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More on the John Carpenter Retrospect at the Cinematheque

Hey folks, Harry here with a pair of reports about the John Carpenter Retrospect at Los Angeles CINEMATHEQUE! I've been lucky enough to have spent a good deal of time with John, but frankly I've never really gone after questions about his films, we tended to talk about 50's Horror Sci Fi, Pulps, Howard Hawks, Westerns.... That good stuff, so these reports are great treats. If you attended and feel that something is missing out of these reports... REPORT IN! I love getting these treasures! Besides, it is good bedtime reading to rock Agent Clock to bed with... Looky at him, isn't he cutseywootsie? Awwwwwww...

Hey Harry,

Ask and you shall receive, here's a recap of the American Cinematheque's John Carpenter retrospective, which is continuing by the way. I will try to remember all I can, unfortunately I didn't write everything down he said.

Opening Nite: "Assault on Precinct 13" & "Dark Star" Q&A between films.

Of all his films, "Precinct 13" was the only film I've never seen. Yeah, I know it's been out on video and DVD but I just never got around to seeing it. I'm glad I held off because seeing it for the first time on the big screen, with a surprisingly good print, was a trip. This movie was awesome, it enters my top three favorite Carpenter films, it comes behind The Thing and Halloween. Not to be morbid, but I knew I was in for something special when the little girl was shot point blank right in front of the camera. I didn't expect that. Whoops, I guess that was a spoiler, sorry. Great script, brisk action, fine acting, awesome score, just plain cool. I was eating it up and so was the audience.

John Carpenter and Austin Stoker were involved in the Q&A; Stoker played the Lieutenant who has the misfortune of commanding the doomed precinct.

About the 'R' Rating:

Carpenter was told by the MPAA that unless they cut the aforementioned spoiler that the film will get an 'X'. This part was an integral part of the whole movie and would have totally screwed things up. Carpenter thought for sure he would have to cut it but to his surprise he didn't. The studio said just cut the scene out of the MPAA's screening print; we'll leave it in in the release print. I wonder if the MPAA knew about this. This elicited much laughter and applause.

About casting:

Carpenter has seen Stoker in a couple films and hired him over lunch. Darwin Joston happened to live in the same apartment complex as Carpenter, that's how the ball got rolling with them. I know there was more casting info here but I can't recall.

About the inspiration for the film:

It was a tribute to Rio Bravo, one of his favorite westerns. Carpenter's pseudonym for editor was John Wayne's character's name in Rio Bravo.

About doing a real western:

"I don't know. You have to shovel up all the horseshit between scenes." There was more here but this paraphrased quote was all I could recall about it.

There was some discussion about what director's look for in casting, info was provided by Austin Stoker in this department.

They were on for about 15 or 20 minutes. Sorry, I can recall everything from the Q&A perhaps someone out there who attended can fill in any blanks from here on in.

Dark Star started up afterwards. Sadly, the print wasn't in that great condition. It is an original print and looked alright for being 27 years old. With age comes appreciation, I saw this when I was a teenager didn't like it that much. Now, 31 I liked it much more.

It was a great start to the retrospective.

Nite 2: "The Thing" "Halloween" & "The Fog"

The Thing looked and sounded great. It looked like a fairly new print. I distinctly remember this movie as a turning point for me. I use to be a bit squeamish in horror films, Rob Bottin's work didn't repulse me it fascinated me. I was 11 when this came out, my love for horror films began there. However, now a days it's pretty much dead.

I think Randy covered the main points of the Q&A. Here are some additions:

About CGI vs Stop Motion:

He doesn't like CGI, it's too fake. Two examples, Harry Potter's two faced demon at the end and The Scorpion King in "The Mummy Returns." He said they should have done that with a live stop motion and the Scorpion King didn't look anything like the Rock. I liked the effects in Potter but I can't argue with him that the Scorpion King was rendered too well. He believes that if The Thing was made with CGI it would be nowhere near as good as the film we see today.

He spent much time praising Dean Cundey's cinemaphotography.

About the Dogs acting ability:

The dog was a wolf mix, mostly wolf. They had to be real careful when working with the dog. The dog acted on it's own without any real direction.

A funny story about Richard Dysart:

During the Q&A for Escape from NY, the addition of the nose ring on Dysart's nose was actually Dysart's idea. Carpenter discussed a story that everyone sat down and came up with backstories for their characters. Dysart from some reason believed himself a Russian spy undercover out to steal secrets and kill people. You know, I've seen this movie many times on my Signature Collection laserdisc but this was the first time I noticed the nosering. Thank God for the big screen!

There may be more info at this Q&A but I need help filling in the details.

There was a break we left the theatre and then went back in for the second event of the evening, Halloween and The Fog. I think "The Thing" sold out and "Halloween" came close.

