TCM 50 Must-See Sci-Fi Films
Welcome back to another edition of listener supported PBS and I'm a junkie podcast Beth Accomando. You ever been asked to make a list of your favorite films. It's a bitch. First reducing your favorites down to a finite number is impossible. And then how do you define favorite or best author Sloane DeForest faced the task of coming up with a list of 50 must sci fi films for a new book published by Turner Classic Movies. As with any list people will applaud some choices criticize others and complain about what's missing. But on a certain level isn't that what the list is supposed to do. It starts a conversation. So today I'm going to have a conversation with Sloan to determine what makes a must see sci fi film and what did and did not make her list. I began by asking her to give us a little background about herself because she's not just an author she's also worked in the industry. I have actually I started acting about. Oh gosh I'm afraid to date myself by saying how long ago it was but I'm thinking it was a long close to 15 years at least. I started acting. So yeah I've been on many films set as an actor. So where do you trace back your love for film cause to put together a book like this. You must have a bit of a passion for film. I do. My mother did have a passion for film. She she found escape in the movies a lot as a kid growing up in a small town in Texas. And I'm sure that you know she passed it on to me. But it's also in my blood and my father's side because my great great grandfather's nephew was Lee DeForest who invented the sound on film process. The first sound on film process fono film in 1923 and he was working on that and in Hollywood and he worked in the film industry a lot as well. Now one of the things you listed I think it's on your Web site in the description for the book is that you've seen over 3000 films in your life. So did you start watching film very early or did you kind of cram for this book later on. No well both I started watching films pretty early but I don't know that I would I don't know that I consciously realized that I was a cinephile or anything like that. I just sort of I think it gained momentum as I got older and I realized that I really appreciated films and then when you got into the late 80s and the 90s and beyond that there was some some some errors there. When I was growing up that were that I was dissatisfied shall we say with the current output Hollywood was churning out and so I think I started to revisit or to visit and discover classic films that were made before I was born and I found that I liked them typically better than I liked the current films. So you have this new book out called Must See sci fi 50 movies that are out of this world. So whenever you're doing something where you're dealing with the genre are dealing with a list. There's always that moment where you have to kind of define what it is that you're looking at. And you said that this genre has been called The Impossible genre. So how did you go about kind of defining the requirements for what might fit into this list. Yeah good question. It was really kind of an eye opening process for me because I never really questioned that much before. You know what makes a science fiction movie. And when I started actually asking that question I found myself spiraling down a rabbit hole you know what. Wow. What is science fiction. So I think that's why I put that in the introduction because that was my experience and maybe other people have had that experience as well. When you start trying to really define it it almost escapes definition. I worked on the list with Turner Classic Movies so it wasn't just me by myself coming up with a list of 50. It was with other with other various input as well. But it was still difficult to narrow it down and to say OK well you know at one point they didn't want me to write TCM thought maybe I shouldn't include a clockwork orange because it wasn't pure scifi. But then we included Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind a lot of people don't think of that as science fiction either. So I sort of pulled that argument on them and we ended up getting a clockwork orange back in the book. So it's really subjective you know a lot of films just have science fiction elements woven in. But does that make them pure lifeI but then is Frankenstein that the classic firefights also horror. You know there's a lot of crossover which I found interesting. Were there any particular qualities that you felt you wanted to make sure were in each of these 50 films or some sort of element that you felt binds these together. I guess just there their impact on cinema I think that's what we were really looking at maybe important not even the right word but how big an influence did this film have in our culture and on the art form itself. In some cases it was something more obscure but maybe has a lingering effect like Lodge Atay for example a lot of people have never seen that film or heard of it. I actually to be honest hadn't seen it until we started researching the book. And then once I saw it I realized oh this has to go in the book because you know I see 12 Monkeys. I see the terminator. I see Looper. I see so many things that came later in this one 28 minute film. So it was really I guess about what it was how big an impact did it. Did the film have made you bring up Logia which is not an American film and TCM is most closely connected to American cinema. So was there a point where you were debating do you include foreign films at