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May 19, 2015


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Roger Corman - 1963
KL Classics BD Region A

Along with historian Tim Lucas, who provided a commentary track, and director Joe Dante, who discusses the film in the supplement section, I also have a vivid memory of seeing X theatrically. While I don't recall the exact date, it was sometime in the late Winter or early Spring of 1964. X was playing in a double feature with Jacques Tourneur's Comedy of Terrors at Varsity Theater in Evanston, Illinois. It was the Saturday matinee, and the theater was packed. What I remember best is the second shot of the film, a floating eyeball that looked like it had been ripped out from some unwilling victim, now bobbing around in a clear glass container. The audience, mostly junior high and high school kids, shrieked or laughed or maybe both. I was 12 at the time.

The shriek at the beginning of the film would be matched by the shriek of the audience in the final shot. While we never actually see him do it, Ray Milland rips out his own eye, leaving blood red holes in their place.

I've seen X twice theatrically, plus at least one time on a black and white television broadcast which was no less captivating. And while as an older, and more experienced viewer of film, I notice things the viewer is suppose to overlook, there are other things that my somewhat more sophisticated self also find adding to the more recent visits. Because I was more concerned about the story, I was oblivious to the difference between the second unit shots around Las Vegas, and close-ups of Ray Milland driving furiously on a highway outside of Los Angeles. Likewise, it didn't occur to my 12 year old self that Corman was cutting from establishing shots at an actual amusement park, to scenes filmed on studio sets. Conversely, what I noticed is how the story of Dr. Xavier depicts his decent into a hell of his own making in the settings of the major scenes, from the height of a large, multistory hospital, to the ground level of a carnival side show, to a lonely basement apartment, and finally to a vast, empty desert.

The Roger Corman commentary track is informative regarding the origin of X as originally to be about a jazz musician. Making it about a doctor doing medical research makes more sense. X does make an interesting companion piece to The Trip in that both films are about characters driven to look for some kind of hidden truth. Dr. Xavier in X is hoping to expand what can be perceived by the human eye, while the motivation in The Trip is expansion of human consciousness through LSD.

Tim Lucas finds connectivity through various science fiction stories and films, as well as the work of primary screenwriter Ray Russell. There are brief biographies of several of the cast members, and anecdotes about working with Corman or Ray Milland. One surprising bit of information was learning that 78 year old Allan Dwan had been considered for taking the directorial reigns. Considering the amount of information contained in the seventy-nine minute running time of the film, the Lucas commentary provides ample material for further critical and historical discussion regarding the place of X both as a science fiction film and the discussion of any symbolism, whether intentional or coincidental.

You won't find the rumored alternate ending, because there was no alternate ending. There is a prologue that fortunately was junked, and may have only been used for situations where getting the film closer to the ninety minute mark was required. Does X succeed for those who love this film in spite of the low budget special effects roughly approximating what is seen by Dr. Xavier, or because the special effects hint at things that could only be depicted in more realistic detail with the advent of computer generated effects? I'm not sure there will be any agreement. What I can say, along with others, is that more than fifty years later, and multiple viewings, X continues to be a very watchable movie.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 19, 2015 08:09 AM