David Geffen building–Lincoln Center /Thursday September 12th, 2019.
Welcome to our new 2019-2020 cultural season!
This week, we launch it, with an iconic, uplifting, enchanting and strange sci-fi, Spielberg movie from the 70’s.
A movie featuring an international cast, filled with childlike wonder, unique communication methods (including sign language, music and lights); interesting (to say the least) family dynamics, charming 70’s style (clothing and interiors), unusual friendships, compelling human and alien connections/communications; and a few UFO abductions.
In short, a movie that has mesmerized audiences for decades.
As arresting, in its own way, as is, for me, one of Monet’s evocative, almost melodious thrilling paintings, in its tranquility, soft colors, its imaginary sounds for an imaginative audience; its awaking mysterious life at sunrise, on the Seine, (in the outskirts of Giverny), which not only fills one with awe; but can (just like the end of the “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” film), be a symbol as well, of new beginnings for some (characters or audience members).
Back in its time, and still today.
Let’s now take a look, at Spielberg’s thrilling “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” trailer …
The spectacle was not only visually innovative for its time (the movie was released in 1977, and the special effects were already incredible); but was also musically, wonderfully unusual; as the score from internationally acclaimed composer John Williams, largely contributes, in my opinion as well, to the reverent and awe-inducing atmosphere.
Music here (sound, rhythm, and musical motif included), not just lights or sign language, is also, a key communication tool imagined by the director, to attempt /establish communication between species.
In particular, I love the genius short five note musical motif (Wagner would have loved that!) to attempt peaceful communication with the aliens, its simplicity and uniqueness, make it all the more memorable (the motif) and opens it to all sorts of various developments, filled with whatever emotions need to be conveyed.
In addition, I have also always related to one of the movies plot ideas about the potential consequences of brief close encounters (with aliens), which could compel adventurous, pure hearted, ordinary humans, to establish trusting contact with the extra-terrestrials, while releasing as well, for each of them, all sorts of unique creativity and quirks.
And for music and cinema lovers, to have been able to watch the movie last night, with the New York Philharmonic performing some excerpts live, during the screening of this 1977 Spielberg masterpiece, has truly been an enriching, and fascinating experience. As if we were part of the movie itself!
What a feat for the New York Philharmonic musicians, the Musica Sacra Chorus, Richard Kaufman (the conductor), as well as Kent Tritle (the director)!
And the live music, definitely enhanced dramatically, the childlike wonder, the strangeness, and yet strong optimism, that are conveyed throughout the movie.
And that was pretty new, for the time, in 1977, this positive approach to extra-terrestrial life (Spielberg wrote the screenplay himself), as from astronomers to philosophers, or novelists, in past centuries, the idea of life on other planets, or extra-terrestrial life on earth, often filled these visionaries with doom and gloom. And that fear, could be felt all the way up to the 19th century, in various continents, with for example Jules Verne’s “Robur le conquérant” or H.G. Wells’ “War of Worlds” novels.
And in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” you can feel the gestation of unique Spielberg ideas, which he develops in some of his following “alien” movies. Some, similar in childlike wonder, some, more dark. And all, with extraordinary soundtracks; by John Williams often, as well.
In 1982 for example, you will remember, that Spielberg wrote and produced a much more terrifying film, “Poltergeist” (not exactly aliens, but definitely “alien” disturbances (which are pretty similar to some “disturbance” scenes in the home of the charming little boy of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”).
Let’s watch the chilling first encounter scene, of non human “disturbances” in “Poltergeist”:
That same year, Spielberg directed a much more optimistic and iconic movie, (including a John Williams score), about aliens, with his “E.T.” 1982 movie, in which one of its charms, resides in wonderfully authentic young siblings interactions (brash at times, and fortunately, mostly loving); and these family interactions, are pretty similar to some family scenes as well from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.
And of course “E.T.”‘s “form” was probably also inspired by aliens from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.
