Thursday, December 30, 2010

Don't Cross the Streams

An excerpt from Forever Voyaging: A Literary Sabbatical with Herman Melville, my nonfiction book-in-progress.

I challenged myself about a decade ago to read one book by Charles Dickens every year for the rest of my life. This last year (2010) is the one time since that I have not lived up to this challenge. I thought for a while about suspending the Melville project in order to squeeze in another installment of what I nerdily describe as “Dickensfest”, i.e., my annual reading of his work. But I didn’t want to violate the integrity of the experiment. And there was simply no way I was going to read both Dickens and Melville simultaneously. I don’t know how many people today still read both of these writers’ books, but I’m sure they’re out there; these folks know that you can read one or the other, but not both at once.

The suggestion brings to my mind that memorable scene from Ghostbusters where Harold Ramis warns Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd not to “cross the streams” of their zap guns, telling them in a most understated manner that the consequences would be “bad.” If you’re wondering how we were able to travel from Melville to Dickens to Ghostbusters in so short a space, my advice is not to attempt to understand, but to merely hang on for your own “nautical sleigh-ride.” This book will take other unexpected and possibly jarring turns, but consider the bright side. There are many, many books out there about Herman Melville, but only this one offers the kind of head-turning digression you have just experienced.

I bring Charles Dickens into the mix because in some respects I felt as though I had almost read a Dickens book when I finished Redburn, for to me it is easily the most Dickensian of Melville’s works. It is an interesting point of consideration: the affinity or lack thereof between Herman Melville and Charles Dickens, in terms of both their writings and the men themselves. They were contemporaries. Dickens, obviously, had a longer and far more celebrated career as a novelist, but they both were writing in the same literary era (Dickens got a decade’s jump on Melville), and it’s certainly possible to argue that they were at the height of their literary powers at the same time, in the early 1850s.

The two writers never met. In fact, from Melville’s side of things, there’s not a lot of evidence to suggest that he gave Charles Dickens a whole lot of thought either way. Certainly he must have been well aware of his novels as they followed one on top of the other. Dickens was something like the Beatles of his day, all the way up to the triumphant arrival on American shores during his first visit to the United States in 1842. His name for his moment in time was much like J.K. Rowling’s for our own; you may not have read his novels, but you certainly knew who the man was. Melville, for his part, was closer to his predecessor Edgar Allen Poe, in that he accomplished a great deal of brilliant work that no one much appreciated, of course, until well after he was dead.

Did Dickens’ work have any influence over Melville? If at all, it seems to have been only to a limited extent. I have read at least one biographical anecdote indicating that Melville and his wife, Elizabeth (“Lizzie”), occasionally would read Dickens’ books aloud to one another. There’s one story, documented by biographer Laurie Robertson-Lorant and others, that recounts a coincidental occasion in which Melville, visiting London in 1849 in order to deliver the manuscript of White-Jacket to his English publisher, attended a public hanging that Dickens personally witnessed and later reported on. Dickens also visited the Manhattan’s infamous House of Detention prison complex, commonly known as “The Tombs,” in 1842 and subsequently wrote about it in a travel narrative called American Notes – the same prison that factors into the conclusion of Melville’s novel Pierre as well as his classic short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” Although each of these make interesting side-notes, the fact remains that Dickens’ and Melville’s circles rarely intersected, and given the flash-in-the-pan reputation that Melville was saddled with for most of his lifetime, this seems reasonable.

Dickens, obviously, was famous for going in to places and recounting the circumstances and conditions he experienced while there. He did this in his novels and in his exhaustive catalog of journalistic pieces, and he did the same in American Notes. He was famously and justifiably horrified by the sights he had come across in New York City’s Five Points region during his visit; the resulting account of this place and others in his book were regarded as something of a betrayal to many well-intended Americans who had welcomed the great novelist like he was some kind of royal figure or head of state. Melville, to a lesser extent, delivers the same sort of reportage in the Liverpool section of Redburn, although he experienced none of the backlash, since he lacked anything resembling Dickens’ readership.