all because you also have Gojra and Alphaville right. I think to see always wanted to include foreign films. You're right there mainstay is more American cinema but they have an interest in foreign as well and also they wanted diversity in it as all of us wanted some diversity and we didn't want to create a book. It was you know the 50 top American Hollywood science fiction movies that are completely predictable. We wanted to have a few surprises in there and maybe take it in some unexpected directions. So that's what makes it exciting. So you mentioned surprises. What would you point out in the book that is a film maybe that people would not expect to see aside from maybe Licia is one of them but is there another one that you think is something that people might open it up and go like oh I didn't think of that. Yeah I mean there are a couple I think for me these are the damned was one that I really enjoyed that again I wasn't that familiar with until we started the book. That's also that's a British film so that's another exports just as human beings smash smash. Again we're the wild ones played with the passion of Dan. How do you put his dirty hands on people like leading one hell of escaping from what goes on behind the barbed wire. Who and what are these ferocious dogs got. And who are these children. Where do they come from. To whom do they belong. Before you get yourself excited can touch the little boy's face. So real that you can touch. Tara so sinister that it makes the flesh creep. There. Yes 20000 Leagues Under the sea. I don't know if other people would be surprised by that but I was a little surprised at first because I sort of thought. Where's the sign of. The motion picture screen explodes with unprecedented power. As the. Masters of imagination. Disney joined to bring you a shattering. Experience in entertainment. James Mason is Captain Nemo who held the destiny of the world in his hands during the ocean depths. Thank you. So we left on. Monday to find my powers of description. Sequence that are the most vivid scenes on the novel become unforgettable on the screen a luxurious interior of the submarine the revelation of the hidden mysteries of the deep. We do our hunting and farming and of water the sea supplies my bones and to stay in your memory as the most thrilling sequence ever photographed in motion picture history. The terrifying battle with the giant. And I think maybe a lot of people who've seen you contemporary time younger people certainly who see it may have the same reaction initially Where's the science fiction. Well it was so ahead of its time that what was considered science fiction when it was written in the 1400's is now has been science fact for so long that it almost doesn't seem like a science fiction. I was surprised me happy to see Brazil in there and because that that I don't think something that people readily jump to is kind of like yeah that's a sci fi film right. That's another one. That's another good example. It's more dystopian and that's sort of what TCM said about a clockwork orange is dystopian but does that make it science fiction. So there's so many weighty concepts you know you can weigh and ultimately it boils down to I guess it's science fiction enough science fiction and it's a good enough film and is impactful enough film. Yeah. So Brazil is is it science fiction. I don't know a clockwork orange to me is science fiction because it has a real undercurrent of lifeI all of the the Ludovico technique that they do on Alixe that's pure science fiction. But we don't see it really we just sort of see it through his eyes as is being done to him in his. I realize that says I'm very grateful to concerned. The negative briefings send. I hope so Mrs.. What's the hold send me to sleep. Nothing of the sort. Vitamins will be then something like that in a little Londoner's so after each meal we're going to give you a shot to live on your right side these and your pajama pants and fill them halfway down. What exactly is the treatment going to be then. It's quite simple really. But just going to show you some films like Gonchar the pictures. Something. Like. That. And want to do the old things again. So the science fiction maybe is a little bit cloaked more hidden in films like A Clockwork Orange or Brazil or Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. It's there. Let's go to the beginning of your book and just tell us what you're first it's in chronological order but it kind of tell us where the book starts and why it's important kind of to start with the film you chose. Yeah I think it's really important to start with a trip to the moon. I think we always wanted to start with a trip to the moon because it's really the first science fiction film. And people I think are more familiar with it now because of Martin Scorsese's Hugo. But that was one that a lot of people might not have seen because it's just so early cinema. So that's but as I said in the book when George Millea launched his rocket into the eye of the moon he really launched the genre of science fiction. So it's really important to honor that and then it skips ahead to Metropolis because I mean there really weren't a lot of important science fiction silent films made. You know it really metropolis is kind of the granddaddy explained to people kind of the format of the book in the sense of you're not just doing. Here's a synopsis of what the film is. You're kind of bringing in a lot of different elements sometimes talking about literature sometimes giving behind the scenes so kind of