by Samuel L. Jackson who said that Daniel Kaluuya being an English actor should not have been chosen for the lead as he would not understand the struggle of other brothers in America. Forgetting that unfortunately that racism is universal. There’s also the argument that as we have seen with other Black leading actors, British actors are classically trained so maybe more qualified for the roles they are getting. Ultimately they are acting, if they convey the emotions and ideas of the character that develops the narrative then it doesn’t matter as long as they have been cast right for the role. So Mr Jackson, on this one – pipe down and look at the bigger picture, the lack of fair and more honest representation of African-Americans, whoever plays them, American or British, or even South African, as long as they can relate to the role and give at least a competent performance, then and only then are you improving the image of black life in the world.
Staying with the racism theme which underlies what the film is about, added the increased tensions in America with the Trump administration Get Out is a very pertinent film. With Obama now part of modern history we are seeing a darker side we had hoped was no longer present come to the fore. The underbelly of racism has been given a voice to speak up during last years election, Trump feeding on the hate and resentment that has been created in the last few decades due to globalisation, increasing equality (which still has a way to go) tensions are high to uneasy.
These tensions are felt by Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) whose about to meet his girlfriends parents. To be fair who wouldn’t be. Wanting to make a good impression on them, hoping they will accept you as a part of your partners life. Add to that he’s black, which will make him the elephant in the room of White family in suburbia, so what he is feeling is normal with the addition of his heritage. Here’s hoping it goes well, even with reassurances from girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), her parents loved Obama, they would have voted for him a third time, maybe laying it on a little too thick, its enough to calm him for the ride over Rose’s home.
The ride over isn’t as straight forward as you’d think it would be, the audience is not allowed to be too relaxed when it comes to this film. A deer running out in the road invites a racist cop who asks Chris for ID even though he wasn’t driving, reflecting the black prejudice towards Black people. It’s like we’ve entered a world of heightened prejudice, oh wait this is America through a very sharp lens. Then the fun begins when the couple arrive at the family home, it all looks a little too good to be true, a Black grounds keeper who is anything but normal, you could say his personality has been sucked out of him. I was reminded early on of The Stepford Wives (1975), as wives return home, after a brief period away, the same yet so very different. We only get glimpses of the groundskeeper and house-maid (Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel) who as we see show no signs of even being – human, they appear to be more white in attitude and personality.
Onto meeting the family, which goes smoothly enough, if only a little too smoothly, we can see it like a sales pitch which is being repeated and delivering the product a little to well, there must be some cracks to this family façade. It’s on the first night when Chris is restless he falls foul to hypnotherapy by the mother Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener) who we already know has a great cure for quitting smoking. Leading him into a session of hypnotherapy that is only the beginning of how creep things are going to get.
It’s only with the annual family gathering do things start to get really questionable, all white guests who bend over backwards to be polite to Chris whose really uncomfortable by all the guests. Making overly nice comments about Black people, it’s either desperate or plain creepy. When his phone camera goes off when he talks to the only other black guest Andrew Logan King (Lakeith Stanfield) who snaps out of his ultra-friendly personality to reveal a more human and terrified side to him. The cracks are starting to show in this façade of a gathering. There’s something sinister involving brain-washing going on at least. Or as comic relief suggest, Rod Williams (LilRel Howery)
“…Their probably abducting black people, brain washing them and making them slaves. Or sex slaves. not just regular slaves, but sex slaves and sh_t. See? I don’t know if it’s the hypnosis that’s making em slaves or wot not, but all I know is they already got two brothas we know and there could be a whole bunch of brothas they got already…”
The final act reveals what’s really going on, a white cult who lure in Black people to harvest them for superior body parts, leaving them practically lobotomized, without personality, unless your camera flash goes off the suppressions diffused to reveal the true horrors. You could say they are White supremacists who acknowledge that Black people maybe superior but will not allow this to get out, ensure social control, white at the top, blacks in their place. Is this the future for Trumps America or a prediction of what it is to come. Are we over-reacting to what is going on? Only African-Americans and the makers of the film truly know what is going on for them. I can be presented with all the racially motivated police shootings, demonstrations that the news presents me. Get Out is a suburban take on how to present this real anxiety that has not gone away. With a nice dose of humour to lighten the mood or we would come out of the film shaken by the images. Instead I came away relieved to the resolution, justice is served yet leaves you thinking could this really be going on, can people operate like this. I know I won’t be going to the Armitage’s.
