If you haven’t already, please check out my post from yesterday explaining everything about #Johnuary.
Before I started Johnuary, I knew the name John Carpenter, but the only film I really knew that was his was The Thing. It helps that he puts his name in front of some of his movies, as I knew ‘John Carpenter’s The Thing’. I had seen They Live once back in the early 90s but I had somehow never seen Big Trouble in Little China until a few years ago. Shocking I know.
A more recent reference to John Carpenter that I experienced was when watching the awesome Stranger Things. Many people highlighted how the show was like a combination of Stephen King, Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter. I realised at that point that I really need to explore Carpenter’s body of work more and it highlighted to me again how I always got him mixed up with John Hughes. I know now that they probably couldn’t be more different, other than having the same first name.
As part of my research for Johnuary I planned to watch the 7 most well known Carpenter films and review them, one each day. But as I got into them and did more research I ended up watching 13. I just loved them so much. And the podcasts that I listened to about them kept whetting my appetite about other movies from his filmography. Sadly I wasn’t able to get hold of Someone’s Watching Me and Elvis, but I’ll try to track them down soon.
Here are some of the things that I ended up loving about John Carpenter’s work.
- I love his big use of the true widescreen format. This is proper cinema. Beautiful wide vistas and gorgeous framing. And he does several shots down the side of a car, which look great.
- He doesn’t rush. His films suck you in with the calm pacing. He’s not afraid to hold for a long time on one shot and let the moment breathe.
- He’s a polymath. Not only does he often write the screenplay and direct but he also normally writes, and often performs, the score himself. I don’t happen to know any other directors that do that. And in many cases his scores are fantastic.
- I like the fact that he put his name on everything. ‘John Carpenter’s The Fog’, ‘John Carpenter’s The Thing’ etc.
- I also like directors who develop relationships with actors. You could say Kurt Russell was his muse. That’s a pretty cool muse to have. But there are so many other cast members (and crew members) that crop up in many of his films. In particular Charles Syphers, Kurt Russell, Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance. I like that. Almost makes them all feel part of the same universe.
Carpenter is the initiator of many cinematic tropes, as opposed to a follower of tropes. Perhaps that makes them hard for some people to watch nowadays because the tropes seem cliche and perhaps not as advanced as later films that have nuanced them, but you just have to remember that they were used here for the first time.
Interestingly, the more I’ve researched him the more I’ve discovered about how many of his films were box office bombs, only to find critical acclaim later on, or adopted as cult classics.
The fact that SO many of his films have been remade in recent years is testament to how respected his work is. Multiple Halloween sequels, The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing and it looks like they’re also going to remake Big Trouble in Little China.
At this point I want to highlight a couple of sources where I was able to dive deeper into the analysis of these movies and indulge my newfound Carpenter love. There are some great videos by Off The Shelf Reviews on YouTube where they talk about a few Carpenter films. I enjoyed watching those. But my main source was the awesome Masters of Carpentry podcast. An incredible podcast where three people, with occasional guests, go through every single Carpenter movie once a month. And they go through them in great detail and they are great fun too. Big kudos to Noel, Alexander and Julia.
I have loved every minute of exploring John Carpenter’s work and I plan on getting DVDs/Blu-Rays of several of them as I want to listen to the director commentaries. I’ve heard the ones with Carpenter and Kurt Russell talking about The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China are great, as well as the one with Roddy Piper talking about They Live.
Read on today and the rest of this week for my short reviews of 13 of his films and come back on Sunday when I will be ranking my favourite Top Ten John Carpenter films.