Key Posts Category
When You Wish Upon A Star: Exploring the Spirituality of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
THE second-highest grossing film of 1977 (right behind George Lucas’s Star Wars) was Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of The Third Kind, a science fiction film concerning mankind’s first official contact with alien life-forms.
Close Encounter’s narrative also involves the mystery behind alien abductions and the truth regarding a government conspiracy to keep the existence of UFOs a secret.
Throughout the film Spielberg cross-cuts between two major plot-lines: a scientist’s (Francois Truffaut’s) efforts to develop a language so as to communicate with the visiting aliens, and one blue-collar worker’s (Richard Dreyfuss) personal journey to better understand their uncomfortable — but growing — presence in his daily life…and inside his very head.
Importantly, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) was described by Science Digest as a film that is “tantamount to faith.”
The same publication noted too that Close Encounters’ sense of faith, so “wondrous and thoroughly spiritual – is registered in nearly every frame, reaching a climax in its messianic ending.”(Joy Boyom, Feb 1978, p.17).
Similarly, Gregory Richards’ monograph, Science Fiction Movies (Gallery Books, 1984, p.61) contextualizes Spielberg’s disco-decade UFO epic “as more of a religious film than a science fiction one.”
So the primary question that viewers must reckon with regarding this cult classic is: why have so many reviewers contextualized the Spielberg film as one of an overtly religious nature? Does an understanding of the religious allegory open up new avenues for understanding this work of art?
Or contrarily, does the religious explanation of Close Encounters only serve to cloud the secular, humanist message beating at the movie’s heart?
Close Encounters as Religious Allegory
In part, the categorization of Close Encounters of the Third Kind as a film about spirituality and faith arises because Steven Spielberg’s movie so abundantly features what David A Cook, author of Lost Illusions: American Cinema in the Shadow of Watergate and Vietnam, 1970 – 1979, calls “an aura of religious mystery.” (University of California Press, 2000, p.47).
Roy Neary — much like the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus according to Paul Flesher and Robert Torry in Film and Religion: An Introduction — experiences a kind of spiritual dawning or awakening.
In particular, Neary sees a UFO and hears the call of the aliens (transmitted via a telepathically implanted, subconscious “message” or “vision.”)
At first he does not understand the alien message. What is the meaning of the strange thoughts in his head? Why does he feel compelled to undertake a pilgrimage -- a journey to a location of great importance to one’s faith – to some mountain he has witnessed seen only in his mind?
Eventually, however, Neary surrenders to the vision, to his faith. He forsakes all his worldly belongings and connections — including his family — in a devoted (and perhaps mad…) attempt to understand why he has been “chosen” to hear this call from a (literally) Higher Power.
Clearly, Neary seeks communion with the message’s sender…with a stand-in for God. His quest in Close Encounters thus reflects Scripture and Romans in particular. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Here, Neary has heard and honored that word, but it is the words of the aliens.
Neary’s hardship and trials are eventually vindicated. At last, he meets the aliens at the mountain of his vision (ironically at a place called Devil’s Tower), and then watches as a version of the second coming of Christ is re-enacted before his eyes.
According to Flesher and Torry (Abindgon Press, 2007, p.200), the returned abductees whom the aliens release from their landed mother ship symbolically represent the dead rising, or the resurrection of the dead as foretold in Scripture. And furthermore, the ascent of the alien craft to outer space with one of the faithful (Neary) ensconced aboard it similarly represents the Christian rapture, the trip to Heaven, essentially.
Even the physical appearance of the aliens in Close Encounters might be readily interpreted as strongly reflecting Christian apotheosis.
In form, the extra-terrestrial bodies “have no clear blemishes or gender, suggesting that superior beings transcend the normal categories of physical existence and approach the ethereal qualities associated with spirits and angels,” notes scholar Eric Michael Mazur, (Encyclopedia of Religion and Faith (ABLC-CLIO, LLC 2011, page 388).
In his final ascent to the stars, to Heaven, Roy Neary is wholly affirmed in his unyielding faith and belief in the vision he received, over his wife’s cynicism and stubborn skepticism, and over the U.S. Government’s attempt to “control” the meeting of man and alien.
In some sense, Close Encounters is all about taking a leap of faith, and that very idea finds resonance in one of Spielberg’s compositions. Confronted with the government lie about a deadly and toxic nerve gas spill in Wyoming (near Devil’s Tower), Neary chooses to “believe” his own narrative instead. He rips off his protective gas mask and breaths the purportedly contaminated air. But he is proven right…he survives, and his faith is replenished.
Given the alien angels, the metaphor for the Second Coming and even this leap of faith, the overall effect, therefore, of this cinematic journey is indeed, well, rapturous.