I’ve been looking out for another John Carpenter film since The Thing (1982) and Starman (1984), coming across an article that sees They Live (1988) which is now seen as a precursor to our times. Now I have finally seen this short yet rather feisty sci-fi horror. This could easily be seen as a film released by Hilary Clinton as propaganda to keep Donald Trump out of the White House. At the moment over in the States literally anything can happen as we all fear for the worst. I could go on about how I feel about the election, but this is not a political forum or social media. John Carpenter instead has accidentally predicted a future where aliens have taken over and none of us even realise, carrying on with our lives none the wiser to this subtlest of invasions, or should I say occupations.
On the surface I saw this as a cross between a Paul Verhoeven and a classic B-movie, commenting of the economy that had all but collapsed, only working for the rich and successful – sound familiar? We find Nada (Roddy Piper) who is out of a job, homeless, and ready to get started again in life. Finding a job is harder than it looks, you could become disillusioned with a society that doesn’t help you, needing to support yourself. He soon finds construction work and shelter in a makeshift camp – much like the one that’s being demolished in Calais. However its the scenes before that get my attention of a TV transmission that fights to get through, interrupting viewing, there’s a broken message that get s the audience’s attention and Nada’s who is just happy to have found somewhere to sleep. A conspiracy of some sort is going on, it could just be another theory as they usually are.
However that view is soon questioned when Nada finds a pair of sunglasses that change his view of the world. One where the illusion of commerce and advertising’s exposed. Societies true intentions, the desire to control en-mass is revealed to him. All through a pair of glasses. Seeing these aliens is shocking to him and the audience, who are these creatures with skull like features exposed, what are they doing living among us? They soon realise that he can see them, his reaction is instinctive, reacting out of fear of the unknown threat. They too are threatened by this revelation, still it’s not new to them.
Visually this sequence reminds of me of how far cinema has come, and how much its language relies on its past in order to convey the ideas in the film. Nada’s discoveries treated in classical terms, first used in The Wizard of Oz (1939) and A Matter of Life and Death (1946) that uses black and white and colour to determine the reality we are in at anyone time. Here Nada’s reality is in colour until he sees the truth in black and white. Much like Oz as Dorothy steps out of her mundane life to that of Oz. For Peter Carter (David Niven) he jumps literally between life and death. We don’t have bright heavenly colours we’re used to, instead life is in colour, whilst heaven, the afterlife in far darker, in black and white. This was a creative choice to throw the audience off at the time, the magic of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger who were playing with the medium. Carpenter 44 years later uses the same language to differentiate between the projected reality and the dreariness of the hidden one that’s exposed through a simple device – a pair of sunglasses that are used to protect our eyes from the Sun. Here they’re used to remove that protection from beings that have come further than the sun.
What follows is a need to wake up the world, that’s after one of the longest on-screen fist-fights, and over the most trivial matter, wearing a pair of shades. It seems to go on forever between these two men, a black and a white man fighting over the who should listen to who. Maybe that’s too literal a reading, these two men Nada and Frank (Keith David) who eventually realises that the truth is hidden from him.
The final third of the film sees a rise to arms, joining a militia, is that what we are seeing with Trump supporters as they fight the political establishment that they feel has done nothing for them? It’s a two-man fight that leads them sooner than they thought to the truth of what is going on, using our greed for money to blind those who are successful to turn a blind eye whilst the aliens who have taken over the planet, using like food, sucking it dry of nutrients before moving on. The most effective infiltration mission on earth that goes on for years and probably seeing the after effects long after the film is over. We leave Earth as they wake up to the unwanted gusts who they thought were just human. An infestation I’ve not seen son effectively carried out since Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), this is not about the fear of communism, but the fear of governments and capitalism’s control over us all. How far is this film now from our reality, that’s the question that I come away with from this film. Nearly 30 years later it’s become even more prophetic to our times, much like Network (1976) that was a fight for ratings and media controlling our reality, how we think, its scary how much we have seen come to pass in recent years.