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YOU CAN'T PUT YOUR ARMS AROUND A MEMORY

 

After dissecting the shower scene in Psycho, documentary filmmaker has turned his attention to another seminal horror film…

 

When you've made one film assessing a seminal scene from one of the most talked-about horror films ever, what do you do next?

For Alexandre O Philippe, whose 78/52 dissected the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, you turn to another equally ground breaking film.

 

Well, that was the plan, at any rate. For his sophomore filmic essay analysing one scene from a major film didn't turn out as originally planned.

 

Memory: Origins Of Alien has a far broader scope, eschewing the focus on one scene and looking at a broader picture.

Instead, it looks at the film and the people who influenced it, taking its starting point from a Francis Bacon painting, and heading off into uncharted, mythological waters taking in director Ridley Scott, original screenwriter Dan O'Bannon, artist and alien designer HR Giger, and beyond.

 

"Initially, I wanted to look at the chestburster scene," he says. "But I realised I was not going to be able to look it in the same way I looked at Psycho. When I read about Ridley Scott and Giger, I thought this is a rabbit hole I wanted to go down, to see what I find. It essentially became a mythological thing about Alien."

 

It charts the influences the likes of O'Bannon and the film's other driving forces brought to the table for the film, which eventually cemented its place into popular culture.

 

When did he first become aware of the film?

 

"Alien is one of those films that had a huge impact on my childhood. I was probably around 12 years old; I remember being entranced by the poster," he says. "I wanted to watch it, but I was also dreading the idea of watching it. I waited a few years, but when I did, it certainly didn't disappoint. It was everything I'd hoped. I was waiting for that scene."

 

 

The idea of making a film about Alien wasn't even part of his original plan ("it just developed organically," he notes) and, as he admits, "it's very different from what I envisioned."

 

But, as he continues, that's not to say he's not happy with the outcome. "When it became evident [what it was about], I was pretty thrilled. It was really fun to get into this deep dive."

 

Of course, the chestburster film hangs heavily over the proceedings,  – it forms a pivotal part of Memory, but Philippe sees the bigger picture, not least how that scene helped cement the film's place in popular culture. As he further notes: "It's one of those scripts that contained so many very specifically male fears, very primal fears. It's difficult not to have a reaction to that scene.

 

"I'm not surprised men were running out of the theatre," he adds, laughing.

 

The film takes its time getting to the chestburster scene, in the same way, his look at Psycho built up to its climax ("just as in 78/52, eventually, we will get to the shower scene").

 

The mythology is essential to the film, as is what Philippe says is the "symbiosis" between its triumvirate of creative talents behind it.

And Philippe argues that it was lucky that Ridley Scott didn't appear in his film, as this might have upset the balance between him and the now-deceased O'Bannon and Giger. "Of course we went after Sigourney Weaver, Ridley Scott," he recalls. "But in retrospect, it's better [he didn't appear].

 

"We know he gave the film his thumbs up, but we wanted it to be focused on Alien. There would have been mention of Prometheus and Alien Covenant, for me, that's not what my film's about."

 

What does he think of the constant updating of the franchise? "I'm fine with it, I love Aliens and Alien3 – I like it a lot more than most people. The new Ridley Scott films are beautifully made. I'm not sure they are entirely necessary, but he has the right to continue to explore it, and they are pretty damn good movies."

 

Both Giger and O'Bannon's family were involved in the process, which was vital for Philippe. "They were very moved by it, very thrilled. Diane O'Bannon said that Dan would be happy with it.

 

The need to ensure that mythology was front and centre made for a problematic process in fine-tuning and editing the film. "It was a difficult edit," he says, "it took months of hard work."

 

Where Memory succeeds, is in walking a fine line between different worlds. "Of course, we have to make sure the mythological stuff is not too heavy or academic; we wanted to be able to connect with general audiences.

 

"You're constantly striking that balance in the edit. It's a bit of a dance."

 

One interesting titbit is the way different people involved pronounce Giger's name – same as in the radiation counter, some opting for "Gee-ger". The latter is actually correct, meaning many people have been getting it wrong for years. "I wasn't going to correct that," Philippe laughs. "People say it in the way they know. It is mostly mispronounced."

 

Meanwhile, Philippe is now on to another cultural icon for his next project, a film dissecting another film "I'm finishing a film on The Exorcist," he concludes. "It'll probably come out this fall. It's essentially a deep dive into the film, it only has William Friedkin in it, going through his process."

 

Tim Murray.

 

 MEMORY: ORIGINS OF ALIEN IS IN CINEMAS ON 30 AUGUST AND DVD AND ON-DEMAND ON 2 SEPTEMBER

 

 

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 © 2000 - 2018