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John Carpenter DISCUSSION THREAD


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#1 of 39 OFFLINE   Stephen_M

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Posted May 24 2001 - 01:21 AM

I was thinking of Carpenter because I should be getting my copy of Big Trouble In Little China today - one of my favorite Carpenter films where he throws everything he can think of in a film and it miraculously works.

When looking at Carpenter's career, there are some major high points besides "China" - Halloween, Escape From New York, The Thing, The Fog to name a few. But, man, he has directed some real dogs as well - Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Escape From L.A., Village of the Damned are the more obvious ones. While individual films can be debated as to their merits, I feel he has been so wildly inconsistent that I have begun to wonder whether he was just a talented hack who merely blundered his ways into a good film every now and then. (Vampires didn't exactly stoke the comeback fires.)

While I come out pro-Carpenter in my overall opinion of him - even in his worst films, there are a decent number of watchable sequences - I was wondering what the informed citizens of HTF thought.

A-list director? Talented hack? Strictly grade-B all the way?

#2 of 39 OFFLINE   Matt_Stevens

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Posted May 24 2001 - 01:36 AM

B list. He's a director that needs better scripts, because he cannot write them himself. Some writers only have a few good ideas.

But it's clear that the guy can make good films. HALLOWEEN, THE THING, THE FOG are all good movies. But then again, when was the last time he made a good film? THEY LIVE back in 1988! A looong time ago. He's made some films with good moments since, but moments do not make a good film.

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#3 of 39 OFFLINE   Kenneth English

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Posted May 24 2001 - 03:25 AM

John Carpenter is, unfortunately (and it's his own fault), still only a B-movie director.

Don't get me wrong: I love the guy's stuff, but I'm not going to kid myself and claim it's art. Artfully made, yes. ART (all caps Posted Image ), hell no!

Next to Speilberg I think Carpenter is the most visually adept director working today (I know that's a mighty big statement, but I defy anyone to show me a director who has a better understanding of composition within the 2.35:1 frame than Carpenter or Speilberg - though Speilberg apparently shuns 2.35 now). Just on a technical level his movies are astonishingly, beautifully choreographed and produced.

But, in general, he insists on writing his own scripts. That's his biggest problem. He did good work where this was concerned in HALLOWEEN and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 but other than that all of his best movies were written by other people: THE THING, STARMAN, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. When he does his own screenplays they're always the same story with a few cosmetic changes. As long as he insists on remaking RIO BRAVO over and over (see ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, THE FOG, THE THING, PRINCE OF DARKNESS, GHOSTS OF MARS) he'll never be regarded as anything but a really accomplished journeyman.

Again, I love his films but I wouldn't attempt to argue for their timelessness. He'll probably never make a SAVING PRIVATE RYAN or CITIZEN KANE but that's cool. If he doesn't care I don't either. He's an expert craftsman and that's a lot more than you can say for most directors now days (insert random Michael Bay slam here... Posted Image ).

#4 of 39 OFFLINE   Seth Paxton

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Posted May 24 2001 - 08:02 AM

Following that which I agree on, I would still then call him an A director (who does mostly B movies).

He often has a great sense for scene pacing, dramatic shots, and shots/techniques that tell the story well and move it along correctly. And I think his scoring efforts are usually very good.

I would say his last great film was In the Mouth of Madness, although it was hit and miss at times it really had some super moments. That guy at the restaurant with the ax for example.

I also think Prince of Darkness is scary as hell and love They Live! (despite the extended fight scene and the shortness of the rest of the film).

There are faults within his films for sure, but I don't think his DIRECTION is one of them. However, LA and Vampires had me really scratching my head. And Ghosts doesn't appear to be any better.

But up to the mid 90's he was just an amazing director with a great eye for cinema. Just think of that shot of Christine on fire chasing that kid. Or that shot of The Shape slipping out of the closet shadow behind Curtis in Halloween. And the beautiful white out fade transitions with Russell when they tell him they need to take the copter up in the snowstorm.

