Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Reading; ALIEN and ALIENS: NO EXIT

Listen to Stephen King, from Danse Macabre:

"Much of the sex in horror fiction is deeply involved in power tripping; it's sex based upon relationships where one partner is largely in control of the other; sex which almost inevitably leads to some bad end."

"I refer you, for instance, to Alien, where the two women are presented in perfectly nonsexist terms until the climax, where Sigourney Weaver must battle the terrible interstellar hitchhiker that has even managed to board her tiny space lifeboat.  During this final battle, Ms. Weaver is dressed in bikini panties and a thin T-shirt, every inch the woman, and at this point interchangeable with any of Dracula's victims in the Hammer cycle of films in the sixties.  The point seems to be, 'The girl was all right until she got undressed.'"

And in a footnote at the bottom of the page, King says:

"I thought that there was another extremely sexist interlude in Alien, one that disappoints on a plot level no matter how you feel about women's ability as compared to men's.  The Sigourney Weaver character, who is presented as tough-minded and heroic up to that point, steps out of character at the scriptwriter's whim by going after the ship's cat.  Enabling the males in the audience, of course, to relax, roll their eyes at each other, and say...'Isn't that just like a woman?'"

That was written circa 1980 and times have changed, of course, but it seems to me that he was stereotyping the men in the audience.  I'm a man and I think I would have gone after the cat as well, and I don't think less of the character for doing so.  But King raises some points worth discussing.

I recall enjoying that entire movie, especially the end segment, and the part where she stripped down to her panties heightened the tension, made her more vulnerable.  Movies (and novels) do this all the time either in symbol or in narrative.  Such scenes are appeals to the animal side of us, and our animal side is a part of the human condition--and hence a part of our Art.  We can deny it and suppress it, but it is still there.

Sigourney Weaver's part is indelible because it is like the part of Sally Fields in Norma Rae.  She is the individual against the monster, and that monster has its obvious twin in the Bureaucracy.

Like comic relief, such scenes seem to me worthy components of our literature, if accomplished either in metaphor or as non-melodramatic and essential parts of the plot.

The fact that she ultimately survives--she and symbolic cat alone--is a more significant signal of her abilities than the fact that she spent some time looking for the cat--which, to this member of the audience, suggested in a literary way that she was getting herself together, gathering up that part of herself that wanted to hide from the monster rather than face it.

Should we be embarrassed about nudity in art in general, or about enjoying that vision of Sigourney Weaver in her undies in this particular work of Art?

I don't think so.  The driving force in the original Alien--and in such sequels as B. K. Evenson's novelization of Aliens: No Exit--is always the Individual's stance against Bureaucracy, humanity against the psychopaths.  I wish some of them were better written, but I really admire their pillorying of corporate corruption on behalf of the existentialist, labor, and the powerless mass.

Speaking of beauty, I read Judy Collins' new memoir this week, and it is grand.  A personal history of a musical great and her time.

The lady is frank about her sexual exploration when young.  Always something of a liberated woman, she saw the nudity on her album cover as a positive thing then, and she sees it that way now.  In a recent interview, the Denver Post asked her to name her greatest accomplishment.  "Being with the same man for the last thirty-three years," she said.  In her book she says that she has never cheated on him and has continued to love him entirely, eternally, always. 

B. K. Evenson, by the way, knows something of the evils of bureaucracy first-hand.  A Mormon himself, he was the author of The Open Curtain, which was critical of some of the Mormon Church's historical policies.  He was also the author of some Cormac McCarthy crit-lit before his writing cost him his job at Brigham Young University.  According to the notes of Aliens: No Exit, he then became the director of the Creative Writing Program at Brown University.   

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