Melville stages this portion of his novel interestingly, in that the titular character has come to Liverpool because it is the place where the business that was the Highlander’s primary purpose in the first place is to be transacted. But Redburn has also come to Liverpool for a personal reason: his own father, during his youth, had “several times crossed the Atlantic on business affairs,” and had visited Liverpool well ahead of his son. Redburn even brings along with him an old guidebook, published in 1803, called “The Picture of Liverpool” which his father had used on his own journey years before and had jotted down notes of his experiences in the margins. This book is a treasure to the young traveler, who is determined to disembark as soon as he is allowed in order to literally follow in his father’s footsteps on his own exploration of that coastal city, using the same guidebook to plan his route. The reader feels Redburn’s inner conflict here rather acutely. He left home to outrun his father’s misfortunes and his shadow in the first place. Yet he also longs to share in the man’s experiences and even to possibly redeem him.

When as a young man you visit a place where your father has gone before you – no matter how significant or insignificant his experiences there – you are haunted by a kind of invisible apparition of that man. It doesn’t matter if your father is alive or deceased at the time of your journey: it is the specter of his younger self that follows you, nipping at your heels, all but whispering the same questions into your ears that you are already asking yourself. It is a bit of a psychological minefield that countless young men, for mysterious reasons, wander into quite willingly.

I’ve had this experience, too, in more places than one, but nowhere more so than when I attended Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the late 1980s and early 90s. My father had gone to undergraduate and graduate school at Xavier four decades before. In my first year I lived in a dormitory on the same side of the same street where my father once lived – except when he resided there, there was no dormitory. Instead there were literally military barracks where he was jammed in with hundreds of other young men. Indeed, I spent my whole time in college walking around a campus where he had lived and studied and struggled.

This sort of thing is both a blessing and a curse. Most young men experience a certain unique pride simply to walk where their fathers once walked. You feel inspired to make your own name while doing right by his. Even Jesus Christ longed to do the same. You want to cross through the same battleground or spiritual wasteland or what have you that your old man did. But at the same time you feel an obligation to live up to his example – and of course, when he set that example, he inevitably had it much tougher than you. Every time I had a feeling that I couldn’t overcome a challenge in college, there was my father’s youthful ghost, saying: Remember, boy, you live in a dormitory; I lived in army barracks. You had a refrigerator humming pleasantly in your room; I set perishable food out on a windowsill in the dead of winter to keep it safe to eat. You had a scholarship and a stipend; I waited tables and swept floors for tuition money. All this was no less unpleasant for being accurate.

Thus does Redburn set out to see what his old man had seen. And he gets more than an eyeful for his efforts. Melville brings the sights and sounds of Liverpool vividly to life, including the hustle and bustle of the “granite-rimmed” stone docks, where the merchant ships are executing their transactions; a “floating chapel,” and “old sloop-of-war, which had been converted into a mariner’s church” wherein the clergy had the unenviable task of inducing “the seamen visiting Liverpool to turn their thoughts towards serious things”; and finally, what may be described as the poorer side of town. The young man wanders into depraved and foul conditions unlike anything he has been exposed to before.

It is at this moment in the novel, when Redburn finds himself in a narrow alley called “Launcelott's-Hey,” that Melville stages his most Dickensian scene, and it is one of the most powerfully written passages on urban conditions during that century that I have encountered from any writer. Ambling along by himself, Redburn hears a “feeble wail, which seemed to come out of the earth,” whereupon he investigates as follows:

At last I advanced to an opening which communicated downward with deep tiers of cellars beneath a tumbling old warehouse; and there some fifteen feet below the walk, crouching in nameless squalor, was the figure of what had been a woman. Her blue arms folded to her livid bosom two shrunken things like children, that leaned toward her, one on each side. At first, I knew not whether they were alive or dead. They made no sign; they did not move or stir; but from the vault came that soul-sickening wail.

Redburn is so horror-stricken upon making this discovery that he decides to act. But when he returns to the street to seek assistance, he is repeatedly rebuked. In one case, when he asks a woman where this unfortunate family, notably lacking a father figure, might be taken, she coldly replies, “To the churchyard.” Moments later, a second woman, described as a “hag,” renders an even harsher judgment: “She deserves it.” In this manner the young man is introduced to the way societies often try, convict, and condemn the poor and the disadvantaged in one fell swoop.

