Those were the days- Cinefantastique Vol 9, Issue 1

cinefantast9.1One of the pleasures of my old film magazine collection -scattered and rarely looked at, it may be- is how it affords the feel of a time machine in ways that the internet never will. Looking through old issues of Starburst or Fantastic Films or, in this case, Cinefantastique is a curious window into the past. My clear-out/tidy-up of my back room etc has unearthed all sorts of distractions that halt me in my tracks and make this clear-out stretch on into weeks. It could be endless at this point.

So Cinefantastique, Vol.9, Issue 1; its the Alien issue, and we’re presumably into summer/Autumn 1979.

Its the previews that always get me. Back when these mags teased the first images from coming attractions and always had an open, hopeful mind regards whether it might actually turn out ok or not. Naturally in 2022 I know better.

The first film previewed in this issue is Saturn 3, describing the initial genesis of John Barry’s project, and how the poor man was dismissed from the film’s directors chair amid tensions between the cast (and really, Kirk Douglas’ ego and Hollywood clout back then must have had the gravitational clout of a Black Hole that Disney would be envious of) . The article mentions Barry moving to a second-unit directing gig on The Empire Strikes Back and his sudden death from meningitis in May. I remember it also reported by Starburst at the time, awfully sad. Barry was a real talent and only 43 when he passed. Saturn 3 didn’t really turn out that great, but I have it on Blu-ray and had mixed feelings about it last time I saw it. It’ll never be great, but its interesting how different times/fashions/styles imbue even a poor film with a curious second-wind once removed from its immediate era. It just occurred to me that Kirk Douglas and Farrah Fawcett are gone now, as is Roy Dotrice, who dubbed Harvey Keitel’s lines when the actor refused (or was unavailable to) re-record his dialogue.

Turn the page and suddenly its a two-page spread about Star Trek nearing completion. Back when Star Trek was going to be the biggest film ever, another Star Wars-type hit, or actually really good. Here we are 43 years later and Paramount are doing a 4K Directors Cut to finally get the damn thing done right. How strange is that? Imagine tapping a reader on the shoulder back then and saying “you’ll be waiting awhile longer yet.” Its a crazy world.

Those were heady times though. Turn the page and The Black Hole is coming, Disney doing a Star Wars knock-off decades before they resorted to buying the damn thing from Lucas to make it, er, official. The article actually makes Disney’s film look really promising. There’s mention of Tobe Hooper making a TV adaptation of Salem’s Lot, which actually turned out okay- when I first saw it on the BBC it creeped the hell out of me. A page is devoted to, ahem, Flesh Gordon 2. I’ve never seen either Flesh Gordon film, in fact I didn’t know there was a second one, was this even released or did Dino nuke it with his official Flash Gordon being made (a small section of the previews announces that Flash Gordon had begun shooting)?

Turn the page- The Martian Chronicles with Rock Hudson, Isaac Asimov NOT writing Battlestar Galactica, Dick Smith joining Altered States, and a little film titled The Empire Strikes Back. Its curious that even with the film a year away, much of the plot was known -and summarised here- and the magazine with a Sense of Wonder is predictably dismissive: “science fiction buffs hoping for a serious fantasy film come May, when THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is released, will have to look elsewhere.” Ouch. I always forget just how po-faced this mag often was, or the high standards that editor/publisher Frederick S. Clarke demanded (to his endless disappointment, far as I could tell). Even a year off, TESB was being shot down by Cinefantastique.

The Alien coverage is pretty interesting. I always find these articles from when the film came out really fascinating; without the perspective later making-of books etc have, the sense of the ‘now’ and Alien being just this one shocker of a movie, its really telling.  And of course, in this case, interviewing Ridley Scott with all those films we all know now, still unmade ahead of him. He mentions an initial idea of using the music of Tomita for the soundtrack, and describes Tomita’s electronic version of Mars, the Bringer of War from Holst’s “The Planets.” In a comment that may have been later picked upon by James Cameron, Ridley mentions that Mars music and says “..that music said all there was to say about what the alien was. Imagine many of them, a lot of them, having the capability of getting about. Christ Almighty!” Ridley you just broke the plot of Aliens in summer of 1979, and Cinefantastique had a scoop and didn’t know it.

The issue’s centerspread is Giger’s Necronom IV painting, which inspired the design of the film’s Alien creature. Its a beautiful painting, endlessly fascinating every time I ever see it. I pause over that spread for some time. What a strange, nightmarish genius Giger was. He always struck me as a bit of a one-trick pony with that biomechanical style (it certainly didn’t at all suit some of the later films he worked on) but he absolutely hit pay-dirt regards Alien. Timeless genius. There’s an interview with Bolaji Badejo, the Nigerian student spotted in a pub in London who donned that alien suit. Its an interesting article, but also rather sad – he died in1992, just thirteen years later, at the far-too young age of 39. Reading his comments at the time, hopeful he might appear in future Alien films in that costume… yeah, our perspective today can be rather depressing.

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