Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A film event! PHASE IV and Al's belated birthday bash

Saul Bass was a graphic designer and short filmmaker who is best remembered now for his remarkable title sequences for many of Hitchcock's films. In 1974, he made one feature film, a hard SF movie called Phase IV, involving scientists battling super-smart (but regular-sized) ants. Thematically it seems to me more about paradigm shifts, but I don't want to spoil too much by talkin' about it now; it's long been a favourite SF film of mine, though it was also made an object of ridicule by the MST3K people. I'll be hosting a free private screening of the event on Friday, April 24th at the Vancity Theatre at Seymour and Davie - ostensibly a "birthday celebration," happening a tad late, since I couldn't get it on to organize the event for March 7th (my actual birthday). It's by invite only, but feel free to contact me through my blog and I'll invite you, no sweat. It starts at 10:00 PM, after The Godfather III lets out; I'd advise getting there a few minutes early, since there will be a surprise musical guest, and I'll have some opening remarks. The event should finish by 12:30, after which we can convene elsewhere for a beverage or such.
If you feel ambitious, here are some links that will enhance your appreciation of Phase IV and get your cinematic salivary ducts workin':
1. A must-read short story by Carl Stephenson called "Leiningen Versus the Ants." Though once a staple of elementary school curricula, this tale is deeply politically problematic, and it fascinates me to discover that it was written in Germany in 1938; ostensibly an adventure story about a plantation owner in Brazil battling army ants, it's all-too-easy to see it as a tale of colonials versus "the black hordes" coming out of the jungle to challenge his rule. It was adapted for the screen in 1954 as The Naked Jungle, a film which serves to "correct" its problematic political implications somewhat by subordinating bullying Lieningen (played by Charlton Heston) to his male-order bride, who is shocked to discover that he is sexually insecure and terrified of her greater "experience." Phase IV, too, serves as a corrective to "Lieningen Verus the Ants," and makes a clear reference to the story at one point.
2. Some really cool screen captures from the DVD (thanks, Goof Button!). These make bitchin' desktops!
3. A trailer for the film on Youtube. It's one of those trailers that sort of tells you the whole story of the movie in brief, so I don't necessarily recommend seeing it before the film, but it contains a few images from the psychedelic denoument of Phase IV - I think of it as the "long live the new flesh" phase - which was apparently cut by the studio; these make it essential viewing. Alas, there is no other way to see these images, to my knowledge - no "fully restored" version of the film is available.
4. Also on Youtube, "Filming the Invisible," an excellent two-part documentary (one, two) on the late Ken Middleham, who photographed the ants in Phase IV; he also was one of the key photographers for the apocalyptic insect porn pseudodocumentary The Hellstrom Chronicle (viewable in completion on Youtube!) and for Bug. There's also a little thing on the music for Phase IV, composed by Brian Gascoigne.
5. Techgnosis author Erik Davis' excellent essay on the film, which perhaps is best saved for afterwards, if you don't actually know the story.
The film will be projected off the (widescreen, excellent-looking) DVD release of Phase IV. More on that here! (A DVD Savant review). See you April 24th!

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