Saturday, April 3, 2010

1982: The Thing (John Carpenter)

1982: The Thing (John Carpenter)
Let me start by admitting that I really don't know this year or next year's film all that well.  I've only seen each of them once, and it's been many years.  But I'll do my best to recollect.  

I grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana where it would only snow and stick about once every five years.  So snow was always a major event and a magical time.  I've decided that this experience has spilled over into my film-watching and I now have a real affinity for films with snow. Fargo, Affliction, The Sweet Hereafter, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nightfall, and On Dangerous Ground all rank among my favorites. And of course all contain some scenes with snow.  

I don't want to undersell The Thing as simply being a film that has snow so therefore I like it.  It also features one of my favorite Kurt Russell performances, a contained dread similar to what Ridley Scott provided in the first Alien, and one of the most sustained and beautiful cold color palettes of any movie I've ever seen.  

I don't know Carpenter's body of work as well as I would like.  But this one, along with Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13definitely make me want to do something about that very soon.

Other contenders for 1982: I still have some things to see from this year.  These include: David Cronenberg's Videodrome, Sidney Lumet's The Verdict, Eric Rohmer's Le beau mariage, Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, and Shohei Imamura's The Ballad of Narayama.  I need to revisit Costa-Gavras' Missing as it's been too long since I've seen it to know where it'd place on this list. From this year, I really like Ridley Scott's Blade Runner.  And my closest runner-up is Wim Wenders' The State of Things.

1/9/11 I watched Jean-Luc Godard's Passion.  Definitely part of his latter, more difficult period.  Not as user-friendly, not as readily accessible.  Godard proves though that he has eye for nature that's as strong as anyone's, and his feel for the female body is really special here.  But it's still too enigmatic for me to fully connect and embrace.

4/27/11 I watched Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist.  It still holds up pretty well, and is as interesting to me as a slice of life in the early eighties as it is anything else.  The casting's quite good (I'll admit a slight crush on JoBeth Williams), and the opening act very strong.  Just didn't always completely hold my attention.  

5/16/11 I watched Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander.  Some of it is among the most lush and sensual filmmaking I've ever seen, and these sections are quite tremendous.  The more harsh, ascetic Bergman justaposes though in a way that I find more detracting than fulfilling.

8/23/11 I watched Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo.  Part of that unique genre, "extreme film", along with works such as Apocalypse Now and Sorcerer.  These films all show filmmakers willing to travel to dangerous lengths to paint unprecedented canvases and test their own abilities as storytellers and dream purveyors.  Herzog's film might feel slightly disjointed at times.  But the scope at which he is working and the heart that drives both him and Fitzcarraldo allow this film to rise memorably above any shortcomings.  A classic of the genre, and probably about as personal as Herzog's work can ever be.  

3/2/15 I watched Sidney Lumet's The Verdict.  My first-time viewing of this very well respected courtroom pic proved to be mostly memorable even if I was reminded again of my lukewarm feelings about Lumet as a filmmaker.  I like his approach as an invisible director and working with a fairly intelligent script and a mostly top-level cast, Lumet lends the courthouse genre intelligence and art.  This film feels a bit elliptical and hazy like some of the great American work of the seventies yet I always have this feeling that either Lumet is too restrained to reach the great artistic heights of some of his peers or too proud to give us the cheap thrills of the standard Hollywood courtroom pic.  And so what we end up with is something in between that is never entirely satisfying as transcendent art or entertainment.

5/23/15 I watched Ron Howard's Night Shift.  What is most surprising is how loose and playful this early Howard work is compared to where he would venture later on in his career.  Keaton is clearly hungry and this is a star performance.  But the entire thing just feels kind of like a throwaway. 

1/10/16 I watched Robert Altman's Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.  A very interesting film when considered among the rest of Altman's body of work.  It is wistful, dreamy, and full of Altman's unique stylings such as slow zooms and multi-track dialogue.  I have never seen his early James Dean film but I find it interesting that he made two films that revolve somewhat around the young actor.  Feels like a final film, like a Gertrud or a Rio Lobo, extraordinarily confident, staunchly uncommercial and focused on the past while doubtful of any future.  

3/8/16 I watched Joe Layton's Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip.  Nowhere near as transcendent or funny as Pryor's 1979 concert film.  This show finds Pryor post-freebasing event where he almost burned himself to death.  Apparently he did this show twice, the previous night was hailed as his comeback and it fell flat so he invited everyone back for free the following night.  Pryor still has the gift of gab and his genius reveals itself intermittently but anyone really wanting to know his true greatness should start with the '79 standup.

9/21/17 I watched Les Blank's Burden of Dreams.  Herzog's appetite for risk is inspiring and amazing to see.  Blank's documentary is a bit meandering but it left me wanting to seek out more of Herzog's work.  