give us a feel for what you wanted these kind of descriptions of these films to be like Yeah I wanted them to feel not like synopses because that's sort of why we have the little one sentence synopsis you know on the page of each title to give people in case they haven't seen the film. The at least an overview or if they haven't seen it in a while a reminder of the plot. So then we don't have to really do a plot you know a scene by scene discussion of the film and that that freed me up to talk about some things that are more interesting to me. I guess I'm always interested in the origins of things where did the origin where did this idea originate. So I like digging into that and kind of finding some treasures that people may not know. I tried to really balance balance the text in the book for each film and make it so that people who maybe were just coming into science fiction who had a passing interest in it and hadn't seen a lot of films or didn't have a lot of knowledge of it could learn some things and and find the book Engaging and also people who were maybe hardcore science fiction fanatics. I really tried to put if you know dig deep and tried to put a few nuggets that may they may not know in there as well. So I kind of tried to tailor it as something for everybody. I hope I succeeded. Well part of it too. Did you want bees. I mean each one is kind of a little analysis of the film and did you hope that people might pick this book up and just be inspired to go seek something out based on how you talked about a film. Yes absolutely. I think that's always in the back of my mind when I write about film is I want to excite people into saying oh I have to see this movie or oh I have to re watch this movie. It's something maybe discuss something that reignites their interest in it. Absolutely. How did you feel about Roger Corman doing the introduction for the book. Well I was so excited. I mean he's just such a seminal figure in science fiction. I mean my goodness from his first movie you know since the 50s you know he's just a legend in the genre and even films that he hasn't directed or produced. He's often had a hand in. You know he's just he's had a hand in a lot of films over the years. So he's been an influential figure and just a nice guy. I mean I wish I would have worked with it would have had a chance to work with him more closely on the interest on the on his forward. We just basically sort of communicated by email. I hope to meet him in person. Well I liked how the introduction was very much him in the sense of you know he's somebody who is a producer who has his eye on the bottom line. So part of what he addresses is kind of kind of this financial history of science fiction as well as you know what the content was but it was kind of a nice very personal look at science fiction through his eyes. Yeah I loved reading his Foreword and also doing some research on him as well you know watching the documentary about him reading his autobiography. It was fascinating to me to hear his journey. It was really a blessing to get his sort of encapsulated brief version of his journey in my book. I was happy to hear that because the first film he saw was a matinee of things to come in 1936. He's really seen it all. One of the things you have is kind of a little sidebar for each of the films where you list what you call either mindblowing moments or far out facts. So what were you kind of looking for in terms of those little footnotes I guess I was looking for things that people might not know off the top of their heads. I don't know. You know again how successful I was because there are some passionate people about science fiction out there and they just know everything. So it was a real challenge for me especially on a movie like Star Wars. I mean what kind of factoids am I going to find out about Star Wars that as the Star Wars fans who've seen it 200 times don't already know unless I get a personal interview with George Lucas which I wasn't fortunate enough to get. I was looking for intriguing little details. Fun little details and again maybe not common knowledge. Now you bring up Star Wars which sometimes raises issues for sci fi fans in the sense of they go that's not science fiction that's fantasy. So is that one of the debates you had also when you were kind of like putting this list together that sci fi versus science fiction fantasy. Yes absolutely. There was someone at TCM who said who sort of you know put up the red flag at Star Wars and said that's not really science fiction. It's it's it's more of a fantasy. And we thought yes we all agree with that but it has to go in the book Do As I have a book on science fiction cinema and not include Star Wars again as I said earlier I think it's scifi enough is science fiction enough because it's it's it's fictional science is more about you know it's just used it's tools used to tell a story an age old kind of story and it uses spaceships and robots to do that. So I can see that argument what we had to include Star Wars. It's just such a groundbreaking classic somewhere in space. This may be happening right now. 20th Century Fox and George Lucas the man who brought you American Graffiti. Now bring you an adventure unlike anything on your planet. Star Wars. Do you think the thing about Star Wars also is that although it may not be classically science fiction I feel like there's a generation of people who saw that and got inspired to kind of go into science just because it ignited their imagination. Good points. I agree and I also think