Let’s watch one charming scene:
Later still, in 2002, Spielberg also adapted in film, a famous Philip K. Dick story, with “Minority report” (also scored by John Williams), about the possibility of precognition (which can also be found in a more dormant way in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” as well, with the drawings/sculptures from a few different characters of the “Devils tower” natural wonder (also known as Mato Tipila, which means “Bear Lodge” in Lakota, an impressive volcanic “neck”, from the Black Hills, in northeastern Wyoming); and in “Minority report”, the precognition concept allows (when not abused), for a safer world.
Here is one of my favorite scenes about the advantages of precognition in life. What great directing, and of course the “Moon river” iconic song as “elevator” music, in the background, adds so much emotion as well, to this incredible scene:
And later still in 2005, Spielberg adapted H.G. Wells’, 19th century “War of Worlds”, infused with pessimism about aliens, and yet, still speaking to humanity’s ingenuity and solidarity capabilities.
Let’s watch and listen also, to a simpler frightening musical motif, found in “War of Worlds”, that is only generated, in this instance, from aliens, and not “replicated” by humans.
Of course, in the 19th century, the idea of aliens was associated/extended somewhat sometimes as well, to “human” revived monsters, such as “Frankenstein”, imagined by Mary Shelley, capable of the worst, despite its loving heart as well.
That probably did not help create in readers minds, optimism or trust, at the idea of encountering potential extra-terrestrial life (even though it is also a slightly different concept, of course).
Yet, by the 20th century, aliens in authors minds, were depicted in various ways; some evil, some benevolent.
And as you may imagine, aliens displaying positive human qualities such as courage, great intelligence, and awesome abilities always interested me more!
Like many sci-fi fans, in addition to reading as a teenager, Arthur C. Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, and Orson Scott Card novels, it is “Slan”, the 1946 novel by A. E. Van Vogt, that particularly captured my imagination, about super beings living on Earth.
As the aliens depicted were incredibly strong, intelligent, compassionate, and also, telepathic beings.
How awesome would that be!
Here is a short excerpt:
“His mother’s hand felt cold, clutching his.
Her fear as they walked hurriedly along the street was a quiet, swift pulsation that throbbed from her mind to his. A hundred other thoughts beat against his mind, from the crowds that swarmed by on either side, and from inside the buildings they passed. But only his mother’s thoughts were clear and coherent—and afraid.
“They’re following us, Jommy,” her brain telegraphed. “They’re not sure, but they suspect. We’ve risked once too often coming into the capital, though I did hope that this time I could show you the old slan way of getting into the catacombs, where your father’s secret is hidden. Jommy, if the worst happens, you know what to do. We’ve practiced it often enough. And, Jommy, don’t be afraid, don’t get excited. You may be only nine years old, but you’re as intelligent as any fifteen-year-old human being.”
Don’t be afraid. Easy to advise, Jommy thought, and hid the thought from her. She wouldn’t like that concealment, that distorting shield between them. But there were thoughts that had to be kept back. She mustn’t know he was afraid, also.
It was new and exciting, as well. He felt excited each time he came into the heart of Centropolis from the quiet suburb where they lived. The great parks, the miles of skyscrapers, the tumult of the throngs always seemed even more wonderful than his imagination had pictured them—but then size was to be expected of the capital of the world. Here was the seat of the government. Here, somewhere, lived Kier Gray, absolute dictator of the entire planet. Long ago—hundreds of years before—the slans had held Centropolis during their brief period of ascendancy.
“Jommy, do you feel their hostility? Can you sense things over a distance yet?”
He strained. The steady wave of vagueness that washed from the crowds pressing all around grew into a swirl of mind clamor. From somewhere came the stray wisp of thought:
“They say there are still slans alive in this city, in spite of all precautions. And the order is to shoot them on sight.”
“But isn’t that dangerous?” came a second thought, obviously a question asked aloud, though Jommy caught only the mental picture. “I mean a perfectly innocent person might be killed by mistake.”
