Being a fan of a film in the analogue age-What the marketing of ‘Alien’ tells us about how hard it was to be a fan

In 1979 I was 12, six years away from seeing Ridley Scott’s Alien which had an X certificate which meant nobody under the age of 18 could get in. Now I could just about get away with getting into a AA film (sort of like the current 15 rating but you could normally get in if you were accompanied by an adult) but there’s not a chance I could escape the Stasi-like stare of a cinema usher.

One of the joys of seeing AA films was you got trailers for X rated films, so when I went to see the Ralph Bakshi animated Lord of the Rings, I was confronted with this.

I was hooked but couldn’t see the film, but what I could do was nag my parents and brothers to get me everything related to the film. See in today’s digital age if I were 12 again, I’d be able to actually see the film if I had a computer and access to an internet connection. In 1979 there was no internet, and the idea of home computers was a dream only of people like Clive Sinclair.

So first thing I got was Alan Dead Foster’s novelisation, the easiest way to live a film without having to see it.


That wasn’t enough. I eventually managed to get a copy of The Book of Alien, which is still an amazing book.


Then I had Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson’s stunning Alien:The Illustrated Story.


I also managed to grab the photonovel (photonovels were fumetti, and hugely popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s) of Alien, a chunky, huge beast of a book.


I even managed to somehow get a Alien model kit which I lovingly built until years later it suffered a fatal breakage that would make even Olympic athletes cringe.


One of my brothers managed to pick up a film programme, something you never see but this piece of marketing stuck with films til the 1980’s at least.Somewhere I’ve got a few of these sitting around.


There were also the Alien poster magazines.



I even grabbed in the Barras in Glasgow a copy of Warren’s Alien special.


Then there were various issues of Starlog, Starburst, Fantastic Films, or any of those great film magazines that used to be around.


In effect I knew every single bit of minutiae of Alien, but I was utterly unable to see it. Then in 1981 at a science fiction convention in Glasgow I saw a Super 8 edited version of the film.


There’s even a copy (in badly dubbed French) on YouTube.

These Super 8 abridged versions were the only way most of us could own any version of a film we loved before the days of video. The Super 8 versions of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back are also fantastic examples of this now long gone form of memorabilia.

I digress only slightly, but here’s the point. Pre-video, you could get a dazzling amount of tie-in merchandise, but owning a copy of the film was amazingly hard, if not impossible outwith of the Super 8 versions so you hoped it’d turn up on TV or in my case, my balls would drop hard enough for puberty to kick in so I could blag my way into a cinema years before I was legally able to.

Thankfully I finally saw the complete Alien, albeit on a small screen in 1982 when ITV broadcast it during the World Cup of that year.

This still wasn’t seeing it in a cinema with an audience on a big screen and decent sound. I had to wait another couple of years for that when Alien finally turned up at the GFT, and finally, around six years and a set of bollocks dropping later, I finally saw Alien on a big screen.  The last time I saw it on a big screen was in 2003 when on a visit to Stockholm for their film festival the directors cut was playing at a cinema in the old part of the city. It still works oh so well on the big screen but this was a film I had to work hard to actually see rather than flip open my laptop, go to some website of dubious legality, and then download what I want.

So kids, when you’re complaining that it takes too long between Marvel films, or that you want a new Star Wars film every week, think of us poor fans back in what you’d probably call prehistoric times. We had to work for a living, tsk…

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