KLAATU YOU (3)
January 15, 2020
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite pre-Star Wars science fiction movies.
THE INVISIBLE MAN | d. JAMES WHALE | 1933
There’s a question sometimes asked in job interviews — would you rather have the power of flight or invisibility? — and there’s apparently a correct answer: flight is outgoing and triumphant while the desire to be invisible makes a retiring, secretive pervert. But come on! Who wouldn’t want to stroll through North Korea or peep at Mecca’s meteorite or whisper strange things to the Queen? And all, by necessity, in the buff! Anyone who chooses flight is a fibber and a suck-up.
I adore The Invisible Man, ticklish thrill-dream of the quiet. Its director, James Whale, came from the same provincial town as me and, for much the same reasons, struggled to fit the industrial landscape and bolted. His escape led to Hollywood where he made, famously, Frankenstein (1931), his take on H.G. Wells’ novel being a way to delay making a sequel. As much as I’d like to identify with Whale’s Henry Frankenstein, I relate far better to Dr. Griffin — or “the invisible one” as he’s named in the titles — as, I suspect, did Whale.
A break between Frankensteins it may have been, but Whale loved R.C. Sherriff’s screenplay: “nothing on God’s earth will make you put it down till you’ve finished it,” he told Carl Laemmle Jr, and it is indeed a wonderful script. One cannot forget such stylish lines as “Even the moon is frightened of me! Frightened to death!” and “We’ll start with a few murders. Great men. Small men. Just to show we’re not choosy.”
It is a technically good film too, an element of production that rarely excites me. I’d struggle to care how “technically accomplished” a similar blockbuster would be today (one assumes competence when hearing of monstrous budgets and standing armies of computer animators) but Whale’s technique to make Griffin invisible delights me: black velvet shot against an identical backdrop before placing him into the action using double exposure, his clothes plausibly filled but head and hands vanished. It’s inspiring in its clever, potting shed-like resourcefulness. When Griffin’s bandages are first unwrapped, he resembles a mummified skull, death itself. It’s spooky even by modern standards: we might have seen worse now but something about its stark reality thrills.
Our antihero, if not insane to begin with, is driven so by the liberty afforded by his anonymity. The film is quite nasty at times: a pair of trousers skipping along, merrily singing “nuts in may” before brutally battering a copper; a baby carriage upended. There’s a joke-shop unpleasantness to it, but one loves it all: the police to whom he puts paid are unreal skittles for toppling, all with the same Keystone non-face beneath soup-strainers and bobby helmets, so we’re afforded an empathy vacation while we’re dragged along, helpless and at speed, by Whale’s and Griffin’s ghostly hands. We may as well surrender and have fun. The film is a Hollywood gem, one of Whale’s most inspired moments, and a treat for us softies who perhaps, at times, in environments unchosen, felt just a little too… visible.
KLAATU YOU: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Matthew De Abaitua on ZARDOZ | Miranda Mellis on METROPOLIS | Rob Wringham on THE INVISIBLE MAN | Michael Grasso on THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN | Gordon Dahlquist on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | Erik Davis on DARK STAR | Carlo Rotella on THE OMEGA MAN | Madeline Ashby on KISS ME DEADLY | Adam McGovern on SILENT RUNNING | Michael Lewy on THIS ISLAND EARTH | Josh Glenn on WILD IN THE STREETS | Mimi Lipson on BARBARELLA vs. SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | Vanessa Berry on THE FLY | Lynn Peril on ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN | Peggy Nelson on SOLARIS | Adrienne Crew on LOGAN’S RUN | Ramona Lyons on THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH | Kio Stark on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Dan Fox on FANTASTIC PLANET | Chris Lanier on IKARIE XB-1 | Devin McKinney on IDAHO TRANSFER | Mark Kingwell on THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO | Luc Sante on THE TENTH VICTIM | William Nericcio on DEATH RACE 2000 | Rob Walker on CAPRICORN ONE | Gary Panter on ANGRY RED PLANET | David Levine on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Karinne Keithley Syers on ALPHAVILLE | Carolyn Kellogg on IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE | Sara Ryan on ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN | Lisa Jane Persky on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE | Adam Harrison Levy on BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES | Gerald Peary on CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON | Susannah Breslin on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE | Seth on WAR OF THE WORLDS | James Hannaham on GOJIRA/GODZILLA | Lydia Millet on VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED | Matthew Daniel on FANTASTIC VOYAGE | Shawn Wolfe on ROLLERBALL | Erin M. Routson on WESTWORLD | Marc Weidenbaum on COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT | Neil LaBute on 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA | Vicente Lozano on DAY OF THE DOLPHIN | Alison Fensterstock on ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW | J.C. Gabel on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS | Chelsey Johnson on THE BLOB | Heather Kapplow on SPACE IS THE PLACE | Wayne Chambliss on THEM! and PHASE IV | Katya Apekina on A BOY AND HIS DOG | Tom Roston on SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE | Anthony Miller on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL | Seth Mnookin on NUDE ON THE MOON.
CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.