Before Halloween started, there was a prescreening discussion about Halloween.

He discussed how the film had its origins as "The Babysitter Murders." It was the producer's idea to change the title to Halloween.

About the sequels:

Paraphrased: "I'm terribly sorry about my business partners churning out sequel after fucking sequel. It's fine by me because I get paid everytime they make one." Amen to that. 1-4 were good, 7 was alright, 5 & 6 were terrible and I expect 8 to be abysmal. Also, the way they ended the original was in no way leaving the door open to make a sequel.

Where was it shot:

I'm kicking myself for not remembering it all but he told us where to find the infamous street that Halloween was shot on. I remember Sunset and La Cinega but I can't remember the rest.

About casting:

It was Debra Hill, I think it was her, who brought Jamie Lee to his attention. She was lobbying for her casting, she's cute and it doesn't hurt that she's Janet Leights daughter.

Donald Pleasance was funny because during their meeting he said the only reason he's doing the movie is becuase he has some alimony to pay. It turns out, Carpenter learned that Donald likes to torment the directors and make them think he doesn't want the role when in fact he really wants it.

The Film's Influence:

He had no idea that the film would be a benchmark in film and so influencial on other horror/thrillers.

The Mask:

They were down to two choices, a clown mask and the now well know Shatner mask. "Yes, I owe everything to Shatner." Again, paraphrased but pretty damn funny.

Again, there was probably more discussed but can't recall. I don't believe he discussed The Fog.

Halloween was the same print they showed a few years back for the reunion; I was extremely upset I missed that. It looked great. This was the first time I've seen it in a movie theatre and it was awesome.

The Fog didn't look to great, but it was decent. It's been a long while since I last watched this on laserdisc and got me jumping during scenes I forgot were coming.

Night 3: Escape from NY & Big Trouble in Little China

I almost didn't make this one, even though I had tickets. I was watching the Rams/Eagles game, I was born and raised in the Philly area so I was torn. It was the fourth quarter so I taped it and avoided any and all discussions and TVs showing highlights. It was a cold, wet, rainy night in LA.

This is the first time I've seen Escape in the theatre. I remember my father asked me and my brother what we wanted to see the summer of '81. My brother said "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and I said "Escape from NY." I thought the movie was about Noah's Ark, hey I was ten years old. I saw a preview for NY but never saw anything on Raiders. We saw Raiders and the rest is history. When I finally saw NY, it was on cable. Eventually I finally saw it on laserdisc, letterboxed.

The print was in fair/good condition. For the many screenings I've attended, this was the first time that I saw the Egyptian have projector problems. The film broke at the end of the second reel. I use to work at a movie theatre and when shit like this happens everyone wants blood, especially the projectionist. Everyone was actually quite civil and unphased. People hit the restrooms, hit the concession stand, went out for a smoke. They never even thought of yelling at anyone. WOW!!! Even during the second forced film break to fix a problem that could only be fixed after the reel went through, no one was upset. God love the Cinematheque members. They picked the perfect time for a break because it picked up right before Snake's streetfight with the bald bull.

On a 9/11 note, I knew that the WTC played a major part in the film but I knew Air Force One didn't hit it. However, the scene where the stunned guard on the wall watches the jet fly over heading for Manhattan, the towers are right there on the left side of the screen. My heart sank and didn't come back up for several minutes after AFO broke up. I didn't expect that. It was more stunning because you're watching it on a giant screen and not your 27" TV.

The Q&A jumped around regarding NY and other films.

Where was it shot:

It was primarily shot in St. Louis in a fire ravaged region of the city. They had complete cooperation from the city and were able to shut down downtown St. Louis and lite it with fires, planewrecks, and debris. The Statue of Liberty is really the only scene from NY shot in NY.

The Inspiration for Snake:

There was a guy he knew in school who had a devil-may-care world view. He doesn't want to help and doesn't want to get involved, he just wants to move on. He also said that Snake was kind of his alterego.

How the film came about:

He wrote the film many years ago, the early seventies. He was contracted to do one more film for Avco/Embassy. At the time, he was working on "The Philadelphia Experiment." He opted not to do it becuse he couldn't find a third act and instead presented Escape from NY and got the go ahead. I'm not sure if the film that was "The Philadelphia Experiment" is the same as the one he was working on.

"Charles Bronson in John Carpenter's Escape from New York"

Believe it or not, that's who the studio wanted to play Snake. Hmmm, may have been interesting. Although, they never could have made Escape from LA.

Discussion moves to Big Trouble and other films:

Jack Burton is really John Wayne:

"The Duke comes to town and fucks everything up." Paraphrase summing up Jack Burton. He said Kurt is basically playing John Wayne, listening to his delivery he is.

