Showing posts with label Science Fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Science Fiction. Show all posts

Sunday, May 1, 2022

2022 TCM Classic Film Festival: Day #4 Recap


Waterloo Bridge (1940)

Bright and early on the final day of the festival, I headed over to the Chinese Multiplex for a special screening of Waterloo Bridge (1940). 

The film was introduced by author Sloan De Forest. I'm a big fan of her books and it was great to finally see her in person (had a great chat with her afterwards!). Waterloo Bridge (1940) stars Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor as two lovers from completely different social sets who get separated during WWI only to have a devastating reunion sometime later. It's based on a 1930 play and was adapted to screen as a pre-code in 1931. Unbeknownst to us and even to De Forest, the print being screened was the British censored version which cut out the more suggestive scenes in relation to Vivien Leigh's character.

Club TCM

A brief visit to Club TCM helped me rest and recharge for the final hours of the festival. On display were costumes from a few notable classic films. It was difficult to take pictures so I did my best to snap one of these costumes Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid wore in Casablanca (1942)

Live Read: I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958)

I've never been to a live read before so I jumped at the chance to attend this one. Led by Dana Gould, a group of comedians reenacted the cheesy sci-fi movie I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958). The script was read by actors David Koechner, Laraine Newman, Jonah Ray, Janet Varney and Baron Vaughn. Musician Eban Schletter performed live music and sound effects for the event. 

I wasn't sure what to expect but I did think they would show the actual movie, or at least clips of it, during the live read. Instead, it was just the actors taking turns at the mic to read the dialogue with a static background on the screen behind them.

The live read was a helluva lot of fun. I was in the second row with some friends and we had the best view in the house.

Coffy (1973)

The closing night movie was one of my top selections for the festival. There was a massive line to get in and I'm glad I made it. The event started with an interview by TCM host Prof. Jacqueline Stewart and Coffy star Pam Grier. I think Stewart only got two questions in because Grier had much to say and a lot of love to share. And what better way to enjoy this blaxploitation classic for the first time with the film's star and a lively crowd in attendance.

Closing Night Party

The closing night party is always bitter sweet. It's an opportunity to catch up with anyone you may have missed and to say goodbyes. I didn't stay long because the poolside party was quite crowded. I did get an opportunity to chat with former child star Gordon Gebert. (A big thanks to Laura who helped get his attention for me!). This was a real joy. I was able to tell him how much Holiday Affair (1949) means to me. He must have heard that a million times that evening. He was so gracious and told me stories about working with Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh, Burt Lancaster and Norman Lloyd.

So you may be asking, what was the best part of the TCM Classic Film Festival? The people of course! I got to spend so much quality time with good friends, acquaintances and complete strangers. The festival is like a big reunion for me and I cherish all the moments I get to spend with all of my far away friends. I didn't share much about my friends in these posts. However, I shared plenty on my social media. Make sure to head over to Twitter and look up #TCMFF @raquelstecher to see all the fun we had during the festival. I appreciate the TCM staff as well as all my amazing friends for making this a festival to remember.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

"At first glance, everything looked the same. It wasn't. Something evil had taken possession of the town."

Set in the fictional Santa Mira, California, the epitome of small town America, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) follows Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) as he uncovers the truth behind the bizarre behavior in his community. It all starts with a frightened young boy who claims his mom is not really his mom. Dr. Miles' high school sweetheart Becky (Dana Wynter) has a cousin who's convinced that her uncle is not quite right. While he looks and acts like her uncle, something is off. Then suddenly a lifeless form appears at the home Jack (King Donovan) and Teddy (Carolyn Jones). And then they all make a shocking discovery: giant plant pods are replicating the townspeople and replacing them with lifelike creatures that seem like the real thing but are devoid of everything that makes someone truly human. It's up to Dr. Miles and Becky to escape Santa Mira and let the outside world know what's happening before the plant pods take over the world. Can these two get the word out before the plant pods replace them?

