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Friday, June 13, 2014

Then and Now: Film Retrospective



Then and Now: 

Movie Blogfest

The greatest films stand the test of time, speaking to us in different ways at various life stages.  Is there a movie that was a part of your life when you were younger that you see differently now?  Like fine wine, has it improved with age or did it die in the bottle?  Has maturity brought you new insights you missed in your youth?  We want to know all about it!

Join us for "Then and Now," a bloghop hosted by The Armchair Squid, SuzeNicki Elson and Nancy Mock.  Tell us about a movie you loved when you were younger but have come to see differently over time - for better or for worse.    Please visit the Squid's blog for the participant list.

Worse Than I Thought

English: Film poster Plan 9 from Outer Space
 Film poster Plan 9 from Outer Space (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
        My favorite film genre in my earliest years was science fiction.  I especially loved the creatures mutated by atomic energy and other toxins.  When I first saw Plan 9 From Outer Space I was blown away.   This was such a cool story with great characters.  In my memory this became a sci-fi gold standard for me.  After seeing this film in about 1960 it was decades before I was able to find it on video and relive the cinematic experience of this memorable film.

         By this time I had read many accounts of how this film was "the worst film ever made".   How could this film that had impacted me so greatly be held in such contempt?   I had to find out for myself.  I rented the video and made the sad discovery.  The film was really really bad.

         Fortunately some good came of this low point in film history.  It inspired the great Tim Burton film Ed Wood.  If you have not seen this film yet by all means you should--it is excellent.   I don't advise Plan 9 From Outer Space unless you are really out for some punishment.

A Film That Has Held Up Well

         
           When I was growing up in the 1950's and early 60's, the threat of nuclear annihilation continually hung over us.   I had a perverse fascination with this concept so I naturally enjoyed seeing the films that came out about this subject.  There were quite a few of them.   My favorite and the one that stuck with me the most was Stanley Kramer's 1959 film On the Beach.

          I first saw this film at the drive-in theater with my parents when I was about nine years old.  It was scary in a really-could-happen sort of way that monster movies never delivered.  When it eventually was available on video I was able to see this film again and it didn't disappoint.  I've now seen it a few times since and have the DVD in my collection.  The other night I carefully watched the film again.  To me this is such a great film.  

           On the Beach is a post-apocalyptic film which depicts the last survivors of a global nuclear conflagration hanging on in Australia.  Everyone knows the end will soon reach them in the form of the creeping radiation in the atmosphere.  The remaining population hangs on as they endure shortages of gasoline and food.   After an American nuclear submarine arrives on the scene, a decision is made to send the crew to search for other areas that are theorized to be still habitable and to investigate mysterious signals that are being broadcast from somewhere on the Southern California coast.

          These days I'm not sure this film would hold the interest of many kids like it did me so many years ago.  For that matter I don't think a lot of adults would tolerate it.  For one thing the film is in appropriately somber black and white.  The pacing is slow with a lot of dialog.  There are minimal special effects.  No gore even though we know there must be plenty of bodies somewhere in the California cities the sub crew checks out.  There's no bad language--nothing lost by that.   And no sex even though the intimations are made that sex is on some of their minds.   It's a film that would probably get a PG rating due to the mature theme.

         It's too bad that more films of this quality aren't still made.  The message of the film impacted me as a kid and the film held my interest.   Now when I see it, I'm still impacted and enthralled by this film.  On the Beach is in my estimation a truly great film.

          Have you seen the original 1959 version of On the Beach?   What do you think of the slow paced black and white films of the 1940's and 50's?    What films can you think of that are worse than Plan 9 from Outer Space?

 
     

        Join me this coming Sunday June 15 for another Battle of the Bands.  No classical music this week.  Just two good versions of one great song.   


36 comments:

  1. On the Beach sounds really interesting! I'd never heard of that one. Your story about Plan 9 reminded me of my ex-husband dragging me to see Battlefield Earth in the 90s. It was horrible. I didn't think at the time, "This is going to go down in history as one of the worst films ever made." I just knew I was bored out of my mind. He said when we left the theater that it was great but later, when everyone was making fun of it, he denied ever saying that!

