Alexandre O. Philippe specializes in documentaries about notable movies, including 78/52, a brilliant exploration of Alfred Hitchcock’s shower scene from Psycho. Memory 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.