Inspired by Sloan de Forest's book Must See Sci-Fi, I'm tackling a genre that I've always avoided. When I read Sloan's description of this movie I thought to myself "why haven't I seen this one yet? It sounds terrific!" On the surface, a story about over-sized plant pods from outer space invading a small town did not appeal to me. However, Sloan described this not as a movie about alien invasion but as a Cold War paranoia film that tapped into the fears of the time. And with that I was sold.

The film is based on the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney, serialized in Collier's Magazine from November to December 1954. Producer Walter Wanger and Allied Artists Productions got the rights to the film and writer Daniel Mainwaring (author of Build My Gallows High/Out of the Past) adapted it to screen. Sam Peckinpah, who has a small role in the film as a gas meter reader, worked with Wanger and also served as dialogue director. Peckinpah's contributions to the script have been inflated over the years and Mainwaring at one point filed a complaint with the WGA and Peckinpah recanted his claims.

The title was changed from The Body Snatchers to Invasion of the Body Snatchers to separate it from Val Lewton's 1945 film The Body Snatcher. Titles such as Sleep No More, They Come From Another World, Evil in the Night, Better off Dead, A World in Danger, It Could Happen, and Out of the Darkness were considered but ultimately shelved.

Directed by Don Siegel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was shot over 23 days (other sources claims it was 19) on location in the famous Bronson Cave in Griffith Park, other parts of the Hollywood Hills and Los Angeles. Sierra Madre served as the small town Santa Mira. Filmed in SuperScope and with a budget of $300k, the filmmakers could not predict that their low-budget B-movie would go on to become one of the most beloved and influential science fiction movies of all time.

"How long can we keep going without hope?" - Kevin McCarthy

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is gripping and suspenseful. The build up was perfectly paced. At no point did it seem hokey or cheesy. It's a sophisticated 1950s B-movie that did a lot with a little. Kevin McCarthy was a perfect fit for the role of Dr. Miles. Not only did he have the acting chops to deliver a great performance but he also had the stamina for a very physically demanding role. McCarthy had that everyman look that made him well-suited for the part. Dana Wynter is perfectly matched as Dr. Miles' partner. While her part could have been solely as damsel in distress but she has much more autonomy than that. I was fascinated that both Dr. Miles and Becky are divorcees. It sets them up as characters who refuse to remain in a bad situation because of societal pressure.

Whether the social and political commentary was intentional or not, Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been seen as both anti-Communism and anti-McCarthyism. And while it spoke to the fears of Cold War America, the film is ultimately timeless. The story is about inherent fears that we all have: conformity, complacency, submission and the loss of identity, control and free will. It also explores mass hysteria and to some extent mob mentality. I was particularly drawn by the fear of sleep, a state in which we're at our most vulnerable, and the fear of not being believed, especially when we have something really important to say.

Olive Films has recently released a limited edition Blu-Ray and DVD of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) as part of their Olive Signature series. This edition has a limited run of 5,000 copies and is packed with lots of extras.

The limited edition Blu-Ray includes:
  • Blu-Ray with new high-definition digital restoration
  • booklet with essay by Kier-La Janisse
  • Two audio commentaries: 1) film historian Richard Harland Smith 2) Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter and filmmaker Joe Dante
  • Visual essay - The Stranger in Your Lover's Eyes by Kristoffer Tabori, son of Don Siegel
  • The Fear is Real - 12 min short doc, interviews with filmmakers Larry Cohen and Joe Dante
  • I No Longer Belong: The Rise and Fall of Walter Wanger – 21 min doc with film scholar Matthew Bernstein
  • Sleep No More: Invasion of the Body Snatchers Revisited – 26 min retrospective including Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, John Landis, Mick Garris, and Stuart Gordon
  • The Fear and the Fiction: The Body Snatchers Phenomenon –  8 min short doc including Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, John Landis, Mick Garris and Stuart Gordon
  • 7 min 1985 archival interview with Kevin McCarthy hosted by Tom Hatten
  • Return to Santa Mira – a series of 1 minute vignettes on the filming locations (only downside is that you can't play all of these together, have to be played one by one)
  • What’s In a Name? – 2 minute short doc on the history behind the title
  • Photo gallery of archival documents
  • Original theatrical trailer
The quality of the Blu-Ray is fantastic, the new cover art is stunning and I enjoyed exploring all the extras it had to offer. It's a very nice package and would make a great purchase for Halloween or Holiday gift. I would snap this one up quickly because I wouldn't be surprised if it sells out soon.