The sight of such misery and its implied social injustice is profoundly convicting to Redburn, who feels charged enough to ask, “What right had anybody in the wide world to smile and be glad, when sights like this were to be seen?” After failing numerous times to secure help or to come up with a viable plan, Redburn realizes he must return to his ship. Before he does, however, he makes one last visit to the alley, where he finds that “in place of the woman and children, a heap of quick-lime was glistening.”

This scene for me brought to mind the more famous encounter of a Dickens protagonist with victims of poverty and neglect: namely that of one Ebenezer Scrooge, during his visitation by the Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens’ classic story “A Christmas Carol.” Many readers will recall the moment when, just before that towering “spirit” leaves Scrooge to pursue his fitful Christmas Eve sleep again, he opens the bottom of his long robe to reveal two small children clinging to his legs, who appear “wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable.” When Scrooge smugly inquires of the spirit whose children they are, the ghost responds with the same answer that Redburn has inferred from his own permanently scarring experience: “They are Man’s.”

(c) 2010 by Jude Joseph Lovell

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Returning to Port

Year-End Review and Future Plans Concerning the Melville, PA Project

Now, after nearly twelve months straight at “sea,” metaphorically speaking anyway, I am finally able to see land. The reading portion of the Melville, Pennsylvania project is finally coming to a close as I finish Mardi for the second time this year. It has been a long haul, and in some ways I am glad to see it end, but also, as I hope to get across in this post, pleased about the overall experience and optimistic that it may yet yield greater results than just my personal satisfaction.

Ever since I logged this post explaining what I was trying to do, I have had questions in my mind about whether it was really worth the time and effort. I’m used to reading 40-50 books a year, and just thinking of all the writers I wasn’t going to read in 2010 - including my annual Dickensfest – was bad enough. At this stage of the project, I am ultra-chuffed to dive in to the infinite seas of all the literature I’ve been missing. I’ve felt a bit like a soldier on a long deployment, missing all the comforts of home.

My standard rule up until this year was never to read even two books by the same writer in a row, with the extremely rare exception here and there. But reading the same writer for an entire year was absolutely insane by my customary way of thinking. Indeed, I can’t think of anyone I know who has ever done it, unless you count those who read the Bible in a year’s time. (For the record, I never have.) And I certainly don’t know anyone who would consider it a good idea, or how I might convince anyone else that it is. All I know is that it seemed like an interesting challenge to me, and the more I considered it the more I felt that way.

Before moving ahead, let’s clarify a few things. I did not read everything Melville ever wrote. I focused primarily on his fiction, but what most people don’t realize is that Herman Melville produced his novels and stories primarily over a period of only 11 years, from 1846-1857 (Billy Budd, Sailor, his final prose work, excepted, as he was still tinkering with this when he died in 1891); whereas he spent more than 30 years, from 1858 until his death, writing poetry almost exclusively. He also wrote a few short stories I never was able to find.

I’m not quite as interested in poetry in general as I am in fiction, and even if I was trying to read all of Melville’s poetry, much of it is hard to find, such as his last four collections: Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866), John Marr and Other Sailors (188); Timoleon (1891); and Weeds and Wildings, and a Rose or Two (posthumous, 1924). There’s also Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land (1876), a book-length epic in verse about a love affair between a Jewish woman and an American theological student. Each of these poetic works I was only able to read samples from, collected into one volume published by the Modern Library called Tales, Poems, and Other Writings.

I also did read the occasional title from another author this year, including Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice (look for a future installment of our Literary Discussions feature here soon), but whenever I did so, which was rarely, I also read whatever Melville book I was working on simultaneously. So at no time this year was I ever not knee-deep in a book by Herman Melville. Not that this is crucial, but one of my primary goals was to read his work steadily for one entire 12-month cycle, which plays into my concept for the book I have started to write (more on that shortly).

