The Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man

A Critical Essay by Cary Collins



There are many artists that are responsible for the wonder that is avant-garde film. Many artists should be remembered as great filmmakers. One man that is definitely on that list is Ron Rice. Ron Rice in his career completed six films. He unfortunately died of pneumonia at the extremely early age of twenty-nine. Despite his short life he had the opportunity to put out six films in his short but celebrated career. Rice was a high school dropout who was considered as a genius of avant-garde film. Of all of his films one film that he has become well known for is The Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man.

The Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man is a film about protesting the industrial world and having fun doing it. Taylor Mead plays the hapless, possibly chaplinesque Atom Man, and Winifred Bryan plays the Queen. The film itself is a protest to the industrial society because its two main characters who come from different backgrounds act foolish and stupid enjoying the simple pleasures of life and doing what they want to do, not what others want them to do.

The film starts out with Meadıs character (the Atom Man) playing around with things around the house and then cuts to The Queen lying around doing her thing and being pampered by her servant. Meadıs character, theAtom Man is called that because he is like an insignificant speck in an industrial world. You can tell just by how the Atom Man acts that he doesnıt get the world around him. The Atom Man does things like rub a box of cereal against himself and does the weirdest thing with any number of objects because those objects come from the industrial world that he doesnıt get or want. The Atom Man acting stupid was a great Rice idea as well as the cuts from character to character. The film cuts from one character to another quite often and the cuts from each look clean. You could start with the Atom Man at one location and then cut and the Queen of Sheba is in another location. I like the part near the beginning where the Atom Man and the Queen are together and they start doing drugs. I think that part of the movie is definitely a sixties type of thing going on with the drugs and the rebellious behavior. I especially liked the look on his face when he was injecting not only himself but also when he was injecting the Queen with what looked to be the insanely long needle. The Queen fought him at first but eventually stuck her with it and then you saw complete insanity from both of them breaks out at this point. It definitely reminded me of a Charlie Chaplin like romp of insanity. There is a lot of give and take in this film; much of that give and take comes from the Atom Man and the Queen.

I believe that the give and take that come from the Atom Man and the Queen comes from the fact that the Queen herself comes from riches of the industrial society and the Atom Man is a poor guy fighting the industrial world. In the beginning of the film you see a shot of the Queen naked being given a drink by her servant, that alone gives you an idea that she comes from wealth. You can tell just by looking at her that she was Riceıs way of mythically defining what the industrial well off upper class person should look like. The Queen was enormously fat, and very arrogant. Rice obviously believed in the myth that being rich and having lots of money she should have servants and therefore is very big and lazy.

Throughout the film Ron Rice has put in symbolism in right in front of our eyes and I have noticed a few things. Obviously the part of the film that shows the word "heroin" on the barrel that Meadıs character is playing around with is very obvious, when you see the word "heroin" you know what he is getting into. It isnıt the heroin as much as it is how he acts all the time while doing the heroin and not doing the heroin. I believe that the character himself is mocking industrialism in everything he does. There are a few times in the film that the Atom Man puts an antenna on his head and looks around goofily, and I believe his is mocking the way people are looking at the industrialization of the world as a good thing. I like the part where you see a little sculpted head of something edible I am not quite sure what it was made out of but you see him with his antenna on and he is eating the little sculpted head with the antenna on and rolling his eyes stupidly. The scene didnıt make sense to me until you see a statue of a head later in the film that reads Edwin B. Wolfsan and says right under it, Builder and Originator. It then occurred to me that Rice was symbolizing how society and people were eating up industrialism and sitting there with a smile on their face looking very stupid for it. I thought that was a brilliant piece of symbolism used in the film. I also kind of liked some of the music that was picked to go with the action that was going on in the film. All of the film was silent so the music was a very important element of the film. The film was smooth although you had to pay attention in order to know what was going on. I have to believe that, that was Ron Riceıs plan from the beginning so that we would have to pay attention to all the details in order to avoid getting lost during the movie and not know what was going on. Overall Ron Rice did a fantastic job with this film and no one can take that away from Rice. It is very unfortunate that the world wouldnıt get the chance to see more works created and produced by Ron Rice. I would have loved to have met the man so I could have asked him about his work. The Queen of Sheba was a great piece of work even though the story wasnıt to my taste. Despite my personal feelings towards it I would recommend it just to enlighten some people on Rice and the type of works that he did.

--Cary Collins, 2003

Ron Rice