Uforia

December 13, 2010

The story of Uforia, which is to say, the story behind Uforia, is yet another tale of studio neglect and little-film-vs.-the-system fighting.

The movie was made in 1980, and has languished in limbo since. It turned up for a single showing at the 1985 Seattle International Film Festival, at a Harry Dean Stanton tribute (which gamely went on when Stanton couldn’t make it). Late last year, Uforia was booked at a single screen in New York City and did surprisingly decent business.

So, the little comedy is traveling around the country, trying to build up steam (much like another unreleasable Stanton movie, Repo Man).

Uforia is so determinedly low-key in its pleasures, it’s not difficult to see why the film was a hard sell. It’s a low-rent fable about a batch of small-timers who band together in a small California desert town and decide to believe in something.

They come to believe in flying saucers, or at least the imminent arrival of same. A check-out girl (Cindy Williams) at the local supermarket is a staunch believer, and she has visions that the aliens—friendly ones—are coming to take a few humans with them. She sees herself as the Noah of the intergalactic Ark.

She has to convince her new beau (Fred Ward) of this, which is no small order. He’s a tequila-swigging drifter who patterns his style after Waylon Jennings and proudly exploits his “God-given right to believe in nothin’.”

He’s hooked up with Brother Bud (Stanton), a sly itinerant preacher who runs “Brother Bud’s Why Not Salvation Crusade” in tents on the outskirts of town. When Williams starts seeing the aliens in her dreams, Brother Bud sees a way of fleecing the believers, and he promptly options the desert hilltop where Williams insists the extraterrestrials are going to land.

For almost all of its running time, Uforia rambles along, allowing these characters breathing room. If their brief descriptions make them sound stereotyped, that isn’t how they play. Even the opportunistic Brother Bud has his moment of grace, as he ponders why some of the people in his bogus healing sessions actually get healed: “Everybody’s got to believe in something, I guess. And I believe I’ll have another drink.”

Writer-director John Binder evokes the good feeling of a Frank Capra comedy, and litters his desert landscape with goofy supporting characters, such as the granola couple who name their child Krishna Jesus (“You don’t think that’s too heavy?”), and the benign tourists who claim to have been mesmerized by aliens.

Binder is splendid at capturing the everyday quality of life. He’s not quite as effective at structuring his story. And he’s painted himself into something of a corner with the flying saucer business; it means his ending has to be fantastic, or disappointing, or both.

It’s Binder’s first directorial effort (he’d worked on the screenplays of Honeysuckle Rose and North Dallas Forty). I don’t know what he’s been doing since 1980—tyring to get the film released, maybe—but I hope he isn’t completely soured on filmmaking. He’s got a gift for making characters, or the recognizably terrestrial variety, come alive, and that’s much too valuable a talent to lie fallow.

First published in the Herald, 1986.

Here’s a mostly forgotten Eighties artifact: it has now passed through initial neglect to brief appreciation to neglect again. I saw it again on cable-TV in the late 1980s and thought it held up really nicely—just a delightful little picture with a strong echo of Melvin and Howard-era Jonathan Demme to it. Whoever John Binder is, he put something rather lovely together with this one.

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