there's a generation of people there's a generation of filmmakers who saw Star Wars and were inspired. And I think that its impact on cinema again its impact on science fiction genre films is huge even if it itself it could be argued is not science fiction. It changed the whole tone of science fiction after it was released suddenly Spielberg could do Close Encounters and there could be E.T. and there could be these positive side films because really high fights have dwindled into sort of negative dystopian and really kind of fizzled out before Star Wars came along. So I think that it is again its impact on filmmaking and filmmakers and on science fiction is undeniable. Well it's interesting and you do include George Lucas's earlier film which is th x 1 1 3 8 which is more a kind of pure science fiction versus what he did in Star Wars so it's interesting to see how he went from one to the other. Yeah I found that really interesting as well. You know he goes he does t t t h x his first film his first feature film and then he does American Graffiti. I mean to me that's just wow that's him. That's incredible. That kind of leap into completely different territory and then Star Wars. So it's almost like you know you see this negative dystopian very side by X and then you see this nostalgic personal journey with maybe that journey is the right word but a very personal film with American Graffiti that's more heartwarming I guess and more upbeat and then you see Star Wars which sort of combines the two almost in a strange way. So it's a fascinating set of three films for a filmmaker. The first film will George Lucas is one of those filmmakers who I saw his work when I was that I was a teenager I was like 16 and 17 and just on the brink of going to film school and so he had a real impact on me. But I've always wondered like if Star Wars hadn't been a success would he have gone back to do more kind of th x movies as opposed to kind of the bigger blockbuster films. Yeah I wonder that too. That's a good question because I feel like Star Wars maybe is a blessing and a curse. Like how do you live that down ever. You know some of the cast members as well and Ford Lucas himself and he you know he created the monster but it's just become I can't imagine that anyone could have predicted that we would still be living in a Star Wars dominated world you know 40 years later. Now one thing that you also have in each section is keep watching. So with this kind of a little bit of a way for you to sneak some more titles in there because you wanted to stop the list at 50. Yes. You got it. You get it. That's exactly right. There are so many movies that we you know I wish that could have been included in here. So I thought at least we can do to keep you know I mean we ended up calling it keep watching. You know as a sort of a takeoff on the the famous line from the thing but to recommendations for each film too. Absolutely. To sneak in some more titles and to do also to branch off into a few more obscure titles because you know we really want unwanted movies again. We have some more obscure ones in here but really it's more popular films. So this way we could sneak in some of the movies and some things we couldn't fit in like Galaxy Quest. I wanted to write about Galaxy Quest as an example. But there just wasn't room well and you also kind of add in. When you have something like The Thing from Another World you mention the John Carpenter remake. I think there was another one too where there was a remake done so you kind of added those films in without actually having to make a separate entry. So you kind of covered both ends of that. Yes exactly. And that was TCM suggestion. They said let's I think initially I had created a list a suggested list for them that included you know the Empire Strikes strike back for example and John Carpenter's The Thing as well as the 1951 thing. But they said no let's just do the original let's not do remakes let's not do sequels. We can mention those in the when we talk about the originals. So that's what we ended up doing is you know I tried again as you said about the recommendations I tried to squeeze in some more because I love for example Philip Kaufman's 1978 version of invasion of the Body Snatchers. Right. It's a classic and I really wanted to write a separate one about that. In fact I believe I did. I think before I realized it was going to be cut I wrote an entire piece on the 1978 version that I realized that I had to get it. So I tried to fit in as much of the 1978 version into the 1956 Don Siegel invasion of the Body Snatchers entry so that that's a little bit long. Now you brought up Galaxy Quest which you didn't officially include but you do include sleepers so you do bring in at least one of the kind of science fiction comedy was that important for you to kind of have that represented. Definitely will if I'm a fan of Galaxy Quest. Obviously I like science fiction comedy I just like comedy in general I tend to I tend to prefer the movies that have a sense of humor. So yes Sleeper was one that we felt we had to include or that we wanted to include because it is classic scifi I think a lot of people forget that. And it's also a sci fi parody and it's also a seminal film kind of in Woody Allen's career. Excuse me Mr. Alan is that your new movie you're working on. No I'm a clarinet player in 1973 I go into the hospital for a lousy operation I wake up 200 years later and I'm Flash Gordon. That's the name of the film the name of the film is sleeper. Basically it's an intellectual