I have always been a fan of John Carpenter.
His visual style, his directing, his films. I really thought at one point he had the chops to further his artistic talent and become a great director.
Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Thing, Escape From New York and Christine (Which I find to be his most sophisticated work) but then ……
He just kind of went into mediocrity, none of his films since having the vibe of the previous mentioned.
Anyone concur ?
I love Carpenter. Talked to him a few years back about the current state of cinema and his feelings about his past work—John is a really cool guy—just what you would expect (NO B.S). From what he told me directing films is quite time consuming and takes too much time away from really important things — like spending time with family.
I am just so thankful he had the chance to make the masterpieces he made in “his” genre. For me, Carpenter was my generation’s Hitchcock. And I cherish these “little” films he made as true American Auteurism…….
He always had the cynical vision to call himself “One step above a porn director in America, and a genius in Europe…” Too bad he might be correct, as so many Americans that I talk to laugh when I glow at the thought of his creations…
I’d bet that, for any filmmaker who grew up in the 1970’s and 80’s (which would include most of the modern-day heroes of cinema, from PTA to QT), that John Carpenter was as big an influence on their decision to become a filmmaker as Lucas, Spielberg and Coppola were. The only difference was, at least with Spielberg and Lucas, nobody’s parents took them to see “Halloween” or “The Thing”. In order to see those movies, you had to have the courage to not only put your butt in the seat and watch without fanning your fingers over your eyes, but also the moxie to sneak into the theater to see it in the first place, since his oeuvre was most definitely and deservedly rated R.
When I was a kid, everyone saw “Star Wars” and “Raiders” and loved them (as did I), but you didn’t brag about seeing them. They weren’t a mark of manhood like seeing Carpenter’s movies were. His were movies that proved your mettle. And when I later made the decision to make movies, the mettle I earned sneaking in and surviving his movies galvanized me to want to make movies that had power if not equal to his, then at least striving in that direction.
When I got older and went back to revisiting his films (thanks in no small part to the Criterion laserdisc release of “Halloween”, done far in advance of Anchor Bay’s many reiterations), I saw that there was even more to Carpenter’s films than his ample ability to scare, shock and horrify. With his Ford-ian mastery of the widescreen frame, his genius way of working with light and it’s lack thereof (including those great Dean Cundey lens choices that would take an incoming light source, such as a headlight, and dissect it horizontally as if it were cutting the frame in two) and dead-on music choices (composed and performed by Carpenter himself), I started seeing him as one of our greatest auteurs instead of just a brand-name for schlock – a title he never earned nor deserved.
It’s true that his most recent work, starting with, I’d say, “Vampires”, has run the range from bad to worse in terms of quality. Yet, this isn’t rare for directors of his talent who, as they age, find themselves less “relevant” in their world while at the same time their influence is felt more than it was when they were at their heyday.
Carpenter’s work will not be forgotten. It grows richer with age. And, since he’s been such a DVD-friendly director, offering insightful commentaries along with whatever wealth of supplemental material he’s had at his disposal to give, we can go back and study and re-appreciate his work from his insider’s perspective for eons to come. And I say this is a good thing. I wouldn’t be a filmmaker if it wasn’t for him. And I’m sure his work will live to inspire many others to follow the same path. Here’s hoping. After all, they could do a damn sight worse than aping this modern American master, who’s left behind a wealth of great films that put many other modern filmmakers, overrated in their day and absolutely without merit now, to shame – something he doesn’t have to feel for his work, regardless of what he’s been up to lately.
On a postcript, I too saw John Carpenter awhile back, though I didn’t have the pleasure of talking to him. I wouldn’t have wanted to. The setting was too good to break the spell with a clumsy introduction care of yours truly.
While living in Hollywood at the time, I took my ex-girlfriend to the Hollywood Cemetery to see the grave of Johnny Ramone. While walking back to my car, I saw Carpenter behind the wheel of his black, all-American car, pass by real slow to give a respectful glance to Ramone’s headstone and drive away.