Strangely, however, there is a dark aspect to this story of religious awakening that one must also weigh.
While it is true that Roy Neary transitions from an unhappy and spiritually bereft life to one of faith and purpose, the cost of such knowledge of God (or God surrogate, in this case) is his very family. In the act of proving his faith and his worthiness of being “born again” in the stars, Roy abandons his family on Earth. This abandonment is literal, not metaphorical.
The non-believers — including his children — get “left behind” to toil in the world without his guidance or even presence. And again, the message could be interpreted as strongly religious.
If you don’t “believe,” you don’t get saved.
Lastly, even Close Encounters’ famous tag-line “We Are Not Alone,” could be easily parsed in a religious, “God is my co-pilot” sense.
Close Encounters as a Secular Film about Self-Fulfillment
An alternate reading of Close Encounters suggests this cinematic work of art from Spielberg is actually a humanist film, the secular tale of a man who chooses to no longer be enslaved to society’s destructive constructs (including government, career, and family), and to follow his own individual path instead.
The story, again, is of Neary breaking free of constraints, but the breaking free in this reading is from a society that lies, cover-ups, and demands his perpetual unhappiness for its continuance.
The fact that Spielberg plays the song “When You Wish Upon a Star” at the conclusion of Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the primary support for this reading.
One lyric in that composition suggests a direct rebuke of faith, or religious identification. When you wish upon a star it “makes no difference who you are,” the song goes. In other words, you need not be affiliated with any particular group or belief system if you hope to achieve your dreams. You need not believe in God or a higher power. Instead, if you must merely “wish” and voice your “dreams,” you will be rewarded for following the best angels of your – human — nature.
In terms of history, Close Encounters of the Third Kind followed closely on many frissons in American politics, and this context, likewise, suggests a more humanist reading.
President Richard Nixon had been toppled in the Watergate Scandal in 1974, for example. His resignation and culpability in illegal activity suggested that “faith” or “belief” in the pillar of leadership was not such a good idea.
Similarly, the Vietnam War had ended in ignominy for the U.S. in 1975. The cause that so many Americans fought for (and died for…) was lost, and this very idea seems reflected in Close Encounters’ final scene.
There, a line of carefully vetted and approved government officials (surrogates for soldiers in Vietnam?) are overlooked by the aliens in favor of the “Everyman,” Roy Neary.
By contrast to these seemingly emotionless, expressionless, thoughtless drones, he is a man who chose explicitly not to believe the fairy tales his government was peddling. He has thus established his independence and his resourcefulness outside of Earthly and national considerations.
In this reading, the “leap of faith” of taking off the gas mask is actually the dawning awareness that — because of Watergate and Vietnam — the U.S. Government could no longer be trusted, or be considered an agent for honesty.
But again, in this reading of Close Encounters, one must reckon with Neary’s pure selfishness, his very questionable decision to leave his children and wife behind for his own individual “self-fulfillment.” And again, one must note that very idea of “sweet fulfillment” is explicitly voiced in the lyrics to the song “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
Yet I would suggest that Neary’s act of leaving his family (and his government, and his job…) behind in 1977 would not have been looked at by many audience members as purely a bad thing.
One must recall that the 1970s was determinedly the decade of the “self,” a fact reflected in the hedonism of disco music, and the blazing ascent in popularity of the “self-help” book genre. Popular buzz-words of the day included “self-realization” and — sound familiar? — “self-fulfillment.”
Yet as the movement of “self” grew in the late 1970s, many people were concerned that the new ethos was merely one of “self-involvement. The consumption-oriented life-style of immediate gratification soon gave rise to President Carter’s notorious 1979 “Crisis of Confidence” speech, which warned against judging success on material wealth rather than intrinsic human qualities of character and morality.
Meanwhile, the nation kept building more shopping malls, and imagined worlds futuristic (Logan’s Run) and apocalyptic (Dawn of the Dead) set at these new shrines to materialism. he 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake deals explicitly with this notion too, of the idea of people “moving in and out of relationships too fast” because they wanted to be happy and fulfilled, all the time.
But in a way, this is what Close Encounters concerns as well. Roy Neary helps himself, finally, to achieve his “dream,” even if his family can’t share in that dream. He gets what he wants — to go with the benevolent aliens to the stars — and in the late 1970s, this result is what qualified as a happy ending.
In his text How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity (Three Rivers Press, 1997, page 291) author Bruce Bawer wrote of Close Encounters of the Third Kind that “salvation, meaning, and transcendence come down from the Heavens in a spaceship.” The question to ponder today involves the brand of salvation and transcendence.
