Thursday, April 12, 2007

A John Carpenter Blog-a-thon: The Carpenter Effect

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Over at Lazy Eye Theatre Piper has proposed a John Carpenter Blog-a-thon, and his effect on today’s cinema. I happen to be a fan of Carpenter’s earlier work. Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, The Thing, Starman, and even Prince of Darkness are all good films. His work with the cinematographer Dean Cundey was always something to behold. I think Carpenter hit his plateau with his remake of "The Thing". The Thing was and is a film that shows Carpenter at his best. Carpenter always has a certain amount of dread running through his films, and in "the Thing" that dread is notched up on steroids. After all the film is all about paranoia, and along with the Cundey’s cinematography and John J. Lloyd’s production design, Henry Larrecq’s art direction and Ennio Morricone’s music the film achieves a level of tension and claustrophobia that only enhances that feeling of paranoia.

In Prince of Darkness Carpenter achieves a level of malevolence without ever really showing it. That dread hangs in the air throughout the film, and though our heroine perishes at the end and saves the world we are still left un-settled, and disturbed by what had transpired. Its as though evil has been stopped, but yet it's still there in the darkness waiting for another chance. Carpenter does this a lot throughout his movies

Maybe it’s this that we can call the Carpenter effect. His best films are ones where things are resolved, yet they come at a high cost to our hero. That’s what makes Carpenter’s films so unique and exciting to watch. I remember seeing "The Thing" in the theater, and I was transfixed by it’s feel. I even sometimes looked over to the person who was sitting next to me wondering about them. That’s what Carpenter wants, and I believe his best films do that. Maybe if Carpenter would get back to his roots he’ll hit pay dirt again.

Which brings me to a certain question. When do you know the magic is gone? Aren’t artists supposed to be inspired? Isn’t the artist responsible for the tone, and the feel of his or her film? Right now I feel that maybe fortune does favor the young, but then that way of thinking would ignore some great artists whose work only began to get noticed in their late 40’s 50’s and 60’s. So is that why Carpenter’s work has become mediocre? I’m not sure. I remember reading an interview he gave about being an AARP member. He sort of joked about it in the article, but it's a fear within us all.

It’s true that in our older age we seldom take risks, but one can not change ones character. If you take a look at Carpenters work they are consistent in theme. His earlier work is better, and that theme of forebodingness runs throughout his work. If I had to bet I’d say Carpenter isn’t done yet. His segment for Showtimes "Masters of Horror" called "Cigarette Burns" proves that. Like another director of the horror genre George Romero who mines the same type of material as Carpenter does they're not done with us yet. Both of these directors are older and far from retirement. There are too many new terrors and fears to exploit in today’s world. Here’s hopping that the studios realize that there is a lot left in the old guard and tap the vein that Carpenter often mined successfully Because I want Carpenter to do what he does best and that's to scare the crap out of us.

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