Saturday, September 14, 2019

Memo to the National Film Registry: Plan 9 from Outer Space

Public nominations for this year’s additions to the Library of Congress’s NationalFilm Registry close tomorrow, so anyone who wishes to second my nomination of Plan 9 from Outer Space should do so today. Here is my open letter to the National Film Preservation Board, making the case for Ed Wood’s affectionately notorious film:

Not every film on the National Film Registry is great, but they are all culturally significant. Surely, Ed Wood’s cult classic Plan 9 from Outer Space qualifies as the latter. Yes, it has been widely derided as “the worst film of all time,” but that itself is some kind of distinction. Yet, movie fans keep watching it.

Arguably, no other film has played a greater role shaping the “so bad its good” aesthetic than Plan 9. Its ruckus late night screenings deserve a great deal of credit for the “midnight movie” tradition as we now know it. Plan 9 has burrowed into our cultural consciousness and reshaped our genre archetypes with the now iconic appearances of Bela Lugosi (in his final screen role), Tor Johnson, “Vampira,” and “The Amazing Criswell.” As a result, there are prominent references to Plan 9 scattered throughout the last fifty years of pop culture, including call-outs on Seinfeld and The X-Files.

Logically, the making of Plan 9 is the centerpiece of Ed Wood, which is arguably Tim Burton’s best live action feature to date. In fact, Burton’s film is significant in its own right, thanks to Martin Landau’s Academy Award-winning portrayal of Lugosi, but it probably would not exist without Plan 9.

Over the years, Plan 9 has inspired stage musicals, comic books, video games, and a reconceived remake that is actually not half-bad (John Johnson’s Plan 9). For movie lovers, it has transcended Wood’s conspicuous limitations as a filmmaker to become a beloved work of Atomic-Age Americana. That is why preservation of Plan 9 from Outer Space fits so well with the National Film Registry’s mission and methodology. Plus, its induction would be a publicity boon for the Registry (seriously, those stories would just write themselves, wouldn’t they?). That is why Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space should be included in the Registry’s Class of 2019.