Those things aren't just "catchy" film, that's quality and beauty tied in with storytelling. I consider that a mark of an A director.

It's certainly a good thread question though. I'll bet we hear lots of varied opinions on this subject. Posted Image

#5 of 39 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted May 24 2001 - 08:51 AM

He's an A-/B+ director to me! (don't you hate teachers who refused to give you a solid grade and had to do stuff like that?)

But for my personal taste, he's an A list director all the way. I love his movies! (Well, okay, MOST of his movies) Posted Image

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#6 of 39 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted May 24 2001 - 09:03 AM

He's a "B" director with "A" talent. Anyone disagree?

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#7 of 39 OFFLINE   Justin Spike

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Posted May 24 2001 - 11:07 AM

quote:
I defy anyone to show me a director who has a better understanding of composition within the 2.35:1 frame than Carpenter or Speilberg[/quote]

I really noticed this ability during one of the early scenes in Assault on Precinct 13, when Carpenter uses the side view mirror of an ice cream truck to show a car full of bad guys making a u-turn. The shot was phenomenal, and really heightened the suspense of the scene.

The best shot I've ever seen in a Carpenter film was the dog walking down the hall in The Thing, just before it took its first victim. That had to be the best animal acting I've seen, and boy was it scary. Do we credit Carpenter for that?

Carpenter appears to have suffered the same fate as William Friedken. Early in his career, he made astonishing films that really used effective shot selection, but has since faded into obscurity, probably from a lack of good scripts or possibly just burnout.

The Wachowski Brothers also put a lot of thought into their shots, as if each were a mini piece of art (but their scripts could use a little work). We don't often get that kind of effort from Hollywood these days.

Cameron does a good job too. The most striking shot I've seen comes in Titanic when he breaks from the pandemonium on the ship to a quiet long shot from about a quarter-mile, which really drove home how f*cked those poor people actually were. I thought it was the best shot in the film.

The best in the industry today though are the Coen Brothers, IMHO. Every film displays masterful frame composition that just isn't present in other directors' work. If they set out to make a really scary horror film, I have no doubt it would be tremendously effective. Same with Spielberg.




#8 of 39 OFFLINE   tommy_esq

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Posted May 24 2001 - 01:00 PM

B list for sure...
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#9 of 39 OFFLINE   Andy Olivera

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Posted May 24 2001 - 06:17 PM

As a director and storyteller, he's one of the best currently working in Hollywood. It's not his skill at filmmaking that needs to be called into question, it's his knack for selecting some unbelievably bad scripts. However, when he gets his hands on a script that's even moderate, you've got a guaranteed winner. Of all the films he's done(even the bad ones) never once have I felt that they could've been better in someone else's hands.

So, I guess I'm agreeing with Ken. He's a B director with A talent.

quote:
Artfully made, yes. ART (all caps Posted Image), hell no![/quote]

The important thing to note here is that he never tries to make "art" films. Carpenter makes B movies because he wants to! He takes that A talent and applies it to a B genre. If there were more directors like Carpenter the sci-fi and horror genres might get the respect they deserve...

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#10 of 39 OFFLINE   Bob_Wilson

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Posted May 25 2001 - 12:39 AM

Quote:
A-list director? Talented hack? Strictly grade-B all the way?
Sorry, but I cannot go higher than the C-list.


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#11 of 39 OFFLINE   Kenneth English

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Posted May 25 2001 - 05:21 AM

Andy makes a good point: even when his films aren't that good (see PRINCE OF DARKNESS or THEY LIVE), there are always moments of brilliance that are just pure Carpenter. I often find myself thinking how bad some of them would be if they'd been directed by anyone EXCEPT J.C. (which is probably damning with faint praise but...). He may make B movies but he makes them so damn well that I, at least, will forgive him his trespasses (well, maybe not ESCAPE FROM L.A. Posted Image ).

