7 July 2020

Is There A Starman Waiting In The Sky?

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Incredibly, I once found myself preparing to go out on a date with an actual human lady and so to make the most of this rare event I decided to buy myself some breath mints. “Why are you getting them?” My friend asked. “I stick a mint under my foreskin”, I joked, “that way my date will have minty-fresh breath when she kisses me after a blowjob”. “Really?” My friend asked in awe like a total fucking moron. “No”, I bluntly responded, “obviously fucking not”. But had I actually done that then in many ways that breath mint stored snuggly up my cock would have very much been like the film The Vast Of Night, in that it took me completely by surprise but was an absolute treat none the less. In honesty, it's been a few days since I saw the film but such was its power that I think I'm still yet to begin breathing normally again. I watch a lot of films and, as with all of life, the majority of everything is shit and ultimately nothing more than a loading screen of mundanity to tie us all over before we fucking die. But every so often you'll take a bite of that one incredible piece of fruit, or hear that one perfect piece of music, or have that one life-changing mega-wank and suddenly all of the other efforts will have been worth it for having lead to that one monumental moment. The Vast Of Night was one of these epiphany experiences and without any real poetic skill to express how I truly feel about it, I'll simply have to settle for telling you that I loved every single fucking second of it with every single fibre of my motherfucking piece-of-shit heart. 

The film tells the story of two teenagers in the 1950s that one night hear a strange and unexplainable sound. We've all been there, right? Although in our case it's usually the pipes of our house expanding as our imagination gets the better of us, or even next door being interrupted from their semi-yearly sex session by their dog taking a shit on the bedroom floor. In the case of The Vast Of Night, these noises are a lot more alien in feel which leads to the switchboard operator Fay calling her radio presenter friend Jake to say, “I had to phone someone so I picked on you, hey, that's far out so you heard it too?”. Well, they're not her exact words obviously. They're David Bowie lyrics. But essentially Fay does suspect that there's a starman waiting in the sky who'd like to come and meet us but she thinks he'll stick a probe up our anus. Maybe? She never actually mentions the anal probe fear that I think that we all share when it comes to extra-terrestrial intruders but she does seem very excited to find out an answer as to what might be causing that hazy cosmic jive. Could it be those pesky Russians as they plan to invade the dusty backyard town in which Fay and Jake live? Like smoking a joint and then visiting a fortune teller who happens to guess your name correctly there's certainly a strong and palpable sense of paranoia throughout this movie. Or could it actually be something a bit more exciting even than that? Are we really being watched over by a Squiddly Diddly species of saucer flying aliens? Because my friend Greg has a tentacle fetish and that would really make his fucking day if we were. 

The Vast Of Night utilises a wealth of cinematic devices to tell this story, with one of the most interesting being in the way that it bookends itself with a Twilight Zone-esque intro and outro. This not only adds to the sense of period and genre but also sets the film in an almost Lynchian 'other' world that's not quite real but also not quite a dream. As I wrote that last sentence, I was interrupted by a phone call from my Mum who asked what I was up to. I explained to her about this film and read her that last sentence back as though I was improvising an off the cuff review in an attempt to impress her with my analytical skills. But she said that she had no idea what I was talking about and explained how I sound like I'm a “pretentious dick who thinks he's smarter than he is” and that she's convinced she, “brought the wrong baby back from the hospital all those years ago”. Bit harsh. The point is that the film might quite firmly set itself in a small town in America as it experiences what is essentially the plot of a 1950s B-movie. But as much as the filmmakers might revel in the nostalgia of its period setting, the film never tips over into a wanky fetishisation of that time in the way that something like a Stranger Things might do in regards to the 80s. It was after I explained that to my Mum that she hung up the phone. Although admittedly she hadn't really been on board with my deconstruction of this film since I opened by comparing it to having a breath mint shoved up my dick. 

The bulk of the film appears to consist of long discussions and monologues in which information is slowly teased out of its characters and it honestly couldn't have been more fucking tense as a result. Some scenes are allowed to play out in a single take to give the impression that we're right there in the room with the characters as they begin to focus in on the truth of their situation. It also creates a greater sense of immersion in the world, as we see the characters expertly perform the mundanity of their everyday jobs without the aid of a well-timed cut to hide an actors incompetence. For ten solid minutes, we see Fay operate her switchboard whilst trying to record this odd otherworldly sound and although her job isn't the focus of the scene, the very fact that we can see the actress perform it gives the film an incredible sense of authenticity. Did the camera slowly pan in during these moments to subtly give us the sensation that we're leaning closer into a conversation that was really taking place? I can't be sure. Because by the end of these scenes I was so close to the fucking television already, that I was one step away from pushing my face right through the screen like James Woods in fucking Videodrome. Occasionally the screen would even cut completely to black too as though to highlight the emotion of the performance and the power of their words being spoken. Well either that or I was getting so into the movie that I accidentally experienced a minor fucking stroke and I'm now crediting the filmmakers with a technique that they never actually employed. But whether it be a medical emergency or a directorial flourish, there's no denying how effective it was.

The Vast Of Night is essentially the retelling of a very familiar story but that's done so in a hugely effective and exhilarating way. Imagine the opening ten minutes to a film like Close Encounters but with those events stretched out to around ninety-ish minutes and you're not too far off what this is. In the way that it takes a recognisable narrative and infuses it with such real characters, and having utilised such a wealth of cinematic approaches, perhaps the closest film I can think to compare this to is Gareth Edwards' low-key 2010 sci-fi Monsters. Like that 2010 masterpiece, The Vast Of Night also even finds ways of highlighting our contemporary issues in its use of marginalised voices as a plot point. Some people have had suspicions as to what might be going on within the world of this film for some time, but because they're all either black or women they've found themselves silenced and ignored until now. The film was self-funded by the first time feature director Andrew Patterson off the back of a series of adverts that he'd previously made a living from directing. In which case I think the film needs celebrating even more for using the swinging dick of evil that is the advertising industry to not only make such a great movie but for also making one that gives a voice to those who have so often found themselves being denied one. As I watched this film, I found myself filled with that same nervous energy as a lone Conquistador as he discovers a lost city of gold, or even a rogue alcoholic that's broken free of their support group and decided to end it all on one final destructive bender. I loved it so much that I almost feel as though The Vast Of Night is a part of me now and like that single breath mint that's stuck right up my dick, I can feel that it has well and truly gotten under my skin. Thanks for reading, motherfuckers, and see you next time.

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