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  2. I can think of lots of films worse than Plan 9. Take Biodome for instance. Please. Take it. Throw it away. And almost anything by Mel Brooks. His bathroom humour is stupid and sophomoric. Same with the Austin Powers and Scary Movie franchises. And Avatar. SNORE. My guy has to watch it every time it's on TV and OMG it is so boring. I bought him the DVD to take in the truck with him in the hopes it would get me a reprieve from having to sit through it at home too but no such luck.

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  3. The only way anyone can get through Plan Nine is to watch the MST3K/Riff Trax version. Truly an awful film.
    I don't believe I've ever watched On the Beach though.

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  4. PS I do, however, want to thank you for putting my fave Damned song in my head, 'Plan 9, Channel 7'. LOVE that song!!!!

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  5. Are you kidding?!?!?!

    'PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE' is one of my all-time favorite movies! It's absolutely one of the FUNNIEST movies ever made! (Too bad Ed Wood didn't intend it as comedy.)

    Oh, man... I'm serious. I watch 'Plan 9' every time I'm in need of a laugh. In fact, I own the Ed Wood boxed-set, and some of his other movies are ALMOST as funny as 'Plan 9'... in some places.

    I'll bet I've watched 'Plan 9' more than 9x3 times.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

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  6. Stephanie -- I never managed to see Battlefield Earth and at this point it's unlikely that I will.

    JoJo -- Can't agree about Mel Brooks and the Austin Powers films--I think they're all pretty funny. Avatar I'm not such a fan, but it's tolerable. Don't know that song to which you are referring.

    Alex -- You might not like On the Beach since it's high on drama and low on sci-fi action.

    STMc-- Last time I tried to watch Plan 9 I was falling asleep. I agree that it's unintentionally funny, but it gets old for me. I'd much rather watch Ed Wood--funny and feel good.

    Lee

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  7. Aww, I bet you kind of wish you hadn't rewatched Plan 9, huh?

    It's awesome to hear that On the Beach holds up though -- with the post-apocolyptic craze, dystopian's the buzzword, this sounds like a good retro rec. Would make a good film study to contrast this with a current post-apocolyptic.

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  8. I will confess, I know neither movie. I appreciate your thoughts about "On the Beach." The threat of nuclear war seemed quite real not so long ago. My daughter's generation has no sense of it - certainly a good thing, though much of Cold War pop culture is lost on them as a result.

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  9. I haven't seen either of those movies. I think people didn't expect non stop action in movies back then as compared to now when everything must move faster with more special effects just like readers no longer tolerate long sections of narrative like they used to appreciate in novels.

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  10. Plan 9 from Outer Space and Ed Wood both remain two of my husband's favorite films, 9, obviously, in an ironic, Mystery Science Theater sort of way.

    I did do a little gasp of delight when I saw it was the film you'd chosen. You'd do Shawn proud. :)

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  11. I also wanted to comment on Susan G.K.'s thoughts about how readers no longer tolerate long sections in narrative. I was down on that and then I began to see it in myself. Sometimes we evolve against our natural inclinations. I still find our decreasing tolerance for things that are less stimulating a tragedy. I can't even fully articulate why. I mean, I can try, and I know many have (over and over and over.) But some part of me feels it goes deeper than words. :(

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  12. I'm not a fan of war movies, most of the time. As a result, I haven't watched very many.

    There are a lot of them with big name actors, though. The Cold War times were depressing times.

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  13. I was just discussing "Plan 9 from Outer Space" at lunch. The concept had such potential but the writing...

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  14. The Hurricane and I enjoyed Ed Wood so much that when Plan 9 showed up on TV, we had to watch it. We made it through about 30 minutes before giving up in boredom. I don't know if I've seen a worse movie. Your post is great.

