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This Island Earth

This Island Earth

This Island Earth

1955 / 86min / 35mm

DIRECTOR: JOSEPH M. NEWMAN

CAST: JEFF MORROW, FAITH DOMERGUE, REX REASON, LANCE FULLER

Q&A with Samuel R. Delany and Fred Barney Taylor following the 1pm screening on Saturday, 5/18

When my father first took me and my sister to see This Island Earth, it was the triangular TV screens and the rays they projected that fascinated me—as well as the great-headed aliens. When I looked at it more recently, what struck me was that the aliens were divided in what they thought and felt about the human scientists they abducted, limited as they were by the 1950’s technology. That is one of the reasons why I think the film is worth watching today, plus the fact that it has not gotten the sort of attention that everything from Forbidden Planet to 2001 has managed to garner.

Screening with the trailer for Thief of Baghdad (Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan, 1940).

Originally I saw The Thief of Bagdad on a black-and-white television in the early '50's; color did not come in until half-a-dozen years later. I did not see it in technicolor until a few years ago. Nevertheless, I still thought it was the most wonderful fantasy I could possibly imagine. Abu (Sabu) and the Genie (Rex Ingram) opened up possibilities of characters in a world who were non-white yet, respectively, the cleverest and the strongest characters in the film. Also, they are the ones not blinded by love (i.e. June Dupre and John Justin). This made it easy for me to identify with and probably for many young non-white viewers. It was a TV favorite, and I saw it again and again before I was 15. Only later did I learn that one of the most spectacular of its fantasy landscapes was our own Grand Canyon, when World War II made it infeasible to shoot the film in North Africa. You are only seeing the trailer, from which the great idol with the all-seeing eye must be stolen. It’s only on screen for a few minutes rather than dominating the screen for several scenes and several minutes. The full sequence from the complete film is what the series of dreams that gave me The Jewels of Aptor transferred into my post-marriage unconscious: my first novel would not read in any way the way it does if it had not been for this film and the strange repeating dreams of my childhood about a mixed-race-Sabu-like character, who bore the name Snake.
One question that used to be repeatedly asked of people in those days was whether you dreamed in color or black and white. I always dreamed in color, though sometimes the dreams were the dreams of a black-and-white movie or a black-and-white television show. That also leaves its mark on The Jewels of Aptor. My assistant says that he has heard, if you go blind, you eventually start dreaming in black and white.

Notes by Samuel R. Delany

Screening in the series Delanymania.