MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
One of the delights of the 1950s and 60s was the proliferation of cheaply made science fiction and horror movies. They were usually about 90 minutes or so, often shot in black and white, and shown primarily as part of a double feature at the drive-in theater.
The Vast of Night not only recreates the spirit of these films but also the media and technology of that earlier age. The story is presented as an episode of the Paradox Theater Hour (with a spoken introduction that mimics Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone). The flickering picture on an old black and white CRT television is slowly replaced by faded color as the story begins.
The time: 1958. The place: Small town New Mexico. The event: An evening basketball game in the Cayuga High School gym. (The entire story is told in real time.)
Everett (Horowitz) and Fay (McCormick), are two high school kids who have other obligations that keep them from attending the big game. Everett is a few years older than Fay and is engineer and evening program manager at WOTW, the local AM radio station. Fay works the switchboard at the telephone company. As they head for work, Fay asks Everett to give her a quick tutorial on how to operate her new reel-to-reel tape recorder. Good thing, too; she’s going to have to us it later that night.
You have to listen up and pay attention right away, since The Vast of Night doesn’t hesitate to dive into its alternative world. The filmmakers do a great job with period detail, including old cars and saddle shoes. I’m not absolutely sure about the colorful slang, but it attempts hipness while also being real square, daddy-o!
Without giving too much away, when Fay hears strange sounds coming over the telephone line, she enlists the help of Everett to figure things out. Could this be a message from outer space?
The Vast of Night derives most of its pleasure by using old-fashioned storytelling combined with curiosity, wonder and a mild sense of dread. There are a couple of long speeches that sound like they belong on a spoken word radio drama.
Rather than dazzle the viewer with high-tech special effects, the movie assumes that you will be satisfied hanging out with its youthful detectives. While there are no big surprises in store, it is the filmmaking itself that is innovative and engaging, with mystifying sound design and some tracking shots that are out of this world.
The Vast of Night premiered for one week at drive-in theaters before heading straight to streaming on the Amazon Prime service. Unfortunately, if you aren’t paying for Amazon Prime, you aren’t going to be seeing this. (Just as you have to have Netflix to watch Stranger Things and Disney + to catch The Mandalorian.)
If only there was a way to share these things ...That will have to wait until the next time we enter...Paradox Theater!
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: An enjoyable rendition of a familiar story involving alien contact, with genuinely decent people as our guides.
One pitchfork: Mild swearing; cigarette smoking.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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