What better way to conclude Turkey Day 2009 than with a forty-year-old fake trailer about a killer 300-foot turkey, shot by a bunch of Caltech astronomers in the style of fifties monster movies? Warning: some truly fowl puns lay ahead!
Seth Shostak, currently the senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, was one of the young filmmakers behind 1969's The Turkey That Ate St. Louis. In a 2008 blog post, he explained just what exactly he and his cohorts were thinking:
One of the many doubtful activities of my youth was making films. I started doing this at age 11, and by the time I was a teenager, my buddy Jerry Rebold and I had already constructed a sound system that occasionally worked with our wind-up, 16mm camera.
In 1967, while in grad school, fellow student Bob O'Connell, Jerry Rebold and I made a half-hour film entitled "The Teenage Monster Blob from Outer Space, Which I Was." This parody of 1950s sci-fi films starred six pounds of Play-Doh.
The film bombed. It was, as O'Connell called it, "a turkey." This disgusting failure prompted us to change our cinematic strategy in two ways: (1) our next film was just going to be a trailer, rather than a complete film — that way we could save money and just put in the good parts, and (2) if we were making turkeys, why not make a REAL turkey?
Ergo, this short "preview" film, shot mostly at Caltech and at that school's Owens Valley Radio Observatory. Observant viewers will note then-department chair Jesse Greenstein in the role of Walter Cronkite, and a few other astronomers too (including yours truly).
"The Turkey that Ate St. Louis" was entered in the Baltimore International Film Festival, and automatically inserted into the feature-film category, where it faced competition from major motion pictures from both America and Europe. Despite this uneven playing field, "The Turkey" lost.
"The Teenage Monster Blob" eventually became more popular. Too late.
I've scoured the Internet for a good hour looking to find out just which classic piece of cinema defeated The Turkey That Ate St. Louis at the film festival, but it appears lost to history. I guess the Baltimore International Film Festival wasn't quite the cultural arbiter I thought it was. Either way, I'm ready to declare this Turkey the real winner. Now if only we could get some hotshot filmmaker to expand this gem to two and a half hours...