Tag Archives: Phil Hall

“THE WEIRDEST MOVIE EVER MADE: THE PATTERSON-GIMLIN BIGFOOT FILM” BY PHIL HALL

Aptly, s latest journalistic endeavor, “The Weirdest Movie Ever Made: The Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot Film,” is this author’s weirdest book to date. I doubt that anyone needs to run to their favorite search engine to inquire about what may be the most famous home movie apart from the Zapruder film. Hall never directly states his “belief,” or lack thereof, in the authenticity of the 1967 film’s claim to have captured footage of an actual Bigfoot; his agnosticism spreads over the book’s 100 plus pages. Smartly, authenticity is not Hall’s point of entry, because belief, in anything, is an abstraction, despite claims made to the contrary by every pedigree of zealotry. Rather, Hall’s approach is a quirky look at a quirky corner of Western mythology. The Patterson-Gimlin film may indeed be the weirdest movie ever made; even weirder in that its weirdness lies in the zealotry of its primary filmmaker and the ballooning mythology of this (roughly) one-minute home movie.

In short: the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film is a religious film in every way, and Hall captures that pulse. His observations in Chapter 2 are shrewdest, beginning with a brief explanation of “cryptozoology” that segues into examples from the Bible. Job is one of several books that mentions creatures like a Leviathan, a Behemoth, and a Ziz. In the longer version of the Book of Daniel (included in Catholic and Orthodox canons, relegated to the Apocrypha in Protestant bibles), the hero of the tale slays a Babylonian dragon by overfeeding it. Of course, St. George also slew a dragon. Hall, who should perhaps consider a theological vocation (we need more pragmatic theologians with a sense of humor), astutely reminds us that St. George is, naturally, more known for his dragon-slaying than for his piety. That makes for far more interesting reading than a saint praying at the altar.

There’s a St. George spirit in Roger Patterson. Already ill1)Patterson died in 1972, only five years after releasing his footage. with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Patterson became obsessed; not with an unseen deity above, but with an unseen mythological creature below, on Earth and in hiding. And why not? Who wants to wait for heaven after death when we can find Eden here? And what better way to find  Eden than through the discovery of one of its hidden creatures? Whether Patterson set out to find and film the creature, or create it for a disbelieving world, is irrelevant. It’s his religious zeal, magnified by failing health, that produced a one-of-kind home movie. This is really the Genesis of Hall’s book. He punctuates his narrative with “Bigfoot Interludes,” such as “Why did the Sasquatch cross the road?” complete with whimsical illustrations by Jose Daniel Oviedo Galeano. These interludes, with accompanying text (that includes occasional typos, which I suspect are intentional and add to the weirdness), are akin to the children’s Bibles found in Sunday School rooms across the country; a necessary, lighthearted break from all the surrounding adult devotion. We get both child and adult with Patterson, who really is the most interesting and complex character in the book. Bigfoot herself is what she is in the footage; merely a phantasmagoric flicker, not unlike a briefly seen in Plan 9 From Outer Space. It’s Patterson, especially once you read his biography, that looms largest here. In that, he is a bit like that uncanonized saint of weird movies, With both, appreciation for what they created is far more accessible when you are familiar with their biographical bullet points.

Hall’s book zig-zags; you may find yourself convinced the film’s an elaborate hoax, only to find yourself wondering if there’s actually something to it in the next chapter. However, even Bob Gimlin, who Patterson relegated to the role of sidekick, has wondered aloud recently if Patterson pulled a epic prank which used him as more an audience member than a participant. In the end, there’s considerably more evidence pointing to a fake than something authentic. ( would be proud.) There’s even speculation and rumor (supplied by John Landis, although reliability and Landis are oil and water) that John Chambers, who did the makeup work on Planet of the Apes, created a Bigfoot suit for Patterson (Chambers denied it).

Prank, however, isn’t the right word. A religion needs both a figurehead and a product, be it a church, a book, or a film; and Patterson ambitiously anointed himself as Pope and prophet in providing that product, whether it’s “real” or myth. Debating the matter is ultimately pointless, so Hall take us past all that to the film itself, how it stands as “the weirdest movie ever made,” and its considerable influence on pop culture. Movies (The Legend of Boggy Creek and sequels) were made, and Leonard Nimoy, Peter Graves, the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman all addressed the Bigfoot legend in their respective television shows. How cool is that?