Is it a spiritual reckoning, or a secular one that the alien spaceship brings with it?
It is a testament to Spielberg’s skill, perhaps, as a filmmaker and storyteller, that Close Encounters can be interpreted through two such opposite lenses or world-views.
ON this day in history – 1970: John Lennon performed his solo single Instant Karma! on Top Of The Pops.
EVERYBODY knows that Mary Quant invented the mini-skirt. Except she didn’t. In reality nobody really knows for sure who produced the diminutive garment first. Some say it was John Bates, famous for dressing Diana Rigg so memorably in The Avengers, while others say it was the French designer Andre Courreges, although Quant would later write: “Maybe Courreges did do mini-skirts first, but if he did, no one wore them.” There’s no doubt, however, that skirts were getting shorter each year in the early to mid-sixties but this was almost certainly to do with technological advances that enabled tights to be produced relatively cheaply more than anything else. Although Mary Quant is often credited with inventing, or at least popularising, coloured and patterned tights too.
Checking The Mail: Jan Moir’s dating advice
I’D take dating advice from the reanimated corpse of Lucretia Borgia before I turned to Jan Moir for lessons in love. Still, it doesn’t stop Dacre’s most delightful attack dog from offering unwanted advice to the great and not-so-good. This week’s instalment is Ms Moir pontificating about the alleged peccadilloes of Wendi Deng who apparently went ding dong for Tony Blair’s…legs.
What Moir can’t get her head around is why women would ever be attracted to Tony Blair or Bill Clinton. Fairs fair she does also mention Francois Hollande and Silvio Belusconi who look like muppets made out of old leather offcuts from a furniture warehouse. However, is it really so surprising that women go for Blair and Bill? Both men are charming, powerful and uber-rich, hardly a combination that has proved unpopular.
ONCE the Atari 2600 hit its stride in ’81, there was simply no stopping the tsunami of video game offerings. The transition from coin operated arcade games to systems you could play in your living room can’t be overstated – it was revolutionary. But with this influx of new entertainment came a cornucopia of bad games. Here are five of the worst offenders.
This TRS-80 game basically was about preventing other people from using up your toilet paper. Think about this for a moment: It was the dawn of the video game revolution, the prospects were limitless, the future full of possibilities…. and they make a video game about preserving toilet paper?
THE greatest unanswered question of human life is, paradoxically, about death.
What follows our duration on this mortal coil?
ON January 19, 1984, 16-year-old Tracy Nolan met top pop act Duran Duran. Smash Hits magazine was there to record the “Special Night Out”.
Things we learn:
FOR some reason, it became a thing of pride for 1970s rock musicians to look as homeless and ungroomed as humanely possible. We may have chided the ’90s grunge bands for wallowing in filth, but that was nothing compared to the unwashed hordes of unkempt ’70s rock bands.
THIS might be the world’s worst Beatles tribute. In 1977, Rolling Stone Magazine booked Ted Neeley (Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar), Patti Labelle, Ritchie Havens, Yvonne Elliman (she was Christ’s Mary Magdalene) and more for A Day In The Decade, a rendering of A Day In The Life. The show begins with Neeley (bigger than Jesus?) singing about himself getting out of bed, dragging a comb across his head, looking up, realising he was late…
ARE you a creationist? Matt Stopera at Buzzfeed invited creationists at a debate between Bill Nye ‘The Science Guy‘ and Creation Museum founder Ken Ham to write questions for those who believe in evolution. They would then pose for the cameras behind their questions. Answers were soon on their way.
No-one changes their views in these debates. They are all about shoring up your own prejudices. With the fish in the barrel, Beth Spencer of Lawyers, Guns, and Money aimed her harpoon:
Q: What mechanism has science discovered that evidences an increase of genetic information seen in any genetic mutation or evolutionary process?
Q: If we come from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?
Spencer: Because all this poo isn’t going to fling itself and creationists tire easily.
Q: Why do evolutionists/secularists/humanists/non-god-believing people reject the idea of their [sic] being a creator god but embrace the concept of intelligent design from aliens or other extra-terrestrial sources?
Spencer: They don’t. Next question.
Q: How can you look at the world and not believe someone created/thought of it? It’s amazing!
Spencer: No, perky lady, the word you’re looking for is “amazeballs.” Please re-write your sign.
Q: How do you explain the sunset if their [sic] is no god?
Spencer: If you get to credit god with sunsets, can I finally get everybody to admit that Satan created the raisin? I look at raisins and I am certain THERE IS NO GOD.
Q: Are you scared of a Divine Creator?
Spencer: Yes. John Waters is terrifying.