4/28/18 I watched Susan Seidelman's Smithereens.  A great post-punk portrait of early 80s NYC that features an extraordinary use of The Feelies' Crazy Rhythms.  It feels more like a Rivette or 80s French film in its looseness and in its "road movie" within one city approach.  Paired on Filmstruck with Jarmusch's Permanent Vacation, this double feature is a great introduction to the American indy film proliferation that would soon follow.    

10/6/18 I watched Edward Yang, Yi Chang, I-Chen Ko and Te-Chen Tao's In Our Time.  It is an anthology film often credited with jumpstarting the birth of the Taiwan New Wave.  The first three films, in particular, impressed me.  They concern themselves with similar areas of life as the Nouvelle Vague before them - youth trying to find its place, the experience of first loves and the awe for and questioning of the world around them.  There is a poetry and a feel for beauty that makes these early films particularly remarkable.  

8/12/20 I watched The Orson Welles Story - Parts 1 and 2.  A great documentary if you want a better look at Welles' personality and perspective on life and his career.  Chronologically told and pretty straightforward stylistically.

9/28/20 I watched Jerzy Skolimowski's Moonlighting.  A strange film that creates a powerful atmosphere and has Jeremy Irons performing yet again at the height of his incredible talent.  It is this odd combination of political allegory told in a Bressonian style.  I found it intriguing although not fully worth the journey.  

6/30/21 I watched William Klein's The French.  A fascinating look at The French Open and tennis in the early eighties.  I have certainly never gotten this kind of look into professional tennis, particularly from inside the locker room.  Klein takes a patient, unobtrusive, Wiseman-like approach, producing a gem of a "sports movie".

8/22/21 I watched Maroun Bagdadi's Little Wars.  It was fairly compelling at times as my first experience with Lebanese cinema.  But overall I found it quite difficult to follow.

12/14/21 I watched Abbas Kiarostami's The Chorus.  Another short that has Kiarostami's child-like simplicity on display.  Not as strong as some of the other short work of his I have seen but worth a viewing for any Kiarostami completist.

12/28/21 I watched Blake Edwards' Victor/Victoria.  Interesting to see a big-budget Hollywood movie explore homosexuality in 1982.  The film, like most of Edwards' work, verges on the screwball but goes down easily if you are open to that type of ride.  Thematically there seems to be this recurrent idea at the core of many of his films of someone pretending to be something other than what they are.  

1/24/22 I watched Jacques Demy's Une chambre en ville.  Demy's films seek a heightened emotional effect through accenting the theatrical possibilities of the medium and by maximizing the artifice of the acting, the set design and even certain graphic moments such as the shot of a suicide or of a naked body revealed underneath a fur coat.  I feel some of his other work on a deeper level than this one but I still respect his unique approach and talent.

3/12/22 I watched Wim Wenders' Reverse Angle.  There's a period of Wenders' work from 1974-1985, from Alice in the Cities to Tokyo-Ga, that is among my favorite of any director's films.  Sure, it didn't hurt that Wenders had Robby Muller alongside him for almost the entirety of the run, framing the world in poetic ways arguably as well as any cinematographer in the history of the medium.  

During this time, what always struck me the most, was the intimacy of the work.  Wenders' films felt like personal journals, close mirrors to his mind and experiences at the time.  And, this very short work from 1982 is yet another striking part of that great period of work.    

7/5/22 I watched Wim Wenders' Room 666.  A short Wenders interview film where he contemplates the future of cinema and the threat posed to it by television alongside several of his fellow directors.  Not all that compelling. 

8/18/22 I watched Tony Richardson's The Border.  A film that fits in with its mood and style with the end of the cycle of the American New Wave.  Reminiscent of films like Cutter's Way and Out of the Blue that use naturalistic means to examine a decaying American Dream. 

10/24/22 I watched Wim Wenders' Hammett.  What is Wenders up to in this film?  It is in the middle of one of my favorite runs in all of film history - Alice in the Cities to Paris, Texas.  Whereas most of his other work, like Hammett, speaks to Wenders' love of the history of cinema, this is the only film from that period where Wenders never wants us to forget we are in a movie.  Throughout Hammett, Wenders questions film creators, film creations and film history in a way that I can never remember him doing as boldly before or since.    

6/8/24 I watched Tim Hunter's Tex.  It's amazing how well Hinton and Hunter here offer a continuation of the 50s melodrama, with the fever dream emotions of films like Rebel With A Cause or East of Eden.  


  1. Jeffrey, like you I also have a great affinity for films with snow, and I'll humble add John Huston's THE DEAD to this mix, as well as Shepitko's THE ASCENT, Kubrick's THE SHINING and the Lapp film THE FAST RUNNER. But I do love each and every one you listed, and fondly recall the snowy environs on display, which of course is some instances was metaphorically employed.