In the book’s standout Chapter 6: Cinematic Appreciation, Hall addresses the Patterson-Gimlin film’s effectiveness as a film,  discussing its “fourth wall” moment; when Bigfoot turns and the watched becomes the watcher. This one-minute film provides a jump scare worthy of or The Exorcist. Indeed, I remember, as a child, seeing the Patterson-Gimlin footage for the first time, and the subtlety of that moment made the hairs on the nape of my neck stand on end in the same way as when I saw the alien wife of Unearthly Stranger removing a roast from the oven without gloves on. There is a similar alien-in-our-midst quality to Patterson’s Bigfoot; made all the more effective and haunting in its brevity, silence, and “what if?” possibility. It is that simple turn of the creature which sealed the film’s legendary status.

Hall provides a summary: “Sure, you can make your own Patterson-Gimlin film with an iPhone and your mom’s faux-fur coat, but there’s still no beating the original for sheer weirdness. We still want to believe. And if that means heading to YouTube to watch a grainy, 50-year-old clip by a couple of Bigfoot believers and allowing our imaginations to run wild? So much the better.”

References   [ + ]

1. Patterson died in 1972, only five years after releasing his footage.

PHIL HALL’S IN SEARCH OF LOST FILMS

Only Phil Hall, of the late and much missed “Film Threat,” would have the gall (or the balls) to (rightly) include ‘s Oscar nominated Mystic River (2003) in a 2013 book entitled “The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time,” right alongside Plan 9 from Outer Space and the 1970 “UFOs built the pyramids” documentary Chariots of the Gods. Of course “Film Threat” was so titled because it was a provocative endeavor, frequently taking the likes of Steven Spielberg to task for complacency while promoting the riskier independent film scene—which was slowly and inevitably devolving into a crowd-pleasing landscape itself. Yet, “Film Threat” was also (and primarily) a pedagogical effort, written and edited by a team of writers who knew and loved film and saw it as the youngest of the major art forms, one that had boundless potential for experimentation and growth. Thus, it’s really not surprising to see Hall dipping into the history of film and its missing gems in his 2016 opus “In Search of Lost Films.”

Hall opens with a concise dissertation on the history of lost films, writing that the tragedy of lost films is all the more unfortunate because, unlike a lost painting, film is a collaborative work of art. Correcting the general misconception that lost films are confined to those produced during the silent era, Hall propels the reader through examples that expand into the 1970s.

One of the most compelling sections focuses on the lost films of “vamp” Theda Bara. Bara’s reputation as America’s first cinematic sex symbol was once so pronounced that even Marilyn Monroe paid tribute to her predecessor in a famous photo shoot with Richard Avedon. Yet today, with only four of Bara’s forty four films in existence, it is difficult to fully fathom her impact. Of the four survivors, only one is a starring role in a feature film tailored around her screen persona. Fortunately, it is among her most famous films and the one that established her “vamp” image: A Fool There Was (1915). Less than thirty seconds of her biggest box office hit, 1917’s Cleopatra, survives. That film was so popular it spawned numerous imitators (including one by Cecil B. DeMille) and spoofs (including one by ). For nearly a decade Bara ranked behind only and among major silent film stars, but her oeuvre has suffered the greatest loss, primarily due to a 1937 Fox Studio vault fire. Although Bara had been one of Fox’s biggest stars, the studio was negligent in preserving her films after its contract with the star expired 1)Due in part to the actress’ ill-advised effort to escape typecasting—although she had earlier vowed to “vamp” as long as people sinned. in 1919. By 1937, a renewed wave of puritan values had created the Production Code and Bara’s screen persona became an erotic relic (A Fool There Was bears this out). Coupled with a general studio attitude that saw no value in preserving films beyond their initial release period, this set the stage for Bara’s main body of work being reduced to nitrate ash.

London After Midnight (1927) publicity still
Lon Chaney in a publicity still from Tod Browning’s lost film “London After Midnight” (1927)

Naturally, Hall discusses what is perhaps the most famous and  sought after lost film: London After Midnight (1927). A still photo reproduction of this / production was released by Turner Classic Movies several years ago, and only inspired further speculation and futile hope of finding it. The late Forrest J. Ackerman, undoubtedly the horror genre’s most famous fan, had already fanned the flames of desire when he claimed to have seen the film and declared it a lamentably lost masterpiece. 1927 audiences apparently shared Ackerman’s enthusiasm. Up until 1931’s Dracula, it Continue reading PHIL HALL’S IN SEARCH OF LOST FILMS

References   [ + ]

1. Due in part to the actress’ ill-advised effort to escape typecasting—although she had earlier vowed to “vamp” as long as people sinned.