#12 of 39 OFFLINE   Gavin K

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Posted May 25 2001 - 04:22 PM


I saw L.A. on opening day in a huge, crowded theater. Towards the end, when Plissken was encircled by guards in the woods, and they finally fired, at least 90% of the audience, (myself included) yelled out loud - "Ohh, the hologrm projector." And we all felt stupid and chuckled for forgetting about it. Not too many directors could have pulled that off. And the rest of the movie isn't as bad as everyone makes it out to be. I was mixed after I first saw it, but it's got a whole "retro" vibe going for it, and it gets better every time I see it. The same with Vampires, the more you watch it, the better it gets. And while Village lagged a little in the middle once the kids became older, it was creepy as hell, and the ending with the brick wall imagery was pretty effective. And I even liked Memoirs, still can't figure out why it's so hated, but then I never read the book. About the only film of his I think stinks is Body Bags.

In my opinion he is A-list all the way. He just doesn't make mainstream movies. His heroes aren't saints, and the themes of a lot of his films are rather dark, and that turns away a lot of people.



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#13 of 39 OFFLINE   Kevin M

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Posted May 25 2001 - 09:15 PM

He's at the top of my "A-list" of "B-movie" director's...how's that?
I love Carpenter films and own every DVD & the best LD's (Escape-The Fog-Criterion Halloween) that have been released so far.

....and by the way I loved Vampires for the comedy that it was. Plus it has a great R&R soundtrack.

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#14 of 39 OFFLINE   JohanK

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Posted May 26 2001 - 02:50 AM

I also think Carpenter is an A director who does B movies. I enjoy all the films of his that I've seen (especially The Thing, Prince of Darkness, Escape From NY).

quote:


Plus it has a great R&R soundtrack.


I agree; Vampires has some really great background music...love the bass line JC uses.

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#15 of 39 OFFLINE   Jan Strnad

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Posted May 26 2001 - 03:33 AM

If there is any director out there with less of a "feminine side" than John Carpenter, I don't know who it is!

It seems that every scene is some kind of pissing contest among the characters. In this sense I think he's kind of single-note and definitely a "guy's" director.

For that reason, I believe he's consigned to the B-list.

On the plus side, he has a wonderful eye and is known as one of the few honest people in Hollywood.

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#16 of 39 OFFLINE   Mikael Soderholm

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Posted May 26 2001 - 09:22 AM

Well, I only own one of his movies, and that is Starman, but I've seen some of hi other work. While some of that was not half bad Posted Image, I'd say Starman alone puts him on my A-list...

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#17 of 39 OFFLINE   Kevin Leonard

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Posted May 26 2001 - 12:40 PM

quote:


Again, I love his films but I wouldn't attempt to argue for their timelessness. He'll probably never make a SAVING PRIVATE RYAN...


I certainly hope he never makes a SPR. Otherwise it would replace Memoirs of an Invisible Man as the worse movie in his canon.

IMHO, Carpenter is a B-list director with A-movie talent. The Fog, Starman, The Thing, Halloween, They Live and Assault on Precinct 13 are all tense, expertly crafted pieces of work that show a major presence behind the camera. And although I'm not a huge fan of it, Escape From New York is a cult classic.

And when Carpenter decides to kick back and have fun...well sir, you don't get more loose and enjoyable than Big Trouble In Little China and Dark Star. Even his weaker projects, as others have pointed out, like Vampires, Christine, Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness have flashes of pure brilliance.

Sure, he may never as revered as George Romero, James Whale, or Roman Polanski as a master of the horror/sci-fi/thriller genre, but he has never made a truly awful movie (and I've seen 'em all) and am eagerly awaiting Ghosts of Mars.

(And BTW, don't forget Carpenter also directed Elvis, which I believe is one of the finest biopics ever created, and was even more amazing considering he was coming right off of Halloween at the time. Anybody who can shift gears so quickly and suceed is just fine in my book.)