Check out my latest YouTube video! I show the new Blu-Ray set around the 7:50 min mark:

Thank you to Olive Films for sending me a copy of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) Olive Signature Blu-Ray for review!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Must See Sci-Fi by Sloan De Forest

Must See Sci-Fi
50 Movies That are Out of This World
by Sloan De Forest
Foreword by Roger Corman
TCM/Running Press
Paperback ISBN: 9780762491520
May 2018

AmazonBarnes and NoblePowells

"The most memorable science-fiction movies are ones that defy our expectations." - Sloan De Forest

Science-fiction has always been a genre I've steered clear of. Having seen a smattering of films here and there, I came to the conclusion that this genre was not for me. When I went to the TCM Classic Film Festival back in April, the newest book published by the TCM and Running Press imprint, Must See Sci-Fi was in my welcome bag. I wasn't quite sure what to do with it. Should I keep it? Should I hand it off to someone else? Fast forward a couple months later and my husband and I are at the beach. I brought a stack of classic film books with me, including this one, to film my Summer Reading video. My husband immediately picked up Must See Sci-Fi, commented several times about how good the book was but grumbled about how it was missing one of his favorite Sci-Fi movies Dune. I decided to give it a whirl and the end result surprised me.

Whatever Sloan De Forest is selling I am buying. With this one book, she made me a bonafide Sci-Fi convert. What exactly have I been missing all these years? De Forest adeptly makes it clear. With each of the 50 films highlighted, she elevates them with her deep research and thoughtful insights while also knocking down any misconceptions or trepidations I had of watching these movies. This is more than a collection of movies with a little bit of trivia and some fun stills to look at. De Forest explores how each of these entries into the sci-fi genre questions and comments on society of the era by looking into an alternate future. De Forest also makes connections between early science fiction movies and newer ones tracing the influence they had decades later. She also explores the filmmaking process, what brought the different filmmakers to each project and the impact the film had on the industry and its audiences.

Alphaville (1965)
Things to Come (1936)
The Invisible Man (1933)

Arranged in chronological order, the book starts with A Trip to the Moon (1902) and ends with Arrival (2016). Classic film fans will want to read about early sci-fi films including Metropolis (1927), Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man (1933), Things to Come (1936), It Came From Outer Space (1953), Them! (1954), Godzilla (1954), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Blob (1958), The Time Machine (1960), Alphaville (1965),  Barbarella (1968), Planet of the Apes (1968), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and many more. Each film gets its own five page section with poster art, film stills, behind-the-scene photos as well as De Forest's take on the film's significance and how it came to be made (and in some cases remade). Each section also includes three 'Far-Out Facts", one description of a "Mind-Blowing Moment" and two related recommendations listed under 'Keep Watching". There are some spoilers but not too many. When I sensed one coming on, I skipped over a few sentences with a mental note to return once I had seen the movie.

Now to put on my book publishing geek hat on. Running Press is publishing the books in the TCM Must See series in sturdy paperbacks with french flaps. These are much easier to hold than the Into the Dark film noir book which was bigger and published in a paper-over-board hardcover. The Sci-Fi book is in full-color and I loved the design and choice of font. Overall the format lent itself to a very enjoyable reading experience.

Must See Sci-Fi is one of the best film books I've read in a long time. Sloan De Forest is a marvelous writer and thoroughly convincing in her enthusiasm for the genre. While I had seen some of the films featured in the book, I hadn't seen the majority of them. I come away from this book with an open mind and a nice list of new-to-me films to discover.