    Likewise your discussion of the attributes in THE THING and in Carpenter's cinema are excellent, and I again salute you for going with a bold and original choice, which is also among my runners-up.

    My Own #1 Film of 1982:

    Fanny and Alexander (Bergman; Sweden)


    La Traviata (Zeffirelli; Italy; West Germany)
    Parsifal (Syberberg; West Germany)
    Diary of My Children (Meszaros; Hungary)
    Fitzcaraldo (Herzog; West Germany)
    E.T. (Spielberg; USA)
    The Draughtsman's Contract (Greenaway; UK)
    Veronika Voss (Fassbinder; West Germany)
    Videodrome (Cronenberg; USA)
    Blade Runner (Scott; USA)
    The Thing (Carpenter; USA)
    Gandhi (Attenborough; UK)
    Night of the Shooting Stars (Taviani; Italy)
    The Snowman (Jackson; UK)

    In addition to the Bergman (which is also listed as 1980, but I have stood by USA theatrical release dates) we have what are probably the two greatest opera films of all-time and a Hungarian masterpieces as a Herzog and Spielberg masterwork and several others.

  2. Sam, thanks so much for the comments! I haven't seen THE ASCENT or THE FAST RUNNER. But I should have definitely included THE DEAD and THE SHINING on my list of films with snow that I really like.

    I decided my childhood in Shreveport is the reason I like films with snow so much. But after reading your post, I wonder if snow is simply something that the cinema does very well. I remember when I saw PICKPOCKET, moderated by Paul Schrader, he talked about the things that cinema does particularly well. And maybe snow is simply one of those things.

    I still need to see LA TRAVIATA, PARSIFAL, DIARY OF MY CHILDREN, THE DRAUGHTSMAN'S CONTRACT, and VERONIKA VOSS. And ET I'll need to revisit at some point. I haven't seen it since I was a kid.

    Thanks, Sam. Always awesome having you here!

  3. I actually still haven't seen THE THING! It's one of those that I always mean to watch but never seem to get to. My pick for this year is one of those "all-engrossing experiences" in my estimation and ranks among the best work of Werner Herzog's career - FITCARRALDO.

    Jeffrey - If you liked Apocalypse Now and Aguirre, The Wrath of God then definitely make a point to watch Fitzcarraldo. I don't know that it is quite as good as either of those (certainly not as good as Apocalypse and I would says its about even with Aguirre) it's still a hell of a wild ride.

  4. Dave, yeah I definitely need to see this one! I love both APOCALYPSE and AGUIRRE. It sounds right up my alley.

    I'll be curious to hear you thoughts on THE THING. I get a sense that you'll really like it.

    Thanks, Dave. Always great hearing from you!

  5. I probably prefer Videodrome slightly to The Thing, but really they are two of my favorite horror films ever, and represent high points in their respective director's careers. Fine choice Jeffrey.

    I unfortunately have not yet seen the Bergman that Sam selected, but I agree with Dave that Fitzcarraldo is simply a masterpiece. I am also quite fond of Przesłuchanie aka Interrogation from this year as well.

  6. Drew, I really need to see VIDEODROME. It's one of the films I've never seen that I most want to see. I'll do something about that quite soon.

    INTERROGATION is another I still need to see.

    Great to hear from you! Thanks, Drew.

  7. Jeffrey, "This is certainly one of Carpenter's best, and made my runner up list.
    My own # 1 is "Missing" directed by Costa Gavras.

    Runner Up

    Blad Runner
    The Verdict
    The Thing

    I am also a fan of the black comedy "Eating Raoul" though I would rank it below the above works.

  8. John, thanks so much for the comments. I like BLADE RUNNER although a little less than the ones I mention. TOOTSIE is one I need to revisit at some point. It's been years since I've seen it. And MISSING definitely had an impact on me when I saw it as a kid and is another I'll need to see again.

    Thanks, John. Always awesome to hear from you!

  9. This was a very strong year for genre films with BLADE RUNNER, E.T., TRON, THE ROAD WARRIOR and, of course, THE THING, which I still think is Carpenter's masterpiece. The dynamic of the ensemble cast is great and I love how Carpenter gradually shows these guys getting more and more paranoid as the alien takes them over and turns them against each other. And Rob Bottin's groundbreaking make-up gore effects still hold up today. Man, the disembodied head that sprouts legs like some of kind demented spider still gives me the heebie jeebies. What a great film and a great choice!

  10. Thanks so much, JD! I still have quite a bit of Carpenter I still need to see. But I definitely love this one.

    I also need to revisit TRON and THE ROAD WARRIOR. It's been forever since I've seen them.

    Always great to have you here, JD! Thanks.