Film club presents classic alien broadcast

Jensen Moore, Washburn Review

This Halloween, Washburn’s student film organization, TriBODS, took a turn for the sinister when they debuted the original radio broadcast of Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds.” TriBODS President, Shawn Collins, influenced the idea for the event through his tradition of listening to the broadcast every Halloween since childhood. However, it is not only the terrifying story that TriBODS wanted to get across, “The War of the Worlds” is renowned because of the immediate sway it had on the public and launched the career of the episode’s director and narrator Orson Welles.

The radio episode was based on the 1898 novel by H.G. Welles, which depicted the Earth being under attack by the Martians. This radio drama first aired October 30, 1938 over the Columbia Broadcasting System from the Mercury Theatre of New York City. The radio series The Mercury Theatre on the Air presented its Halloween episode with series of simulated news reports interrupting the regular broadcast to further inform the public of the Martian craft that had landed in the town of Grover‘s Mill, New Jersey. “This is where we got the famous line, ‘We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin,’ says Collins.”

The radio audience was also victim to the ‘live’ play by play action narrated by the experts investigating the scene. However, they were left short with the spine-chilling screams of the reporters as they are massacred at the hands of the Martians, leaving viewers to worry who would be next. By broadcasting with CBS Orson Welles secured the fact that “The War of the Worlds” would be heard on over 1,000 different radio stations throughout the United States. Although the episode was intended to be a hoax, the reaction of the public was mass panic because they took the story to be true. In hysteria of the situation some even fled their homes and took up arms, while most just called the police.

“The War of the Worlds” also gave rise to the infamous career of Orson Welles. Welles was only in this early twenties when he found fame in radio, although after this success he went to Hollywood to earn even more fame with the 1941 RKO movie “Citizen Kane.” A film in which Welles co-wrote, produced, directed, and performed the lead role. “Citizen Kane” earned Welles the Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay and would go on to be ranked as the greatest American movie according to the American Film Institute.

The club showcased different incarnation of H.G. Welles’s story such as the first movie version in 1953, the Tom Cruise version in 2005, and even the TV series that ran from 1988-90. TriBODS also displayed the Wichita Eagle’s news report on the practical joke published October 31, 1938, giving a view of the public’s reaction the incident. “The aftermath of this [radio broadcast] was hilarious in a sinister sort of way,” says Washburn sophomore and attendee of the event, Kevin Simons.

Seventy four years later the story is still relevant to the listener. “Man kind is afraid of the dark,” says Collins, “‘The War of the Worlds’ is the ultimate darkness.” The terrifying sensation of “The War of the Worlds” swept the media and holds commanding following even until today.

The next TriBODS meeting will be held November 13 at 6:00 p.m. in Henderson 118. The club’s next coming event will be the documentary showcase, DocuMatters, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 15 at The Break Room located at 911 S. Kansas Avenue.