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John Carpenter countdown – lessons

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What have we learnt, especially if you've watched all eighteen too?

The most obvious lesson is to avoid anything he did after 1988, with the possible exceptions of Ghosts (mostly for Natasha Henstridge, but Assault is better), Vampires (mostly for James Woods, but there are lots of better vampire films) and The Ward (but there are lots of better J-horror films).

Just what did go wrong with his career? There is an article on George Romero which talks about the series of interesting to bad films he did after Night of the Living Dead, and the way he was going to quit until someone offered to fund another film. They reckoned, rightly, that anyone who could make Night was seriously talented. The result, the original Dawn of the Dead, proved them right (and made them money). Carpenter had a much longer string of fabulous films, but once they finished, he's never come close to matching them. To be fair, neither has almost everyone else and the second most obvious lesson is to avoid all the remakes of his films by other people.

The lure of easy money for those remakes is one problem – he's described his role as producer on the awful Fog remake as being "Go in, say hello to everyone, take the money and go home"! Why put up with the pains involved in making your own films good when you can just laugh your way to the bank and let someone else fail? (Artistically, anyway. Some of the remakes, particularly the recent Halloween ones, have been commercially successful: the third of the new line is apparently coming, argh.)

Was it that the commercial success stopped happening for him, and the resulting series of low budget films stopped being fun? It is extremely noticeable that he never directed a 'real' Western, despite having two scripts filmed by other people (El Diablo which I liked, and Blood River which I don't think I've seen) and having made lots of updated or adapted ones.

Is it the budgets or personality clashes (or a combination) that meant he stopped working with many of the crew that helped create the greats? Debra Hill and Dean Cundey both went on to bigger things, for example. I can't find what happened to the working relationship with Alan Howarth which was behind most of his best scores. But from what he's said since, Howarth seems to bear no grudges, unlike Dan O'Bannon's annoyance that their original agreement to swap places in the director's chair in a series of films after Dark Star never happened.

A few years ago, I went to a 'masterclass' he gave at the National Film Theatre in London, where he talked a lot about one of his heroes, Howard Hawks, producing a string of good to great films on a wide variety of subjects in the old studio system. Maybe the feeling of being born out of time got to him…

To come: the TV movies and, first, the two films which he didn't direct, but co-wrote, scored, produced and, it is said, interfered with the direction of.

Written by Ian

July 3rd, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Posted in Cinema,Countdown

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