Because why the hell do we not have one?
Partly inspired by the Carpenter conversation we had a few weeks back in the Dead Celebrity Thread. Partly by this pretty great retrospective on the man's career. I thought it was time we had a dedicated thread to talk about the man himself and the multitude of genre classics he has made. How he's influenced modern filmmakers or just how pretty awesome his scores and music are (Lost Themes II is on the way!).
Some choice parts from that linked article:
Far more than a gimmick, Halloween’s long opening take is an example of Carpenter’s interest in using the camera to establish the geography of a setting. Cinematographer Dean Cundey was key to this, and it could be argued that much of Carpenter’s work simply wouldn't have been the same without him. The ingenious use of lighting, framing and long tracking shots gave Halloween a sophistication that was sorely lacking in most cheap horror films both before and afterwards.
It’s worth noting that Halloween was commissioned as the kind of drive-in movie that would make a few dollars and swiftly disappear; Carpenter and co-writer Debra Hill wound up putting far more artistry and thought into the movie than its premise necessarily deserved - including that opening sequence, inspired by Orson Welles’ groundbreaking Touch Of Evil. What could have been a forgettable babysitters-in-peril flick became something with an almost supernatural power.
In films like Escape From New York and They Live, Carpenter brings all his cynicism to bear on such subjects as political corruption, Reaganomics and 80s greed. It’s worth noting that most of Carpenter’s films are toldfrom the perspective of very ordinary, often working class members of the society - and like the little kid in The Emperor’s New Clothes, these characters are often the only ones who can see reality for what it is, often leading to the funniest or exciting moments in Carpenter’s movies.
Laurie Strode, for example, is the sensible teenager who babysits while all her friends are off getting stoned or jumping into bed with their boyfriends. Strode’s the only one who’s clear-sighted enough to note that something’s gravely wrong, which is at least partly why she’s one of the only characters to survive until the end credits.
They Live’s hulking drifter Nada (the late Rowdy Roddy Piper) can literally see what others can’t thanks to a special pair of shades: these reveal that the rich and powerful (what we might now term the one percent) are all bug-eyed aliens, disguised and walking among us in Armani suits and expensive dresses. It’s a slyly satirical idea from Carpenter, resulting in one of his very best and funniest films.
They Live could also be seen as a companion piece to Escape From New York, which introduces perhaps the most cynical action hero in 80s cinema - the ex-soldier and former convict forced to rescue a corrupt and weasly US President (Donald Pleasence) from New York, now a giant maximum security prison. The movie was initially written in the wake of the Watergate Scandal in the mid-1970s, and it’s easy to see more of a trace of Nixon in Pleasence’s cold-hearted President (just look at his indifferent reaction when Snake asks him about all the people who died in the process of rescuing him).
It’s through characters like Laurie, Nada, Snake and The Thing’s MacReady that Carpenter casts his wry eye over the world. They’re his ground-level entry point into his worlds of violence and chaos. At first glance, Carpenter’s outright comedy Big Trouble In Little China might not appear to fit this mould, But bear in mind that the star of that movie - Kurt Russell’s hard-drinking trucker Jack Burton - isn’t really the hero at all; in most instances, he’s the least capable character in the entire film. The running joke in Big Trouble In Little China, therefore, is that Burton thinks he’s the hero of the piece, but fails to realise that it’s actually his pal Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) who’s the really smart, capable one...