I tried to document the project by maintaining a journal, therein to record my impressions of whatever books I was reading at the time, and to jot down thoughts about what was going on with me or my family. I thought this might help me recall the experience of reading the books one by one, especially as I understood that the longer I worked on writing a book myself, the further I would distance myself from that experience. Finally, as readers of this blog would know, if there are any, I also wrote brief, informal “essays” on each of the books as I completed them and posted them to The Secret Thread.

So all along I have had plans to do more than just read Melville for a year. Which speaks to the heart of the matter: what is this project really all about, in the end? It’s about two things.

One: it gave me first-hand familiarity with all of the novels and most of the stories of one of my own country’s greatest literary masters, an honor that I thought Melville’s work richly deserved based on the life-changing impact Moby-Dick had on me back in 2000.

Two: it provided me with an idea for writing a book about Melville that I hoped would be unique and interesting even in spite of the deluge of books already in existence on the subject.

To parry off that last point, I hereby announce that the Melville, Pennsylvania project is now officially extended to two years, not one, and that January 1, 2011 marks the technical starting point for Phase II, in which I pledge to write about Melville after spending one year reading his work and previously published biographical material about him. But in point of fact, the second phase is already underway. In late November I began writing the introduction to the book, which has a tentative title of Forever Voyaging: A Literary Sabbatical with Herman Melville.

A word about my tentative title: it does not come from Melville’s pen. Rather I came across a couplet of lines written by the poet William Wordsworth in Laurie Robertson-Lorant’s excellent biography, Melville. She informs us that Melville had read and underscored in a book the following lines describing a statue of Sir Isaac Newton in a lengthy poem called “The Prelude, or Growth of a Poet’s Mind”:

The marble index of a mind forever
Voyaging through strange seas of thought alone

In Robertson-Lorant’s telling it seems clear that Melville connected to these lines, and to anyone who knows even a little about him it is a rather apt characterization of Melville himself, or at least of his intellect and/or his inner life. Just read Mardi alone and you’ll see.

I started out calling my manuscript A Mind Forever Voyaging, but have recently decided to clip it to simply Forever Voyaging; that way, it might refer to more than just one individual. The title could be describing the subject of the book, but it could, if it’s not too disingenuous to say, be describing its author as well. For that matter, it could even describe anyone else who may be inspired by the book, in theory anyway, to explore Melville’s work, because they will be taking on their own voyage through those same “strange” seas.

Now that I have started writing the book, I feel some relief, and the headrush of creation to some extent, but also some trepidation about where it will go and how substantial the final product will be. I do have a good jump on the writing, however, considering I planned to work on it in 2011. I am on the third section of the book, called “February” since I am dividing the book in twelve sections to chronicle the entire year. Thus I am currently writing about Redburn and will do some reflection on White-Jacket as well, although I didn’t finish the latter until March.

The concept is to reflect on my experience of reading the book; offer a bit of “shithouse criticism,” to play off a phrase I used to hear a lot in the Army, which basically means low-octane literary analysis; and reflect on the progress of my own life as well, specifically with regard to literary matters. It’s kind of a risky scheme. I am writing about my own fiction and nonfiction, which has a basically nonexistent readership. It’s not as though I can reflect on my own books; there are none in print. But I see myself, even at 40 years old, as a writer still in gestation, and I want the book to be reflective of the great effort and struggles that it is requiring of me to get anywhere in the world of literature.

It’s very frustrating to be at something for 20 years and have almost nothing to show for it, especially if you feel you have grown and advanced considerably over those two decades. But at the same time, Melville has unquestionably inspired me to keep at it, and I take consolation from the fact that he wrote on despite circumstances that were far beyond what I have had to endure: terrible drubbing from literary critics; stressful financial difficulties; domestic strain; some periods of alcoholism; and even the premature death of both of his two sons.

Melville wrote both because he wanted to and he needed to, and he stayed true to his own literary principles. He didn’t compromise. He’s the sort of writer I want to be, disregarding whether it’s smart to be one from any commercial, popular, or critical standpoint. And the work he left behind has been supremely undervalued on the whole. It’s very much worth reading and contemplating, and I would like to inspire as many readers as I can to reconsider all of his fiction, including critical and commercial disasters like Pierre or even Moby-Dick.