I thought of chasing him down to say Hi! But it would have ruined the moment, both for him and me. And for a man who’s given me so many good ones, I figured the least I could do was leave the one he was in, unfettered, undistrurbed, and left alone.
I saw John Carpenter in a graveyard. Words were not necessary. ’Nuff said.
David: Great post. Love the story about your meeting and agree that he inspired most filmmakers with any sense in this generation.
Huge Carpenter fan, but now I find it necessary to add “(his earlier stuff)” when I write that. The quality of his output has been steadily declining for some time, and it’s a damn shame because when he was on top of his game, you couldn’t touch him. But I was cringing through his entries in the Masters of Horror TV series, they were so god-awful. I just couldn’t believe they were helmed by the same man who brought us The Thing, Halloween and In The Mouth of Madness, to cite a few. It’s nice to see someone extoll the virtues of Christine, by the way, as I’ve always thought that was one of his greatest and most underrated films. I’ve never met him, but in all the interviews I’ve seen he comes across as a genuinely cool, down-to-earth, totally unpretentious guy. On a side-note, is he afflicted with some kind of ailment? He started looking very unhealthy a while back, at a relatively young age.
I don’t think JC has anything wrong with him—sure hope not. He is a living legend in my book.
Ghosts of Mars happened:( He needs a comeback.
I know he smokes like a chimney, but his hair turned white and his forehead got spotty and he looks emaciated somehow. I just hope he’s okay… Ghosts of Mars and Escape from L.A. are the only films of his I haven’t seen. I’m too scared. Ironic, eh?
i’m just now re-discovering all of carpenter’s work. i grew up in the generation right after his classics of the 70s and early 80s, so i missed almost everything the first time around. i just had the pelasure of seeing “the thing” for the first time earlier this year. this is why i love film history. it’s the best thing to watch a classic for the first time after you’ve been hearing about it your whole life! the anticipation is ten times better than that for some current blockbuster.
Upon seeing I had a copy of Halloween, a friend said: “Oh, I didn’t know you liked horror films”. I said: “I don’t like horror films. In fact, I’ve never seen any”. When she asked me what Halloween WAS, I said “It’s a John Carpenter film”…No response. I remember taking 3 different friends to see Christine when it opened and insisting on sitting front row centre. Same thing with Escape from New York. By the time Starman opened, I had given up trying to convert people and enjoyed it by myself, several times, in the theatre. I own them all now on VHS and DVD – (along with others, but they remain my favourites). How do you explain to people that it ain’t the story, it’s the way it’s told that counts???
BTW, I remember going to a John Carpenter film years ago, very low budget story about aliens that you could only see when wearing special Ray-bans which also showed the messages to Obey Authority etc. behind billboard ads………….Can anyone tell me the name of that film? Thanks.
That was a fun film. A solid “A +” B Movie (Like The Mist)
Yeah, that’s They Live, which features one of the best, funniest, most random extended fight scenes ever. The reason for the fight? One guy won’t put on his sunglasses. =)
Oh, and it also contains one of Carpenter’s most memorable lines: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum.”
Hey, thanks for letting me know the title – especially Brad who took the time to send me an e-mail. I just ordered a copy from Amazon so I’ll be able to watch it on my new LCD TV over Christmas. You guys are great and so is this site!
THEY LIVE is too prophetic now that we look at it! SCARY! Reagan, Bush 1 + 2………wow! JC had his glasses on long, long ago.
that’s one definition of a great artist. someone who can comprehend and predict the future with clarity. someone who’s literally ahead of his time.
Just came across a Carpenter quote that seems appropriate:
" Monsters in movies are us, always us, one way or the other. They`re us with hats on. The zombies in George Romero`s movies are us. They`re hungry. Monsters are us, the dangerous parts of us. The part that wants to destroy. The part of us with the reptile brain. The part of us that`s vicious and cruel. We express these in our stories as these monsters out there. "
The thing about Carpenter, (and I’ve always wondered about the internalized Messianic feelings of people who’s initials are JC, like Joseph Campbell), is (and I’m groping here), that they make these films with love. Carpenter obviously loves film-making: the tracking shots, the edits, the music – especially the music, (the over-the-shoulder shot in Christine where Arnie first discovers Christine’s powers after she’s been trashed – the synthesizer chord, – it’s the sound of an erection), – Carpenter loves the characters and he loves the car and he loves the monsters, (and reading Stephen King just leaves me cold and feeling used).