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#18 of 39 OFFLINE   Seth Paxton

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Posted May 26 2001 - 04:19 PM

One thing to remember is that great direction is not just about shots that say "I'm beautiful, look at me."

A lot of times the best direction is when you feel the right emotions or understand what it going on in the story. Remember that the frames are the words in the story, so if you understand that Snake is 20 feet away from the edge of the roof and that he may or may not stop in time, then the direction is at least effective, if not also artful.

I think that aspect of direction gets way little attention. Many times when you find yourself saying "What's going on?" it's actually because the director isn't clearly showing you what is going on.

Think of Hitch, he's the best at this. We all know the "tell the audiance" philosophy he had, but I think it sometimes gets forgotten. It's important to have some establishing shot of a key element so that the audiance doesn't think it just came out of nowhere. JC excels at that. You always know why someone has to get the hell out of there, or where trouble is coming from, you always feel the fear or dread or excitement of the moment, or understand why the characters do.

And JC is really good about not hammering it down your throat either. He shows you what you need to know OR has some dialog about it, and that's it. He won't keep explaining it to you visually and dulling the hell out of you. He gives you enough time to get it and moves on. That is really good for pacing.

I rarely see a JC film and think "why didn't he show the scene this way or from that angle" or "that shot is awkward".

I'll give you a counter example for me: John Woo in Face/Off - the shoot out midway with everyone at the gangsters place. I have no idea where anyone is at in that room, who can see who, who is aiming at who, where bullets are coming from or going, just a big mess.

Now in fairness to Woo, I think his older films were more focused on the action, the action was the story, so the drama/tension of a shootout was unecessary. But when he started doing American films they had him start doing standard action narratives that are based in danger for the character, and that required scenes of tension, and that requires the audiance to know if the characters are in danger of being shot or not. Since it was often hard to tell if anyone is about to be shot or nowhere near being shot, he loses all tension which in turn hurts the film.

Of course, this is all just IMHO, but I was just trying to explain my opinion with an example. Posted Image

#19 of 39 OFFLINE   rhett

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Posted May 27 2001 - 05:57 AM

John Carpenter has A-list talent all the way, but I agree with many of you in saying he seems pretty much restricted to B-movies, but by choice. Prior to the 90's, Carpenter had probably the most impressive track record with his films, as they were all diverse in theme, and yet all excellently crafted and extremely enjoyable. He is a master at setting and keeping the mood in his films, as his lighting/direction/scores always compliment eachother and uphold whatever mood Carpenter wishes to portray. Halloween is arguably one of his best films, and it is a perfect example of Carpenter's talent. That menacing, oft-putting score from beginning to end, always has the viewer somewhat aloof and uneasy, as Michael is on the prowl. The camera work done in the film is also a sight to behold. Being one of the first directors to really utilize the steadycam, he did a great job with it in the opening shots of Halloween. The numerous set ups where Michael emerges in the background corners of his shots are also moments of sheer brilliance. The entire film the camera work is very passive, as he slowly lets details and action to emerge from within his scene, rather than resorting to quick, fast paced cuts. His use of the 2.35:1 ratio is also one of the best in Hollywood. Scenes like Michael coming out of the shadows in Halloween, the green eyes fading into the next scene in Little China, or the scene after Midwich was affected by the Alien myst in Village of the Damned, are all examples of comfort and brilliance JC has with use of panavision lenses. Any director who can claim credit for films as diverse as Halloween, Big Trouble In Little China, Starman, The Thing, Escape From New York and Assault On Precinct 13, deserves credit for being able to conquer pretty much every film genre, with success might I add. While I think Carpenter has somewhat slipped in the 90's, I think that he still has some good films left in him, and I am eager to see how Ghosts of Mars turns out, especially considering I have been good friends with Natasha Henstridge Posted Image

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#20 of 39 OFFLINE   Wes Ray

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Posted August 07 2001 - 10:11 PM

John Carpenter is and always will be A-List in my book, no matter what. Posted Image

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