Monday, October 4, 2010

Celebrating the Escape Artist - John Carpenter

Note: this is my contribution to movie blogger (and good friend) J.D.'s John Carpenter Week @ RADIATOR HEAVEN. If you are a John Carpenter fan, or simply an admirer of cinema, don't miss the great content J.D. will have on hand this week.

Last month, the good folks at American Cinematheque Los Angeles paid tribute to one of my absolute favorite directors with a three-day celebration of his films. Obviously, they must have known about the upcoming John Carpenter Week my good friend J.D. was landing this week over at his brilliant movie blog, RADIATOR HEAVEN.  Here's how that viewer supported, non-profit moving picture organization describes this director:
"For the past four decades, director John Carpenter has created some of the most consistently entertaining and brilliantly crafted films in American cinema, from his savage urban western ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, through his chiller HALLOWEEN and his adrenaline-fueled action epic ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. Carpenter’s films have shown an amazing consistency, creating wickedly modern twists on traditional genres (THE THING) without losing playfulness or individuality. As his career has progressed, Carpenter has shown the range of a classical studio director, helming not only action and horror films but love stories (STARMAN) and even a philosophical comedy (MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN). Yet for all his old-school craftsmanship, Carpenter is first and foremost a maverick with a fiercely independent sensibility and a willingness to confront contemporary America's most troubling social and political issues. In addition to his work as a director, Carpenter has written the screenplays and composed the soundtrack music for almost all of his movies."
The September 17-19th weekend celebration (American Cinematheque's second such observance for the director; the first occurred in 2008) included a rich and wide collection of Carpenter films at their renovated flagship location, The Egyptian Theatre. That Saturday bill of Big Trouble in Little China and They Live surely entertained the faithful, and the director's seminal pair of The Thing and Halloween must have closed out Sunday's showing in high style. As much as I wanted to attend each session of the tribute, family obligations would allow only one night at this. That meant only one option for me. I was going to Friday's Escape From New York and Escape From L.A. double feature because J.C. himself was going to be there for the discussion. Here are the highlights from that special evening.
The night He came home!
In line to pick up ticket for Escape From NY & LA, with J... on TwitpicOn a cool late summer Friday evening (ten days before Los Angeles' hottest day ever), the fans of one John Howard Carpenter arrived by the usual L.A. carloads. An excited crowd of his die-hard fans were already lined up in the Egyptian's historic theatre concourse by the time I got there. Little surprise why everyone there was so excited. Especially with the person who's produced some pretty iconic moments in cinema history expected to show up for the first night of American Cinematheque's tribute. How could they not be? RussellMetty captured those film sequences already swimming in the collective heads of those in the audience with this elegant video, created for this happening:

No surprise, the theatre was packed. But before the first feature (Escape From New York) was introduced, the pre-event montage was topped off by musician Aaron Olson warming up the crowd with his rendition of the film's telltale theme song:

Enthusiasts for the movie watching experience got into it early with the initial feature, accompanied by eager applause as the title credit splashed across the screen. The biggest were generated for Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie received a few extra wolf whistles, to be sure), and of course, Carpenter. For those of us who were on Twitter, American Cinematheque (@SidGrauman) was tweeting updates throughout the evening with additional info like this one:
John Carpenter talks about his new film THE WARD @dreadcentral In person at the Egyptian 2nite!
As movie blogger Mr. Peel noted (in this wonderful examination of Big Trouble in Little China), this opening event was a digital affair. I understand his lament that "... if it isn’t on celluloid with the old school Avco-Embassy logo attached to it then as far as I’m concerned you’re not seeing ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK." Still, I wasn't about to leave my seat. The vibe of us all watching Snake Plissken again, together in a darkened movie palace, overcame any projection shortcoming. For me, anyways.

Easily, the biggest draw for the evening was John Carpenter making his way to the front of the Egyptian Theatre after New York's end credits finished. The following is a mix of American Cinematheque's and my tweets from that evening's extraordinary director discourse with Mick Garris interviewing John Carpenter:
"Standing O for John Carpenter (director Mick Garris is moderating). JC got into film to make westerns believe it or not."
"30 days to make a 3 hour TV movie way back when, Elvis (with Kurt Russell)"
"John Carpenter speaking to close to sold out house at Egyptian! Every movie I ever made was greeted w/ indifference or hostility"
"Carpenters says "Man, the reviews were awful for Halloween." It took about a year and 1/2 for me to become John Carpenter."
"Old Wiltern Theatre (Wilshire Blvd) used for Escape from NY; St Louis used also as a stand in for NY"
Note: for those not familiar with it, here's the Wikipedia link for the Wiltern Theatre
"John Carpenter only 6 years older than me; who knew?"
"Carpenter, "My favorite part is being on the floor shooting and then when its over." I want to get out of there before noon""
"Mick Garris' Masters of Horror gets huge applause. Started as dinner w/ old horror directors insulting each other. Carpenter back directng"
"'if an actor knows what they're doing, I stay out of their way.' ~ John Carpenter on working w/ actors on his sets"
"8 o'clock in the morning short story based They Live on. Carpenter says to fan 'I'm glad u saw it 7 times.'"
"Carpenter's The Ward filmed in Spokane, WA at a mental institution"
"John Carpenter says its hilarious shooting a horror movie - making a drama you want to blow your brains out."
"McGreedy's hat was so outsized says John Carpenter. I had the costume dept make me one!"
"Big Trouble in Little China originally Western Carpenter wrote script 4 John Wayne who was 'intimidating' &didnt like people w/ long hair"
"Carpenter loves Rio Bravo, Suspiria, His Girl Friday... Suspiria remake is booed Accordng 2 remake director 'its 4 torture porn fanatics'"
"John Carpenter says Citizen Kane is the 1 film that will never be remade. He liked remake of Dawn of the Dead."
"Carpenter likes David Fincher - there is one guy completely in control of his vision doing exactly what he wants to do."
"No matter how much I try to make it A, my movies always turn out to be B says John Carpenter"
"John Carpenter jokes "Let's look at wrapping the q and a up, I have to meet my drug dealer." At the Egyptian Theatre hollywood"
"John Carpenter & Mick Garris at The Egyptian Theatre"


