Monday, December 15, 2008

A Plan 9X-Mas

There's something timelessly relevant about Ed Wood's Plan Nine From Outer Space, which makes it perfect holiday viewing for the entire family (once the eggnog has worked its late night magic). I've seen this film all my life in one form or another, my first big memory of it being on UHF TV at around six in the morning when I was probably six years old. You couldn't argue with a movie like Plan Nine if you were that young, and if any film was meant to be tuned on via the weird UHF TV antenna that used to sit on top of the TVs before cable, this was it, wavering in and out of reception, the white noise obscuring the cheapness of the production. It had everything I loved in one film: science fiction mixed with vampires, zombies, Lugosi, Vampira, Tor Johnson, Criswell, all perfectly entwined in a plot so outlandish only a kid in his pajamas, up before his parents on a Sunday morning, could ever possibly hope to truly understand it.

Over the years, Plan Nine has only grown in stature, thanks to the efforts of Tim Burton (Ed Wood), horror magazines, and maverick film critics like Michael Medved and John Stanley (though they both seem to despise Ed Wood for "mocking" Lugosi's legend via the "can" of old posthumous footage). Much has been written about the Plan, much has been celebrated. But we've still got a long way to go before we get it right. That's what we're here for, to learn.

For one thing, there's a great pace and focus on the "good stuff" in Plan Nine. Unlike Wood's other films, there's no long pointless police station scenes and annoying comic relief. Sure, there's Wood mainstay Paul Marco's bumpling Kelton the cop, but even he is relatively under control. And anyway, we all love him (Marco, if you're reading this, your signed photo is on my wall) And if you are both a fan of movie monsters, and a fan of Godard or Brecht, you can revel in the lovingly mismatched day-for-night shots, the ridiculously sparse sets (the space ship interiors are empty sets with old ham radio junk on top of card tables, like some popular mechanics flea market of the damned) and that just makes you appreciate it all the more. It's like a present that comes to you already opened and played with--one of the arms may even be broken off--but for some reason that doesn't negate its value. Since it's no longer hermetically sealed it's connected to the vast panoply of other things under the tree. In receiving an opened present you essentially receive all of the world. Is this not, in the end, the fullest realization of Brecht's post-modern aesthetic? In accenting rather than concealing the theatricality, the narrative is mysteriously deepened in importance rather than lessened. What better gift for a six year old Prometheus than such precious alchemical irony?

You could argue that the hubcap spaceships are cheesy, for example. But why would you do that? They look cheesy in real life, as the recently declassified photos make evident. And the most amazing, topical aspect is still that what you have seen in heard not only has happened, but has yet to happen but will in fact happen in the future. As the Obscurantist rightly notes:
"That Plan 9 uses the most B of movie tropes to convey its message adds a layer of self-performative complexity which puts much high artistic output to shame. Looking back, we realize that the questions posed by the worst movie ever made”have resounded with sinister power across the socio-political landscape of the last half century."
Back in 1959 Ed Wood was the first to declare that the government was suppressing UFO knowledge, and that craft had been shot down by the government in battles over Hollywood and Washington DC. Would this horrifying truth be withstandable in any other format but Wood's midnight claptrap Hollywood spookshow? It would not. I lost this great book I used to have (by Bruce Rux) that postulated the government clandestinely employed Ed Wood to make this film intentionally bad while telling the truth, as part of a campaign of disinformation. It's totally crazy. But I believe it. So should you, and when pressed for the perfect late-night drunk-on-eggnog family film, may I recommend you should reach for Plan Nine from Outer Space? There may be no better way to prepare your family for the coming calamities. As Criswell once said:
"We once laughed at the horseless carriage, the aeroplane, the telephone, the electric light, vitamins, radio, and even television! And now some of us laugh at outer space. God help us… in the future..."
My pharmacist dad STILL laughs at vitamins, but aside from that, it's all good, all true and yes, Virginia, as long as that truth is told in spookshow basement B-movie form, the Plato's cave shadow, Perseus's Medusa mirror format, then yes, your heart can stand the horrible truths about... graverobbers from outer space.

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