Amherst Cinema dissects cinema science with Hitchcock

By Garth Brody

Tonight at 7:30 p.m., Amherst Cinema begins its “Science on Screen” film series with a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” The thriller classic will be cast in a new light as UMass’ own Professor Jeff Podos discusses the film’s terrifying premise in relation to evolutionary biology.

Presumably, Hitchcock was not making hypotheses about the consequences of disturbed migratory patterns before he started shooting the film. He was far more concerned with getting crowds of extras to look frightened at nonexistent flocks swarming London streets. Thus, Professor Podos will have quite an interesting task on his hands tonight, attempting to apply hard science to the flick. There will be a repeat performance tomorrow night for those who cannot make it tonight.

A few weeks later, on Oct. 17, Amherst Cinema will continue the series with a screening of “The Fly,” directed by David Cronenberg. “The Fly” is a cult classic science fiction film that follows Jeff Goldblum’s charmingly eccentric scientist Seth Brundle as he attempts to develop teleportation technology. The project’s successful testing carries with it a horrible misfortune, as Brundle’s DNA becomes accidentally fused with that of a housefly that had been let into the machine. What follows is an intimate and disgusting portrait of a man forced to live with the heightened metabolism and shortened lifespan of an insect.

Discussing “The Fly” will be cell biologist Dr. Aimee McClellan. The film presents some very relevant worries about genetic tampering. One might even call it the “Frankenstein” of the biotech age. Dr. McClellan’s commentary will have to provide a certain amount of scientific context to the concepts presented by the film, as well as explain our own technological developments since its release. One wonders how many Brundleflies were created and discarded before they arrived at that artificial meat we are all so excited to taste.

Finally, on Nov. 14 and 15, Amherst Cinema will bring the “Science on Screen” film series to a very moody close. The last of the three will be “Grey Gardens,” the legendary 1975 documentary about “Big Edie” Bouvier and her daughter, “Little Edie.” The pair, related by marriage to Jackie Onassis, had been living as recluses in East Hampton for years before the documentary crew arrived. Once wealthy socialites, their lifestyle was reduced to disarray and squalor. What was captured on film approximates the longest, most haunting episode of “Hoarders” you’ve ever seen.

Dr. Randy O. Frost, Professor of Psychology at Smith College, is in fact a pre-eminent expert in hoarding, and is thus quite well-equipped to discuss these infamous eccentrics. He has appeared publically on everything from “Good Morning America” and “The Today Show” to NPR’s “The Infinite Mind.” His analysis will highlight the compulsive elements of the Bouviers’ behavior. Of course, there is an inexhaustible source of psychoanalysis in a mother-daughter life partnership that has isolated itself from the world for decades.

The “Science on Screen” film series provides a variety of salient topics in the films themselves, but it is the guest lecturers who will offer the thought-provoking discussion for which we UMass students have such a constant thirst.

Garth Brody can be reached at [email protected]