  1. Wow, what an event.  I have been a fan of Carpenter for a long itme.  Eascape from New York is still a favorite.

  2. This was one of the highlights for 2010 with me. Thanks for your comment, my friend.

  3. Oh wow, to see both ESCAPE films on the big screen. Very cool. I am very jealous! It sounds like it was quite an experience. And to see The Man in person...

    Thanks for contributing to my John Carpenter Week. I really enjoyed this post immensely, my friend!

  4. A great recap of what sounds like an amazing evening, lp13. A friend of mine is a huge Carpenter fan like you. Years ago, he heard Carpenter was getting some kind of award at a fancy dinner that cost $200 a head or something. Even though my friend was broke, he coughed up the money, got to meet and get an autograph from Carpenter at the event. My friend told me later the experience was worth giving up a month's worth of groceries.

    I'm too chicken to watch Carpenter's horror films but I've seen Big Trouble and parts of Escape (don't hate me!). I know Peter Kwong, who played Rain in BTiLC. I've also met Dennis Dun (Wang Chi) a couple times. Such a nice, nice man.

  5. You are most kind and generous, J.D. I love what you've put together regarding John Carpenter Week. I know more great stuff is coming. Thanks.

  6. Now, you're friend is hard core! Doing that when you broke! But, it sounds like something a fan of John Carpenter would cherish in memory for the rest of his life. That must have been a great experience.

    You've met Peter Kwong and Dennis Dun from BTiLC?!? Now I'm the jealous one! That's so cool. All I can say is, you and your spouse have a standing invitation to watch any JC film at my house, anytime. Thanks so much for your comment, Elyse.

  7. I, too, am jealous that you got to see the man himself live!  Excellent!  I had the chance to see THE THING and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA on the big screen at the Brooklyn Academy of Music a few years ago, and they were certainly celluloid, and it was like seeing them for the first time- didn't see ESCAPE, though, so I wonder if they showed it digitally.  Regardless, awesome write-up!

  8. There is something to be said for watching film in a darkened hall or theatre with other people that makes it a special experience. Thank you very kindly for your generous words, Sean. 

  9. Yes, absolutely the best way.

  10. Thank you, Naomi.

  11. Cool Experience.  An interesting read Michael. I would love that experience.  My son played trombone for a while so I hooked us both up with tickets to take him to see the Star Wars In Concert experience and it was just that.  Though I would love your Carpenter one big time, going with my son and seeing them perform John Williams music live with Star Wars footage playing on a massive screen was VERY COOL.

    They should do more shows like this!  Thank you L13.

  12. Yeah, it was a very cool evening. Your evening with son and John Williams for a Star Wars in Concert performance is equally as cool, though. My kids would love that.

    I didn't cover it in the post, but J.C. did receive a question and compliment from a member of the audience about his film's soundtracks. He spoke a bit about his father, who is a music professor, and how he came up with some of his notable themes. If you're interested, there's a great J.C. Week post that speaks about those soundtracks: 

    Thanks so much for your comment, Gordon.

  13. Thanks for your detailed descriptions of the event, I'm upset I missed it (though bummer about the digital projection). Also, I really liked your discussion of the Warner theatre in Huntington that you put in my comment section. I too worked for a theatre, but a more modern six-plex built in the mid-80s, which has since been torn down.

  14. It was a great event by the American Cinematheque L.A. Sometimes it's hard to get to all that I want to, but they're always worth it when I do.

    Good to know that we share a movie theatre history, Colonel. It seems it is one of those experiences, even if it was awhile ago in time, that if you worked in a theatre it stays and becomes part of you. The old movie structures can be pretty grand.

    Thank you very much for stopping by and leaving a comment on this, my friend.

  15. Great post.  I enjoyed it.  I'm a big fan of John Carpenter.  He's made so many movies I love.

  16. What a wonderful event. Great write-up and the next best thing to being there. Watching old favourites on the big screen once again is always a real treat, and the presence of JC must have been just magical. Glad you got to attend.

  17. This looked like so much fun. Grrrrrr. Now I'm regretting not being there!!!!

  18. Thank you, my friend.

  19. Yes, it was great fun to be back in a darkened theater with an enthusiastic audience surrounding the screen. John Carpenter seemed to enjoy the gathering, as well. Thanks, Steve.

  20. Carpenter seems to be making the rounds at such events, lately. Thanks, Will.