Many fans of science fiction films will cite the chest-burster scene from Alien as a turning point for the genre.
Alien as a turning point for the genre. Therefore, it’s no wonder that Swiss director Alexandre Philippe turned his lens to this pivotal moment in film for his sixth feature-length documentary, Memory: The Origins of Alien. As with his previous documentary 78/52, which focuses on the iconic shower scene in Psycho, Philippe chose the Savannah College of Art and Design’s SCADFILM festival to screen Memory in Atlanta.
“I have a little bit of a history with SCAD now for the past couple of years,” said Philippe. “We keep thinking about things that we can do together that we can bring to SCAD, and this was a no-brainer!” Memory examines the relationships between screenwriter and visual effect mastermind, Dan O’Bannon, Swiss artist, H.R. Giger and director, Ridley Scott. The film investigates how the melding of these three imaginations created the aesthetics and horror for which Alien is now so well known.
“The films that I make are not behind the- scenes movies,” explained Philippe. “They’re film essays that try to figure out why these movies resonate with us culturally. Alien wasn’t the movie people wanted to see; it was the movie people needed to see. The idea of Origin was to dig deep into those reasons, and I realized very quickly that in fact Alien resonates with audiences on an unconscious level.”
Philippe cites fear of the unknown and curiosity about the ancient past as major themes in Alien. For this reason, he was interested in taking a mythological approach to this film. “When you look at the way that Giger works, and the way that Dan O’Bannon works, and the symbiosis between these two artists, and then you bring Ridley Scott into the picture, they were really trying to tell a story about the ancient past much more than the distant future.”
For his next film, Philippe turned his camera towards The Exorcist. The film, titled Leap of Faith, screened at Sundance 2020 and included SCAD students as crew members.