Review: ‘Whispers from Space’

Subject is right out of a cultish underground 'zine -- which is exactly where helmer Ralph Coon published the article that led to this feature. Born to a poor family in rural West Virginia, Gray Parker wore many hats in his lifetime. He traded in rare books, booked films (including, notably, Hershell Gordon Lewis' notorious '60s gore duo "Blood Feast" and "2,000 Maniacs!") regionally. But his greatest fame, as it were, came as a self-stylized "expert" on strange phenomena.

Subject is right out of a cultish underground ‘zine — which is exactly where helmer Ralph Coon published the article that led to this feature. Born to a poor family in rural West Virginia, Gray Parker wore many hats in his lifetime. He traded in rare books, booked films (including, notably, Hershell Gordon Lewis’ notorious ’60s gore duo “Blood Feast” and “2,000 Maniacs!”) regionally. But his greatest fame, as it were, came as a self-stylized “expert” on strange phenomena.

TX:A Last Prom production. Produced, directed by Ralph Coon. Pic includes deft if minimal added visual input from stills, home movies and location shooting. But it’s mostly a matter of verbal storytelling — the 10 or so interviewees here range from Parker’s surviving relatives (and a former male lover) to business associates, amateur UFO sleuths, a local folklorist and the keeper of a public library that inherited his”collection” of esoteric writings. Their disparate views are quite contradictory, but after 45 minutes or so it’s clear that Parker was a clever charlatan who turned his affection for monsters, myths and the like into “scholarship” because, according to an ex-collaborator, “That’s where the money is.”

Yet some among his gullible partisans still take his “findings” seriously. One funny scene contrasts a UFO obsessive’s straight-faced replay of scratchy old Super 8 “flying saucer” footage with a partner’s explanation of how it was faked (using a crude model “flown” via fishing pole).

Deliberate pacing eschews gimmickry, juggling various themes with care. One digression into horror-flick history briefly throws things off-track, making redundant point that devotees of one aspect of weird pop culture (e.g., UFOs) are likely to be fans of another. B&W lensing has an ascetic, crude look that nicely complements the “Plan 9”-like aura.

Parker died in 1984 at 59, and, fittingly, a certain mystery hangs over the circumstances — was it a consequence of alcohol and cigarettes, AIDS, or (as the UFO enthusiast darkly hints) some further “conspiracy”? No wonder his corpse was said to be smiling.

Whispers from Space

Production

Whispers From Space (Docu -- B&W)

Crew

Camera (B&W, 16mm), Karl Hawk; editors, Coon, Hawk; music, L.X. Rudis, M. Stevens; sound, Mike Merchant, Bryan Sherrdon. Reviewed at Red Vic Movie House, San Francisco, Jan. 30, 1996. Running time: 105 min. Whispers From Space" is an engagingly deadpan look at UFO lore and one rather disreputable "researcher" in particular. Refusing to play this late Ed Wood-like figure for easy laughs, doc may be low-key to a commercial fault, but could lure fests and fringe theatrical slots attracted to weird Americana.
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