And a few you missed. ANd - no – they are not actors in parody nor agents booked by evolutionist to make creationist look mentally negligible:
Spotter: Martin Schneider
IS there anything better than a mid-century men’s action magazine? They were chock full of lurid stories and provocative artwork depicting female biker gangs, nympho pirates, Gestapo dominatrices, etc. If it fulfilled a macho fantasy, it was fair game, and the headlines beckoned men to go along for the ride. Here are ten worthy examples.
THE MAN WHO TOUCHED OFF PHILADELPHIA’S GREAT BOSOM RIOT
Male, Sept. 1959
I’m a mild mannered, peaceful kind of guy – not much into protests and insurrection. That being said, a “bosom riot” is something I could get behind.
OF course, The Fab Four’s time in America is very well documented. No-one needs to know more about the whole Bigger Than Jesus thing and George Harrison’s ‘spotty youths’ comment when he visited the hippies on the West Coast.
However, less well documented are the mop-top knock-offs that The Beatles created. Garage bands and frat beat groups sprung up all over America after the mop tops played Ed Sullivan.
So, here’s 10 of the best American Beatle Bands or Fab Four rip-off records… and by the way, being a Beatle rip-off band is no bad thing at all! Feel free to chime in with your own!
1. The Byrds
The Byrds hit the jackpot when they took Dylan’s folk music and turned it into a Beatle beat. Perfect for the US market – homegrown lads (not like those British Invasion swine!) making Dylan’s nasal drawl more palatable. ‘Feel A Whole Lot Better’ is the choice here, but in fairness, it could’ve been picked from two dozen songs!
Life Once Removed: One Woman’s Wonderful Life With Her Fake Family (Photos To Make You Hate Your Life And Envy Hers)
IN 2010, we shone a light on the Doll Forum – the online meeting place for adult doll owners. We showed you photos from Mechwizard’s holidays with Zara, a tall brunette with long hair and well-appointed orifices. We waited. And now Denver’s Suzanne Heintz shows us that it’s not just men who seek companionship from mannequins. It’s women, too. In Life Once Removed, Suzanne, Mr Heintz and the Heintz nipper take great family trips. They look like they get along so very well. It’s all smiles all the time with the Heintz family.
The Second Honeymoon.
She got her dad’s posture.
ALFRED Hitchcock once remarked that every person understands fear, because everyone was once a child. “After all,” he declared, “weren’t we all afraid as children?”.
According to the authors of Monsters under the Bed and Other Childhood Fears (Random House; 1993, page 1), “childhood is a time of many fears” and children between the ages of six and twelve “experience an average of seven different fears.”
Buzz me, Huff me, make me up Worthy
What to learn from Tumblr, Buzzfeed, HuffPo and Upworthy…yes, really
Which media organisations have mastered making the web jump to their own sick tunes? Buzzfeed and The Daily Mail. The rest of the media runs like pissed wolves behind these lean beasts. The Daily Mail turns its enemies into obsessive readers. Even the most dyed-in-the-wool of liberal mung bean-munching Guardian readers find themselves stumbling over to the “Sidebar of Shame” to read about a revolving cast of celebrities about whom the Mail writes bizarrely detailed dispatches.
Read The Document That Caused A British Magistrates’ Court To Demand Mormon Church Prove Adam And Eve Were Real
THIS is incredible. The Telegraph reports on a criminal case that is utterly nuts. The head of the Mormon Church movement is being summoned to prove the religion is based on facts that can be proven by science. If he can’t prove it’s based on facts, then it’s a lie. Anyone donating money to his religion is a victim of fraud. He is a criminal. That’s the thinking.
But why pick on the Mormons and their books? Why not pick part the Koran, the Talmud, the Bible or any other religious tract? Is this a test case. Mormons are less likely than others to kick up a stink and bomb your house. Start with them and move on. Maybe one day even Scientologists will be ask to prove it.
The Telegraph sums up the matter:
A British magistrate has issued an extraordinary summons to the worldwide leader of the Mormon church alleging that its teachings about mankind amount to fraud. Thomas S. Monson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been ordered to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London next month to defend the church’s doctrines including beliefs about Adam and Eve and Native Americans.
MY MOST BELOVED possessions in the 1970s were my T-shirts. They were my identity. My Kiss concert shirt was proof that I’d witnessed the greatest show on earth. My Pete Rose shirt was proof of my allegiance to the Big Red Machine (the Cincinnati Reds). My Mork & Mindy shirt was proof that… well, I guess that I was a complete and total nerd.
