Movie of the week: “Alien”

What with today being Halloween and all, this seems like a fitting time to get into Alien, a legitimate contender for Scariest Movie Ever Made. (The other contenders, in my book: The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and possibly one or more Cronenberg movies — although those are almost in a whole different category — Le Grande Mindfuque, something like that.)

Back in the late 90s, my girlfriend’s daughter — who was maybe 10 at the time — had seen Aliens (the second movie) and thought she was all big and bad and tough. So at her request we arranged a viewing of the original, and she barely made it past the opening credits before we had to turn it off. Alien is just that pure and perfect a horror movie: Even before anything happens, it is scary as hell.

Occupied in Oakland

As a longtime Oakland resident, I’ve come to accept the fact that when the Town is in the news, it’s rarely because something good happened. Right now we are getting national play because our police force got, um, a little heavy-handed with some “Occupy” protesters at City Hall. Here is America’s most trusted news source, Jon Stewart, describing what happened:

I can’t help but feel a little responsible, even though I was out of town when all this went down. This is not the first time I’ve found myself in the vicinity of violent law enforcement tactics: I was also living in Philadelphia in 1985 when Mayor Wilson Goode ordered the bombing of the headquarters of black nationalist group MOVE — a brilliant idea which, says The Wikipedia, “caused the house to catch fire, and ignited a massive blaze which eventually consumed almost 4 city blocks, killed 11 people, and left 240 people homeless.” To my knowledge, this remains the only time an American mayor has bombed the civilian population of his own city. (True Philadelphia fact: Goode was actually re-elected after this happened! God, how I love and do not miss that town.)

Anyway, back to the present: Last night I watched continuing coverage of the protests on the sacred box, and caught an image that seemed to symbolize the American mood of the moment: one group of protesters trying to tear down a fence while another tried to put it back up. It was like a giant snake where the tail had no idea what the head was doing. But the snake was pissed, you can be sure of that.

The Dividing Line

Patricia Neal and Walter Matthau in 'A Face in the Crowd.'

Maybe my favorite sequence in A Face in the Crowd is one I couldn’t find on The YouTube, and since I am not yet a smart enough monkey to capture my own video off a DVD, I’ll have to just tell you about it.

It begins about 26 minutes in, just as Lonesome Rhodes is making the leap from small-town radio in Arkansas to a TV show in Memphis. There’s a great shot of Lonesome (Andy Griffith) as his train pulls away from the station in Pickett, AK where hundreds of fans are seeing him off. He waves goodbye with his hat, looking back at the admiring throng, but then turns to face forward, into the camera. In that moment he gives a look that has something really profound in it. It’s hard to say what exactly. It’s more than just hope, or expectation, or confidence; it’s a look that says this guy is going to fucking eat the world. He is America circa 1957: a hungry predator, an unstoppable force. That was a long time ago.