Friday, October 30, 2015

Aleins (for Aliens)

I braved the cold and driving rain without an umbrella the other night to catch the final entry in the silent film series at Albany Public Library, called When an Alien Robot Crash-Lands in Troy, NY. (It might bear mention here that Troy is home to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which is "the oldest continuously operating technological university in both the English-speaking world and the Americas.") This time it was the debut of a 50-minute film by a local artist named Bobby Kendall, with live accompaniment by the band Lastdayshining. Maybe it was the wet slog to get there, or maybe I've just seen too many locally produced, low-budget "indies" in my day, but I had somewhat dampened hopes that weren't entirely assuaged in its first few minutes. However, I soon grew quite enamored of this strange little sci-fi saga. Our eponymous robot was a small, crudely made thing, such as a child would construct (two white boxes for the body and head, cardboard arms, big red eyes, and a black line for the mouth) and it navigated on four wheels, like an all-terrain-type vehicle operated by remote control. It starts out roaming this rusty old industrial park on the outskirts of town, dotted with discarded computer equipment and other sad relics of our day. It approaches various objects, touches them gingerly, and then moves on. It rambles through the nearby woods, where it seems to take a shine to a wilted sunflower head, and then down to the banks of the Hudson River, where it's surprised by water. The plotline, such as it is, is rather slim and whimsical, which isn't a bad thing, and it provides fitting food for thought. For example, I loved the way that, unlike the robot and its startled response to all it sees, the people it passes on the sidewalks of Troy's historic downtown district, and milling about at the farmers market, hardly give it a first glance, much less a second one. They must have thought it was just a dumb toy or an advertising gizmo; or perhaps they really didn't notice it at all, the way folks will often "look right through" those who aren't part of their own circumscribed worldview. But the best thing about this movie, in my opinion, wasn't the alien robot, or even the local color; it was the truly deft and touching way that it was filmed. It was like a cinematic love letter to the city, artfully and affectionately rendered by Kendall, and beautifully scored by Lastdayshining in a blend of "post-rock" and chamber music styles. Kendall and his band are currently in the process of recording an original score to another silent film about an awesomely cinematic city, Fritz Lang's Metropolis. A relative of mine, who also loves Troy, NY, once built himself a radio-controlled "robot" as well. He dubbed it YLLIB in a backwards homage to its creator. It occurs to me that this one could have been likewise named YORT, pronounced as one syllable or else EE-ORT (sort of like the dysphoric donkey in A.A. Milne's "100 Aker Wood"). But whatever you call your robot, or however you say its name, remember it's "I before E " in the case of aliens from outer space, along with any you might find in your own database. There were three found in OhioLINK today, plus 14 in WorldCat.

(Poster for showing of When an Alien Robot Crash-Lands in Troy, NY, at the Albany Public Library, October 28, 2015.)

Carol Reid

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