EXCESS HOLLYWOOD: THE SILENCE OF THE AUDIENCE

Does anyone out there remember the 1954 film “Killers From Space”? It was one of those horrible RKO productions (directed, incidentally, by Billy Wilder’s brother, W. Lee) about aliens with Ping-Pong ball eyes coming to Earth and scaring a nuclear scientist (Peter Graves) with the usual stock footage of lizards and bugs. It was a bad film, and it wasn’t very much fun, but I wish I knew the audience’s reaction to it at the time. Were people freaked out? Was it too “real”? Did pundits condemn it for politically motivated reason? Or did it just sort of slip under the radar and only appeal to soon-to-be-constantly-horny twelve-year-old boys? What did the people who saw it talk about after watching it? I don’t know. I wasn’t there; I saw it years ago on video. I don’t think, however, there was any kind of uproar surrounding it like there was with The Passion of the Christ.

A friend of mine recently pointed out that people don’t tend to talk about movies anymore. It used to be that you saw a film and then talked about it with your friends for hours afterwards, even if it was crap like “Killers From Space.” I still talk about films, as does he, but it seems that most people, including a lot of movie fans, don’t. They don’t go into the meaning of the film they just viewed. They don’t debate the merits of its conclusion. They don’t seem to care. It makes me wonder if film has become a little less special.

It seems that these days if I want to hear a spirited debate about film, I have to tune into conservative talk radio. And while I don’t agree with almost anything these talk show hosts and their callers say, I can at least appreciate the fact that they seem to understand and respect the power of film enough to discuss it in a very heated way. Like I said, I don’t agree with them, but I love the fact that they are debating Million Dollar Baby in a public forum.

When I try to discuss the emotional impact of something like Irreversible and the death threats that went along with it, I get blank looks from people. Talk about the funny lines in Dodgeball, however, and people start quoting entire scenes. It’s kind of sad when you think about it. “Dodgeball” has become a more “important” and “relevant” film than something with actual substance, and therefore is easier to talk about.

I’m sure “Killers From Space” was like a less successful “Dodgeball” of its time. But I’m also sure people still talked about its deeper (and probably totally unintentional) meanings. They may have discussed their fears about nuclear energy or even alien invasions. I don’t doubt this because I remember discussing these the issues in various films well into the Eighties. As that decade neared an end, though, the discussions were harder to come by. The general public seemed to have lost interest in the artistic merits of film, and the only aspects worth discussing were the special effects.

The topics of conversation may have changed (if there is any conversation at all), and the people may have lost most of their ability to dissect film, but the movies live on. For those of us who enjoy discussing and debating them, there’s the standard fanboys and girls on the web, our close circle of like-minded friends and little else. Gone are the days of discussing “Taxi Driver” with a stranger on the bus. Instead there is trite talk on Hitch and the hopes for a sequel.

I’ll take “Killers From Space” any day.

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Posted on July 28, 2005 in Features by
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