SMC professors screen "The Day The Earth Stood Still"

Following this semester's film series theme of "Peace and Security: Managing Conflict and Violence in a Turbulent World," the screening of the 1951 film "The Day The Earth Stood Still" was hosted by Santa Monica College political science professor Alan Buckley and film professor Josh Kanin on Friday, Sept. 27.

The room had an intimate setting, particularly because it was not a packed house, but at about 10 percent capacity. Buckley chomped on a cigar while introducing the film as a fitting parable for our times.

Kanin followed with a reading explaining the historical backdrop of the time when the film was first released.

The film imagines a future where extraterrestrial visitors land on Earth. The alien Klaatu, played by Michael Rennie, befriends a family and races to warn humanity about its own, approaching self-imposed apocalypse.

As the film remains a skillful, sharp science fiction movie, it also manages to capture both the anxieties of the Cold War era and themes that are applicable today.

"This film is extremely relevant and timely," said Kanin, "I would love to have every single person on this planet have this movie as required viewing at least two times in a row."


The reason behind the screening was to showcase the themes of fearing "the other" and humanity's compulsion for self-destruction, which were both prominent in 1951 when nuclear weapons, the Cold War, and the intense rivalry between the U.S. and Soviet Union were on the rise.

"If you bought the premise of this film, it's like you can't trust the U.S. and the Syrians and the Israelis and the Russians and the French to take care of their own problems," said Buckley. "You need someone to come in and take our free will away from us, turn everything over to machines. I don't buy that. I don't think machines can do a better job."

"It may be that given that people are imperfect, and we can't count on space aliens to come down and pull our chestnuts out of the fire, that we are condemned to perpetual warfare," Buckley added.

Besides its themes and relevance, the movie is also notable because it features a strong set of performances and special effects that are so subtle that they have survived the test of time.

Providing great atmosphere with glossy, cosmic melodies mixed with grand moments of dread and mystery was the score by Bernard Hermann, composer of the famous violin screech in Hitchcock's "Psycho."

The direction by Robert Wise, who would later direct "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," never feels like the B-movies that were so popular in the '50s, showing a strong sense of realism and never hitting a false note. The cinematography by Leo Tover looked beautifully crisp with a dark, shadowy feel, screened from a Blu-Ray print.

Coming up on this semester's film screening series, Buckley will host a presentation of "Gabriel Over The White House," which imagines a coup taking place in the United States.

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