Yesterday, we reviewed The Weirdest Movie Ever Made, Phil Hall book that traces the convoluted history of how the Patterson and Gimlin film was created and impacted the scientific community and popular culture.
We had the opportunity to talk to Phil about the inspiration behind the book, a lost Bigfoot film and some thoughts on some of his favorite — or not so favorite — Bigfoot films.
B&S ABout Movies: What got you interested in Bigfoot? For me, it was the 1970’s show In Search Of…
Phil Hall: I had the great fortune of being a kid during the 1970’s, when there was a great fascination with subjects outside of the realm of established science. It seemed that you could not turn on the television, go to a movie theater, or open a publication without seeing something related to such topics as the Bermuda Triangle, ancient and contemporary extra-terrestrials and the superstars of cryptozoology, including Bigfoot. My initial interest was not in Bigfoot, per se, but in this wonderful parallel universe of funky subjects that, in many ways, helped define the happy lunacy of that decade.
B&S: When I was a kid, there was a traveling exhibit that came to our local K-Mart parking lot that was similar to the Minnesota Iceman. Did you ever encounter one of those?
Phil: I am from the Bronx in New York City. We didn’t have K-Marts – and, somewhat more disappointingly, we never experienced any of the Bigfoot or UFO sightings that permeated that era. Trust me, growing up in an urban setting comes with disadvantages.
B&S: I really got into the sections of the book that get into the four-walled exploitation film Bigfoot: America’s Abominable Snowman. Have you had a chance to see the film? What are your feelings on it?
Phil: I have yet to see the film. While doing my research, I was afraid that the film was lost – it’s not even listed in the Internet Movie Database. Mercifully, it survives in private collections, but it cannot be released on DVD due to copyright issues.
The most striking aspect of the Patterson-Gimlin Film story is how that film managed to reach so many people. In many ways, the distribution of Bigfoot: America’s Abominable Snowman is a milestone in the distribution of independent film productions. Sadly, very few people today know about the film because it has been out of circulation for so long.
B&S: Additionally, we’ve discussed the Sunn Classic Pictures 70’s documentaries on our site. Any recollections on those?
Phil: I have very fond memories of seeing Chariots of the Gods and The Lincoln Conspiracy during their theatrical releases, and I still have the paperback tie-ins to those films. Sunn Classic Pictures was the rare company that brought documentary films to mainstream audiences. I saw Chariots of the Gods at the Dale Theater in the Bronx, which was a neighborhood movie house.
I have looked at a few of the Sunn Classic films recently and, sadly, they are not as wonderful as I remembered them some forty years ago. But, then again, how many films that we loved in childhood still resonate with us as adults?
B&S: We’ve covered the Bigfoot films A Wish for Giants and Bigfoot on our site recently. I loved how you covered the latter, it’s a real piece of 1970’s drive-in weirdness. Do you have a favorite Bigfoot related film?
Phil: The answer may be a cop-out, but I have to say that I don’t have a favorite Bigfoot related film. The beauty of the Patterson-Gimlin Film is the elusive nature of Bigfoot, who is walking away from the camera and is mostly uninterested in human contact. There is also the blink-and-you-miss-it element of the film when Bigfoot very briefly turns around to acknowledge the camera, which is still shocking no matter how many times you watch it. Bigfoot films place our favorite hominid front-and-center, often in a cartoonishly violent situation, and then the film just becomes another monster movie.
B&S: The Legend of Boggy Creek is another favorite. I’ve debated the strangeness of that film and how it moves from straight ahead narrative to an attempted documentary. Why do you think it’s so strange?
Phil: I think the film works because it was made outside of the Hollywood studio system, so the filmmakers had the freedom to shoot their production in a style that would have been hack-chopped to death by studio editors. That’s the beauty of the indie films of the 1970’s — they don’t look like anything that came before or since.
B&S: I’m so glad you brought up some of the lesser known Bigfoot films, like the bonkers Cry Wilderness. Is that the strangest one you’ve seen?
Phil: It’s not a film, but I feel that the television series Bigfoot and Wildboy was the strangest in how it presented Bigfoot. Even for the 1970s, it was utterly bizarre – a crime-fighting Sasquatch teamed with a feral child sporting a Farrah Fawcett hairdo?
B&S: We often discuss the emotion of belief in our articles here, how we want something to be true even if it obviously isn’t. Do you think that’s why the footage has been so famous for so long?
Phil: I think the Patterson-Gimlin Film continues to haunt us because it doesn’t make logical sense. We are seeing something that we should not be seeing, if only because we’ve been told that what is on the screen cannot possibly exist. But it is there, which leads to the obvious questioning of whether it is real or fake. The weird thing is that there has never been a conclusive be-all/end-all answer to the question of the authenticity of the being that is caught on camera. Some people claim they were part of the hoax, but they never presented evidence that backed that claim. And those insist that the image of Bigfoot is real also need to explain the murky circumstances on how the film was shot and processed. A half-century later, we’re still on that cryptozoological carousel — we go in circles, but never really get anywhere.
B&S: In a world where we all carry incredibly high-quality cameras with us at all times, are you shocked there are not more cryptozoological videos?
Phil: The cynical answer is: You cannot film what does not exist. The optimistic answer is: You cannot film what does not want to be filmed. Bigfoot and the other creatures of cryptozoology are not attention hogs, and sightings of these creatures were always accidental surprises.
B&S: I loved the essays from other film fans. How did you choose who would appear?
Phil: I chose filmmakers and culture journalists whose opinions I trust and enjoy. It was a completely subjective decision.
B&S: Finally, what are some of your favorite films outside the cryptozoological spectrum?
Phil: Oh, I can watch anything from the classics of Akira Kurosawa and Satyajit Ray to the knockabout of the Three Stooges. As long as the film is not boring, I will be happy to watch it.