John Sayles, '60s generation genius and creator of "The Brother From Another Planet," says his science-fiction comedy is no departure. It's pure Sayles, another socially aware work on the subject of alienation.
"Lianna" and all of "The Secaucus Seven, were aliens, says the writer/director. So "Brother," story of a black extraterrestrial in Harlem, fits right in. And those scripts he wrote for "Battle Beyond the Stars," "Alligator," "The Howling," "Piranha"?
Well, Sayles says, he once told a reporter "Piranha" was all about the Red Guard and the cultural revolution. And "Alligator"? The creature "was a symbol of social ills," says Sayles with a deceptively straight face. "He eats his way through the socio-economic classes. He eats the lower class first. But people only get concerned when he gets to the middle class, and they only do something when he gets to the upper-middle class." Yes, they sure moved when the gator ate the Cadillacs.
And because of this class thing, we feel alienated? That's for sure, says Sayles, who figures he's not alone: "There are an awful lot of movies about aliens out there. Lots of people or things wandering around out of their element, aliens in their own societies." He lists "Splash," "Moscow on the Hudson," "El Norte," "Liquid Sky," "Iceman."
"Through the Brother's eyes we see what we look at every day and really never see," says Sayles. "He's accepted as an insider, but he's really an outsider. And those are the kind of films I like to make, insiders who are outsiders."
Sayles also plays one of two villains who claim to be with the Department of Immigration. They wear black suits, which might favor that theory. But they also talk backwards in secret ("beer" comes out "reeb"), which points to space.
The characters are based on exhaustive research, says Sayles. People who see UFOs are always visited by men in black suits, even in France, he explains. He also learned of a woman from the Midwest who thought they were with the FBI, but decided on space after they drank her Jell-O.
"The serious undertone actually came from a bunch of dreams," he says. "I dreamed I directed a science-fiction film noir called 'Big Foot in Seattle,' with lots of sax music."
Aside from these influences, there was experience. Sayles also worked on a script with Steven Spielberg called "Night Sky" that influenced "Brother." It was turned down because "they thought sci-fi and horror had played themselves out. They were the same people who turned down 'E.T.' "
Unlike E.T., the Brother can't go home. He has to stay and work it out, keeping his big rubber feet covered at all times. "I wanted him to have something he had to hide," says Sayles. "When you move up the socio- economic ladder, you have to cover something up, like your accent or whatever."
And he wanted the Brother to be able to heal, but not to parody E.T. "Racism, classcism, sexism waste talent," muses Sayles. "I wanted him to have a talent. You just meet so many people in Harlem, everywhere, with talent and nothing to do with it."