Guest writer LORCAN MAGUIRE reviews Memory, a new documentary delving into the influences that made Alien (1979) a classic of the sci-fi horror genre
It’s almost 40 years since Alien was released in the UK.
It’s since spawned sequels, prequels (ugh), video games, graphic novels, crossovers, action figures, and a cottage industry of ‘making of’ books and documentaries.
The latest addition to this oeuvre is Alexandre Philippe’s film ‘Memory – The Origins Of Alien’.
Where previous works have perhaps concentrated on Ridley Scott’s superbly assured direction, in what was only his second feature production, Swiss artist HR Giger’s legendary and massively ripped off creature design, Memory focuses on – and indeed takes its name from a very early draft of the script – Dan O’Bannon’s part in a trifecta of artists most responsible for bringing Alien into the cinema.
Key to this has been O’Bannons widow Diane and complete access to his personal archives.
She relates tales of her late husband’s upbringing in rural Missouri with no access to a television – being almost wholly reliant on books for his entertainment.
But no science fiction as O’Bannon’s mother didn’t approve.
Not that this stopped him, thankfully for the annals of fandom.
Memory (2019) focuses on writer O’Bannon’s influences
Everyone who is any kind of Alien fan will know the usual lists of what influenced it and indeed they are all mentioned here – Lovecraft, the classic ‘It! The Terror From Beyond Space’, Mario Bava’s 1965 ‘Planet Of The Vampires’.
Jodorowsky’s ‘Dune’ project is discussed and how it introduced O’Bannon to Gigers art.
What hasn’t been mentioned – and there are numerous nuggets of information like this throughout the film – is his fear of insects, his fascination with the art of Francis Bacon, his health issues, and the horror comics that a juvenile O’Bannon would devour in the 1950s that he lifted some of the key plot points from.
And the most key one – the one the latter part of ‘Memory’ focuses on – is the much-mythologised chestburster sequence.
Veronica Cartwright and Tom Skerritt talk about this at some length, telling what may be the definitive story of that day on the set of the Nostromo.
Not a shot by shot documentary
This is not a shot by shot ‘and then we filmed XYZ sequence using this camera on this setting’ documentary, however.
This is also a fascinating exploration of both the creative process behind the writing of the script and intertwined with the psychology of O’Bannon – what led him to conceive of one of the cinema’s most legendary and enduring monsters – and how it pressed so many psychological buttons in how it goes about its business of reproduction and its phallic, otherworldly sexual physical appearance.
In all, ‘Memory’ is an absorbing and worthy addition to the canon of material that exists around the series.
If you’re at all a fan of the first film then I would go so far as to say this is essential – I’ve been obsessed with this film since I was a child, and there was a lot of material here I’d been completely unaware of – from pictures of O’Bannon mugging for the camera in the corridors of the set at Shepperton to stories of Harry Dean Stanton entertaining his colleagues between takes.
And even if you’re not, this is one of the best looks at a writer’s influences and motivations I think I’ve ever seen on screen.