film. Most of the scenes in it are a cerebral didactic nature and there's very little overt comedy in the film. Woody Allen. And Diane Keaton. In sleeper a mob story about two people who hate each other 200 years in the future. And it it's another one that you know people need to kind of wipe the dust off of and rediscover maybe that was on that one. One thing that's always nice about books like this is this one I'm Taylor is very lavishly illustrated you get some poster art which they don't do quite as well now and photos. Was that something that you were involved with or was that something that you push to make sure that there were a good set of illustrations to go with this. Definitely it was definitely important to me to have some amazing photography and I was very fortunate because I was able to work with a friend of mine Manola Bowman who has a really incredible photo archive as well as David DeLaval who has an also incredible photo archive of monster movies and sci fi movies and horror movies are kind of his specialty. But he's been collecting for years decades. So I had access to both of their collections. And I worked with David DeLaval to really take the best of the best or the most appropriate photos and sort of fit as many as we could in there. We had to cut again because there just wasn't room. When I found that the photos were getting so small there's not room for them. They just shrink them down so we cut a few and anyway it was. It was difficult to process. You know as figuring out what movies to cost and which movies to keep you know you have to go through the whole thing again when it's time to illustrate the book figuring out which photos to keep and which ones to cut. But I'm happy that we got some amazing pictures in there and I hope a few of them are rare and I mean with film I think it's really important because I think that can be an entry point. I mean you can thumb through your book and an image can just grab you and go like Wow. What's that from. And you get sucked into the film. Yes exactly that's why it's so important. I mean it image. You know it's corny but a picture is worth a thousand words. So you know a picture can say so much more than text and sometimes it was a question of OK we didn't really have time to discuss this character or this you know in the text. So I wanted to be sure to add certain pictures for example in Blade Runner. There just wasn't a chance for me to discuss Daryl Hannah's character. So I want to include really amazing picture of Daryl Hannah in there and at least have her mentioned in the caption have nothing else. Well and especially to science fiction. I feel like so much of these films is tied in with their production design and being able to see what someone is imagining as the future whether it's kind of a mundane future like an Alphaville which looks kind of like our world or if it's something outlandish like Brazil. But those images I think are so important. Yes you're right. Particularly to sci fi visuals are key are key. So yes that's why I'm it was difficult to find the most amazing photos and the ones that really capture some of these effects. I mean again I wish. You know there's always regrets. I'm as happy as I am with the book. You know I wish there could have been a whole foldout section on you know how they did certain effects because there just wasn't room to show all the behind the scenes stuff but there's just that would be lamentable to me to have not had a lot of pictures in this book. You know just habit text because you can't really describe certain visuals and Firefly you have to show them. Now I'm curious about one film that's not in the book because you talked about how these films are ones that have impact but plan 9 from Outer Space is some kind of iconic how did what was the discussion on that. Actually now that you mention it I think Plan 9 From Outer Space did make it on my original list. I think I wanted to write about the Ed Wood film. I have a passion for Bad Cinema. I have to admit. Bad science. Well let's not say bad. Perhaps that's you know unfair let's say low budget science fiction cinema and B movies because actually I think my interest in science fiction started in high school when I started watching Mystery Science Theater 3000. Remember that one. And they showed nothing but the kind of corny movies that they would make fun of. That's sort of my roots. That's good. I feel like that's my background in science fiction is a B movies and the really low budget movies. So I would have had a blast talking about Plan from outer space but I think it just it ended up getting cut because there were just so many more films that we felt were were better appreciated and more impactful and more important. But it has had a huge impact on our world. Certainly Plan9 now. Dominant. Right. Now. There. Anything. That. Really hurt to not include in this list. Yes I was I was hurt when I've turned in the book. I believe in September and then went to see Blade Runner 2049 in October because the book was written and I couldn't write about it. I really would have loved for that to be included. I mean I did mention it. But I really hadn't seen it yet because it hadn't been released yet. When I finished writing the text so I couldn't discuss it in detail. That would have been interesting to include that one because I think it's I think it's just gorgeous. I'm kind of fascinated by it. But a love me again like you said maybe next time maybe we'll do a sequel. Well the problem is is you're the pool of films you're looking to