Friday, July 13, 2007

John Carpenter

Interesting discussion going on tonight on the Shocklines blog about the career of director John Carpenter. Doesn't matter what kind of fiction you write or direct, the pressure's the same. What happens when the creative moment you dread happens to YOU--you can't put together a book anybody's interested in or you publish book after book that shows how far you've drifted from your best work.

Carpenter is a sad example of this. Even if he's as hostile as some reports insist--and that may have some effect on how he's perceived these days--he did turn the psychological suspense genre upside down with Halloween. And, lest we forget, he did give us several other excelent movies, not least being The Thing.

So you wonder what could've happened to him. And you wonder if it could happen to you. Or if it's already happened to you and you just don't know it.

I remember Evan Hunter/Ed McBain noting in Mystery Scene a long time ago that he didn't like to talk much about the process of writing because it was this gift you were granted and it was best not to examine it too carefully. A lot of us who write fiction believe this, I think. Is my talent, small or large, a payday loan or do I own it lifelong? To quote Joanie Mitchell: "I've seen some hard hard places come down to smoke and ash."

Scan the past decade of bestselling fiction and you'll see a fair number of careers faded or vanished altogether. Any number of things could have caused these careers to falter, of course. Illness, age, bad agenting, fear of the machine.

But whatever it is it's the ghost that haunts a good number of us. You sit down at the machine and nothing happens. Or something comes out but it's not a good something.

Carpenter gets kicked around a lot these days. But let's be fair to him. He did some damned good work early on and maybe he's still got one or two good films left in him now.


Anonymous said...

Yes, there's a reason why I fear success almost as much as failure as a writer, man. This nailed it for me, Ed. Great blog entry.

Nickolas Cook

Anonymous said...

I don't know much about Carpenter's recent career, except that the last films of his that I saw (ESCAPE FROM L.A. and GHOSTS OF MARS) were pretty lackluster. The studios seem to be happy enough remaking his older movies (which presumably have some brand recognition from 25 years of play on cable and home video) but putting the remakes in younger hands. Maybe they figure the younger guys will work better with today's CGI and other FX, won't load the soundtrack with synthesizer music (an element that badly dates Carpenter's '70s and '80s films, in my opinion), will work for less, and won't want total control. They may also figure that Carpenter's ubiquitous homages to Howard Hawks and John Wayne resonate little if at all with today's kids who are the mainstay of horror and SF movies.

Charles said...

Mr Gorman, do you have a link to that discussion?

Gonzalo B said...

I have faith in Rob Zombie's Hlloween remake even though I see no point in most of these new horror "reinterpretations" of films that are barely one or two decades old. For the most, the revisions tend to consist in increasing the gore and body ratio and nothing else. I hope nobody tampers with They Live, probably Carpenter's finest. I can see how a big studio would water down its political contents and make it a harmless film about glasses with lots of opportunities for product placement.

Ed Gorman said...

This will get you to the Shocklines discussion about Carpenter

Craig Zablo said...

John Carpenter is probably one of the best examples of a career's path from near universal praise to, well, the other end of the spectrum.

When he burst on the scene with "Dark Star" and then "Assault on Precinct 13" and "Halloween" and then "Escape From New York" he was riding high. Then came "The Thing," "Christine," and "Star Man." After that it seemed to go downhill...

Still, like you said Ed, perhaps he [and I hope so]has more good films in him. Even if he doesn't, he still did quite a few entertaining movies. And doing even 1 is more than most of us ever do.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sad to note that had he produced these films over a thirty year period, he would still be considered a great one. Instead they came rather fast.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Ed