Is that what we respond to in certain film-makers? Welles loved film-making, as did Hitchcock and Kubrick, for all their reported coldness toward actors. Do we love their movies because they so obviously loved making them?
like truffaut said, to criticize hitchcock on certain grounds comes to the same thing as criticizing a lover for being too focused on their partner’s satisfaction.
we love their movies because they loved making them…for us.
The same could be said of Wes Craven. Sure it seems all his films have the same plot, but early Craven was frighteningly good.
Early Carpenter was great but why no mention of the Fog? Bit of a let down to say the least.
Halloween is one of the best movies ever. It breathes autumn.
Normal wear and tear.
I’m not so quick to say anything about a Director who has left such a nice body of work. For some Artists, “for some” in general in any medium Film , Painting, Music, Writing, etc etc……“as they get older”.. it gets harder and harder to maintain the level of quality in their work as it did in their prime. A lot of times they hit home runs “in their prime” because they something to prove, more energy, younger, i see that with a lot of artist.
Actually, I think Carpenter did his best work on the low-budget independent productions early in his career. As he more closely aligned himself with Hollywood later and worked with larger and larger budgets, he needed his films to do bigger and bigger box office in order for his films to break even, and I think Carpenter’s films have a real limitation in terms of potential audience, and I think the artist returns diminished as he struggled with the commercial aspects of his films.
I like to consider myself one of the most/more dedicated horror fans around, but I just don’t really care for the man or his films. “Halloween” is certainly my favourite of his work, which on its own is maybe not a masterpiece but certainly a genre classic. “The Thing”, I did not care for one bit.
i really enjoyed “the thing”. i think its a movie with a lot of interesting subtext. one of the reasons carpenter is so respected as an auteur.
Probably, Carpenter’s best result is one of his less loved: Vampires.
Another deep-died horror fan here who does not care for most of Carpenter’s films. In fact my favorite of them is BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, which is certainly not a horror film. My biggest problem with his work is that the man does not have a clue how to climax his films. The non-endings of HALLOWEEN and THE THING at least work reasonably well, but the forget-evrything-that-just-transpired-I’m-going-to-give-you-one-last-shock of THE FOG or the completely WTF? endings of IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS or CIGARETTE BURNS are just disasters. And in most cases they derail films that, up until that point, are pretty good.
Carpenter is still working. Cigarette Burns is well made and very scary.
What about Vampires? There was an awesome movie.
I mean, you have to have balls of steel to name your protagonist Jack Crow.
I’m glad you mentioned Cigarette Burns, Francisco. That was a fabulous film that was the first entry in Showtime’s Masters of Horror series from a couple years ago. I have watched it a few times and it still creeps me out. And while not as iconic as his work form the 70’s and 80’s, just as good. That whole series they did was a fantastic idea (here’s a million bucks for a 60 minute movie. Make it scary and don’t go over budget.) and some of the episodes were excellent (Cigarette Burns, Dreams in the Witch House, Imprint, Fair Haired Child, Jennifer).
Cool. Nice to see there are people out there who admire Carpenter’s work. His last decent films were done back-to-back: In the Mouth of Madness in 1994 and Children of the Damned in 1995. From there, he pretty much fell off the deep end, imo. Carpenter was magnificent in combining western and noir elements into his sci-fi and horror films, and had his pulse on selling the public what they wanted to buy, that is, up until he started churning out schlock like “Vampires” and “Escape from LA.” He may have it in him for a comeback, but it remains to be seen.
Isn’t he currently working on re-makes of They Live and Escape From New York?