If you haven't already, check out my interview with Sloan De Forest about this book and her love of sci-fi.


Thanks to the good folks at Running Press, I have 5 copies of Must See Sci-Fi up for grabs.

Rules and Regulations: Must be 18+ or over. US Only. You can only enter one time follow one or both prompts. Must follow prompts as indicated below. Incomplete entries will not be acknowledged. Contest ends Thursday August 2nd, 2018 at midnight EST. 5 winners will be chosen the following day and announced below and contacted via e-mail.

To enter: 

  • Leave a comment below telling me what your favorite science fiction movie is and why. Make sure you include your e-mail address so I can contact you if you win. (Edited to add: E-mail addresses have been removed from comments below)
  • For an additional entry, follow my Instagram @QuelleMovies and leave your username in the comment section below. You can include it in your original entry. Doesn't have to be a separate comment.
Five winners are:

1) Lux
2) Greg
3) The Pop Culturallists
4) Chris
5) Caitlin

This is my second review for the Summer Reading Challenge.


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Interview with Sloan De Forest, author of Must See Sci-Fi

Sloan De Forest. Photo credit: Manoah Bowman

I've had the privilege of interviewing Sloan De Forest, author of Must See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies That are Out of This World (TCM/Running Press). She's an actress, writer and film historian and has written about film for Sony, Time Warner Cable, the Mary Pickford Foundation, and Bright Lights Film Journal. She's contributed essays to the books Natalie Wood: Reflections on a Legendary Life and Grace Kelly: Hollywood Dream Girl.

I'll be posting my review of her book (spoiler alert, it's rocking my world right now) and hosting a giveaway later this week. In the meantime, enjoy the interview:

Raquel Stecher: Tell us about your background as a film historian and your connection to old Hollywood.

Sloan De Forest: I took the circuitous route to become a film historian. I started as an actor and aspiring screenwriter. I did take some acting classes, but I mostly learned to act from watching those timeless performances by the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Carole Lombard, and others. Turner Classic Movies was my college major! So I fell in love with classic film on my own before discovering it’s in my blood – my great-great uncle was Lee De Forest, who invented the sound-on-film process for talking pictures in 1923. He was the first to capture the voices of Elsa Lanchester, Una Merkel, and others on film, and provided a music soundtrack to Pola Negri’s first Hollywood film. That was an exciting connection to discover.

Lee De Forest

Stecher: How did you first fall in love with the science fiction genre?

De Forest: It may have started the summer I turned 11, when I was visiting my grandparents in the country and there was nothing to do but watch old movies on television. I saw The Blob and the 1958 version of The Fly, which had a real impact on me. I also discovered old Twilight Zone episodes that summer. I didn’t consciously realize that I was falling in love with sci-fi, but those images stayed in my mind. Then in the '90s, Mystery Science Theater 3000 was my gateway into Ed Wood, then into Roger Corman, which led me to classics like Forbidden Planet. I think because of their outrageous production design and costumes, Forbidden Planet and Barbarella were the sci-fis that fascinated me as a teenager. Well, those and Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Stecher: How did you come to work on Must See Sci-Fi?

De Forest: As a first-time author, I was incredibly lucky. Fellow TCM author Manoah Bowman is someone I had met through a mutual friend. He knew I was a writer, editor, and Natalie Wood fan, so he hired me to contribute to his 2016 book Natalie Wood: Reflections on a Legendary Life. From there, I had a foot in the door to write my own TCM book. It just so happened they were looking for someone to write a must-see guide for science fiction, and so it worked out perfectly.

Stecher: How did you curate the list of 50 science fiction movies for the book?

