What with the US Navy admitting that UFOs are real and all, it seemed like a good idea to watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind over the holiday weekend. Like many of my generation I saw it in a theater—itself kind of a distant memory—back in 1977. I’m not sure why it’s been on my mind lately, but since it’s a long movie it takes a long weekend to accomodate it. As we settled down to classic Spielberg scenes—lots of khaki and crowds and desert locations—it was a reminder of how silly we all looked in the seventies. (What were we thinking?) Other than that the film has aged pretty well. The plot, although not action-packed, is probing and has several moments that seem to have inspired Poltergeist. What made the film blog-worthy at this time, however, was the wearing of masks.
When Roy Neary and Jillian Guiler arrive at Devil’s Tower the governmental cover-up is in full play. A nerve-gas leak—and who can check out whether such a thing really happened?—has a mask-wearing restriction in place. I wondered where one could get a gas mask today when the crowd scenes of the pandemic won’t even leave a roll of toilet paper behind. Checking for rubbing alcohol to make homemade hand sanitizer I found it selling for $300 per gallon on Amazon. Where are we going to get a gas mask in circumstances such as these? That particular scenario never really stood out to me before although I’ve seen the movie many times over the years. Back when I was a student at Boston University the school tee-shirt worn by Barry Guiler was the interesting cultural context.
Films that survive the years take on different aspects over time. Some suggest that a branch of the military admitting to the reality of UFOs during a pandemic was intended to underplay the event. Others have argued that a similar release of information many months ago received similar lackluster interest. If there are aliens out there, I have trouble imagining that they’d travel all this way for a synthesizer concert at a national monument that received a major uptick in visitors due to the movie’s release. Maybe we love our fictional aliens more than the possibility of meeting those that seem to be vexing our navy? The movie was the right choice for the circumstances, it seems to me. Some things about the seventies are worth revisiting from time to time. Strangely, in retrospect, life seemed simpler then.