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dog days

Friday, September 19, 2014

Wavelength

Wavelength
1983
Mike Gray

Bobby (Robert Carradine) is a strung-out musician.  Bobby and his girlfriend, Iris (Cherie Currie of the band The Runaways) decide to check out a concrete building near Bobby’s house. Bobby knows the government owns the building but little else. Bobby’s prospecting friend Dan (Keenan Wynn) believes there is something valuable inside. Inside the place Iris screams as something touches her mind. Armed soldiers grab them. The military personnel inside discover Iris has a psychic connection to some other prisoners. Prisoners who are not from this world.

Wavelength begins with grainy documentary style footage of aliens being dissected. We shift to an out of place sultry  voice over that introduces Bobby. The voice over ends abruptly, and here there is a subtle change in tone as the film becomes increasingly more dreamlike.  There is a clarity, along with the neon and chrome imagery that owes much to new wave music.  The final showdown between some jets and a huge chrome orb wouldn’t look out of place in an MTV bumper from the time.

I want my MT...OH GOD WHAT IS THAT?
 There is a little exposition from some military personnel on exactly what’s going in the seemingly abandoned base. For the most part the film allows the viewer to make connections and infer what is happening. It was also interesting to see a post-E.T. (1982) film that featured sympathetic aliens. Yet, the aliens of Wavelength are far more mysterious, and far more deadly when threatened. There is a simmering anger underneath the surface of this movie. Most films would take the tact of having our wiser more peaceful space-brothers take a pacifistic stance. The aliens are just as likely as the humans in this film lash out at their oppressors.

Robert Carradine is acceptable as Bobby. Although if you've seen Revenge of the Nerds (1984), it takes a little adjusting. Cherie Currie is excellent in her role, giving it the right combination of vulnerability and determination. She is a key element in raising the film from being something more than an early 1980s curiosity. The aliens are all played by young boys with shaved heads and minimal make-up. They are completely silent throughout the film and the end effect is much more unsettling than I expected. The rest of the cast don’t make that much of an impression but since they are playing interchangeable Air Force officers that may be exactly the point.

Larry, Moe, and Curly
The low budget does make itself known here and there, but there is a sparseness that lends well to the over all aesthetic. The analog synths of Tangerine Dream are great accompaniment to the weird desolation on screen. The climax arrives at an abrupt moment. I was happy to see that it still produced a little chill of awe in me, even though it had been somewhere around thirty years since I had seen it last.

Wavelength has languished in obscurity thanks to never receiving more than a VHS release. I remember it playing on HBO often in 1980s but it has since then dropped out of public site. I rarely see it included in lists of alien films. It is a neglected work that I think could grow a cult audience if it could get a little more love.

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