Prince of Darkness

October 31 I always think of John Carpenter. Halloween changed horror movies and he went on to shift things a few more times. Even his bad work is stuffed with good ideas, and his "mainstream" efforts are spiky and challenging. But most of all when you look back on his body of work you see an artist with a voice. A John Carpenter movie is as distinctive as a Scorsese or a Kubrick: the same every time but different.

From Soundtrack:
Halloween is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this month, and the score was just re-released, and they had that "other" film come out earlier this year. What are your thoughts on the apparent success of the franchise? Did you ever expect it to have such a following all these years?

You can't beat it! I get a check every time they make one of those movies. I get paid a lump sum of money every time they make a sequel. Debra Hill and the partners and I made an agreement to go ahead and have a mechanism for making sequels, since that's apparently what people wanted. They would use my music, since that's part of the film - and I would stay out of it. It's good for them - they go off and make the movie they want and they don't have me bitching at them.
Den of Geek talked to him about the prescience of his movies:
Escape From LA was a prescient film – it kind of makes more sense now than when it came out...

[laughs] Yeah!

...and the same dynamic seems to apply to They Live. What's your reaction to getting it right, but no-one believing you at the time?

It's the story of my life! [laughs] A lot of my career has been like that. I've made a couple of films that later on, upon reflection, you say 'My God'...I just wrote those things on instinct, so it's not anything I planned out. It's just my view of the world.

It's the same on The Thing, which, three years after release, would have been a trenchant social commentary...

But that's what happens in the movie business – you have to know what's going on when you make a film. I've always been a little bit out of touch with the immediate sense of the audience, I really have. So that's my fault.
One of my favourite John Carpenter movies is Prince of DarknessHalloween had the gag about the killer ducking across the screen behind the victim; Prince of Darkness had the "found footage" of something indistinct and very scary, decades before Paranormal Activity. AICN's Quint also likes the movie:
Quint: Tone is a huge thing with me for your films. One of my favorite movies of yours, and I feel it's really underrated, is PRINCE OF DARKNESS.

John Carpenter: Thank you. You know I've heard that a couple of times recently. I agree with you.

Quint: I've talked to a lot of people and I'm like "Listen, you can look at HALLOWEEN or THE THING or ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and those are all amazing films," but there's a tone that you hit I think in PRINCE OF DARKNESS that gets under my skin more than anything else in your filmography. It's hard for me to actually put a finger on it. It's like watching a Paul Schrader movie. There's something that instantly just in the mix of the visuals, the sound design and the story that kind of gets on to your skin as a film viewer.

John Carpenter: Well, thank you. You know as I recall at the time there was a television interviewer who said PRINCE OF DARKNESS was the worst movie of 1986. Worst movie. Worst.

Quint: Well, they were wrong.

John Carpenter: Well, not necessarily. (laughs) It wasn't at the time so much fun to be the target of that, but I don't care. It was a badge of honor for me.



I get into a lot of arguments about Eyes Wide Shut. I'm a Kubrick fan and I like the movie a lot. It stays with you as long as Full Metal Jacket: it's not as pure as that film, or 2001, and I wonder had he lived longer if he would have tightened the edit, as he often did at the last moment  -- the closing glances run longer than usual. But it's a cracker of a story, infuriating and oblique and funny, and it has an undercurrent of real dread. It's the director doing what he loves: rationalising emotion.

Interview magazine has a golden interview with Terry Semel and Tom Cruise about working with Kubrick on the film:
CRUISE: In all matters of the film, he was economical. He needed time to make the film, yes, but he also needed time to think about the film... We had a $65-million budget for Eyes Wide Shut, and everyone thinks we ended up shooting for two years. But it wasn't quite two years. I got there in August and he gave us a month off for Christmas and left about a year and a half later. But we had a lot of vacations in between. Stanley would allow us to break, and that would give him time to evaluate the film and look at the sets... And he was very smart about money. He never went back to Terry and asked for more. He stuck by the budget and did everything it allowed him to do — with the time he needed — to make his film.

SEMEL: I don't think it can be overemphasized how hands-on he was on his projects. He never became the type of filmmaker to direct from a distance.

