Friday, December 15, 2006:

body snatchers mix, part 5

fear in a garbage truck of fluff (Kaufman, 1978)

Lightnin' Hopkins -- Feel So Bad
Acoustic country-blues with Hopkins' distinctive reedy voice and some banging piano backup.
[Blues Kingpins]

Waylon Jennings -- Crying
Jennings is not quite up to the melody; his reach isn't as agile as Orbison's, his touch not as deft. He's like a blackhat hacker whose social engineering fails and so he decides to brute force it. It's inelegant but it works.
[Country Giant @ emusic]

Rebekah Del Rio -- Llorando (Crying)
This one's from Mulholland Drive; supposedly it was a one-take recording, which (if true) is all the more amazing considering how well it turned out. This performance is like an angel, watching mute for six thousand years, then deciding it has something to say about sadness.
[Mulholland Drive: Original Motion Picture Score]

Lee Dorsey -- Tears, Tears and More Tears
Lee Dorsey just sounds so damn affable in his songs, like somebody's hip grandfather in sharp shoes and a fedora, incorrigible, bawdy, a metric ton of fun. He's known for working with Allen Toussaint and also the Meters; this one is a Toussaint production with the bass and muted guitars holding down the rhythm and pianos low in the mix accenting it. The horns are in tiptop shape and the vocals give them a run for their money.
[Yes We Can/Night People]

James & Bobby Purify -- You Don't Love Me
Uptempo soul number from James and Bobby Purify, most known for "I'm Your Puppet." This one's a rowdy track with knockout vocals.
[Shake a Tail Feather]

Bo Diddley -- You Don't Love Me (You Don't Care)
Bo Diddley can sing songs that don't contain the words "Bo Diddley," and they're often good, too. Love the harp on this one, especially the echo, and the pounding piano solo is good too. The song has an interesting structure: several verses, a solo, an outro.
[Bo's Blues ]

Oingo Boingo -- Imposter
This song is not afraid. Not afraid of you, or your mama, or your cyborg from the future with the chip in the head. It's from Only a Lad, an album with a gleefully creepy song about a pedophiles, but this isn't that one. This one's about music critics, who are painted less sympathetically than pedophiles. "You take the credit while others do all the work / You like to think you discovered them first / We all know you moved in after it was safe / That way you can never get hurt / You like to play God / You don't believe what you write / You're an imposter" and later, "Your head is firmly lodged way up your butt / Where it belongs."
[Only a Lad ]

(Discussion of Kaufman's film, with spoilers, follows.)

Philip Kaufman, in his remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, changed the setting from a small town outside San Francisco to San Francisco itself: at the start of the film, pods drift up off the surface of a barren planet, float through space, and descend on earth, the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. There they cover various plants with a gelatinous, translucent substance and begin putting out first roots and then flowers.

Elisabeth Driscoll finds one of the flowers, picks it, gets stared at by a teacher encouraging her young students to pick them, and goes home, where she tells her boyfriend Geoffrey that it might be a completely new species of plant that cross-pollinated from two others, something invasive and dangerous. Unlike in the first film and in the text versions, Elisabeth (the Becky character) is not divorced, but there are signs early on that their relationship is in trouble--the first thing Elisabeth says to Geoffrey is "Too much trouble to pick the mail up off the floor, Geoffrey?" She goes over to him and he pulls her into his lap; they kiss, and Geoffrey interrupts it to shout about the basketball game on the TV behind her.

Matthew Bennell, for his part, is not a doctor but a health inspector working for the Department of Health; he angers the wrong restaurant workers with a promise to have their permit revoked and then spends the rest of the film driving a car with a busted windshield. Elisabeth also works at the Department of Health, and though it's not clear if they've dated before, it is clear that they are attracted to each other. This attraction lends a certain tension to the early scenes in the film, when Elisabeth is still trying to make her relationship with Geoffrey work.

For someone who's seen the original film and noticed the teacher's interest in getting the children to take the flowers home it's probably no surprise that the next morning Geoffrey isn't acting like himself, that Elisabeth is curious and alarmed about it, and that Matthew has a psychologist friend with a number of fairly convincing explanations about why they might be imagining things. In this case the friend is David Kibner, played by Leonard Nimoy. It's an unusual casting choice, especially given the success of the original Star Trek series: Kaufman no doubt expected audiences to be unsurprised at his coolly logical demeanor and perhaps to wonder if it's too obvious that he would be a pod person.

Kaufman also makes a few recontextualizations: not just in changing the setting from suburban to urban but also in making explicit comparisons to disease, evolution, and pollution. All of the topics are covered in dialogue, generally more than once; so the subjects are not subtext but text itself. The change in Matthew's job is interesting, as it shifts him from private practice to civil servant, implying a certain amount of faith in the government yet maintaining the character's interest in contagion and infection. And while Jack is still an author (in this film a poet), he and his wife Nancy also own a mud bath. Nancy is explicitly concerned about environmental damage, at one point commenting that they don't know how the aliens invade humans--"We would never even notice it, not from the impurities we have. I mean we eat junk, we breathe junk--" And Elisabeth's interruption: "Look, I don't know where they're coming from. But I feel as though I've been poisoned today. We've got to take those flowers in and have them analyzed. This is the only thing we know; there is something here."

