Thursday, February 20, 2014

Under Duress: The Argument for John Carpenter to Wreck Your Mount Rushmore



Mount Rushmore has sadly become a hot-button phrase for reasons that have nothing to do with the four men that occupy its space. It's a sports buzz topic for the last few weeks since Lebron James answered a reporter's question that simultaneously omitted Bill Russell from his quartet and anointed himself as a future occupant. Both responses drew a certain amount of ire and criticism. Now every athlete, every sports pundit, every writer has jumped into the fray to voice their opinion.

Well, shit, I just realized I'm in that same pack too since I'm bringing this up. I've heard radio show hosts maintain that the Mount Rushmore topic is a rainy day draw; mainly used for the slow sports day when the wire happens to be cold for a few hours. (How they can really be cold when that bottom line ticker on every ESPN channel never stops churning, I'll never know.)

However, I digress. We're here to talk about film, and in particular, directors. People love to make lists in film. People love to interject about who one-ups who in the art form of cinema. So let's get down with it.

I want to propose something more here in my maiden post for Under Duress. Great directors are easy to peg in a "gun to the head" situation. American, British, French, doesn't matter. Everyone has their arguments.

Since we're in the wake of Rushmore-gate, why not give in to our innate nationalistic tendencies and completely sensationalize in the spirit of Lebron. Who goes on the Mount Rushmore of American film directors?

I'm not actually going to make a list, here. Not by any means. Again, I want this blog to be able to go in different directions or at least make the attempt to. You all can answer the question yourselves about who belongs on it. What I'm here to do is propose an argument for someone who will likely in 95% of people's answers be left omitted.

Everyone can throw a name against the wall like spaghetti and give a reason for it to stick. Whether its Oscars or box office stack rankings. Everyone has their reasons. Arguments about themes, motifs; all of the accoutrements of a ninth grade English paper. All of which can be backed up passionately or even scholastically.

Rather than that, let's get concrete. Oscars are a political campaign left in the end to votes. Concrete. Gun to my head, I'm taking John Carpenter. The Master of Horror himself. Simple lip service would be the fact that he created arguably one of the most influential films of all time in Halloween. Kids of the 80's can fall back simply on the fact that he made Big Trouble In Little China and raised the bar for badass Kurt Russell moments in film with every collaboration they did.

I'll simply fall back on the number four (although as a kid of the 80's I got an incredible fill from Big Trouble in Little China on almost a weekly basis).

Four remakes. Four times John Carpenter's films have been remade. And let's not forget that at least twice the rumor has been heavy that Escape From New York would make number five.

How did this happen? This is a man who doesn't have a plethora of Oscars. How did the "cheesy movie synthesizer guy" (no joke, thats a quote) get remade four times?

Because he's fucking good. And arguably the fucking best.

Someone is always bound to make the argument that a film gets remade because the original wasn't good, but that's more than a mixed bag. The bigger question to ask is how with more money and seemingly better technology to make a film more commercial to the masses have each of these five failed to come even close the resonance Carpenter left us?

Eh, that's a part of another debate. Film style has changed. We all know that. I'm not here to get into the endless "remakes suck" debate. You can shelf that next to the "book is better" debate and let it collect dust.

But with four remakes out of his catalogue of feature films, the question has to come back to "why?" It's not because the originals were't good. I mentioned the resonance earlier; the resonance Carpenter left us with each of his films, or at least most of them.

Government mistrust, unlikely allies in the man (or woman) you consider a enemy. A couple of the major motifs. Very universal, though. Whether it's 1974 or 2014, people everywhere can identify on that level, and Carpenter tapped into that with a combination of slow, deliberate build-ups that created a mountain of tension.

I'm not going to delve into why each and every film is brilliant. I'm already long-winded enough with this thing, but Carpenter was ahead of his time with a lot of his films which might have been why they didn't receive the majority of their popularity until years later with the boom of the VHS and DVD market.

He essentially created the genre of the slasher film with Halloween and yet did the improbable and never went back to make another. Escape From LA, although somewhat marginalized next to Escape From New York, saw the results of a 9/11 level of catastrophe that would create such a fear among Americans that they would give the government near unlimited power. The Thing foreshadowed the paranoia a disease like AIDS would create amongst the global popularity.

The count is at four as of now, but how long before someone takes They Live or Christine and tries to remake them? Those seem ripe for the taking especially in an updated world capacity. Would they be better? Okay, that's rhetorical. Not to try and be trolling again but probably not. Nevertheless, one fourth of this man's feature films have been remade and that number seems destined to inch closer to the one third mark.

I tried to swear off IMDB.com in the wake of the Dark Knight-Godfather fiasco that represented the low-point of internet fandom, but I'll admit I always come back to it now and then for little tidbits. They have tons of Carpenter quotes posted there with some very humorous as to why he didn't choose to make films such as Fatal Attraction (which is ironic because he said he didn't want to remake Play Misty For Me with Michael Douglas in the Clint Eastwood part).

The quote I was looking for, though, was something based in this territory of remakes. This isn't the first, nor the last piece that will talk about John Carpenter's catalogue being plucked and remade, but what does the man himself have to say about it?

"I'm flattered if someone comes to me with the idea of remaking one of my films. Remake or original, making a movie still comes down to old-fashioned hard work. If it's based on another film, well, so be it. Remakes have been part of cinema since its earliest days - think of A Star Is Born (1937), which was remade numerous times. And they're especially big right now because it's become increasingly difficult to lure audiences into theaters. Advertising a remade title that may be familiar to audiences can hopefully cut through the clutter of titles and products that one sees."

Four out of 18. Leave the Oscars at home. John Carpenter reigns supreme. You can pick your other three.

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