‘Movies are for the young’

Di­rec­tor John Car­pen­ter has no re­grets and lit­tle time for film whingers, he tells Tara Brady, ahead ofa Dublin per­for­mance ofhis best sound­tracks and mu­sic

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM - John Car­pen­ter plays Dublin’s Vicar Street on Tues­day, Oc­to­ber 25th

He has al­most cer­tainly creeped you out with such iconic movies as Hal­loween and The Thing, yet you’d be hard-pressed to meet a jol­lier fel­low than di­rec­tor, screen­writer, com­poser and pro­ducer John Car­pen­ter. Where many of his con­tem­po­raries (you will note that much of his early ca­reer un­folded ad­ja­cent to the hey­day of the Brat Pack) are rather rightly miffed that their pro­jects go un­no­ticed or un­fi­nanced, Car­pen­ter, who has made just two films since the turn of the mil­len­nium, shrugs off semire­tire­ment.

“Au­di­ences are still en­thralled by the kind of movies that are be­ing made,” says Car­pen­ter (68). “That’s what counts. Au­di­ences love su­per­hero movies. And that’s all good. Things evolve and things change. That’s a good thing, I think. A lot of old-timers like to bitch, but that’s all garbage. Movies are for the young. Old di­rec­tors get put out to pas­ture. I can’t com­plain. I had a great, great time mak­ing movies.”

The pi­o­neer­ing tal­ent be­hind Es­cape from New York, Ghosts of Mars and Big Trou­ble in Lit­tle China can af­ford to be mag­nan­i­mous. He has, af­ter all, rerouted his ca­reer into elec­tron­ica. Well, not rerouted pre­cisely. Mu­sic is hardly a new call­ing for the com­poser and multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist.

“Multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist is maybe the wrong word to use,” says Car­pen­ter. “I know my way around a syn­the­siser. With mod­ern tech­nol­ogy and mul­ti­tracks, I can get that right. I can play gui­tar. I’m not great but I haven’t lost my touch. I used to play vi­o­lin, tothe great cha­grin of hu­man­ity. And whoa, was I bad. Oh my God. I will never let you hear me.”

Planet epiphany

The son of Howard Ralph Car­pen­ter, a mu­sic pro­fes­sor who recorded and per­formed with Johnny Cash, Roy Or­bi­son and Brenda Lee, among oth­ers, John Howard Car­pen­ter can­not re­call a time when he wasn’t ob­sessed with mu­sic. A youth­ful lover of clas­si­cal and rock’n’roll, he ex­pe­ri­enced some­thing of an epiphany while watch­ing For­bid­den Planet, a 1956 movie char­ac­terised by its sem­i­nal elec­tronic score.

To hear it is to marvel that Louis and Bebe Bar­ron com­posed this mu­sic us­ing DIY cir­cuitry and Nor­bert Wiener’s 1948 book Cy­ber­net­ics: Or, Con­trol and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the An­i­mal and the Ma­chine, as long ago the 1950s.

“But it re­ally was 1956,” guf­faws Car­pen­ter. “That was the movie that made me think: I want to do this. I want to be a movie di­rec­tor.”

His father’s en­cour­age­ment pro­vided an ad­di­tional prompt. “What my dad said was: ‘Cre­ate. I don’t care what it is. Just make some­thing.’ And I said well, okay, I might as well fol­low my dream here.”

Car­pen­ter is cur­rently on tour with his mu­si­cian son Cody, god­son Daniel Davies, and the Tena­cious D rhythm sec­tion in sup­port of his sec­ond stu­dio al­bum, Lost Themes II. He jokes about be­ing the “weak­est link”. The Euro­pean tour dates get him away from a US pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, which he dis­misses as “a cesspool”.

“I’m used to be­ing be­hind the cam­era, watch­ing ac­tors, watch­ing crew and mak­ing com­ments,” he says. “I’m not an out-front guy, and now all of a sud- den I’m out front, and the au­di­ence is so much younger than I am. Here’s this old bald­ing guy play­ing a syn­the­siser. What the hell is go­ing on around here? But it’s just awe­some. About 70 per cent of what we play are themes from my movies and 30 per cent is the new stuff. And the au­di­ence seems to re­ally dig it.”

Cut and thrust

In com­mon with such meta-pro­jects as Stanis­law Lem’s Per­fect Vac­uum (a col­lec­tion of lit­er­ary crit­i­cism on nonex­is­tent books), Lost Themes is an odd fic­tion: a col­lec­tion of scores for films that never were. Car­pen­ter says that un­hook­ing im­age from vi­su­als has been free­ing. But he must, on oc­ca­sion, miss the cut and thrust of in­de­pen­dent film pro­duc­tion?

“Movies are my first love, for sure. I miss it in so many ways. But in other ways it’s a lot of stress. You don’t have a life. When you are mak­ing movies, that’s all there is. And there are all sorts of prob­lems to deal with. And prob­lem­atic peo­ple to deal with. But I was lucky enough to work on a lot of movies, and I may still do again.”

He re­tains a foothold in the in­dus­try he helped shape as an oc­ca­sional ad­viser and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer on the many re­makes of his many films. His re­cent spat with Hal­loween re­booter Rob Zom­bie has lately made head­lines but, mostly, he’s pre­pared to roll with punches.

“They’re try­ing to make a new movie, so it’s never go­ing to be the same film. And that’s fine. I try not to go. But some­times I can’t help my­self. The one I thought was okay was As­sault of Precinct 13. The Fog was bad. But Igot paid, so that­was a happy end­ing.”

He’s equally glad­dened when he hap­pens upon the term “Car­pen­teresque” be­side such re­cent ti­tles as It Fol­lows and The Guest: “It’s very flat­ter­ing. I have re­ceived some out­ra­geous crit­i­cism in my time. I mean, just hi­lar­i­ous, un­be­liev­able stuff. So it’s great to see ‘ Car­pen­teresque’ doesn’t mean aw­ful.

“What a ter­rific time in my life. You live long enough . . . ”

A lot of old timers like to bitch but that’s all garbage. Movies are for the young. Old di­rec­tors get put out to pas­ture. I can’t com­plain. I had a great, great time mak­ing movies

Synth man John Car­pen­ter on stage. Be­low: on the set of Hal­loween in 1978.

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