Since the stars and filmmakers of Alien have been well represented in features about the making of the film over the years, Alexandre O. Philippe wanted to tell a lesser known story of the classic film. Memory: The Origins of Alien (read our review) focuses on Dan O’Bannon and H.R. Giger. Some other Alien cast members like Tom Skerritt and Veronica Cartwright appear, but Ridley Scott only shows up in archival footage and Sigourney Weaver only in film clips. That’s not to say Philippe didn’t reach out to them.
“Well, we tried,” he told us. “We tried numerous times and it just didn’t work out. It’s fine.”
“The thing about Memory is that it’s essentially a cinematic essay about the extraordinary symbiosis that took place between Dan O’Bannon, H.R. Giger and Ridley Scott that gave us Alien. So two of them are sadly gone and had we had Ridley on board, I think it would have perhaps thrown the whole thing off balance a little bit. So sometimes serendipity works in mysterious ways. The fact that Ridley didn’t come on board this particular project, of course, made me sad at a certain point. The more I progressed in the making of this film and then eventually realized that we were not going to be able to get an interview with him, it felt serendipitous. It felt like it’s probably the right thing for this particular project.”
How about Weaver, you ask?
“We went back to Sigourney after we had gotten the news that we got into Sundance and we were going to premiere at Sundance,” Philippe said. “The thing about people like Sigourney Weaver or Ridley Scott is they’re very busy people. Any film that you make about a Hollywood film where you have to chase certain celebrities, sometimes they just decline. Sometimes they just don’t want to do it and sometimes it just doesn’t work out schedule-wise. You have to honor that but on our end, I have a story to tell. If I felt that Sigourney or Ridley were necessary to tell the story, then, of course, I would still be chasing them now and we wouldn’t have a film today. Even though the film is very much about them, this is an origin story. This is really very much a film about Dan. It’s a film about mythology. It’s a film about Giger. It’s a film about all the early influences that essentially got into Alien. So the story was told. As much as I would have loved to have them in the film, there’s a point where you have to go, ‘You know, we have to deliver a film to our sales agent and to Sundance by a certain date and the story’s been told, so there’s going to be no Sigourney, no Ridley.”
Since Philippe found archival interviews with Scott, O’Bannon, Giger and John Hurt, certainly there are DVD bonus features of Weaver available. There were, but they didn’t make the final cut.
“Most of the footage that we have and the stills that we have in the film were provided by the O’Bannon estate and the Giger estate. Both of them have been partners. They’re executive producers on the project. Everything else is fair use. At one point in the cut, we did have a clip of Sigourney. It didn’t pass the fair use test according to our lawyers so we had to remove it. That’s the way it goes. You don’t question the fair use lawyers. I’m really glad though that Ridley has a presence in the film through archival footage which to me feels very balanced between Ridley and Dan and Giger. They all have that sort of archival presence. It’s almost like a transmission from outer space if you will. Sigourney obviously has a major presence in the form of film clips.”
The deleted Weaver clip came during the film’s discussion of the chest burster scene.
“It was a really nice soundbite,” he said. “It just wasn’t anything that was essential in the telling of our story and I think that’s why our lawyers probably said, ‘We’re going to remove that.”
Memory actually began as an analysis of the chest burster scene, it’s worth noting, similar to Philippe’s focus on the Psycho shower scene in 78/52. The doc ended up expanding beyond that one scene, but the iconic moment is still very much a centerpiece of Philippe’s film.
“The argument of the film is that all of that hinged on the success of that one scene. Had the execution of that scene failed, everything would have fallen apart. There is no successful Alien without a successful, believable chest burster scene and therefore there is no Alien franchise without a successful chest burster scene.”
Ben Manckiewicz even reads O’Bannon’s description of the chest burster in the script out loud.
“It’s beautifully written first of all,” Philippe said. “Dan O’Bannon never gets enough credit. He’s a beautiful writer. If you look back at his early drafts, it’s fascinating to be able to witness his process. There are so many different incarnations of Alien as a story, so many alternate endings. He really dug very, very deep into what this movie could be. I gotta say, that scene jumps out of you. The prose, it’s remarkable to me how short it is, and yet when you read it, you can see the scene unfolding in your head pretty much exactly the way that it came out.”
Scott and Weaver may not have given new interviews for Memory, but they are aware of the film. And now that it’s got Sundance buzz, Scott is going to watch it.
“What makes me very happy is that a couple of executives from Scott Free came to the premiere, loved the film and apparently Ridley requested to see it so we sent him the link just yesterday,” Philippe said. “I’m very excited about sharing the film with him and I really hope that he will like it.”