Early on in the production of They Rode the Flying Saucers, I knew that I wanted to address the idea of science fiction films as it related to popular culture. I approached legendary film director and 1950s sci fi expert Joe Dante about doing an interview, and he told me that the real expert was a guy named Bill Warren. So I approached Bill, and he kindly agreed to speak with me.
Joe was right.
Bill literally wrote the book on 1950s science fiction films, pictured here. Actually, that’s only Volume 1. Volume 2 is even thicker. Turns out that Bill Warren was something of science fiction royalty, having apprenticed under the legendary Forrest J Ackerman, the man who created science fiction fandom. Without Forey, there would be no Trekkies.
During our interview, I was struck by the sheer depth of Bill’s knowledge. He told me that when he was a kid, he literally read every sci fi book at the library. His recall of those books and the movies made from them was tack-sharp. He organized conventions and festivals, and knew many of the people who’d actually made the movies I wished to discuss in my film, such as The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Bill and his wife Beverly were very kind, and we chatted for quite a while after we turned the cameras off. I told Bill that I’d had a great time, which I had. Sometimes, these interviews are things to get through, sometimes you realize that you can’t use most of what the person is saying. Talking with Bill, however, felt like I was talking to an old friend about our favorite movies. His enthusiasm was infectious and his insights were impeccable. We discussed the shift from 1950s sci fi films to modern films, which really boils down to a growing cultural cynicism. That is changing, he thought, as more and more movies were embracing the honesty of the 1950s. From the preface to Keep Watching the Skies!:
Alien is similar to a 1950s movie in many ways. Star Wars reflects certain elements of those films. Close Encounters of the Third Kind faintly echoes It Came From Outer Space. Some films have actually been remade, such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and remakes of others have been announced. Maybe the 1950s science fiction movie hadn’t really died; it was just sleeping in the minds of those, like me, who loved them.
I could do a whole film on flying saucer movies of the 1950s, using just that interview. I’m glad that I get the chance to use portions of it in my film.
Bill passed away after a long illness on October 7. My condolences go out to Beverly and his family and friends. I hope that he’s on a flying saucer in the sky somewhere, having drinks with Ray Harryhausen and Forey Ackerman.