CRUISE: Earlier on in his career, he would do all the operating. When you look at The Shining, you see that he operated a lot. He did less so on Eyes Wide Shut, but even then, he didn't want many people on the set. He wanted to keep it very contained and very intimate and personal. It was the least amount of crew I've ever had on a movie.
Kubrick's method allowed him to add the little touches:
CRUISE: There was an interesting moment during filming. We were shooting in the backlot of Pinewood Studios and he had built a set to resemble New York. We were working on a scene where I see that a guy is following me. He cast a very distinct-looking actor, a bald guy with a very particular wardrobe. In the shot, this guy walks across the street. We went back and looked at the video playback; we must have spent hours studying it, just to figure out what the behavior of this man should be like crossing the street. Finally, Stanley said, "Listen, when you're crossing the street, please don't stop staring at Tom." It looks like a very simple thing, but behaviorally, it had a tremendous effect.
In a separate interview Nicole Kidman talked to Merle Ginsberg at The Hollywood Reporter about filming Eyes Wide Shut:
There's all the mythology -- but when you got to know [Kubrick], he was practical and logical. Very well-educated... I wasn't scared of him. He could get irritated by people. I was allowed to go in his office and read his books.

On his films, he did everything: fix the sound machine, operate the camera. He even sort of handled the wardrobe -- for all his dressing low-key, Stanley actually loved clothes.

The most important thing to Stanley was time. My approach to the two-year shoot was actually very Zen. Tom and I thought, "We're so lucky, we've gotten to spend two years with the master." Stanley said the film was finished -- but if he had more time, who knows how it would have morphed.


On the road, 2012

Some other authors have blogged about the Frankfurt Book Fair: Robert Sullivan on the opening ceremony and Catherine Robertson on the whole week. I didn't blog because I was travelling without a laptop, which felt like a holiday. I used my iPhone for email. I carried a PDF of my new novel on FileApp Pro, which allowed me to fret over it anywhere, anytime. Caught without an English language version of Pack of Lies at the Mana-Verlag opening, I downloaded a backup ms from Gmail, and read from the phone at the lecturn. Not an ideal experience, but doable.

The practice of hotels charging and arm and a leg for internet access is alive and well in Frankfurt. (In Berlin, like London there is free wifi in most bars and cafés.) In the hotel lobby where the connection was free New Zealanders gathered in the mornings and evenings like smokers on a windy corner, emailing, texting and tweeting. (I've taken Twitter off my phone. It shortens the battery life and my concentration.) Internet access in the rooms was two Euros a day and limited, but at a few dollars a day for up to 25mg on a prepaid SIM, why bother?

For navigation I relied on a paper map of Frankfurt that I bought in Berlin, and for everything else a reporter's notebook and a pencil. Writing things down is still the best way to work -- you remember something better if you write it out by hand, and a pencil will never explode in your pocket.

On the final weekend when I received my Lufthansa flight confirmation I downloaded the boarding pass onto Passport, the iOS6 app. Normally I print out a paper copy of every travel document, just in case, but this time I passed through luggage check in, customs and flight boarding by showing staff the Passport screen or waving the phone across gate scanners. Lufthansa are one of the first airlines to invest in Apple's system and Frankfurt is a modern airport so this went without a hitch. At least half the people in the queue were checking in using smartphones.

The only technology I really missed on the road was a kettle in the hotel room but I knew not to expect that, especially after travelling in France for Les Belles Etrangeres. If you want tea in a European hotel you have to ask for a glass or thermos of hot water at the bar and carry it up to your room in the elevator. Barbaric. But at least then, you have tea. And so on the Wednesday night I sat up on the end of the bed in my room, drinking black tea while reading an ms off an iPhone and scribbling revision notes on a 79 cent notepad.


When all the rainy pavements lead to you

On Friday at the Frankfurt Book Fair (I'm typing this up out of order) Alan Duff, Carl Nixon and I took part in a panel discussion about the urban landscape in New Zealand literature. The subject was in contrast to depictions of the landscape in the pavilion and in other sessions. Alan came right out with it and said we weren't talking about the tourist image of New Zealand, which is why he's good value at things like this. He talked about the violent streets of Once Were Warriors. The panel moderator, Carl's publisher Stefan Weilde, was interested that Alan had renamed Rotorua as Two Lakes; Carl had also renamed the locations in his very Christchurch novel. I suggested that writers need distance from their subject -- life's hot, art's cool -- and that giving a place a different label was a way of objectifying it further, giving the author license to fictionalise. The irony of my novel Lügenspiele (Pack of Lies) is that it's the only novel I've written in which the protagonists try and get away from the city. Although Stefan did say that the hotel reminded him of the Bates Motel in Psycho, "which will give you all some idea of what to expect."

