About The Trip and the movie that inspired it.
This road trip was borne out of life-long love of one movie ' Encounters of the Third Kind' and its music......oh…and a bloody great big rock!
I love Bladerunner, Alien, Shawshank, Local Hero etc, but this film continues to amaze and impress me.
The technical achievements and photographic elements still hold up and outdo todays CG heavy blockbusters. But above all of this - the simple story of everyman Roy Neary, affected by events beyond his comprehension, and the climatic revelation that he is, and ultimately, we are not alone, is still the greatest screenplay I've ever seen and ever will. Couple this with the greatest movie location ever used and you have an absolute classic film.
When I was 11 or 12 I went to the cinema to see a film I have long since forgotten, but it had a trailer for another film which had the opposite effect. It scared the hell out of me. Screws lifting up from the air-vents, kitchen appliances trying to kill a poor helpless Mum, strange lights in the sky, weird music - you get the picture.
This was early ‘78 and I had never seen a serious grown up film in the cinema. Things were very different in those days and we can all laugh at the naivety of life back then. But it was very different. Starwars was in full swing in the UK and like every other kid, I ran around with a fake light-sabre telling my sisters that the dish-washer was not the droid they were looking for.
Lost in Starwars fever I forgot about the film with a really stupid long name until later in the year when by chance I was round a friend’s house and on the kitchen table lay a gatefold LP of CE3K OST by John Williams. I had never seen the film, never seen the mothership and had never seen the principal cast. The LP had the famous back-lit highway on it. Inside were snaps from the movie and one of them was of Melinda Dillon in the kitchen. I realised that this was the film for the trailer I’d seen earlier in the year.
Few albums at that point affected me with such wonder than this one. (Tubular Bells came a year later - that's a whole other story!) I say ‘wonder’ because that is what it invoked. It was totally bizarre in content moving from aggressive marches to gentle beautiful passages and then back to ominous deep bass throbs and then back up to ethereal orchestral motifs….and of course THAT ending.
I was hooked. I taped it (in the days when taping was illegal - damn right it should’ve been illegal!, the quality of tapes was ridiculous !) and played it at home on the stereo. My sisters hated it. I loved it.
But I had yet to see the actual film and yet to experience the music in context and yet to experience the full wonder of this cinematic masterpiece. Remember, no videos, streaming, MP4’s, DVD’s in those days. It played in the cinema then was gone. You then waited 6 years for BBC or ITV to screen it. It was on TV once so if you missed that – you missed it for another year. The 70’s sucked in that regard.
As I recall the first time I saw it was in 80/81 upon the theatrical release of the Special Edition (hold fire on the criticism folks – I hadn’t seen the ’77 version so I had no comparison)
I don’t think I can really explain what happened all those years ago. I was stunned by the whole thing. It was not scary at all, it was bewildering, it was huge, it was kind, it was beautiful, it was epic and it was truly wondrous. It was hard to believe that it wasn’t real – to paraphrase Ms Dillon.
Remember that we didn’t have Imdb or internet or YouTube in those days, you couldn’t find out about how a film was made anywhere near as easily as you can these days. It was what it was. You knew it was a film but you still had those innocent questions of ‘how the hell did they do that?!, is that real?, is that what it’s like in America? Is that a real place?’ Etc.
I found it fantastical to hear the OST (which I had memorised since ‘78’s first LP spin) matched to the on-screen antics of Piggly Wiggly vans, joyriding UFO’s, AE31s, Roy Neary gate-crashing half of Wyoming and of course; those 'uncorrelated targets approaching from the north-north west'…but to see and hear the significance of ‘Wild Signals’ aligned perfectly and absolutely inherently to the scene it accompanies was something I have never seen or will ever see or hear again. The closest I have come to seeing music paired with surroundings in an almost ‘that was made for this’ way was witnessing Jean Michel Jarre at Jodrell Bank in summer ’16…gigantic technological mechanical object as a backdrop to an immensely well-presented sound system playing synthesisers to an appreciative and somewhat ‘in awe’ audience………..mmmm…come to think of it, that’s pretty much the same as the finale to CE3K right there haha.
It was, as it was for millions of other moviegoers, an ‘event sociological’. It was magnificent and though I swapped my allegiance to Local Hero or Bladerunner or Aliens or Shawshank…it still comes out as my favourite movie of all time and at 50, on the 40th anniversary year of its release, it still is.
I know there won’t be another to take its place because I was 14 and the world was different, I was different, movies were made differently, music was played differently, everything was different. Nowadays it’s not difficult to answer Roy’s question ‘how come I know so much!?’ Look at the tech we have to support our lives; information, all the time, everywhere, always on.
But in those far off days, America was like another planet we got to see on small screens at the weekends. It was big, bold, and beautiful and beyond most people’s reach. As kids we sat in awe of Chips, Starsky and Hutch, Dukes of Hazzard and talking Pontiacs. America was as distant and alien as the events on CE3K.
So to me the movie is a mixture and combination of childhood dreams, wonder, escapism, music, movie magic and adventure. I’ve been to America lots of times and seen thousands of films but the dream has always been to watch CE3K at the base of Devils Tower, Wyoming.
Call it a bucket list thing…..as such things are called nowadays…..bucket list, dream, wish, fool’s errand (expensive errand if you’re coming from the UK like I am!) it’s all the same thing.
So join me if you will on my trip to South Dakota and Wyoming as I finally answer the’ invitation’ and trek seven and a half thousand miles away to say ‘Thank You’ to the greatest movie ever made at the greatest location ever used: Devils Tower, Wyoming.
All content and images copyright Glen Ferris 2018. All rights reserved.
….and not a crashed gate in sight.. my CDW wouldn’t cover it!