“That’s why they seldom shoot on sight. They try to capture them and then examine them. Their internal organs are different from ours, you know, and on their heads are—”
“Jommy, can you feel them, about a block behind us? In a big car! Waiting for reinforcements to close in on us from in front. They’re working fast. Can you catch their thoughts, Jommy?”
He couldn’t! No matter how hard he reached out with his mind and strained and perspired with his trying. That was where her mature powers surpassed his precocious instincts. She could span distances and disentangle remote vibrations into coherent pictures.
He wanted to turn around and look, but he didn’t dare. His small, though long, legs twinkled underneath him, half running to keep up with his mother’s impatient pace. It was terrible to be little and helpless and young and inexperienced, when their life demanded the strength of maturity, the alertness of slan adulthood.
His mother’s thoughts stabbed through his reflections. “There are some ahead of us now, Jommy, and others coming across the street. You’ll have to go, darling. Don’t forget what I’ve told you. You live for one thing only—to make it possible for slans to live normal lives. I think you’ll have to kill our great enemy, Kier Gray, even if it means going to the grand palace after him. Remember, there’ll be shouting and confusion, but keep your head. Good luck, Jommy.”
Not until she had released his hand, after one quick squeeze, did Jommy realize that the tenor of her thoughts had changed. The fear was gone. A soothing tranquillity flowed from her brain, quieting his jumping nerves, slowing the pounding of his two hearts.
As Jommy slipped into the shelter made by a man and a woman walking past them, he had a glimpse of men bearing down on the tall figure of his mother, looking very ordinary and very human in her slacks and pink blouse, and with her hair caught up in a tightly knotted scarf. The men, dressed in civilian clothes, were crossing the street, their faces dark with an expression of an unpleasant duty that had to be done. The thought of that unpleasantness, the hatred that went with it, was a shadow in their minds that leaped out at Jommy. It puzzled him even in this moment when he was concentrating on escape. Why was it necessary that he should die? He and this wonderful, sensitive, intelligent mother of his! It was all terribly wrong”.
Intriguing or what?
Of course many novelists around the world at the time, only wrote about Earth, and its human complexities, in sometimes very subtle, innocent and almost childlike expressions (dear to Spielberg in many of his movies as well), vs trying to captivate us, with our huge universe’s possible lifeforms (and somewhat often violent depictions of its potential inhabitants).
And from France, I still especially enjoy, from surrealist poet, Desnos, a peaceful yet striking, simple yet contrasted, melodious poem, written in a particularly moving fashion, about Earth and its humanity: alive, lucky, loving, unhappy and injured at times, happy at its core fortunately, sometimes not seen, and still alone in the universe.
Il était une feuille
Il était une feuille avec ses lignes —
Ligne de vie
Ligne de chance
Ligne de cœur —
Il était une branche au bout de la feuille —
Ligne fourchue signe de vie
Signe de chance
Signe de cœur —
Il était un arbre au bout de la branche —
Un arbre digne de vie
Digne de chance
Digne de cœur —
cœur gravé, percé, transpercé,
Un arbre que nul jamais ne vit.
Il était des racines au bout de l’arbre —
Racines vignes de vie
Vignes de chance
Vigne de cœur —
Au bout de ces racines il était la terre —
La terre tout court
La terre toute ronde
La terre toute seule au travers du ciel
and I of course imagined, that the simplicity of this innocent and beautiful almost childlike poem, inspired another huge French novelist, Antoine de St Exupéry a few years later, about the possibility of love and friendship on our planet, between all sorts of beings, including children.
His philosophical and enchanting internationally acclaimed “The Little Prince”, (“Le Petit Prince”) visiting Earth from asteroid B612, expresses also the beauty, the innocence, the sorrows of humanity, through the eyes and heart of a young hero who falls in love with a rose, befriends many, encounters all sorts of dark and light beings; and finally, learns about profound happiness in life; which sometimes can be as simple as, feeling happy a few hours before an actual scheduled encounter, with someone you truly care for.
