Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Number One in the Lobby

Back in the days when "U.F.O." visited theaters, it was common for giant movie posters to be accompanied by 8"x10" black-and-white or sometimes color photos, displayed prominently in theater lobbies.

However, there was another format, a little larger than the 8x10s, intended to captivate audience interest, an adjunct to whatever publicity gimmicks it took to fill those theater seats: The "lobby card." Somewhere in the range of 11" x 14" or larger, they usually comprised a set of six or eight and, whether the motion picture was filmed in color or not, the lobby cards featured photography and artwork in all the blazing colors of the spectrum.

The movie, "U.F.O." took full advantage of lobby cards. The entire production was filmed in black-and-white (probably not only for effect, but also because the motion picture color and print process was still relatively expensive for the studios), except for the still-unexplained Montana (Nicholas Mariana) and Utah (Delbert C. Newhouse) UFO films which were featured in their original color. But the lobby cards set the mood with color scenes of a radar scope, of military and government officials hovering sober-faced over a UFO-infested radar scope as strange objects invade the nation's Capitol, and of "star" Tom Towers in his portrayal as Al Chop. In the case of "U.F.O." it's also obvious that some lobby scenes received artistic treatment as photos were touched up, sometimes to the point where we aren't quite sure whether we're looking at color photos or artists' paintings.

Today, I've posted lobby card number one, undoubtedly the most familiar of the set, and apparently so vital to the original publicity attempts that I even found a larger poster-sized version on the market.

I need to say, as I have in so many words previously, that I always feel a little strange posting such things on the Internet, a fairly new frontier where one's best wishes, fair usage rights and copyright law collide on a regular basis. However, because producer Clarence Greene gave me unobstructed permission in the seventies to use promotional materials with my magazine article, I'm taking the liberty of extending his okay to this format. I think he'd be just fine with it.

In my case, I'm featuring the hard work accomplished by others whom, of course, at least for the most part (there are always exceptions!) had no concept of the Web or future computer abilities. I'm not making a penny on this blog and it is my fond hope that I'm making a valuable historical contribution by honoring the folks who originally provided the labor to make and publicize "U.F.O." This can best be accomplished by putting their efforts out there for the world to see.

For its time -- for all time-- the film is unique. I happen to be fortunate enough to be a rabid fan of this Greene-Rouse studios production, and I couldn't be more grateful that United Artists had the guts to release the movie, which admittedly didn't do at all well at the box office. But the fact is, "U.F.O." is now 52 years old and nobody in the studio marketing business seems to care about this oldie anymore. That's why those of us who do care -- and we are out there in numbers, I suspect -- need to emphasize this motion picture's historical and scientific importance. Yes, there have been some fine UFO-related motion pictures released in years past, and the 1956 feature makes us yawn in spots, but Clarence Greene's is special for its era and its early message. It truly was the first feature-length documentary canary to enter the mysterious UFO coal mine. The motion picture lives on as the enigma lives on, and if that wasn't an enduring, far-sighted production quality more than 50 years ago, I don't know what is. As my little blurb at the top of every blog page states, "U.F.O." is quite possibly the most important movie ever produced.