is going to constantly grow as we move forward. It does you. It's been growing by leaps and bounds. I mean sci fi is really hot right now so there's a lot of that a lot of films and a lot of television too as well and was there any film that you got on this list that you were really glad that you kind of put up the fight for. Yes I would say there were three films that I sort of had to cajole TCM into adding I already mentioned a clockwork orange which they they conceded too easily. But then the other two that they wanted to cut were Alphaville and Barbarella and I fought to get those back in and I had not seen Barbarella in years. It was a favorite of mine again like when I was in high school when I was in my 20s. I thought it was very kooky and retro and so glam and it was it was one that I watched over and over again on videotape years ago. But I hadn't seen it in years and so I fought to get it back on there because it was just a favorite of mine. And then I had to actually watch it. And I had this moment of horror thinking oh my gosh what if it turns out to be a horrible embarrassment. And I'm I'm embarrassed that I put it back in the book. And so that was very satisfying to watch that movie and see how well it is kooky it is. You know sometimes the effects are a little bit low budget shall we say. But I was happy I was really happy that I got Barbarella back in there because watching it through more mature eyes I really found a lot to like about it. And a lot of merit in it. I think it's kind of been overlooked a little bit and dismissed because it was. I mean it's been criticized a lot by feminists for having her kind of be victimized and just sort of be a sex symbol. Jane Fonda that is in Barbarella. But you know I saw it I saw some redeeming qualities in it that for example you know she's allowed to sort of be sexually free you know with whoever she wants to and it's kind of not judged and for 1968 I thought that was kind of a stride forward in a strange way. She's she's considered a paragon of purity. She's considered. Everybody talks about how pure and how innocent she is and yet she's definitely not virginal. So I felt that was maybe stride forward. Also in the end you know she triumphed. She saved the day. She is a hero. To me. Beautiful Creatures of the future. Her name is Madu and she makes science or something else. James von. LABRADA is a five star double rated astro navigator 6 Earth girl whose specialty is love. I tell you what I like. Her top secret mission is a real wingdings. I just had the fortunate opportunity to see it on the big screen again because Landmark Theaters brought it back as part of their classics week. And yeah I mean yes. You know I can totally get you can criticize it for all sorts of things but at the very least visually it's amazing just the costume changes a lot. Right. I know the Pasko Rabon costumes and even I was noticing the costumes on the background are incredible if you freeze frame it you know and really look in the background the set design there's nothing else like it in cinema. You're right. It's one of a kind. Visually so it had to be in there. Yeah. And the production design was amazing because it didn't. I mean that's one of the things about science fiction also that I that I fall in love with is that you do find these films with lower budgets and they managed to turn nothing into something spectacular. And there were so many scenes in that film where you go like how did they manage to make that ship that glides across the ice or whatever it it was amazing. Right. Right. Yeah they had to Roger Vadim had to get very creative. And I always applaud that. It's the same principle as Ed Wood with the Plan 9 with his cardboard spaceships on strings you know. But he he was out there doing it and making it work. And I think it works in Barbarella and was there. Did you say there were three films that you chose all three. Oh yeah. Alphaville Alphaville was the other. Yeah. And I was happy to get that in there too because saw them again there are things you can criticize about it and it certainly was it was Ghadar doing it pulling an ad would in a sense and really having no money no budget. And he did amazing things with the camera and with black and white film and with having you know let me caution drive his his Ford Galaxy. And that was a space that was supposed to be a spaceship. That's how he gets across from one planet to another is just driving his car. It was also the merging. What I found most influential that I mentioned in the book is the merging of of sort of 40s and 50s noir with futuristic science fiction. I don't know that that had ever been done before it possibly could have been somewhere. Something I'm not familiar with that's the first time I've seen it. Well and also that reminds you I think a film like that where so much of it seems of our everyday world and yet it's like you can still have these science fiction ideas going on even if the world looks pretty much like ours right. Exactly. And I think that's what Ghaddar was doing. Really. I mean there's a quote I have in the book where he says I said it in the future but it's really about the present the menace is already with us. So you know yes it was budgetary necessity to set it in the city of Paris. That looks like the present that was the present day city of Paris then. But it's also a social commentary. You're right. I mean that's what makes it interesting is because I mean science fiction is famous for you know placing something that's maybe taboo or too difficult to