De Forest: With great difficulty! But seriously. There was quite a bit of friendly back-and-forth between me and TCM before settling on a final 50. Ultimately, you’re never going to please everyone with this kind of book, so it’s somewhat subjective. We wanted to include the most memorable, the most groundbreaking, and the most impactful films of the genre and I believe we succeeded. Even if we left out some that are great movies, I tried to include them in the Keep Watching section or at least mention them in the text. So I actually discuss A LOT more than 50 movies.

Stecher: What kind of research did you do for the book?

De Forest: I watched and re-watched all the films, of course, even if I had already seen them many times. Next I read books about the making of the films when I could, and went to the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, which is a great resource for production files, press books, and clippings. I kept my online research to a minimum because—even though there are some great and highly reputable websites—I tried to avoid repeating all the same old information available on Wikipedia. But with some of these classics like Star Wars for example, repetition is impossible to avoid, because everything there is to know is already common internet knowledge. But I tried to dig deep—in old newspaper archives, for example—and find a few nuggets.

Stecher: Which movies did you leave out that you wish could have made the cut?

De Forest: I wanted to include a couple of my personal favorites, like Galaxy Quest and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I don’t think Sky Captain is strictly considered science fiction, but I am fascinated by that movie. There’s nothing else like it. As for Galaxy Quest, I’m not sure why it didn’t make the cut, but you can’t have everything! I already negotiated to get Alphaville and Barbarella back on the list after TCM suggested cutting them, so I was happy enough with those two not to push my luck. I also wish I could have written in more detail about Blade Runner 2049, but, tragically, it was released one month after I finished the book.

Stecher: How did early classic movies influence modern day sci-fi movies?

De Forest: Good question. I think there is probably a greater influence there than many people realize, because, when you stop and think about it, science fiction was a literary genre where writers could describe aliens, spaceships, and monsters in great detail without having the burden of showing them. So the first filmmakers to actually depict those unknown entities on film were really pioneers. They were taking an enormous risk, using a great deal of imagination and primitive technology or craftsmanship to show a Martian, for example, on film for the first time. It was brand-new territory they were exploring. Once these images were out there, they became the building blocks of all later sci-fi movies. No matter how original a filmmaker may be nowadays, I think it’s impossible for them not to be influenced by the classics to some degree.

Stecher: Why do you think movie going audiences love science fiction?

De Forest: Like the genres of fantasy and supernatural horror, sci-fi presents us with possibilities that lie beyond our everyday world. But sci-fi is usually more grounded in what might be possible in the future. So I think people respond to the idea that with a science fiction movie—unlike in fantasy or the supernatural—they are seeing incredible images and ideas that actually could become a reality one day. It can be fascinating to explore. Personally, I’m fascinated by watching older sci-fi because you get to see how the filmmakers imagined our world of today, fifty or more years ago. It’s not always the brilliant movies that get it right, either! Logan’s Run, for example, may not have been the greatest movie, but it predicted using technology for pleasure and ease, whereas so many others only envisioned technology that could destroy the planet or send us into space.

Stecher: What would you say to someone who is hesitant about delving into the science fiction genre?

De Forest: I would say that they are likely to be pleasantly surprised. I was someone who enjoyed sci-fi, but did not consider myself a die-hard sci-fi fanatic. Then when I started working on the book, I realized some of my all-time favorite movies are science fiction. Most people have probably already seen a sci-fi movie they love... Star Wars, E.T., Back to the Future, Alien, The Terminator... Those are some of the most popular films ever. If someone is younger and hasn’t seen those titles, I would recommend starting with them because they’re so accessible. And then see where they take you!

Photo via 

Stecher: What do you hope readers will come away with after they read Must See Sci-Fi?

De Forest:  I hope the book inspires them to seek out the films they haven’t seen yet, and to re-watch the ones they saw years ago. Even if they know all the 50 movies by heart, I discuss and recommend many more obscure titles in the book, so there are hundreds of movies mentioned. I also hope the book starts conversations. The overall aim is to get people excited about movies. That’s what it’s all about.

Many thanks to Sloan for taking the time out for this interview!

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