Homeschooling. Part of our routine is Poetry on a Sunday morning.
We read and we discuss, or we watch poetry being performed. Today we started a book about haiku, and I really enjoyed it.
So much so that I wrote my first and in a perfect world I’d love think that I might write them daily. There is something gently wonderful. A moment of awareness and depth and presence.
For my first I tried to follow the guidelines (although it’s the next chapter that takes us step by step).
3 lines. 17 syllables. Using the traditional Japanese form of 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second, 5 again in the third line. This was my first attempt:
Dripping tap, drip drip – Counting time in to the sink Listen without fear.
I felt quite pleased with that. Then I read a bit further and saw the note that in English it’s best to just go for 3 lines and fewer syllables, but rather that the whole thing be a single breath. So, I cut two words and felt better.
Dripping tap Counting time into the sink Listen with out fear.
I like that better. But is it a single breath? I’m not sure. The last line feels like a second breath to me, but I’m going to stick with it. I could rework it more, infact I sat here and started drafting it a bit further, but that feels wrong. The version I have captures the moment. Me, alone in the kitchen, the sound of the drip, the passing of time, a moment of awareness.
Reworking hours later feels anathema. Academic. Missing the point of the exercise somehow. So I’ll stick with that and see if I can can do more, because I enjoyed it. I like limits and constrictions on creative exercises. It becomes about how to solve a puzzle or bend the rules while meeting them for me.
I had some fun listing my favourite George Romero movies a little while ago and thought I’d do the same with another “master of horror”. So here we go, this is how John Carpenter shakes out for me. This is not a BEST OF ranking, which would have a different set of concerns. This is all about my favourites. What means the most to me, what I watch or consistently want to rewatch of his work (features only and only those I’ve seen, hence no TV movies and a couple of features missing that I’ve never gotten around to). This is personal. I’ll brook no arguments, it’s about me and John. My feelings don’t invalidate your feelings. But this list is about me.
1/ THE THING (1982) – Obvious it may be, but I really had to fight myself on this because honestly, I just love THE FOG so much. It’s a warm blanket of a horror film. But THE THING is a close to perfect movie and so it took the title. What more can I say?
2/ THE FOG (1980) – I fucking love this film. It’s just such a delight, a comfort movie that is nonetheless filled with scares and suspense. It is, as the opening sets it up to be, a spooky story told around the campfire, and I’m a kid again getting just the right amount of shiver to make it fun without actually traumatising me. Also, Adrienne Barbeau and that lighthouse *chef’s kiss*
3/ PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987) – This was another one where two films went head to head for the higher spot in the charts. Previously I think I would have said ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, but of late, I’ve really come around to just the incredible mood that Carpenter achieves in PRINCE OF DARKNESS.
4/ ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976) – For many years ASSAULT occupied the number 1 spot in my Carpenter movie love, but it’s fallen in recent time. Maybe I’ve seen it too often, maybe it’s that occasional Carpenter flaw whereby the pace doesn’t shift with the stakes, so sometimes just doesn’t get my heart pumping. ASSAULT is still a classic though. Beautifully made, and THAT. FUCKING. SCORE!
5/ DARK STAR (1974) – Love this one. Love it. A perfect satirical rebuke to Kubrick’s highminded staidness. Carper and O’Bannon have their eyes on actual humanity. The working class schlub’s that would end up stuck out there in space trying not to get cabin fever, trying not to go mad. I think this is a glory of a film. Probably as much O’Bannon as it is Carpenter (I really wish they’d worked together more, the mix of O’Bannon’s writing with Carpenter’s visuals has something really special).
6/ BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA(1986) – Another film that once upon a time ranked higher, but familiarity breeds, well, it’s never going to breed contempt for this one, it’s too likeable for that, but it doesn’t get the belly laughs from me that it used to. Still, the wry commentary on the white american hero as protagonist is to die for and the performances are all round amazing. Everyone shines in this movie. It remains a dazzling delight and if there are days when it doesn’t raise quite the smile it once did for me, there’s always the option to watch it with the commentary track. That always does the trick.
7/ IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1995) – The last film that we could safely call a masterpiece within the ouvre? Maybe, but the opening credits riff on Metallica’s Enter Sandman should have faded out much sooner, it takes some getting over what is ultimately a lightweight and all too obvious copy of a track I’m guessing was too costly to license. It consistently throws me out of the movie. But then there’s John Glover as a delightfully untrustworthy looking doctor and Sam Neill firing on all cylinders, and all is right with the world.
8/ MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN (1992) – Laugh all you like, I think this is a really well made, really entertaining movie. My friend Ed King (programmer of Dublin’s Horrorthon) said it best when he called it Carpenter’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST. It’s exactly that kind of movie. If it’s a bit of a project for hire with Carpenter having less influence over the script, so be it. I wish he’d had more, been able to inject a little extra of that Hawksian magic that’s running in his veins, but I like this film a lot. More than I like NORTH BY NORTHWEST if I’m honest.
