Thursday, May 10, 2007

John Carpenter Q and A Day One: Argento, Laura Mars and Elvis

Before I write on John Carpenter's first Question and Answer session that was held this afternoon I need to rant a bit. You would think that a visit from one of the most famous and influential American film directors of the past thirty years would at least get a mention in our school paper or perhaps at the very least some flyer's advertising it, but for whatever reason though this first of two sessions was hardly mentioned at all. It made for a very intimate session with only 50 or so people in attendance but I must say that I feel for the many that would have come had they known about it.
It was a really entertaining, informative and fun hour with one of our most iconic filmmakers. The rather informal talk was made up of mostly answering questions but Carpenter was very open and riffed a lot thankfully, which led him into a lot of far reaching areas from his career.
He described his early days in Bowling Green, Ky and his two years here at Western Kentucky University before going to film school at U.S.C. He credited a showing of FORBIDDEN PLANET at a local Bowling Green theater as the film that really first sparked his interest in cinema. Coincidentally I picked up the new Video Watchdog after seeing him this afternoon and none other than FORBIDDEN PLANET is on the cover.
Speaking warmly of his time at U.S.C and his early work as a Writer's Guild member, Carpenter admitted that the most important things to keep with you were 'drive and dreams.' He then went on to say that among the best modern day film studies for younger people were dvd audio commentaries and documentaries. He advised the crowd to listen to as many commentaries as possible and watch as many films as they could.
Carpenter through all of it was extremely laid back and low key and talked about how much he loved to 'fuck off' and 'smoke a joint' in preparing for a film, in which he described the long and grueling hours of directing as being like a 'coal miner'. He admitted that he was tired and didn't have the same push that he had when he was younger.
He spoke of his early career and the disappointment over the film version of his EYES OF LAURA MARS script and the difficulties in editing a particular scene in ASSAULT ON PRECINCT THIRTEEN. When asked about different roles he admitted writing was the easiest, composing the hardest and directing the most fun.
The talk turned especially interesting when someone in the audience criticised his recent PRO LIFE episode from MASTERS OF HORROR. Carpenter admitted that he preferred it over CIGARETTE BURNS and I thought it was a little harsh to criticize something in front of him that he had just recently worked on. The mood continued to change as another audience member questioned the overt use of gore in modern horror films like HOSTEL (apparently this guy hasn't seen too many Italian films from the seventies or even Carpenter's own GHOSTS OF MARS). Carpenter was quick to defend Eli Roth and his film and pointed out that horror filmmakers often were representing the current climate and culture in their films. Throughout the talk Carpenter was very supportive of the younger crop of filmmakers, although he admitted that many were 'shooters as opposed to directors' and said that it was important to know past films but to not be afraid to branch out with ideas that might go against them.
Carpenter then talked at length about the modern studio system and how overwhelmingly corporate it was. He mentioned admiring Sam Raimi but seemed baffled by SPIDERMAN THREE's 250 million dollar budget. A question about current directors had him saying that he loved Paul Thomas Anderson, admired Scorsese but grudgingly said that everyone regarded Spielberg as still the 'most powerful'.
The inevitable topic of remakes came up and Carpenter made it clear that his only involvement in them was getting a check. I found his attitude on the matter to be refreshingly honest. Of course one wishes that they weren't happening but it does all come down to money and Carpenter was very open about it. He did go out of his way to say that he liked Rob Zombie very much and he did give him one piece of advice and that was, 'to do his own thing with it.' He said he hadn't seen the trailer for new HALLOWEEN and he honestly he didn't seem that interested. No mention was made of the upcoming ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK or the more recent FOG or ASSAULT ON PRECINCT THIRTEEN remakes.
I did get a couple of questions in. I asked about the status of ELVIS and he said it was his understanding that they were 'working on it' but he admitted he had turned down an audio commentary due to it's length. I told him how much I loved STARMAN and he really perked up at its mention saying how much he also loved the film and the cast, especially Jeff Bridges.

Upon my mentioning of Dario Argento a couple of audience members actually smirked but Carpenter quickly cut them off by saying, "I love Dario, I love and admire his films. He's not afraid to hit it hard." I must say that they didn't smirk after that and I felt a rush of vindication. It was great to hear Carpenter say that about Argento, whose early giallos and DEEP RED did so much to influence HALLOWEEN.
Other brief topics included Carpenter's love of Morricone and how proud he was of his own son's composing skills.

It was a really incredible experience seeing this man in person whose films have meant so much to me since I was a child. If all goes according to plan I will see him speak again tomorrow and will share some thoughts on that as well.


Anonymous said...

It sounds like you had a great time Jeremy! Even though the crowd was small, I'm sure it made the event a little more intimate.

I think you did a great job writing about the event so don't sell yourself short. I look forward to reading more about your further adventures with John Carpenter soon.

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Thanks Kimberly,
I appreciate the kind words. I just got back from the second one and will write about it later tonight or tomorrow. He told some more great stories and I got ask about his work with Morricone on "The Thing". Thanks again for the comments.

PIPER said...

I came here from your most recent post.

I'm extremely jealous even for an Evil Clown because you were able to see Carpenter in the flesh.

I respect him being more upfront that he has gotten a tad lazy in his filmmaking.

In college, my professor was friends with him and had Carpenter write an intro to his book. I had written Carpenter for some insight as to why he liked "trapped" themes so much but I got no response. I would have loved to have asked that question in this setting. It is why I am drawn to so much of his work.

I guess I don't understand why people would have smirked because you brought up Argento.