John Carpenter originally wanted to direct westerns just like his hero Howard Hawks. But those kind of movies weren’t so popular when Carpenter first started making films at the University of Southern California in 1968.
It was here he made Dark Star, a homemade science-fiction black comedy, which Carpenter later described as “Waiting for Godot in space.”.
I didn’t see Dark Star until it turned up one Monday night on BBC TV in the late 1970s. By then I was a believer at the First Church of John Carpenter having seen his second and third movies Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween. I saw Assault on Precinct 13 at the Edinburgh Film Festival 1977 and knew, as the credits rolled and I drifted out into the warm-breathed night, this was the work of modern American cinematic genius. After Assault on Precinct 13, I had to see every movie Carpenter made. His work inspired a near religious devotion.
Unlike today where we have multiple outlets to view films in amongst the distractions of everything else, back then there was only the cinema, which were usually built like temples to magic and light. Without disc or tape to pause and stop and rewind the scenes to be scrutinized frame-by-frame-by-frame, we had to memorize film sequences and dialog from (usually) one viewing. Such extracts we would later recreate and spool through in our minds like fundamentalists who learn-by-heart and recite long religious tracts.
So, it was with Carpenter—he was a name, an auteur, whose films, like those of Hitchcock, Fuller, Powell, Russell, Fassbinder, Anderson, Kubrick, Boorman, Peckinpah, Polanski, Fosse, Fellini, Richardson, Truffaut, Chabrol, Pasolini, Jarman, Brooks, Waters, Wajda, Friedkin and Scorsese, demanded to be seen.
After Halloween (with Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance) everyone knew what to expect from a “John Carpenter Movie,” and he didn’t disappoint. Next up was The Fog, a perfectly thrilling ghost story, and then in 1981, Escape from New York, with Kurt Russell channeling his inner Clint Eastwood as Snake Plissken.
And then Carpenter made (arguably his greatest movie) a remake of Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World.
The Thing is his masterpiece, a film of such cinematic brilliance, it is near perfect.
And yea, I have kept the faith, and enjoyed Big Trouble in Little China, was thrilled by Prince of Darkness, They Live, In the Mouth of Madness, and even kept true to some lesser works such as Ghosts of Mars, Vampires, and so on. John Carpenter is one of America’s greatest film directors, whose movies have made cinema better. You can’t ask for much more than that.
This documentary with a mouthful of title, John Carpenter: Fear is Just the Beginning, The Man and His Movies was made in 2004, and features everyone you could hope to have in a tribute to the great man, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Kurt Russell, Adrienne Barbeau, Nick Castle, and the late, great producer Debra Hill.
A clip from They Live after the jump…
Posted by Paul Gallagher |