Encouraged by Her Mother

Photo by Mark Seliger

 
 

Natalie Merchant was born October 26, 1963, in Jamestown, New York, the third of four children of Anthony and Ann Merchant. Her paternal grandfather, who played the accordion, mandolin and guitar, emigrated to the United States from Sicily; his surname was “Mercante” before it was Anglicized.

When Merchant was a child, her mother listened to music (primarily Petula Clark but also The Beatles, Al Green, Aretha Franklin) and encouraged her children to study music, but she wouldn’t allow TV after Natalie was 12. “I was taken to the symphony a lot because my mother loved classical music. But I was dragged to see Styx when I was 12. We had to drive 100 miles to Buffalo, New York. Someone threw up next to me and people were smoking pot. It was terrifying. I remember Styx had a white piano which rose out of the stage. It was awe-inspiring and inspirational.” “She [her mother] had show tunes, she had the soundtrack from West Side Story (Robert Wise, 1961) and South Pacific (Joshua Logan, 1958). And then eventually… she’d always liked classical music and then she married a jazz musician, so that’s the kind of music I was into. I never really had friends who sat around and listened to the stereo and said ‘hey, listen to this one’, so I’d never even heard of who Bob Dylan was until I was 18.”

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A Different Set of Jaws

 
 

The film starts with the screen fading to black and over-sized, disembodied female lips (inspired by the surreal Man Ray painting A l’heure de l’observatoire, les Amoureux) appear overdubbed with a male voice, creating the androgynous theme to be repeated as the film unfolds. The opening scene and song, Science Fiction, Double Feature consists of the lips of Patricia Quinn (who appears in the film later as the character Magenta), but has the vocals of actor and Rocky Horror creator, Richard O’Brien (who appears as Magenta’s brother Riff Raff). The lyrics reference science fiction and horror films of the past and list several film titles from the 1930s to the 1970s, including The Day the Earth Stood Still, Flash Gordon, The Invisible Man, King Kong, It Came from Outer Space, Doctor X, Forbidden Planet, Tarantula, The Day of the Triffids, Curse of the Demon, When Worlds Collide and The Bride of Frankenstein. The disembodied lips are featured on posters and other merchandise for the film, with the tag line “A Different Set of Jaws”, a spoof of the poster for the film Jaws, which was also produced in 1975.

As stated before, the song is made up of fragments from sub-genre horror and science fiction films and likened to that of avant-garde artist Tristan Tzara by author Vera Dika in her book, Recycled Culture in Contemporary Art and Film. Tzara would construct poems by taking snippets of words from newspapers and placing them into a bag to randomly draw from and arrange. Instead, the words in Science Fiction Double Feature are purposely made to rhyme with a set structure and set with phrases that create cohesion.

The original concept of the song for the feature film as indicated in the original script was to have film clips of each movie shown with a scratched aged effect overlay during the song and opening credits. The idea was dropped when it became apparent that the cost of acquiring the rights to these clips in 1974 was far too prohibitive.

 
 

FILMS REFERENCED IN THE LYRICS :

“Michael Rennie was ill the day the earth stood still, but he told us where we stand” (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Robert Wise, 1951)

“And Flash Gordon was there in silver underwear” (Flash Gordon, Frederick Stephani, 1936)

“Claude Rains was the invisible man” (The Invisible Man, James Whale, 1933)

“Then something went wrong for Fay Wray and King Kong, they got caught in a celluloid jam” (King Kong, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933)

“Then at a deadly pace it came from outer space” (It Came from Outer Space, Jack Arnold, 1953)

“Doctor X will build a creature” (Doctor X, Michael Curtiz, 1932)

“Anne Francis stars in Forbidden Planet” (Forbidden Planet, Fred M. Wilcox, 1956)

“I knew Leo G. Carroll was over a barrel when Tarantula took to the hills” (Tarantula, Jack Arnold, 1955)

“And I really got hot when I saw Janette Scott fight a Triffid that spits poison and kills” (The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham, 1962)

“Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes, and passing them used lots of skills” (Night of the Demon, Jacques Tourneur, 1957)

“But when worlds collide, said George Pal to his bride, I’m gonna give you some terrible thrills” (When Worlds Collide, Rudolph Maté, 1951)

 

To watch the movie clip, please check out The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228