Saturday, August 30, 2008

John Carpenter; My stepdad; Palin

Interesting piece on John Carpenter whose fall from grace continues to facsinate and confound me. He was so good and then so bad.

John Carpenter Lives in a BAM Retrospective
Spend Labor Day with The Thing
By Scott Foundas
Wednesday, August 27th 2008
Village Voice

I'm not sure if John Carpenter ever actually spoke the oft-reproduced quote: "In France, I'm an auteur; in Germany, I'm a filmmaker; in England, I'm a genre director; in the U.S., I'm a bum." But as an Old West newspaperman once advised a certain U.S. senator: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Besides, those words sound like something Carpenter would say—or, if not him, one of his swaggering, mullet-haired, tough-guy alter egos. It's certainly true that Hollywood never quite knew what to make of this tall, lanky Kentuckian with his healthy distrust of corporate America and his colorful, trucker-bar repertory company, keeping him around only so long as his brand of subversive B-movie mastery continued to generate healthy returns on investment.


"The Thing (1982) was Hawks again, even if Carpenter's version owed more to John W. Campbell Jr.'s short story and to Carpenter's own abiding interest in the duality of man than to the 1951 movie. A flop upon its release (by Universal, two weeks after Spielberg's E.T.), this spatial masterpiece of desolate Arctic vistas at odds with close-quarters claustrophobia has since been hailed as a high totem of modern horror-making. There remains something deeply unnerving about Carpenter's ambiguity as to whether the movie's shape-shifting alien is distorting its hosts' personalities or merely revealing something of their primal selves.


"... there are two ways of seeing Carpenter: as a proficient genre director or as a kind of blue-collar shaman, waking us up to the all-too-real horrors of the modern world and its many threats to individuality and consciousness. He is what the late Manny Farber deemed a termite artist, nibbling away at the borders with his seemingly innocuous, low-budget quickies, unnoticed by most—which is, after all, the best way to stage a revolution."

Copyright © 2008 Village Voice LLC • 36 Cooper Square • New York NY 10003

------My Stepdad

He's still alive though less and less responsive. My mother was very happy that he woke up for about twenty minutes this morning and they talked. I had a good talk with my stepsister Linda this afternoon, too. She's always been a sweetie.

-----Sarah Palin

Has anybody noted that McCain choosing Sarah Palin is really the premise of a bad Hwood comedy? In the La La Land version she ends up as the completely inexperienced but tender-hearted Ms. Prez who proves to be the best president our country has ever had. But if you've been reading the blogs that are reprinting what the Alaskan newspapers have been saying about her all day--you'll realize just how terrifying this vp nomination really is. And what a psycho McCain is.


Dave Zeltserman said...

Ed, The Thing and They Live are two of my favorite sci-fi movies, so I'll always have a soft spot for Carpenter. Btw. In The Thing, a visual clue is given at the end to indicate which of the two surviors is the Thing.

About Palin. Truly incomprehensible. More and more this is an indication of the superficiality of today's society, where image is everything. Kind of an American idol mentality. Watching the HBO miniseries 'John Adams', you realize that the early presidents were the most experienced and best this country had to offer. Now what do we got? A potential VP and heartbeat away from the president with all of 1 1/2 years of experience governing the most remote and one of the least populous states in the country??

Anonymous said...

John Carpenter's recent episode of Masters of Horror, Cigarette Burns, is not only one of the best things he's ever done, it's also one of the best pieces of filmed horror I've seen in years.
If you like Carpenter, or good horror films, you don't want to miss it.

John Hocking

Anonymous said...

I yearn for a Lincoln, Carl Sandburg's Lincoln, the plain, humble, obscure man who came out of the very soil of America and was more than a match for the greatest of all orators, the "Little Giant" Stephen Douglas. For the briefest moment, I thought Mrs. Palin might be a Lincoln. She isn't. Maybe Barack Obama is my Lincoln, after all. I have supported him from the first and will continue.

Richard Wheeler

Anonymous said...


I know what you're referring to, but I believe it's really just a matter of back lighting on one of the characters and not the other that makes the difference.

I think they are both human in that last scene. Of course it is left completely up to the audience to decide for themselves, but I believe the visible breath is a lighting issue not a story point.

But I might be wrong. Considering what has been going on in the last twenty-five years it's possible that the Things did make it out of the cold and now they walk among us. Or are just running things.

Then again, THEY LIVE works for that scenario as well.

I think Carpenter was really on to something.


Dave Zeltserman said...


There's so much breath visible from Kurt Russell and none from the other actor that it's hard to believe that this would've been a mistake. If it was a mistake, it was a brilliant one!

Ed, the only thing that can explain Palin's choice that I can think of is McCain took some peyote into the Arizona desert for a vision quest, and that's what he came up with. Except he screwed. The vision was really pointing him to Tina Fey. Or maybe it's just your explanation. The guy's a psycho.

Juri said...

I echo Dave's comment on Cigarette Burns. It's scary and inventive, and it's also pretty well done (even though there are some plot holes; the thing (sic) wasn't scripted by Carpenter, though). His son made the music and he was good!

Anonymous said...

Love The Thing, am terrified of McCain, and have always thought that both men were human at the end of The Thing.

Anonymous said...

The lighting isn't really a "mistake" at the end of The Thing. The men are on opposite sides of the burned out room in completely different lighting situations. Mac's head is leaning outside the edge of the structure with a very strong backlight behind him so the breath condensation is extremely visible. Childs has very little backlight and his head is against part of the building, so not a lot of back light is hitting his breath, but if you watch closely you CAN see some condensation. (The fact that Russell is the star and main hero of this movie might have something to do with this lighting set-up as well.)

Childs has also been out in the cold longer so it stands to reason his breath may not be kicking out as much visible condensation as Mac's. (Although I doubt this factored into the making of the scene.)

One other problem I have with this theory, which seems to have become very popular over the last few years, is that the Thing is supposed to duplicate people perfectly. If so, there would be no "tell" like the one that people speculate about here.

As of the time of the recording of the filmmaker's commentary track in the early nineties, neither Carpenter nor Russell had even noticed the condensation and lighting issue. It certainly wasn't part of the plan when they shot it. It's just a lucky accident that has blown into the equivilant of a conspiracy theory. But they were STILL discussing the possibility that one or both of the men COULD be Things and might not even realize it. So this aspect of the ending is left completely up to the individual viewer to decide. The filmmakers aren't even sure themselves.

But I'm with Andrew. I prefer to believe that both men were human at the end. I think that is the most poignant read on that last scene, one of the most interesting in the genre's history.

And no, Carpenter did not write this movie. The late great Bill Lancaster did. He was a drinking buddy of mine and a fine, fine screenwriter. But the end of the movie was a team effort, primarily created by Russell after much discussion with the studio. It was hotly debated, the studio wanting a much cheerier ending. The filmmakers won and we have a film classic on our hands. (But a boxoffice failure at the time.)

Sorry for rambling on like this. Oh, did I mention this is one of my favorite movies of all time?


pearlymae said...

Has everyone forgotten the dog running from the camp? obviously the thing infected one dog in the kennel. It ran away into the night and was still running heading to civiliation and more victums while everyone at the camp was trying to stop it. The thing had escaped and was gone already!