From the Chicago Reader (March 19, 1993). — J.R.
FIRE IN THE SKY
** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Robert Lieberman
Written by Tracy Torme
With D.B. Sweeney, Robert Patrick, Craig Sheffer, Peter Berg, and James Garner.
“Based on the true story,” crows Paramount in the ads, and the words “Based on a true story” appear on-screen right after the opening credits. Under the circumstances — Fire in the Sky being the story of one Travis Walton (D.B. Sweeney), who was allegedly knocked to the ground by a ray from a UFO in an Arizona forest on November 5, 1975, then whisked away by the same UFO only to be spat out five days later minus his clothes and sanity — these are clearly fighting words.
I came to this movie fully prepared to execrate it, but on reflection I’m more inclined to congratulate Paramount on its ability to get people like me riled up with its Barnum-like come-on — a good way of getting all of us to pay attention. In fact, considering that the encounter with extraterrestrials is couched in subjective rather than objective terms, “based on the true story” doesn’t seem such an outrageous tag. Furthermore, some of the implications of the line are partially undercut, or at least displaced, by a quotation that appears on-screen before the credits: “‘Chance makes a plaything of a man’s life’ — Seneca, First century A.D.”… Read more »
Slightly tweaked from its original appearance in the Autumn 1975 issue of Sight and Sound. — J.R.
‘A dialectic collage of unreality,’ remarked pop singer Brenda Lee, emerging from the Nashville premiere in August. After a summer full of humourless rhetoric in the American press about ‘the true lesson of ‘Watergate’, ‘the failure of our civilization,’ ‘the long nauseating terror of a fall through the existential void,’ and equally grave matters — most of it implying that a movie has to be about ‘everything’ (i.e., the State of the Union) before it can be about anything — it was refreshing to discover that someone, at long last, had finally got it right. Even if Lee’s comment was intended as a slam, it deserves to be resurrected as a tribute. For if Nashville is conceivably the most exciting commercial American movie in years, this is first of all because of what it constructs, not what it exposes.
From the moment we begin with an ad for the film itself — a blaring overload of multi-media confusion — and pass to a political campaign van spouting banalities, then to a recording studio where country music star Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) is cutting a hilariously glib Bicentennial anthem, Nashville registers as a double-fisted satire of its chosen terrain, and it would be wrong to suggest that its targets of derision are beside the point, even if the angle of vision subsequently widens to take in more than just foolishness.… Read more »