Alexandre O. Philippe specializes in documentaries about notable movies, including 78/52, a brilliant exploration of Alfred Hitchcock’s shower scene from PsychoMemory is somewhat different; it isn’t a “making-of” film, as that has been done before. This is more an examination of the artwork and mythology that inspired writer Dan O’Bannon and an analysis of what makes the finished work so resonant after forty years.

O’Bannon’s widow Diane has never opened her archive before, and it yields many riches. Most Alien fans know about H.R. Giger’s provocative artwork and how it affected director Ridley Scott, himself a talented artist. Fewer fans may be familiar with the astonishing work of Francis Bacon, whose paintings helped the filmmakers design the monster that pops out of John Hurt’s body in the unforgettable “chest-buster” scene.

Appropriately, Philippe devotes a lot of time to the preparation and execution of that moment, incorporating interviews (both new and archival) with some of the actors as well as eye-opening behind-the-scenes footage.

But the real punch comes in contemporary analysis of Alien. I never thought about the film reflecting societal issues of the late 1970s; after all, Star Wars came out a year earlier and offered total escape to a huge and responsive audience. Looking back, however, it makes perfect sense that Alien can now be seen as a reflection of its time period. What’s more, commentators like Clarke Wolfe offer challenging and persuasive theories about its significance in gender politics.

Memory opens with an elaborate but jarring sequence of The Furies flying about the Greek temple of Apollo, and then lingers over grotesque illustrations that laid groundwork for the look of the movie, but once it focuses on the film itself it is thoroughly compelling. This much I can promise: after seeing this documentary you’ll never look at Alien the same way again.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024