The format was very brisk given the subject matter. Any one of us on the pavilion could have gone on for hours. The allotted time was being counted down on a TV screen in the corner of the stage and the microphones were hand held. By the time it came to other sessions people were better used to it.

PS: Catriona Ferguson at the NZ Book Council blogged about this and other sessions on Friday.

Pic: From a late night train, Berlin.


'Cause I got some weird ideas in my head

Pictured: coming onstage for Sunday's crime panel at the Frankfurt Book Fair with Paul Cleave, Alix Bosco (AKA Greg McGee) and Paddy Richardson, hosted by Wolf Dorn. Paul talked about his Christchurch serial killer novels and writing unsuitable stories at school. Greg talked about how writing a female protagonist gave him the idea of creating a female pseudonym to go with it, as a way of protecting his creation. He thought the critics went much easier on unknown Alix than they would ever would have done on the author of Foreskin's Lament. Paddy talked about writing non-gory crime, and the importance of narrative. She hadn't considered herself a crime writer initially, but came to it later -- something I had a chance to talk to her about when we caught up the next day. Wolf asked me about the influence of film and music on Shirker, which was published in Germany by DTV. All of us (novelist Dorn included) write differently from one another. I said I thought crime-writing was to literature what the blues were to music: a form that has spawned countless variations.

The pavilion was packed, as you can kind of see. That big light in the corner was a lot brighter on stage, but the audience certainly sounded as if they enjoyed what we had to say. Big ups to Wolf for hosting the event.



This place was good....


A fine Messe

Travelling without a lap top is great but blogging on an iPhone is hard. There are iPads and smart phones aplenty at Frankfurt -- the free wifi grinds to a halt at lunchtime -- but mostly there are books, in huge quantity. If this is what the death of publishing looks like then death is nothing to be afraid of. Things were very different in 2003-2006, people tell me, in the "boom years" but again things seem pretty good. The floors of the main halls are crammed with stalls and reps taking meetings. One publisher told me the point of the Fair is to be seen, "so people know you're still alive."

New Zealand is in two places: in the sales stand in Hall 8, which is as busy as the others, and in the main forum, where stands the pavilion, the events stage and the green room, where the mood is unfailingly upbeat. The locals and publishers I've spoken to like the Pavilion and think we've done well. (Disclosure: I crashed a party that wasn't really for authors. "You must feel like you are in the tank with the sharks," someone said, in a German accent.) There is a lot of talk about hiking; I've had to bluff my way through that. My sessions are today and Sunday. I've had meetings, been interviewed for radio and the Arte tv channel and am taking part in an online event on Saturday. And it's raining, so as an Aucklander I feel right at home. Although my head does hurt this morning for some reason.


Late night

Jazz at the A-Trane, Bleibtreustraße 1. Raphael Beiter on trombone. Amazing vocal performances by Fama M'Boup, Friederline Merz, Zola Mennenech and Anna Marlene. Your host: Andreas C. Schmidt. 


Is this thing on?

From the Mana Verlag press reception at the Patio-Restaurantschiff Helgoländer Ufer/ Kirchstraße, Berlin, with Peter Walker, Robert Sullivan and Philip Temple.



Looper is very good. I saw it on the recommendation of a colleague -- the trailer didn't attract me at all, and I wondered early on if I was going to like it (the irony of time travel is so much of it has been done before) but then it turned great and, perhaps even more importantly, stopped at just the right moment. I mostly enjoyed it for the things I've been writing about here: a minimum of special effects and a lot of talking for its own sake. And the editing: the memory flashbacks between present and past felt like an old-fashioned movie where the cuts told the story instead of chopping between multiple angles to smooth over preposterous or hard-to-get action.

I've seen a lot of movies with Emily Blunt in them now. Is it me or does she always dress the same?

Anyway... recommended. Can't say more. Will spoil it.

Good indie movies now are becoming what TV used to be: genre, low-budget, heavy on drama and dialogue. It's the new age of talkies.