talk about or confront in our society on another planet. And using that as a metaphor but it's even more interesting and even more close to home when we place it in contemporary society. Now were there any of these films that you felt was a real discovery for you something that you know you made your list and you had a lot of films that you know you were already familiar with but there was was there one that you got introduced to and it was like Wow where was this the whole time. Actually yes surprisingly it was Godzilla for me. Because I had and I people will probably villagers will be at my doorstep with torches burning me for this but I had I had only seen Godzilla king of the monsters. You know the 1956 version the Americanized version with Raymond Burr. I had seen that years ago and that just turned me off of the whole idea of Godzilla frankly because I thought and it's not a terrible movie in fact I appreciate it more understanding how how it was made. It was you know they took the original 1954 Japanese film and sort of shot new scenes with Raymond Burr and inserted them carefully into the film. So that's kind of I applaud that craftsmanship right there. But I had only seen that version. I thought this is weird. I don't really get it. It's kind of bizarre and memorable. I don't know why he thinks it is an invasion though. I had never seen the 1954 Japanese version until I started researching this book and that was a revelation to me. I was really impressed with just learning about it and understanding it and understanding that it was a metaphor for the atomic bombings you know in Japan. And it took on a whole new quality to me before I just saw it as kind of a silly monster movie maybe. But seeing the real original version with the music that is so sort of disturbing and unsettling and it paints this whole picture of post-war Japan and it that's home that is really kind of disturbing. More so than just being. A monster you know a typical monster movie. It really had an impact on me. I was impressed so. Seeing it in its original form it really feels like a epic tragedy like there's such sadness that. Yes and the scenes of the children in the hospital who have been orphaned by Godzilla's rampages. It's really surprisingly touching. I mean maybe not surprisingly to people who are familiar with it but it was a surprise to me. Yeah it was tragic. It was touching and it was so much more than I had considered it. I mean it was so much more than I thought it was. And in writing these was there one that was a particular challenge. Did you get down to sit down to write one of them and just kind of like I don't know where to begin or there's so much I want to cover or just like I'm not sure how to tackle this one. Yeah actually you know Star Wars was probably the one that was the most daunting because again like I said earlier what can I tell anybody about the fact that the fans don't already know. I was really intimidated to do Star Wars. It was difficult for me. I think I researched it a lot and I finally just overloaded myself on information. I mean I couldn't I couldn't absorb all the information out there. So what I ended up doing was going back to the origins and I went and I found clippings from the original Star Wars and interviews with George Lucas you know from 1977. And I really focused on the first film and kind of that story again it's origin story and how it how difficult it was to get made and its impact. Once it did finally get made and how surprising that was I mean that was that was the story I kind of opted to go with rather than to try to tackle you know every aspect of it. Was 2001 another one that was tough to tackle. Yeah that one was daunting as well because it's so revered and it's so famous. And it's also so it can be puzzling. You know it can be intimidating to write with authority about that film when maybe you have to watch it several times to understand it you know or certain scenes and you have to really read about it and think about it to understand it. So I wanted to make sure that I understood it fully before I wrote about it. And in researching it I realized you know I don't know that anyone really understands it fully so you know I think and I think that's fine. It's in the palm bay doors. I'm sorry I'm afraid I can't do that. What's the problem. I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do. What are you talking about. This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it I don't know what you're talking about. I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me and I'm afraid that something I cannot allow to happen. As I said at the end I think it's a film that can be enjoyed without being completely understood. And that's what's so brilliant about it. In a strange way you see something new every time you watch it. And there's so much to think about you know especially toward the end. I think Kubrick the story goes that he was supposed he really intended to show us an extraterrestrial at the end. But he ran out of time and money to create the effects that may be true or it may not be true but what it ends up being is something that you almost have to fill in the blank with your imagination. And that really triggers the imagination. If you don't use drugs I think just watching the movie really can ignite the imagination. So yeah that one was that one was easier once I sort of got into it and understood that well I remember seeing that film with my dad who was a teacher he taught math but I think I was like 8 years old when I saw it. And I