Review(s) | 36 HOURS / MEMORY: THE ORIGINS OF ALIEN | Plucked Into Obscurity

A Zeitgeist NOLA Double Feature

Both movies are playing at Zeitgeist Theatre & Lounge until October 17th:

36 Hours

When Caniba was released year or so ago, my immediate reaction was “stunned”. With that viewing, I noted that I had finally seen a film so aggressively human and nonchalantly scary, that unease was too light a word to express my feelings. Static shots of an old cannibal’s face, still with his dead stare, charming grin and eerily quiet apartment adorned the majority of the runtime, doing more than expositing solely on his ravenous act of murder but giving us everything that comes with our obsession with him and his actions. For a short time, it was my favorite movie of that year.

Somehow, and in an “of course he would” way, filmmaker Adam Sekuler has done to birth in 36 Hours what was done to macabre legacy in Caniba.

It’s not an easy watch, nor should it be. We literally spend an abridged thirty-six hours in a hospital room with a young woman in the final throes of pregnancy, and just about every moment, from arrival to “arrival”, is punctuated with hypnotic breathing, whispers and whimsy talk to calm down a potentially tense scene. Family and friends are there for comfort and support, but what else can they do that the doctors and nurses are already on top of? Take the occasional picture and just sit with her, basically.


Interspersed throughout this procedural documentary/diary are shots of the woman, full belly and naked, in nature. Here, she performs some interpretive dance in place, sweat beading off of her skin, awkwardly and disturbingly making motions that are both pretty and painful to watch. In my mind, I now cut to the birthing scene, the end of the thirty-six hours, where we see her legs spread wide and contorting face struggling to follow directions in pushing out and breathing in.

The baby’s not the monster; I’m the monster.

She says the above line when just chit-chatting with those around her, making light and poking fun at what’s to come. I think of Sekuler’s previous entry on death, Tomorrow Never Knows, and consider the thematic juxtaposition at play, even if side by side. It would be far too easy to compare that movie with something like Caniba, but I would make the argument that Sekuler wasn’t interested in the dying state so much as he was with the end of life.

36 Hours too deals with the end of a life, but more a phase of it and into a new one of maturity and motherhood. Yes, a baby is born, and it’s wonderfully emotional once it comes into the world, but the time we spend is in and with this woman’s visage and perspective, which brings up in equal parts moans of joy, fright, and hurt. These stages give way to something new, which will have to live on in our imagination, as the credits roll as soon as time runs out. This new thing will be exciting, will be terrifying and will be difficult, but more than worth it, we can only assume.

This is no “how to give birth” PSA, no instructional film or anything of that sort. In some manner, it’s a horror based in the anticipation of the inevitable unknown, of what lurks in the mid-section of a young lady, just waiting to burst out in violent beauty. It’s only scary for her, but we’re left exhausted if only vicariously. The explosion into life was momentary for us but for her?

Maybe only a dance can reveal that answer.

Maybe 36 Hours isn’t exactly Caniba or on a Caniba level, but it doesn’t have to be.

Maybe Tomorrow Never Knows is the better movie about life.

Maybe it’s too quiet and too still, invoking boredom more often than evoking the concoction of emotions that comes with birth.

I’d still claim to be “stunned” by some of it.

RATING: 3 / 5

Memory: The Origins of Alien

In 1979, they brought fear to life.

Did they? Right then?

My cinephile tendencies are to bring up films like the original Nosferatu or thrill pictures in the vein of King Kong spectacles. Hell, even footage of a train coming at the screen pre-dated Alien. Hyperbole indeed.

Yet, let’s not wash this movie away so easily.

Memory doesn’t start as one would expect from a documentary. Ancient ruins. A future hellscape with advanced mutants, maybe humans, skulking around a ship? Then, we get talk about sci-fi and Alien. Why not? Why not throw us into the breach of narrative darkness blindly, only to plunge out towards interviews and behind the scenes type meanings? Impressive use of… trickery? Of the horror genre itself?

There are certain behaviors and attitudes meant to be read between the lines in Ridley Scott’s/Dan O’Bannon’s Alien, a seminal classic of Lovecraftian nightmares that was, absolutely, a product of its time. Critics, filmmakers, actors, and scholars are brought on board to discuss aspects of the movie, from early pre-production to final theorizing on what scenes and even frames were doing on conscious and subconscious levels.

Memory is no Room 237, and that’s both a compliment and a detriment.

Man, would this have been all the more interesting with delirious conspiracy-laden reads of visual texts and tenuous connections that would make Alex Jones blush. But man, am I also thankful that such silliness was ultimately kept off the screen.

We dive somewhat into myth and collective/hive creativity, and what a truly crazy good combo these men and women made when brought together to make something fairly unprecedented. Memory goes deep enough on what’s beyond the film, but not too far-out into a realm of whacky, where tales of divinity and pie in the sky thinking could’ve potentially ruined the proceedings (though it would’ve been fun to watch). It’s an attempt at putting together a philosophical case-study and a production log on Alien at once, which succeeds without having cake and eating it too - even if that comes close to fruition.

Geeky but not too niche. Heavy but not over our heads. Choppy but never muddled. Appreciative and eager.

Alien was and still is an anomaly of sorts in cinema, but did it bring “fear to life”? Brother, it expressed it through and through. Sister, it took it to a heightened plane. But fear was and will always be with us, breathing down our necks.

RATING: 4 / 5

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