9/ THEY LIVE (1988) – When it’s good, it is so very VERY good, but when it is bad, it is sluggish. Nonetheless, the set up and the central premise are done so well, and OMG a WORKING CLASS PROTAGONIST???? I mean, how many of those do we really see in American movies, much less genre movies? Some will say the alley fight is stupid, some will claim that it’s a metaphor. I just think that it’s one of the greatest and funniest fistfights ever filmed.
10/ HALLOWEEN (1978) – I can hear you screaming at me for this one, but look, it’s just never connected with me like that. It’s well made, Carpenter and Hill achieve wonders on their budget and with a minimalist script that could have been so fucking bad, but… it’s never scared me. It’s influential, it’s solidly made it’s a watershed, but it just never pierced my heart. It might also have something to do with the my feeling that the lauded opening POV panaglide shot is, for me, easily the weakest moment in the movie. It commits a singularly ridiculous sin for me in that the Camera/Michael looks up at his own hand up in the air as it raises and plunges off camera into his first victim. I get why: it hides the need for a convincing effect, an effect that might have been too much for first time viewers given the POV nature of the shot. But it makes no sense diegetically. It threw me out of the movie the first time I saw it and it does the same thing every time I give it another try. I enjoy the rest of the movie, but I just don’t think of it that way. It doesn’t give me all those feels you kept telling me about.
11/ GHOSTS OF MARS (2001) – Granted I’ve not rewatched this in years, but that first time has stuck with me, because this movie got SHIT ON when it came out, and I didn’t have much hope from the stills that I was seeing. But, you know what? I had a great time with this movie. It was well made, unpretentious fun that I thought was more satisfying that ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. Boom! Suck it haters!
12/ CHRISTINE (1983) – This is creeping up the lsit. I won’t be at all surprised if it were to shake out higher if I write this again ina few years time. It helps now that it’s available for all to see in widescreen. And probably that I have now read the novel, and realise that it really does get the feel of the book and that 80’s King vibe all around. I’m still always amazed and amused by the way American High Schools on screen consistently have pupils who appear to be in the 30’s or 40’s, but what do I know. Back in the 70’s and 80’s the mass-availability of pizza and the sight of American fire hydrants was as exotic to me as anything else.
13/ STARMAN (1984) – It’s the performances that sell this one, and the early sequences where Carpenter brings in the most style. The film is a touch middle of the road for me, but Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charlie Martin Smith, Carpenter puts them front and centre and lets them carry it. More power to him. It’s a classic and classy Howard Hawks move.
14/ ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) – I’ve tried. Really I have. Repeatedly. I’ve bought many editions of this over the years and I have to say I LOVE the early scenes. But once Snake gets to New York, it never quite picks up the pace for me. Never seems to hit home. I’m watching snake do cool stuff and all these awesome character actors doing cool things, but it never quite clicks for me. Again there’s something in the pacing. We have a ticking clock, the micro explosives in Snake will explode if he doesn’t get back in time… but he never seems to be worrying about that. Never quite feels like it’s a driving concern to get this done fast, and Carpenter’s classical framing and use of the panaglide don’t help him. I mean, it’s gorgeously shot, but I always felt like New York needed to feel like a full on MAD MAX movie. I wanted that insanity , that drive, that adrenaline, and it never gets there.
15/ JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES (1998) – I’m looking at this one languishing down here near the bottom and I’m wondering if I should maybe bump it higher, because in some ways I think it’s a better film than STARMAN. But if we’re talking favourites… then here it stays. As it goes I think VAMPIRES is much better than it’s reputation. And that opening sequence is superb (it’s the moment that it becomes just another day at the job doing their ugly business as they drag the vampires one after another into the sun), but not unlike GHOSTS OF MARS, you really have to see it as a Western. It’s also the case that the protagonists are, to a man unlikeable. Now, I happen to think that’s the point. If James Woods’ character were wearing old worn-in comfy jeans and a beat up leather jacket like Indiana Jones, that would say one thing. But he wears crisp, overtight, dark blue jeans with his T-shirt tucked in (despite the heat), a seemingly brand new black leather biker jacket and has clearly been dying his hair. There is a carapace of vanity about this spiteful, frankly poisonous guy, no matter that he’s doing “god’s work”. And that’s interesting. That angle of unpleasant Peckinpah-esque western characters makes for a movie that takes a turn we don’t expect and deserves re-evaluating. If you can stomach James Woods.