    Love,
    Janie

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  15. Nicki - I doubt whether On the Beach would be much appreciated by today's dystopian fans as there is an air of normalcy about everything except for the fact that the threat of death by radiation is hanging over them.

    Squid -- The Cold War was ever present when I was young. It didn't really bother me, but it just gave me something to think about sometimes.

    Susan GK -- It's too bad that today's audiences can't better appreciate the unraveling of a story and getting to the heart of the characters.

    Suze -- Plan 9 and Ed Wood are best viewed as a pair in order to get the full appreciation of the two films. As far as the low tolerance for narrative I think modern audiences and people in general as less patient--they want immediate gratification and massive impact. No time for subtlety.

    DG -- On the Beach is not at all a war movie. It is a post war movie. The story is mainly a romance between lovers and among those who cherish life. There are some scientific overtones, but mostly it is a story of humans who want to hang on to the life they have.

    Southpaw -- Plan 9 had a great concept and could have been a very good film. Maybe someone should remake it. I think it could be a pretty cool film.

    Lee

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  16. Janie --The funny thing is that I loved the movie when I was a little kid. Even when I saw it on video and kind of enjoyed reminiscing with it. But my most recent attempt to watch it was like yours.

    Lee

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  17. I love classic films, so I don't mind black and white or slower-paced. The slow pace has to be done well, though. I'll lose interest if nothing really happens as the film drags on and on.

    I've heard Plan 9 from Outer Space is one of the all-time worst movies. Even the guys from Mystery Science Theater didn't take it on, since they felt the jokes would be too obvious and the movie really makes fun of itself without any help.

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  18. Love it!
    Cherdo
    www.cherdoontheflipside.com

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  19. Hey Lee,

    I haven't seen either of these movies but it looks like there are great actors in On the Beach. Too bad one of your childhood faves didn't hold up to adult scrutiny.

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  20. I've seen a lot of old scifi movies, but I don't think I've seen Plan 9 From Outer Space. Oh noes!

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  21. Carrie-Anne-- Plan 9 stands on its own without humorous commentary. It's all the funnier when you've seen Ed Wood

    Cherdo--!!

    Jennifer Lee --On the Beach has a top notch cast which is one reason it's so good.

    Lynda -- You really must watch Plan 9 one day when you feel the need for self-punishment.

    Lee

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  22. I have never seen your most loved first choice.
    I did see On The Beach and I grew up in the 50's and that movie did make me cry. I was so sad that the horse would die too.

    cheers, parsnip

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  23. Because of ON THE BEACH, I never hear "Waltzing Matilda" without thinking of it. It was and is a great film.

    Sad that so many fluff off black and white films -- to me, B&W films are evocative and eloguent much more than color can achieve.

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  24. As a kid, I thought the movie Killer Bees was about the scariest thing out there. Weird what impressed us as kids.

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  25. Things had mostly calmed down by the time I was conscious of the Cold War as a kid in the 1980s - nothing compared to the mania of the '50s and '60s. But growing up in the DC area, there was some awareness of being a prime target should the worst ever come to pass.

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  26. >>... Plan 9... I was falling asleep. I agree that it's unintentionally funny, but it gets old for me. I'd much rather watch Ed Wood--funny and feel good.

    That's it, Lee. Our romance is officially OVER!!!

    I really liked (and also own) Tim Burton's biopic 'ED WOOD'. But if I could keep only one of those two DVDs - Tim Burton's 'ED WOOD' or Ed Wood's 'PLAN 9' - I'd say "Gimme 'Plan 9 From Outer Space'" in a heartbeat!

    I do, however, LOVE that moment in Burton's 'Ed Wood' when they're out shooting in the middle of the night in some frigid pond and old Bela Lugosi is bitching and moaning and whining about the cold.

    Then Lugosi wanders off by himself long enough to inject some heroin into his arm. The next time we see him, he's marching up to the freezing pond and says, "All right, let's shoot this fu#ker!"

    Ha!-Ha! I'm literally laughing out loud as I'm typing this!

