I happened to have an argument with someone online regarding the movie Showgirls. They said that the film was ‘godawful’, ‘so bad its good’ and that they only watch the film ‘ironically’.
It’s because of people like Mr Ironic that going to the cinema is sometimes a painful experience these days. I’ve had too many occasions where a small minority of the audience has decided to laugh at a film rather than engage with it.
It’s so easy to snigger, laugh and deride a film. But whilst these people think that they are being the ultimate denizens of what constitutes good taste they are in fact just being boorish, boring and completely showing themselves up. The rewards of laughing at a film, any film, are minimal. And considerably less than entering a screening with an open mind and willingness to go where the director is trying to take you.
With a small faction of an audience laughing at a film the whole experience is ruined for everyone. Everyone else either seethes with anger or joins in. Any artistic merit is sacrificed for a few cheap laughs. My local cinema The Hyde Park Picturehouse shows cult films most Saturday nights. I’ve been to screenings here of acknowledged cult classics such as The Warriors, Assault on Precinct 13 and Night of the Living Dead only to have them ruined by the self-appointed judges of taste who had decided to narcissistically and loudly chortle at the film.
We watch individual films differently. Every film has a different feel, is trying to convey a different vision and thus is watched in a different way. The cineliterate understands this as do those who keep an open mind. The deriding dickhead doesn’t. The Warriors has the feel of a dark, New York comic book set in the future but whilst also feeling very much of the time it was made in the late 70s. It’s not hard to see that this was the director’s intention. Yet certain scenes were derided and sniggered at by a very vocal minority who might have well have had neon signs above their heads that read ‘We don’t understand this’ and ‘We’re Philistine fuckheads.’ They didn’t bother to engage and surmise the film’s vision but just to point and laugh instead.
This is the ultimate irony- the cynical and jaded viewers who are willing to sit with their arms crossed and are ready to laugh at a film are showing themselves up massively. They’re showing that they don’t understand the medium of film. They’re also showing that whilst they are laughing at that cult classic that has redefined genres and subgenres, we all know that they are most at home with a mainstream Hollywood CGI shitfest. The jokes on them.
Which brings us onto a kind of mission statement regarding Meathook Cinema- the films featured here on in are intensely loved. And that love is genuine, not ironic. We love cult films whether that love is recognised by others or not. But we never watch films ironically or think that some films are ‘so bad they’re good’. We like these films because we think they’re ‘so good they’re great!’
Life is way too short to watch bad films ironically. And the thought of seeing Mad Max: Fury Road again actually gives me nightmares.
I was thrilled to see the first few clips that appeared on YouTube of excerpts from John Carpenter’s first ever gig. Hes currently touring the globe performing some of the pieces of music that have featured in his films. Whilst these are soundtracks to his films these pieces of music are also the soundtracks to the lives of many cinephiles.
One of those cinephiles includes me. I am old enough (just!) to remember and experience the advent of video in the UK. Almost all of Carpenter’s films made up until this point were released on video at this time. Any of John Carpenter’s films that weren’t hits at the cinema box office (and that wasn’t many) became huge hits on video. Escape From New York is one such example. Video gave certain films and filmmakers a whole new audience. Viewers could now play and replay Carpenter’s films. Hence every piece of Carpenter’s music was absorbed note for note.
The first Carpenter film I ever saw was Halloween. It remains in my Top 3 films of all time (the other two being Taxi Driver and Bloodsucking Freaks). Its a testament to Carpenter’s filmmaking that I instantly knew there and then that I was watching a cinematic landmark as the film’s events were unfolding before my eyes. And that was even though the print I was watching was full screen, pan and scan and faded to fuck. But the film still had a massive impact on me. As Halloween seemed to be the ultimate cinematic horror statement then the soundtrack for the film was the ultimate perfect musical accompaniment- primal, simplistic, tragic and doom laden. I knew something horrific yet unavoidable was going to happen during the film’s course. And it did. The sound of a piano would never be the same for me again. It was like Carpenter was a punk film composer- go back to basics and make a soundtrack using as few notes as possible. If other more boring film composers were Yes or Emerson, Lake and Palmer then Carpenter was Suicide or The Ramones.
Theres a famous story involving the soundtrack to Halloween- Carpenter showed the film to studio executives before the music had been added. They said rather ruthlessly that the film was good but no more. But then they saw the film with the music added. They concluded that the film was a masterpiece and that it had scared the bejesus out of them! Never underestimate a film’s score. Just as Bernard Herman had perfectly scored the greatest horror movie of that era, John Carpenter had scored the done the same.
Halloween had such a massive impact on me that I feverishly started to see as much of Carpenter’s work as possible. With every brilliant film was an equally brilliant soundtrack- the urban ultra-minimalism of Assault on Precinct 13, the synth-meets-baroque creeping menace of The Fog, the graceful sweeping score for Escape From New York.
Even the scores Carpenter wrote for films that he didn’t direct are visionary, astounding pieces of work. I think the soundtrack for Halloween III: Season of the Witch is one of the best soundtracks ever written. Credit here should also be given to Alan Howarth who has collaborated with Carpenter on many of his soundtracks. I want the track Drive to Santa Mira to be played at my funeral.
So just as Carpenter has many strings to his bow (director, composer, actor, editor) he can now add rock star. Thats not bad going.