remember coming out being completely baffled and asking like what does this mean what does this mean. And my dad being a teacher was like well I'm not going to tell you you have to think about it. So what do you think that monolith meant. I don't know and then it's like what does it look like. Oh it kind of looks like those things in the computer. Yeah. I just remember being grilled outside the theater and it always fascinated me that film because I was so confused when I first saw it. I can't imagine it aids but that's great that your dad really sort of made you sort of forced you to think about it. Yes I think that's good. That probably created a sci fi fan. You're right. Oh he's the one who made me a movie fan from the time I was like three years old. He's the one who showed me my for you know King Kong when I was like 3 or 4 and I was hooked from that moment on. Oh wonderful. That's great. I like that story. Do you have any plans to do other books like this. Well as a matter of fact I'm working on one right now for TCM as well and running press. It's going to be called Dynamic dames and it's 50 of the most sort of strong and empowered women in film. Oh great. So yeah I'm not. It's different from CSFI of course but it will make that right. Jane Fonda Zenner yes Jane Fonda definitely dynamic dames. So that's that's what I'm working on now. Are you going to approach 50 women or 50 films. Well we're actually doing I actually want to do characters. So for example we will have Joan Crawford you know we'll have Mildred Pierce Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce in Mildred Pierce 1945 and that will be I will discuss why Mildred Pierce is an empowered character. And then we'll also go into Joan Crawford a little bit and touch on you know her her incredible reign as a movie star for so many years and her her willpower and her determination. So we talk about it focuses on each character in a film. We talk about the what the women also who embodied the character. And we also mention if there's a female screenwriter female producer the women who brought it to the screen. So I'm really excited about that book because I was I was doing csfi really I felt I felt incredibly lucky and to have a chance to write about science fiction movies because it's usually these kind of books are typically written by men. So I sort of I wouldn't say I put any kind of feminist spin on the side book but I think maybe you can tell it's written by a woman in certain places because I did make certain observations and notice you know it's impossible not to notice the progression you know in the evolution of women in science fiction movies when you're a woman writing about it. So in a sense this next book is kind of you know not too far removed from what I was Topix I was thinking about in this five books. Well great. I want to thank you very much for taking some time and you're going to be out here in San Diego so people can actually meet you. Yes I'm going to be at mysterious Galaxie bookstore on May 18th. And it's going to be exciting. It's 730 P.M. and I look forward to being there well great. Well thank you very much for taking some time and for putting together this list of films that can be a great little companion piece whenever you go out and start looking for a film to watch. Yeah. Well I appreciate that Beth that I really enjoyed talking with you about it. That was author Sloane DeForest. Her new book is called Turner Classic Movies must see sci fi 50 movies that are out of this world. She'll be in San Diego at mysterious Galaxy bookstore on May 18th. If you want a question or yourself about the films that did and did not make her list. Thanks for listening to another episode of PBS and I'm a junkie podcast. If you enjoyed the show then please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and leave a review. The podcast comes out every other Friday or at least I make an effort to get it out every other Friday. Coming up soon will be a podcast all about witches and witchcraft on film. Still our next film fix on Betha Komando your resonant cinema junkie.
Author Sloan De Forest talks about the challenges and agonies of compiling a list of films for her new book, "TCM Must-See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies That Are Out Of This World."
Have you ever been asked to make a list of your favorite films? It’s agonizing. First, reducing your favorites down to a finite number is impossible and then how do you define favorite or best?
Author Sloan De Forest faced the task of coming up with a list of 50 must-see sci-fi films for a new book published by Turner Classic Movies. In her introduction she quotes Phil Hardy who called science fiction "the impossible genre" since it seems to defy precise definition.
"2001: A Space Odyssey" may fit everyone's definition whereas "Sleeper," "Brazil" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" might not. There are others who bristle at films such as "Star Wars" being included as sci-fi when it is more obviously an adventure fantasy. De Forest's list takes us from "A Trip to the Moon" to "Arrival" in order to chronicle the films that have made the biggest impact on audiences and filmmaking.
As with any list people will applaud some choices, criticize others and complain about what’s missing. But on a certain level that’s what a list like this just should do, it should start a conversation.
For this podcast, I will have a conversation with De Forest to determine what makes a must-see sci-fi film and what did and did not make her list.