This coming Friday and Monday, the Magic Lantern team is putting on an exciting double feature: “Cowboys & Aliens” and “Bellflower.” These two seemingly different films have one thing in common: they aren’t conventional.
“Cowboys & Aliens,” directed by Jon Favreau and starring popular actors like Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, was released this past summer. The film cost $163 million to make and earned a whopping $171 million at the box office.
As the title reveals, the movie is about cowboys and aliens. In 1873, Jake, a loner cowboy, wakes up in the desert with no memory of who he is and a strange metal bracelet around his wrist. He wanders into the town of Absolution, a typical old west setting. While Jake is fighting an adversary, alien spaceships attack him. Luckily, the mysterious bracelet defends Jake from harm.
To thwart future threats, Jake forms an alien-hunting group with other townspeople and Native American tribes. Keep in mind that this kind of cooperation rarely happens in Western films. During the group’s adventures, Jake finds some answers about his past.
The movie mixes the main cinematic elements of Westerns and sci-fi, creating an old west infused with futuristic machinery and weapons. Add a touch of action film fighting to that (keep in mind, he is James Bond), and you have the hybrid genre “science-fiction Western.” Hybrids almost always result in one genre changing aspects of the other.
In this specific movie, some Western elements are partially modified by the sci-fi. The Native Americans and the cowboys no longer compete with one another; rather, they come together to fight their common enemy, the aliens. “Cowboys & Aliens” is just one example of how popular past genres can be renewed.
Following “Cowboys & Aliens,” Magic Lantern will show “Bellflower.” Up-and-coming California talent Evan Glodell directed the film on a budget of only $17,000. Despite its small monetary cushion, the film gained popularity after airing at the Sundance Film Festival last January. The New York Times referred to the film as “the blossoming and deterioration of a romance.” While the storyline is unpretentious and captivating, the film’s true beauty lies in its unconventional cinematography.
Glodell creates a Mad Max universe in which his characters make cool gadgets and weapons, giving life to the main attraction of the production: Medusa, a modified 1972 Buick Skylark with integrated flamethrowers and surveillance cameras.
What we see on onscreen is representative of Glodell’s genius. Glodell made the majority of the props used in the film. He even created a new camera (the Coatwolf Model II) by putting together bits and pieces of other cameras, and he used this to shoot the entire feature. These do-it-yourself techniques create a truly original, entertaining and personal aesthetic.
So, do yourself a favor and join Magic Lantern this week in viewing two films that actively rethink the structure, content and form of modern-day films.