The poetry of the Beast of Yucca Flats

Touch a button. Things happen. A scientist becomes a beast.

There is about four hundred times as much narration as dialog in The Beast of Yucca Flats and yet there’s very little narration either, just lots of very slow action footage, with random atmospheric moments, all of it shot silently, with sound dubbed in later. Characters talk with their back to the camera so you won’t notice. Cars run. Sometimes you can hear them. Sometimes you don’t. A man runs. Someone shoots at him. The utter lack of continuity gives it the same sense of time as the aliens in The Arrival, a thought that actually occurred to me while watching The Beast of Yucca Flats, I am embarrassed to admit. I mentioned it to my wife and she just stared at me. As the narrator says, nothing bothers some people, not even flying saucers (not that there are any flying saucers in The Beast of Yucca Flats). The result is that each dollop of narration stands out like a random snip of a 1950’s pulp murder mystery intoned like bad beat poetry, always on the prowl, looking for something or somebody to kill. Quench the killer’s thirst. Instead of bongos and saxophones we get Tor Johnson’s occasional growls and wails (he is the noted scientist turned into a beast by an unexpected atomic blast), plus a weirdly musical score (they must have spent the budget for sound on the score.) The words themselves become addicting. There is a theme: Yucca Flats. The A-bomb. Joseph Javorski, noted scientist. Progress. Especially Progress. It’s pops up at random times, like a cop trapped in the wheels of Progress, or as boys from the city, not yet caught by the whirlwind of Progress, feed soda pop to the thirsty pigs. Or even metaphorically: flag on the moon. How did it get there? It’s what gives this film its intellectual cachet above and beyond, say, Attack of the Giant Leaches, with which this shares a DVD. It’s what turns this from being merely an incredibly bad science fiction movie into an appallingly bad use of the English language, those pseudo deep hard boiled snippets of narration full of meaning and heaviness. You have to resist dropping them into your own writing, it’s so easy. Find the Beast and kill him. Kill, or be killed. Man’s inhumanity to man. Reading this review it’s hard to tell what I wrote and what I copped from the script. I am ruined.

The Arrival

Movie nite at Chris P’s last night. The Arrival, which I dug muchly, though at the nerdiest part of the whole picture the characters were discussing the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and I realized to my silent dismay that not only was I familiar with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis but I know who (as opposed to what) Sapir-Whorf were (the former was the only other person in the world who could converse with Ishi in his native tongue, the latter was in the insurance business, like a linguistic Wallace Stevens). Even worse on the nerd scale, the book I’m completely absorbed in currently also discusses the much maligned but recently revived in some circles Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, making Noam Chomsky so mad you wouldn’t believe it. Basically, do not get stuck sitting next to me at a dinner party. As the film went on it was obvious that neither the story’s author nor the screenwriters were Chomskyan, and Chomsky himself would have gone transformationally grammatically/ideologically apeshit at the vaguely hippieish blend of linguistic relativism and Sino-fascism. Not that he would ever bother to see the film. He’d send some grad students.

Personally, though, I dug it. The last time I saw linguistics in science fiction it was a cookbook.