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Roger Corman’s ‘Wasp Woman’ Screens With Live Science Commentary

TheNAT’s entomologist Dr. Michael Wall provides science fact behind the fiction

Poster art for the 1959 cult classic sci-fi B movie

Credit: The Film Group

Above: Poster art for the 1959 cult classic sci-fi B movie "The Wasp Woman," about a woman who tries to come up with a beauty product to stay young.

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This summer, Balboa Park comes alive after five with extended hours at participating museums, including theNAT. On Friday, curator of entomology and pop culture fanatic Dr. Michael Wall will screen Roger Corman's 1959 B-movie "Wasp Woman" and provide commentary.

This summer, Balboa Park comes alive after five with extended hours at participating museums, including theNAT. Curator of entomology and pop culture fanatic Michael Wall will screen Roger Corman's 1959 B-movie "Wasp Woman" and provide commentary this Friday.

Once again, theNAT serves up a mash-up of pop-up videos and Mystery Science Theater 3000 as it presents a science-fiction film with trivia and live commentary by Wall.

"We kind of merged VH1’s old pop-up video with Mystery Science Theater to make fun of the science and to mix some contemporary pop culture into the movie so it’s a little bit of poking fun and the real science behind the science fiction," Wall said.

This Friday, you will find out if Janice Starlin (Susan Cabot) can really transform into a murderous wasp creature after applying experimental beauty creams as Wall presents "Wasp Woman."

Wall calls himself a "pop culture enthusiast."

"As an entomologist, I love all sci-fi B movies that have any sort of buggy, spidery connotations to them. And I like 'Wasp Woman' because even contemporarily there’s a lot of interest in different kinds of health products and the different ways that nature can cure our woes of aging, and so I thought it was kind of timely in a way but also just really fun and the science in it is pretty rotten," Wall said. "And so it’s all good to have a little bit of fun with."

And the fun comes entirely from a place of affection. Wall may be heckling the film and making fun of the bad science but he loves these movies and sees them as a means of getting real science to audiences.

"I think it’s a good entry point. I mean popular culture is a good entry point for everything because it’s by its definition popular. So to take these films that are retro pop culture and use them as an entry point to teach people a little bit about the difference between bees and wasps and all that sort of stuff is a great entry point," he said.

The science fiction films of the 1950s serve up a particularly rich sample of a particular strain of the genre: science gone wrong.

"During the 1950s, we’re in the atomic era. And there was all this fear of the destruction that science could cause and also the possibilities it could bring about," Wall said. "And so fear in general often inspires creativity in some circles and so we saw the movies, particularly one about radiation gone wrong and breeding huge creatures and killer creatures and stuff like that but also with other forms of science twisting in a bad way."

I was fortunate to have attended previous screenings that Wall has hosted including one he did for the film "Stung," all about giant wasps. And what I took away from his talk was that real wasps are pretty darn scary.

"Exactly!" Wall agreed. "There’s a huge diversity of wasps and some of them are downright creepy. There’s ones in particular that inspired a lot of science fictions that are parasitoids or parasitic wasps, they kind of lay their eggs into other types of insects and then eventually those eggs hatch and burst out of the insect host so very much in the inspiration of these aliens and things like that. But there’s a huge diversity of wasps. Some are beneficial — they pollenate figs and things like that but for the most part, a lot of them are pretty scary. They don’t have a good reputation."

The screening experience at theNAT is great.

“Wasp Woman” will play on a giant screen and a smaller screen below will feature pop-up videos with trivia and little science factoids. Wall will introduce the film and provide "live color commentary" throughout, and at the end he will be available for Q&A.

It is an incredibly fun and informative experience that I highly recommend.

“Wasp Woman” screens at 6 p.m., Friday at theNAT. You can also listen to Cinema Junkie Podcast Episode 15B for more with Wall about scary real-life bugs and the science fiction they inspire.

'Wasp Woman' Trailer


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Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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