The Action-Buffoon:

He mentions this in the commentary of the DVD, the studio wasn't too hot about the idea of the lead star being an idiot who screws everything up. They didn't get it.

Will he and Kurt work together again:

Yeah, if they give us the money.

Why was the fight in "They Live" so long and how was it working with Roddy Piper?

"Why Not?" He wanted to make the longest single fight ever filmed, nearly ten minutes. He said Piper was great, taught him some moves, and put him in a sleeper that actually worked.

About audio commentaries:

New commentaries were recorded for "They Live" and "Prince of Darkness." However, this is only in foreign markets with no word on release in the States.

Your World View:

He admits that it's dark and he always seems to be heading towards some point of doom.

What's he working on now:

He's on vacation working on the NBA playoffs. I assume he was referring to the NFL playoffs since the NBA doesn't start till June.

About scoring his films:

Like any filmmaker, he watches his film again as a composer and decides where to put the music.


If you look at his early films, there are many names that have achieved great success in film. He is very proud of everyone he's worked with.

I know there was much more discussed but can't recall.

Finally, Big Trouble came on and the print was gorgeous. The audience was in to this one, receiving the biggest round of applause of any of the films shown so far. This was a fun ride and it was great experiencing it with an audience who "Got It."

Night 4 has "Starman" in 70mm and "In the Mouth of Madness" Wed. 1/30 @ 7:30pm Night 5 has "They Live" and "Ghosts of Mars" Thurs. 1/31 @ 7:30pm

It's been a great weekend. I wish they could have double billed NY & LA together. I also wish they had Prince of Darkness and Memoirs of an Invisible Man. I loved those two.

I was crossing my fingers that perhaps Kurt Russell would make the NY/Big screenings but nope. He does live in the LA area.

I hope this has been helpful and informative. This is one of the reasons I moved to LA and I'm glad I got to see it. Last month was the Wes Craven retrospective, this month Kubrick and Carpenter. Thank God for The Cinematheque.


Until next time,

The Film Maven

And now for the ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK screening looked at by a man, a legend, a ballerina in brass... take it away!

Hey Harry -

I hope you post this because I have been giving you scoops for a while and you have never bothered posting them, so I'll be surprised if you post this.

I was at the double feature of Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from New York yesterday with John Carpenter in attendance. It was truly a wonderful night. The print of Escape from New York was an original, so it was very scratchy and kept breaking down.

Afterwards, Carpenter came out for a Q&A to a round of applause. I'll try and remember the juicy stuff he said:

On Escape from New York - the television series:

"We were going to do a television series, but the network backed out at the last minute, saying it was too dark. They wanted everything happy."

On the EFNY robbery sequence that was supposed to open the film:

"It's lost. It was too slow, it was supposed to open the movie, but it was cut, and I thought there was a negative still, but it's all gone."

On September 11:

"I don't think films inspire violence. Monsters live on the screen. Real monster, the human monsters, live out there."

On audio commentaries:

He recorded audio commentaries for They Live and Prince of Darkness, but they won't be released in America unfortunately.

Working with Kurt Russell again:

"Sure, if they pay us enough and the material is right."

Working with a big budget star:

"I was going to do a movie with Mel Gibson for about ten seconds in the eighties, but it didn't go through. It turned out to be No Way Out with Kevin Costner."

On Snake:

"It was based on a guy I knew in highschool, and partly my alter-ego. The studio wanted Charles Bronson, but I wanted Kurt."

On making more tongue-in-cheek movies like the old days: "I don't know. I guess I've been too lazy. One day. But some critics would argue that some of my new movies are tongue-in-cheek."

What's next:

"The NBA playoffs."

Finally, I got enough nerve to ask him a question I've been dying to hear an answer to. I said, "I'm trying to think of a smart way to ask this, but I can't, so I'll just ask, why is the fight scene in They Live so long?" The audience started laughing and applauding, because everybody wants to know why. Carpenter took long pause and said, "Why not?!" Everybody burst into applause. He continued "Because I had Roddy Roddy Piper and he could kick some ass and I wanted to create the single longest fight scene in the history of movies."

He left and they played a nice print of Big Trouble and it rounded off a truly memorable experience.

Call me Brass Bancroft.

Also, I know for a fact that those star cameos in Austin Powers 3 are true. The movie opens up with them making a movie-within-a-movie, where Tom Cruise plays Austin Powers, Kevin Spacey plays Dr. Evil, Gwyneth Paltrow plays the girl, and Danny DeVito plays Mini-Me. I emailed this to you a while ago as well as an advance review of Tenenbaums, but you never posted them. Hoepfully you'll put this up.

Brass Bancroft.

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