“Si tu viens par exemple à quatre heure de l’après-midi, dès trois heure je commencerai d’être heureux … ”
Isn’t that so true and deep? And this innocence reminds me as well, of the childlike quality found in Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” depiction of communication between aliens and humans, at times.
Let’s go back to the movies.
The most iconic sci-fi movie ever, (in my opinion of course), is Kubrick’s 1968 film, the timeless and genius “2001, a Space Odyssey” which I also saw screened, last year, at the Lincoln Center, with many friends:
Let’s watch the trailer:
Yet, a few years after “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, other “alien” movies have often still fascinated me. I won’t mention them all, otherwise this post will be endless.
But one the great masters is Ridley Scott, firstly in 1979, with his brilliant “Alien”, whose incredibly suspenseful atmosphere, still endures as well:
And so is, the masterful (1982) “Blade Runner” of course, also by Ridley Scott; perhaps one of my favorite sci-fi movie ever, because of its richness and humanity:
And I’ll just mention a few other great (and sometimes unusual) sci-fi movies: in no particular order, I also especially enjoy Burton’s humor, and here, I especially like the terrific idea that beautiful music, liquefies malevolent beings.
What a concept!
Let’s watch this silly scene from his “Mars Attacks” (1996):
Also, recently in “Arrival” by Villeneuve (2016), which displays a completely different vibe and take on aliens, I especially liked how unveiling courage and purity of heart from the lead human character, allows for the beginning of unusual communication tools, wonderful exchanges, and understanding between all:
Let’s watch this moving scene:
And of course, I love “Ender’s game” (2003) by Hood, for its wonderful humanity as well, as all Orson Scott Card’s novels often display.
Let’s watch the trailer:
And two of my other favorite movies about aliens, are a little less recent: “Men In Black II” (2002) by Sonnenfeld, in which I particularly love the hilarious idea that, the slow paced, snail like, yet reliable post office, is run by aliens; and how music, is the code that unlocks truth, lets the “masks” fall, allowing the aliens to show their true face/form.
What an enchanting idea!
Let’s watch this wonderful scene:
And finally, my second favorite alien movie, after “2001, a Space Odyssey”, is the imaginative “Contact” (1997) by Zemeckis, dedicated to Carl Sagan. I particularly love the end of this wonderful movie, in which the lead character, a self driven astronomer, keeps dreaming about the universe and its possible inhabitants; knowing that proof always needs to be demonstrated, before being able to try to convince anyone, of the reality of her own “encounter” with aliens. And yet, despite all sorts of upheavals, and still working on projects to prove her theories, our courageous heroine remains hopeful, and at peace, incredibly serene and upbeat, on our beautiful Earth, regardless of what the future holds for humanity, potential aliens and/or for herself.
And here as well, what beautiful music.
How about it!
Of course, until aliens are actually found, these issues (whether pessimistic or optimistic) about extra-terrestrial life, will remain in the realm of science-fiction instead of religion or science.
But let’s agree, that music plays a huge part, in dramatizing the far fetched storylines of this cinematic (sci-fi) genre, and sometimes allows even, for additional communication and hope, that peace could thus, prevail; if the universe held other inhabitants!
And if aliens did exist, and needed to discover one of our best movies, if I had to choose just one, I would have them watch “Funny face” (1957) by Donen, for its charm, quaintness, idealism, and its wonderful viewpoint on human happiness (although it should talk also, in this silly “happy” song about “how to be lovely”, about the importance of including as well, healthy eating, sports, friendship, love, purpose in life, as well as holding a rewarding, well compensated job, of course).
It does though, do justice, to one profound truth about this beautiful human feeling/state of mind/potential reality (happiness), when the girls sing the following:
Happiness comes mostly from letting joy, be monumental in life.
And of course, that really only happens, when we are authentic with ourselves, and with others: true, grounded, present yet fun, intelligent, diligent, organized yet spontaneous; effective, curious yet also, open, lighthearted, charming, silly, quirky, imaginative, creative, peaceful, tolerant, patient, forgiving, and, last but not least, caring.
Eternal butterflies 😊