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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

Alien (1979)

I remember seeing this for the first time So Vividly. It was the Fencing Team's Halloween party my freshman year. We were in the Women's Foil Captain's basement and it was very dark. (No hanky panky. No high school co-ed extracurricular more wholesome than our fencing team.) I was *terrified*. The men's epee captain, Craig Batzler, sat next to me and was very kind about my terror. Even watching tonight, having seen this movie a dozen times *at least*, I'm prone to jump scares. I know they're coming and I still find myself on the ceiling. To alleviate this, Craig would yell, "AHHHH! ALIEN! Oh, nope, it's just Sigourney Weaver" any time Ripley was on the screen and it was so stupid and so *constant* that I couldn't be afraid any more. Wherever you are, Craig, thanks. Sorry about that semester-long crush. You were a sport.

This movie is, to me, the perfect horror movie. It does dread incredibly well. The mounting terror that this unfathomable creature could be anywhere. The pacing and directing do a lot of the heavy lifting but if the score and sound were any different it wouldn't be remotely as effective. Jerry Goldsmith's almost lilting music, flute and string heavy without ever falling into violin sting theatrics. The isolated sounds (chains lightly clinking, distant beeping, breathing) set against the masterful scale and scope of each set piece are absolutely arresting. The way the movie moves between utterly mundane establishing shots at the top to breathtaking and unsettling moments of agoraphobia (for lack of a better word - specifically that shot of Kane's descent into the "cave") and then back to the ship shown in a whole new light, literally. The last half of the movie makes me understand why so many haunted houses I frequented in the 00s (don't judge) took the fog+strobe tact that they did.

I think I need to start using Alien and Jaws when I'm teaching theater stuff. Specifically, the absolute strength there is to be found in understanding that some aspect of your work is falling short and if you acknowledge that and rework it, it can elevate your work in ways you couldn't initially imagine. Ridley Scott knowing that full body shots of the alien (or Spielberg and his broken shark) were laughable, he hid it, only allowed the briefest, most unsettling glimpses and it's horrifying. So much more effective than a brightly lit shot of that rubber suit running right at the camera.

And then there's Ripley and the realest horror of being a smart woman surrounded by people who won't listen. All of the quarantine discussions were present in my mind throughout the earliest days of the pandemic. Just follow protocol. Quarantine. Protect the uninfected. Prioritize safety. Think for god's sake. No wonder she looks exhausted the whole time.

I covet that jumpsuit with the backlacing. And, at this moment, that coffee.

Though as much as I wish Ripley was the Nostromo crew member I related to most, that distinction belongs to Brett and Parker. They just want to make their money from their work. There's something very truthful in the mere presence of those two. It always makes me a little sad that they won't get paid. Parker also has some excellent "audience POV" questions that never get answered. Why don't they freeze Kane??

"A Rest for Ripley"

Acrylic on canvas, 11x14"


-I struggled with the content on this one. If you would have asked me, going into the viewing, what subject I'd cover, I would have said, "XENOMORPH!". But afterwards, I knew I wanted to do something with Ripley. I kept researching dynamic moments made more dramatic for the piece but my brain kept flashing to her slouched in her chair or drinking coffee, which I'd dismiss as "not dynamic enough". But then I thought... what's more dynamic than a strong, resilient woman getting a rest? It was all I wanted for myself this last week and while I didn't really get it, I enjoyed the hell out of painting this. It feels like a small gift for a fictional character who's given so much to my personal culture.

-I glazed the background on this one (like I tried for the first time with Interview with the Vampire) and this is WAAAAAY closer to what I wanted. Growth!

-I wish Jonesy looked a little better. I didn't have a good reference with the weird lighting on him and I think he looks too cartoony. Ah well.

-I originally conceived of doing this in the style of Picasso's "Melancholy Woman" and thought, "eh, that's too far from my style" but it was on my mind the whole time I was painting. Looking at it now, I still managed to put a little of that in this piece.

As today is Ben's birthday as I'm posting this, and I'm giving him the choice of movie tonight, I have no idea what we'll be watching yet. Exciting!!

Have a wonderful week and please, take a breath and have some coffee. It's the best thing on this ship.

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