Thursday, December 11, 2008

John Carpenter "Halloween" Interview

Hey guys,

I love the hell out of the video interviews above of John Carpenter about Halloween, which is filled with insight. He talks about suspense. He talks about his affection (and mine as well) for less backstory of the characters. He also walks you through the (now famous) virtuoso opening shot. This brings to mind a piece in Emerson’s
Opening Shots Project written by Robert C. Cumbow (who can write superior analysis of films – I’m quite jealous) about the Halloween opening. He writes:

The long take that begins Halloween works for several reasons: First, the unmounted camera, steady though it is, wavers just enough to keep us unsettled, off balance, vulnerable to shock even if slightly prepared for it. Second, the shot establishes the motif of the subjective camera as the killer's point of view. Third, and most important, the shot draws us into the action by a point of view that is unedited. Had the opening sequence been presented conventionally, as a mounted sequence of shots, the viewer's mind would become an editor's mind, classifying, comparing, and relating the shots to assemble the story -- in other words, a mind participating in the creation of the work and therefore more conscious of it as a work. The single take suppresses the artistic detachment that comes from mental montage, creating instead a direct involvement that-like real life -- we are unable to edit. The impact, in other words, is visceral, not intellectual.

The strongest precedent for Carpenter's long-take opening to Halloween is found not in the annals of horror film but in the spectacular single-shot opening credits sequence of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil -- a crane shot that begins on an extreme close-up, then pulls back to a cityscape, tracks the movements of two different sets of characters, and culminates in one character's reaction to an offscreen explosion. Both of the opening two shots of Halloween are grounded in the same technique: The first shot concentrates on setting a scene, building suspense, and culminating in shock. The second shot, because it is a crane shot, is a more direct descendent of the Welles shot, but it is shorter, simpler than the Welles shot, beginning close and ending high and wide, without the comings and goings and focal changes of Welles's Touch of Evil opening. Moreover, it establishes the ground rules under which, for the remainder of the film, Carpenter will switch from subjective to objective point of view, from killer's eye to director's eye.

Also, coincidentally, Berardinelli
had written about Halloween not too long ago. He said:

Halloween is very nearly a perfect horror film. When I use the term "perfect," I'm not referring to the technical details (Halloween, like all movies made on the cheap, has its share of goofs and gaffes) but to the overall experience. If you want chills and thrills, if you want to be scared shitless, it's hard to get better than this. Like the best thrillers, this one keeps viewers white knuckled, with the coil of anxiety and tension tightening with every passing scene. Like the best monster movies, it features an implacable, inhuman creature that is best described by Dr. Loomis: "pure evil."

Halloween has not aged in the way so many of its contemporaries have, and that's because Carpenter's method of storytelling is timeless. He touches primal fears, and they are the same in 2008 as they were in 1978. Society may change but there's always a "boogeyman." Strangely, for a movie that is credited with giving birth to the slasher genre, Halloween is nearly bloodless. Crimson liquid does not fountain. It does not spurt. It does not spray. The murders are presented as rungs on the ladder of plot, not mini-orgies of carnage. What's the goriest scene in Halloween? Probably the death of Lynda's boyfriend, whose late-night refrigerator run is interrupted. His fate, however, is shrouded in darkness and shadow. While it's clear what happens to him - and it's not pretty - there are no close-ups. It's a singularly effective moment, but not a graphic one. Carpenter achieves with restraint what other directors could not do with a full battery of gory special effects.

There’s another vid
here of Siskel & Ebert defending and praising Halloween. I loved what Ebert said, “Artistry can redeem any subject matter. That’s why I’ve always been opposed to censorship. I don’t believe any subject matter should be off-base. The question is, ‘What does the artist do with it? How does he look at it? How does he put it through his art in order to make a statement about it?’”

The script is available