Fortunately enough I had the opportunity to volunteer at this special cine-city screening which saw Pere Ubu, a self-coined ‘avant-garage’ band from the 70s, play a live soundtrack to Roger Corman’s sci-fi/horror pulp classic, X: Man With The X-Ray Eyes. When I arrived I was told that the start time had been delayed, due to band difficulties, and that I had an hour to kill until people would start arriving. For this I decided to watch David Thomas’s act soundcheck. The band claim they were so highly influenced by Science Fiction films from the 50s/60s (as Man With The X-Ray Eyes is) that this is there attempt to return the favour and expose these forgotten gems to people who wouldn’t have otherwise heard of them. Seeing the band soundcheck was particularly interesting as it not only revealed the genius behind what the band were doing but also David Thomas’s overriding grouchiness.
Aside from how bad-tempered Thomas was, to not only his band but everyone working at the screening, the underscore was outstanding. They clearly saw the chance to update the original classical/ jazz score with modern instruments and a more experimental sensibility to what a soundtrack can do. This worked perfectly with the eerie nature of the plot and created an unnerving atmosphere around the supernatural, ‘Lovecraftian’ as Stephen King pointed out, elements of the film.
Having been released in 1963, X: Man With The X Ray Eyes is a visceral glance at certain philosophical themes, made on a shoe-string budget. Corman’s own genius flows through the film to grant us a look into Dr. Xavier’s downfall. The scientist protagonist, profoundly and intensely portrayed by Ray Milland, discovers a formula that can allow the participant X-ray vision and tries to push it as far as it can go, although originally having moral ideas about what he was going to use it for. The film seeps with a creepiness that holds full scrutiny with your own eyes and even though made with limited funds, works very well aesthetically. The scenes when we dip inside Dr. Xavier’s head to see his vision, ‘under the influence’, are stunning and particularly enigmatic. Ray Russell and Rober Dillon’s plot dives and fires until the climatic scene when Milland’s performance really stands out as Xavier’s mental insanity becomes apparent in his philisophical fears of seeing ‘a huge eye watching us all from the centre of the Earth’ and ‘things no human has seen before’.
The audience of this particualr screening were treated to a different ending, and I don’t mean the ending that Stephen King claims was shot as an alternate to the one in the original script. This ending included David Thomas reprising his role as a cranky, old musician and shouting “Turn the stage lights on” at the top of his voice at the projectioner. Although completely unnecessary, Thomas’s lack of conventional manners acted as a tableau to the art of the innovator and reminded me that on the 23rd November 2014 I saw directly inside the minds of at least 3 geniuses.
By Thomas Johnson