THEY had one job. Just write a single sentence about a movie. It’s not quantum physics. After millions of dollars spent and many months of filming and editing, it comes down to the humble tagline writer to simply scrawl a few words together. Alas, this task is often too much to bear, and a movie poster is forever besmirched by a woefully inadequate blurb which undercuts all the hard work. Perhaps it’s not so easy to condense an entire film into a few words; whatever the case, here are a few examples where tag lines fail.
Loose Shoes (1980)
There won’t be a dry seat in the house.
Three Hats For Lisa: Swinging London And Sid James Gives The Greatest Musical Performance In Cinema History
IS this the greatest musical performance in cinema history?
Joe Brown, French-born Sophie Hardy (who played the eponymous Lisa Milan), Sid James, Una Stubbs and Dave Nelson hit the big screen – in colour – with the 1964 release of Three Hats For Lisa.
YouTuber RetrunerMan reveals the plot:
It’s a Swinging London romp as Joe (Johnnie) tties to help Lisa Milan, played by Sophie Hardy, to find three typically British hats for her collection. Probably not too difficult, only she wants to steal them instead of buy them. Oh, and one is a coppers helmet!
BETWEEN 1976 and 1984, Woody Allen was the 2D star of Stuart Hample’s comic strip Inside Woody Allen.
THE STORY of tobacco in advertising is a long and winding tale. At some points it has targeted children, at others it has tried to sound like a health food. The specter of cancer has loomed over the product for decades, and advertisers have done their best to divert your attention from the elephant in the room. Tobacco advertising has been overtly sexist and overtly pro-woman (i.e. Virginia Slims); it will be anything you want it to be in order to gain your love and trust.
Indeed, we could talk all day about the dubious practice of selling carcinogens, but let’s focus on the one tactic that tobacco peddlers have relied on most. Here are ten fantastically sexy and sexist vintage ads for your viewing pleasure.
Can you believe they actually tried to make the second-hand smoke smell good? This one advertises cherry and blueberry flavor. I suppose it sounded like a good idea on paper. After all, why must smoke always smell like the Grim Reaper farted? Why can’t second-hand smoke not only cause cancer, but smell great too? Well, you’ve got to hand it to Tipalet for giving it the college try, even if it did end with abysmal failure. Fruity smokes may not have worked out, but at least it spawned this infamous advert ….
“They’re Dead. They’re All Messed Up” – How George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead Recreates the Unrest of 1968
THE AMC original TV series Mad Men (2007 – ) set its latest season against a disquieting historical backdrop: the turbulent events of the year 1968.
Specifically, Matthew Weiner’s award-winning period drama book-ended the season with allusions to two classic genre films from that year: Franklin Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby.
Both are excellent selections that showcase, respectively, global and spiritual apocalypse.
Yet there is another film — one released on October 1st, 1968 — that also represents perfectly the turmoil of America during that season: George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.
Today — due in large part to another AMC series, The Walking Dead (2010 – ), which is now airing the final portion of its fourth season — the zombie is arguably more popular a monster than ever before in genre history. Since Night of the Living Dead is its acknowledged spiritual and historical antecedent, the original film is thus eminently worthy of a re-watch in 2014.
TODAY marks the anniversary of Joe Meek’s death. The first British independent record label, genius producer and thorough crackpot departed this Earth on 3rd February after committing suicide after murdering his landlady at his home studio on Holloway Road.
And ever a fan of the occult, it only seems right to contact Meek on the date of his death, rather than birth. Meek, who ‘contacted’ Buddy Holly beyond the grave and got a hit out of it, was a studio wizard, as avant garde with his approach to pop music as Aphex Twin was in the ’90s.
ON This Day – February 3 1959: Charles Hardin Holley – aka Buddy Holly – 22, Jiles P Richardson – aka the Big Bopper – 28, and Richard Valenzuela - aka Ritchie Valens – 17, were killed when their single-engined Beechcraft Bonanza planed crashed shortly take-off from Clear Lake, Iowa.
Pilot Roger Peterson, 21, also lost his life.
The triumvirate’s last show has been at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, where their memory lives on:
Holly had only recent gone solo, breaking up with the Crickets.
On February 1 1959, the stars played Green Bay, WI, Ballroom.
They had been a sensation. Buddy Holly and the Crickets made an appearance on the Arthur Murray Dance Party on December 29, 1957. It was unusual to see a band like the Crickets performing on the show.
“Now, if you haven’t heard of these young men, then you must be the wrong age because they’re rock and roll specialists. Now, no matter what you think about rock and roll, I think you have to keep a nice open mind about what the young people go for. Otherwise the youngsters won’t feel that you understand them. Now, if we’re ready for our rock and roll specialists, we have…Buddy Holly and the Crickets!”