Seen at the Sydney Underground Film Festival
One of the movies I have probably watched more than any other is Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th. I love a good documentary about film, one that takes on a single movie or franchise and methodically explores its themes and concepts, behind the scenes stories and effectively disassembles the entire movie in front of me. Crystal Lake Memories is my favourite version of this idea as it methodically goes through every film in the original franchise, the TV series, the reboot and the team-up movie… it’s also six and a half hours long and I have watched it at least a half dozen times because I am eager to explore the details that go into making some of the schlocky horror films that were a major part of my fascination with the genre. So, what if someone took on a more intellectual horror film and gave it a similar treatment?
Memory: The Origins of Alien tackles the complicated ideas behind the movie Alien and lovingly explores the various ideas that went into the creation of one of cinema’s truly iconic monsters. Starting with the genius of the film’s writer, Dan O’Bannon, we slowly explore everything from H.R. Geiger to how the work of Francis Bacon influenced the design, to ancient mythology and comics. If it went into the concept behind Alien, we explore it here… for a little bit anyway, once we’re past the chestburster scene then it’s time for the documentary to end.
Turning the making of one of the greatest horror films of all time into, basically, a university thesis that an audience can follow along with is genuinely difficult. We’re dealing with some genuinely difficult topics and bouncing between reference points and various bits of arcane history to explain why the mouth of the creature might look a certain way, it’s complex and there’s so much explaining going on that other films could lose their audience along the way but this film manages to turn its deep dive into the obscure details of Alien into something fascinating. It’s riveting to find out just how hard they had to fight to get the design approved by the studio, or about the life of Dan O’Bannon or even some more details around the infamous chest-burster scene. This film certainly doesn’t skimp on the details… up until the chest-burster scene and then it kind of just stops.
For a film like this to go into so much detail, only to stop right around the first major shock, is almost a letdown because I desperately wanted more. It almost feels like this is just the first part of a much longer film series, if this is how much detail they can wring out of the pre-production stuff and just a few scenes let’s just imagine the detail they could go in about the ending of the film or anything involving Ripley. They don’t even interview Sigourney Weaver, possibly because she’s eternally busy at work and they couldn’t get her but not having her feels like a loss. If my research is right, there are only six people interviewed who were actually on set during the movie – the rest are historians, fans or miscellaneous. It feels like there’s an entire extra movie of information missing, I’d happily watch the six and a half hour cut of this film if such a thing existed.
What we have got is something pretty great, a deep dive into a piece of cinematic history that happily delves into a good amount of detail, even though it doesn’t do that for the entire film. It’s certainly informative and a very easy watch, it’s never hard to follow and I found myself learning a lot of fascinating new things about the movie. I was enjoying it, but it feels weird how quickly it stops once they get to the chest-burster scene. Highly recommend, just don’t expect it to be the absolute definitive Alien documentary. Clearly, we’re going to have to wait for that inevitable five-hour long movie, but when it does eventually happen it will owe a lot to Memory: The Origins of Alien for laying the groundwork.