I have this folder I keep on my computers that I drop random notes and files in. This video was from a documentary show I was watching some time back. I don’t even remember the name of the show now. Looks like Independent Lens… anyway, I noticed this t-shirt in the background of a shot. I did a double take and rewound the show to see it again. It’s odd … take a look:
This shirt is a curiosity to me. I went looking for it online without success. Regardless, the juxtaposition of The extra-terrestrial peering out behind the woods and a big buck makes me wonder exactly who would design such a shirt and for what reason. Although I seem to remember a lot of E.T. shirts from the early eighties, I’m pretty sure this one wasn’t licensed promotional material made at a later date. I find the relationship to the big buck odd and the fact that E.T. has such an influence on popular culture.
I rewatched E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial not too long ago and I caught the second half again this week likely because of the Halloween holiday. It had been twenty some years since I’ve seen it and what I’ve noticed that I often interpret films much differently than I did watching them as a child. I’ve often run across contemporary reviews of films that I’ve seen in the past and I like the serious minded type of reviews that dig deep into the script and symbolism. Sometimes now I like to do a bit of reading before or after I watch an old film.
As things so often happen, E.T started as an personal experience. It became a film somewhat by coincidence. Melissa Mathison co-wrote the screenplay with Steven Spielberg. Mathison dropped out of Berkeley because Francis Ford Coppola, whom she babysat his children, offered her a job1.. Spielberg told her a personal story of an imaginary alien friend during the filming of Raiders of the Lost Ark. After his parents’ divorce in 1960, Spielberg filled the void with an imaginary alien companion. He had originally scripted the child as autistic and he said that the imaginary alien was “a friend who could be the brother I never had and a father that I didn’t feel I had anymore.”2. Watching it in 1982 seemed like another fictional fantastic adventure to me. I hadn’t really noticed any of the subtle themes in the film and had absolutely no idea of the personal connection with the film maker. As I watched it recently, I noticed. Elliot and E.T. are both alienated and I felt a bit more attached to the reality of the film. It is personal experience that makes compelling art. I often stumble upon contemporary media reviews that I find fascinating and nowadays I like to look for the sublime in works I had previously overlooked.
Reviews have pointing out the spiritual symbolism and compared the film to other works of mystical imagination such as Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz. E.T. cannot survive physically on Earth, as Pan could not survive emotionally in Neverland; government scientists take the place of Neverland’s pirates. Or how about E.T.’s story as religious symbolism with crucifixion by military science and resurrection by faith. Even the movie poster is a take on Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. Spielberg received the Peace Medal from the United Nations for the films message of tolerance. There is certainly a reason that it’s one of the acclaimed films of all time.
After seeing it again with a broader perspective, I’d certainly give it two thumbs up. More importantly, films like these have become a slight part of who I am. The film has become part of my pop mythology and I would cast Spielberg as the perfect suburban wizard. I’d surmise that it’s become part of the collective conscience and further emphasized the impact of personal experience in doing so. Perhaps that’s why I made the effort to keep that little video clip on my computer. The t-shirt in the video has E.T. lurking in the woods. Was the subtle intent was to portray this extra terrestrial as another creature of the forest to be hunted? Was the t-shirt artist just fascinated, like me, of the various themes involved in the film or just the idea of extra-terrestrials? Or maybe the fella just picked up the shirt because, not unlike myself, he felt fascinated by and connected to the personal message of decency in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
1. Wikipedia contributors. “Melissa Mathison.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 30 Oct. 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melissa_Mathison
2. Wikipedia contributors. “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 30 Oct. 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E.T._the_Extra-Terrestrial