A number of critics and horror fans have commented that the new urban setting doesn't work (Stephen King, for instance, stating in Danse Macabre that Kaufman lost more than he gained in the change), but I suspect that's a matter of taste. Kaufman is not working on the same scale as Siegel or Finney: Finney's story is a somewhat harrowing but ultimately hopeful story. Siegel aimed for something darker--more loss, more betrayals, a grimmer ending--but had a more hopeful ending (or faux-hopeful ending, depending on your interpretation) forced onto the film. Kaufman states very calmly that there is no reason for hope and will be no survivors.

The aliens in this version sweep up and dispose of their human remains, and throughout the film we see garbage trucks compressing grey fluff in clouds of dust. The first vehicle seen in the film is a garbage truck; and the morning after Elisabeth takes home the flower, Geoffrey is already awake, sweeping something up when the alarm clock goes off. He ignores Elisabeth's questions and takes the trashcan downstairs to a waiting garbage truck. They're everywhere in the film, a constant reminder of both consumption and waste.

The film is also concerned with media, like the Siegel version and the various texts: at Matthew's house on top of a hill, Jack can't pick up any radio stations. Matthew tries several times to call for help, and while some of his later calls are intercepted, most of them go through because the people he's contacting have already been changed. They're careful to appear to help, at least until it no longer matters. When it's clear that the aliens are tired of waiting and are going to force the four of them to be changed, Matthew, Elisabeth, Jack, and Nancy flee Matthew's house, chased by a horde of pod people emitting a hair-raising, thoroughly alien, klaxxon-sounding alarm. The four humans run through dark city streets casting giant shadows, chased on foot and by motorcycle police, tracked by helicopter, and once they're cornered Jack decides to split up from them to find help. Nancy runs after him, leaving Matthew and Elisabeth to go in a different direction.

Eventually they hear some music coming from a ship, giving Matthew the idea to sail away. He goes to investigate, as in the previous film; and what he sees is a ship being loaded with pallets of pods. When he returns, Elisabeth has fallen asleep and won't wake up. He tells her comforting lies as her body disintegrates; and then her replacement sits up and tells him he should quit resisting. This scene is similar to the one near the end of the original film, except that in the original Siegel didn't dare show or imply that Becky was naked (most likely the Hayes code wouldn't allow it). As a result, in Siegel's film we're supposed to believe that the pod person came to life, took the clothes off the remains of the original, put them on itself, and then lay down to pretend to be tired for when Miles returned. No, in this one Elisabeth is naked and she doesn't care: not as she stands up, not as she follows Matthew to the greenhouse nearby, not as she walks through it with dozens of workers milling about, paying her no attention whatsoever. Some people take the nudity as gratuitous, but it strikes me as both logically consistent and purposeful, underscoring the complete alienness of the invaders. It's here in the greenhouse that Matthew makes his final stand, destroying some of the pods and causing a fire before fleeing again to hide.

Throughout the film, Matthew and Elisabeth have been the holdouts in government, trying to maintain their humanity against soul-crushing odds. At the very end we see Matthew at work, appearing dispassionate around the pod people, then in his office cutting out an article, as he did at the beginning of the film. And as the pod people begin to leave the Department of Health, Matthew does too: outside, to the plaza where those strange twisted unforgettable trees are growing, where he hears a voice behind him calling his name. It's Nancy. She steps forward, looking stressed and tearful and relieved to find him, and Matthew raises his arm and emits that klaxxon alarm. In a film explicitly concerned with the environment, starring two civil servants, this ending could be read as both a statement about the effectiveness and integrity of government and as a death knell for hippie idealism: the world is doomed; your government will make sure of it.

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My internet is suddenly very flaky and I'm leaving for a long vacation tomorrow morning, so there's a good chance it will be awhile before the rest of these body snatchers posts go up.

I remember watching Mulholland Drive and realizing with a shock that "Llorando" was an incredible cover of Roy Orbison's "Crying." Very nice.


Nice analysis on "Body Snatchers," Tuwa. I first saw this in college in a course on rhetoric and persuasion called "Satan's Used Cars." The alternative interpretation our professor offered was that it wasn't the assimilation of the hippy ideals but rather the hippy movement as perceived by a pre-boomer mindset (Flower Power, anyone?).

"This performance is like an angel, watching mute for six thousand years, then deciding it has something to say about sadness." Thank you for that. It expresses exactly how "Llorando" as well as "Crying" as make me feel but, of course, with far more beautiful language than I could have chosen =)

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