On the same (4K digital) screen beforehand, a trailer for the Prometheus Blu-ray with spoilers and an additional scenes that made me hope it was going to be good all over again. Because that's what a movie theater has become: a first-look enticement to partake in the real viewing experience -- the high-def home theater drilldown into What You Missed. The deleted scenes on the Prometheus Blu-ray take apart the theatrical cut like it's Last Year At Marienbad. That's the experience audiences pay for now: a deconstruction. In a weird way, they're watching Godard movies.

Ich bin ein Whatever

Christchurch photographer Maja Moritz took portraits of me for the press kit for the Frankfurt Book Fair. This is my favourite.



In preparation for the Frankfurt Book Fair I downloaded the German + Travel app, which supplies and speaks useful phrases. The sound files are preloaded so there is no wait to play them, and no network traffic charge. And you can play phrases at random to make up robo-conversations: it's the app Kurt Schwitters would have liked.

Since upgrading to iOS6 I've been using the Apple maps app too -- I thought it was fine. Consumer Report rates the app as not that bad. 'Apple’s problem is that is replaced best-in-class with pretty-good.'

There is a new and best Amazon Kindle out. Gizmodo says the Paperwhite is for 'anyone who wants an ereader with a great screen. Which is basically anyone who wants an ereader.'

You may have Sherlock Holmes' on your e-reader, but you will not find his address on any map. The suspiciously well-named Jimmy Stamp deconstructs and reconstructs the mystery of 221B Baker Street:
As a real manifestation of a fiction, the many 221Bs attest to the power of Arthur Conan Doyle's writing. So strongly do the Holmes stories resonate with our culture that we have manifested his home in our own reality, creating shrines and sites of pilgrimage across the world. But these "replicas" also attest to the power of architecture and interior design, which by their very nature make things real.
Gavin Polone at New York Magazine talks about why TV is better than movies. If you're interested in popular culture you should print out this article and nail it to the wall. Almost a coda to Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, it does well to explain the most significant shift in mainstream entertainment since the rise of the movie blockbuster in the 1970s.
I would bet that you have noticed that your friends are more excited for new episodes of a favorite show than they are for the release of a super-hyped studio tentpole movie...  [A] malaise has taken hold of the movie audience, which is illustrated by the oft-heard phrase, "There is nothing out worth seeing.".
But why? Polone:
There are too many networks now competing for attention and they don't have the luxury of spending the huge sums movie studios can to cut through the marketing clutter and get the consideration of the potential viewer. So, they have no choice but to make shows that stand out from everything else based on their quality and distinctiveness. That is why, in recent years, you've gotten to watch not only Breaking Bad, but also The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, and Homeland. None had pricey CGI, huge stars, or a flashy, unavoidable ad campaign; all they had was terrific writing, acting, and originality that made people want to recommend these shows to their friends.
On the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Graeme McMillan at Time discusses how the series changed pop culture forever:
These days, of course, we're used to the idea of rebooting series and franchises and getting new takes on what had come before, keeping the best bits and discarding what doesn't fit for something that everyone hopes is better. That wasn't the case back in 1987. Back then, translations between media tried their best to faithfully replicate previous iterations, and even oddities like the Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks Dragnet movie that predated The Next Generation by a matter of months tried their hardest to offer affectionate homage to their predecessors, even as they pretended to parody them. Star Trek: The Next Generation may not be a reboot in the common usage of the term today: It takes place in the same continuity as the earlier series, and doesn't seek to replace it or undo anything that came before, but for all intents and purposes it was a reboot for the concept and a chance for Roddenberry and staff to correct whatever mistakes or bad decisions had been forced on the original.
In Hollywood, pitching is everything. TV writer Bill Barol remembers being with Al Franken for the worst meeting in the history of show business:
After a few moments the telephone rang at the host's station, Franken picked up the phone. Here's what I heard him say:

"Hi, honey... No, still having meetings. What? CNN? No, why?" He listened for a long moment, and then I saw all the color drain from his face. And I heard him say: "He's DEAD?"
However a study published in the Journal of Aging and Health has found that creativity predicts a longer life:
A large body of research links neuroticism with poorer health and conscientiousness with superior health. Now openness, which measures cognitive flexibility and the willingness to entertain novel ideas, has emerged as a lifelong protective factor. The linchpin seems to be the creativity associated with the personality trait—creative thinking reduces stress and keeps the brain healthy.