16/ ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996) – I want to like this more, I really do, but it comes off sort of inept at times. It had a great trailer that I think caught the satirical tone much better, but it’s hobbled by poor production design and costuming. It’s a studio product, so maybe that’s the issue? Snake is not a company guy and lets face it, at heart… neither is Carpenter. It’s not a great fit. Snake looks too carefully styled to believe it’s really him. He’s a fashion victim version of an arse kicker here. It makes me wonder if maybe James Woods’ look in VAMPIRES wasn’t intentional when I see this, but still that managed to work. Does this? Only if we’re meant to not like Snake and I don’t think that’s ever going to be the case. So, shit happens and we’re meant to be excited, but we’re not. Snake does stuff, but it never really feels as if it matters. Satirical action ideas pop up but don’t really pay off (was Neil Marshall paying homage to THIS as much as the original when he made DOOMSDAY? I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, DOOMSDAY is more entertaining over all… just). And yet… the whole film is almost worth it for the ending **SPOILER ALERT** in which Snake switches the WHOLE WORLD offline. It’s a baller move. Properly in keeping with his character, and surely sets up a fully post apocalyptic world in which we are due one last movie with Snake. I dream of a set up wherein Snake is like Rooster Cogburn to a young woman seeking revenge in post apocalypse America.
Apropos of nothing except that I was listening to a fantastic episode of GAYLORDS OF DARKNESS about DAY OF THE DEAD, this is how Romero shakes out for me.
I will brook no argument, it’s not up for discussion. This is about George and Me:
1) MARTIN – a film that never fails to move me every time I see it. I truly think that it’s a perfect film.
2) DAY OF THE DEAD – before I ever saw the film, the trailer scared the shit out of me. The film is EVERYTHING that a zombie apocalypse ever could or should be. It’s a stunningly well made movie, beautifully acted with depths that continue to reveal themselves. The cast are uniformly excellent, the effects still the best gore I’ve ever seen. It remains my favourite and, for me, the pinnacle of Romero’s dead movies.
3) KNIGHT RIDERS – Romero was a hippie at heart and this is a love letter to the romantic idealism of an outsider life, and a critique of it at one and the same time. In so many ways it’s Romero’s movie about the 60’s, about the hippie dream, what it wanted to be, could have been, and what it became. Beautiful, melancholy, heartbreaking.
4)NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD – the truth remains that the original trilogy explored basically everything there was to look at in Zombie Apocalypse America. The Walking Dead was always (again, for me) a waste of time. Romero had explored it all in microcosm.5)CREEPSHOW – nostalgic, fun loving, a heartfelt ode to the simple joy of the genre itself and the comics that inspired it. Genre comfort food.
6)DAWN OF THE DEAD – no two ways about the fact that it affected me from the first time that I saw it, but never as much as the films either side of it (in trilogy terms). As disturbing as anything to me was the sense of fun that certain portions of the country took amidst the carnage. The montage with country music and the friends taking potshots at zombies in the field disturbed me as much as anything the zombies were doing.
7) MONKEY SHINES – I’ve always liked this one. Not a mind blower, but a tight, effective thriller that was better than it had a right to be in some ways.
8)THE CRAZIES – probably more effective if watched now than it was say a decade or two back. But the anti military stance is clear. Romero is still refining his craft, but amidst the palpable chaos and outrage there’s real heart, real fear, real political anger.
9)THE DARK HALF – undervalued adaptation of one of my favourite King novels. Good, but it makes you wish he’d gotten to make PET SEMETARY or THE STAND as almost happened.
10)SEASON OF THE WITCH – because Romero was always a feminist. Always a thinker. Always someone trying and growing and hoping and wanting things to be better.
I am so immensely proud of what we achieved with this book, which I edited as part of the Midnight Movie monographs line for Electric Dreamhouse Press. Stephen has gone above and beyond to produce a book that take a ‘holistic’ view of Cronenberg’s first masterpiece. It takes a forensic look at the movie itself, as well as the filmic, literary, and social lineage which lead to the film, and which it influenced thereafter. It’s a monster sized tome. I’ll put more details up soon, but it’s AVAILABLE HERE… and you can read a review HERE…
Having freelanced for them for a while, I recently became a permanent member of the team at Arrow Films as a Disc Producer, something of a dream job and I have to say I’m having a ball. The work is interesting and exciting, and the team are great. After a long time slogging in the trenches this has been a breath of fresh air. Among the first projects I’ve done for them is this Blu-Ray of Bernardo Bertolucci’s THE SHELTERING SKY. Sourced from a beautiful transfer supplied to us by Hanway Films, this disc features:
– Archival Commentary by Bertolucci, Jeremy Thomas, and Mark Peploe – Brand New Visual Essay by David Cairns & Fiona Watson – Brand New Interview with Art Director Andrew Sanders – Brand New Interview with Screenwriter Mark Peploe – First pressing features New Writing on the film by Kat Ellinger