    That was almost enough to make me want to try mainlining heroin someday:-)

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

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  27. I did see On The Beach but it was at a local "art" theater a few years ago. They run oldies and some not so goodies. Fortunately they haven't discovered Plan 9 yet. I'll pass the word on that maybe they shouldn't.

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  28. Parsnip-- I didn't even think about the horse. Actually there were a lot of horses since gas was so scarce.

    Roland-- I find B&W films to have a special artistry that evokes so many moods. Those who shun B&W films are missing out on some truly great films.

    Donna-- I can't think of any films that really scared me when I was a kid. I didn't scare all that easily.

    Squid -- I was in San Diego in the early 60's and with the military bases and the strategic coastal location the threat of attack always hung over us. As a kid though I was more interested in having a good time.

    STMc-- That is a great moment and then when he wrestles with the octopus. I especially loved the optimism in Depp's portrayal of Wood. It was like no one could discourage him--he could always find a way. To me Ed Wood is one of the most optimistic films ever made.

    C.Lee -- Actually Plan 9 has attained a sort of cult status. It's a film that everyone should see at least once. And I'll probably see it again when I'm in a more spirited mood.

    Lee

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  29. Hi Lee, I've never seen these movies, though I think I saw 'Ed Wood' when it came out. I think if I saw 'Plan 9' now my perspective would likely be tainted just know the film's reputation of being the worst ever made - and also because I've watched so much MST3K that tendency to scoff and riff has been written into my DNA.
    Your description of 'On the Beach' sounds a lot like the plot of a book I read in 6th grade, "Z is for Zachariah". It scared the crap out of me for the same really-could-happen fear that you described with 'On the Beach'.
    Thanks for this great post and for joining our bloghop!

    Nancy at Hungry Enough To Eat Six

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  30. Nancy -- Knowing that Plan 9 has the distinction in the eyes of some of being the worst film ever made would certainly give the new viewer a different perspective from which to watch it. Actually that could be a good thing. Then if you watch Ed Wood afterwards the whole thing starts coming together better.

    Thanks for hosting.

    Lee

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  31. Ooh, interesting two movies. I think I've seen Plan 9, but I'm not sure. I kinda like those scifi B movies. I keep meaning to watch Batteries Not Included someday, to see if it has the same effect on me that it did when I was a kid.
    I think I might like On the Beach. I really didn't like the book but I think I was too young for it when I read it.

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  32. Plan 9 may not have held up well, but what a fabulous movie poster! I have heard a lot about On the Beach over the years, and I will add it to my To-Watch List. I love Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner and older movies in general.

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  33. I think On The Beach is an excellent film and very riveting knowing they will all die even the new born baby. Nowadays most people want "Bang, Bim, Bong" fast action with little dialogue except for grunts and showing some T and A. Love the 40's and 50's films and just watched "Marty" the other day. Felt bad for Betsy Blair in some ways when you hear the dialogue. Plan 9 is pretty damn bad but all his films were. "Attack of the 50ft Woman" is awful-funny-but awful. Funny because it is so bad. "Dr. Jekyl and Sister Hyde" and "Blacula" is also up there for me but will have to re-watch them nevertheless. We also have some big name stars in some bad 70's movies like "Swarm"-I think that's what it is called with Gloria Swanson and Kate Jackson. There is also a bad film about a giant Octopus that destroys the Golden gate bridge and it is with Henry Fonda-I was young when I saw that and love to see that dud again

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  34. I haven't seen either movie so I can't really comment of them. I think I'll have to check out On The Beach as I do like some of the older movies and it sounds like one my hubby would be willing to watch with me.

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  35. I like the premise of On the Beach. I'd like to watch it some time.

    Ed Wood is hilarious, but it's not for everybody (my husband couldn't stand it. :()

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  36. Hi, Lee...

    Glad I missed Plan 9.... but I did love ED WOOD!


    Have to check out On the Beach... I'm a big Gregory Peck Fan...

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Lee