I don’t know what it’s like for other states in the US, but in Texas, learning our state's history is a mandatory subject for all school students. It is our honor to learn about Davy Crockett, Ima Hogg, Santa Anna, the Alamo, the six countries and their flags that once ruled over this beautiful expanse... My Texas history class fell during my 7th grade year. One of our projects that year was to pair up and make a film about a famous couple or duo in Texas history. I played Lee Harvey Oswald and my friend played Jack Ruby – it's a truly golden piece of film, I promise you.
Being that Other Worlds Austin is a Science Fiction film festival, I bet you are wondering why I am discussing the subject of Texas history. But you see, oddly enough, for me, whenever I think of Texas history, my thoughts travel to SciFi and, in particular, space aliens. My very first day of 7th grade, I walked into my teacher's classroom and was greeted with posters of SciFi films on the walls, alien statuettes on the bookshelf, and right in the middle of the front of the room a blowup lime green alien doll hung from the ceiling – it hung right atop the teacher's head when he taught class. George Bailey (I kid you not, that was his real name) was a very smart man and a wonderful teacher, deeply knowledgeable about Texas history. But his true passion in life was aliens. And it was his delight to share and pass on that love of SciFi on to us, his students.
We spent entire class periods discussing and watching vintage SciFi alien films. One of his favorites was Robert Wise's THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. I'm fairly positive we watched that particular film four times during the course of the year. The terrifying Gort resided in my dreams many a night. No matter what year – 2015, 1999, or when it was released in 1951 – this film proves phenomenal. The screenplay, written by Edmund H. North, remains incredibly strong to this day. The music by Bernard Hermann envelopes an air of intrigue and menace that is absolutely magical. Listen to the music alone and it will send shivers down your spine! You can't beat that double theremin!
Mr. Bailey is obviously not alone in his obsession for this particular film. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL can be found on multiple lists from "best SciFi flicks" to "best films of all time." It was selected by the United States National Film Registry in 1995 for preservation, noting that it falls under the category of being "culturally, historically, [or] aesthetically significant." I'm fairly positive that anyone who has watched this film has an affinity for it somewhere in their heart (minus the 3 people who gave it a "rotten" score on Rotten Tomatoes, but they clearly are heartless robots – or perhaps they thought they were reviewing the reboot). There is simply something special about this film that makes it absolutely timeless.
Now I know there are some of you who might be slightly appalled that my Texas history teacher stole precious learning time away from our class to talk about and watch SciFi films about aliens. But in reality, George Bailey did teach me more than I could have expected that year. True, we might not have hashed over every minute detail of our great state's history, but I gained a knowledge of film that otherwise might not have been immediately of interest to me. I may have thought he was weird at the time for teaching us about aliens (and granted he was indeed a kooky dude), but Mr. Bailey instilled in me a questioning mind about life outside our planet and an adoration of vintage Science Fiction. He also was the reason I created my first film. I will be forever grateful to him for that.
Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!