That’s where the project stands. I am going to work hard on this book throughout 2011. I hope I can make it something special and unique. I don’t know if anyone will get to see it even if I can accomplish that, but I do know that it’s worth doing. It’s a good idea, and I know have some momentum going on it, so we’ll see where it all leads.

Melville once famously and presciently put down on paper in a letter to his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Though I wrote the gospels in this century, I should die in the gutter.” Melville doesn’t belong in the gutter, and I will do what I have the power to do to keep him out of it. Herman Melville’s books ought to be on display at eye-level, to at least compete with all the other distractions and twaddle filling our eyes and ears today at every turn.

Friday, December 03, 2010

We interrupt this blog for a little genre movie madness: A casual John Carpenter retrospective

Technically it’s not really an “interruption” per se, since as you can see from the date on the last posting, it has been a good long while. What can we say, the Fall is always a hectic time and now the mad rush of the holiday season is upon us (whether we like it or not). Mutt and I are hoping to get our third literary chat session up here before the end of the year, actually... but before that, I thought I would share a few thoughts about some movies I’ve been watching. Specifically, the films of a legendary genre filmmaker best known for his work in the 70’s and 80’s – John Carpenter.

Recently I decided I would conduct my own little marathon of John Carpenter movies, because it dawned on me one day that so many of the films he is known and revered for in genre movie circles – Assault on Precinct 13, Escape from New York, Starman, Big Trouble in Little China – I had never seen. These are titles that are referenced constantly in movie discussions and by the “fanboys” (a term that almost seems to work regardless of the actual gender of the movie geek) and it kind of surprised me that so many of them had gotten past me.

Carpenter has an almost-mythic, god-like reputation in genre circles, but my impressions of his work from what I remembered was a pretty mixed bag. Of course there are the two horror films he is best known for – Halloween and The Thing – and I among those who consider both of these to be bonafide classics of their time. But I also had seen back in the 80’s movies like They Live and Prince of Darkness, which some people love but I think are pretty silly, badly written and horrendously acted offerings. It had been a long time since I had seen either of those, and I was interested to see how they held up. So there was a lot I wanted to either see for the first time, or revisit after many years. It seemed like a Carpenter festival would be fun way to spend some of my movie-watching time.

Here’s the lineup of films I decided on for my marathon. I’ll put an asterisk next to the movies I was seeing only now for the first time. I tried to watch them in chronological order (of when they were made) to get a sense of the direction and/or development of his filmmaking over time.

Assault on Precinct 13*
The Fog*
Escape From New York*
The Thing
Big Trouble in Little China*
Prince of Darkness
In the Mouth of Madness*

There are titles of his I decided to skip, because of over-familiarity (Halloween), lack of interest (Vampires; his made-for-TV biopic Elvis) or just plain gad-awful reputation (Ghosts of Mars). I should also note that as of this writing, I have not quite finished this project… I still need to catch up with the final film, In the Mouth of Madness, which I am actually looking forward to because it sounds mildly interesting and I know some people consider it to be an underappreciated horror tale. We’ll see if I concur with that assessment… I know some people say the same about Prince of Darkness, which you will soon see is a view I definitely don’t share!

Of course with all that buildup now behind us, there’s no way I will have the time or the space here (no one wants a post that scrolls on for half a mile) to really get into all that I think of each of these movies. And I’d be shocked if anyone really wanted to sit here and read a film-by-film analysis of each. Instead, I’ll just touch on some highlights, and try to arrange my impressions into categories that might make for a little more interesting reading.

Best overall John Carpenter film: For my money, it’s The Thing, even though Halloween is the film that made his reputation and pretty much started off its own very successful (and ridiculously lucrative) genre – the slasher flick. Halloween is a very effective, well-made movie all the more impressive for its tiny budget and relatively unknown cast. But with The Thing, Carpenter had more money and resources to work with, and he delivered a truly frightening, claustrophobic science fiction thriller whose unforgettable setting (a convincingly bone-chilling Antarctica) and uncompromisingly grim ending leave a powerful impression on the viewer to this day, no matter how many times you’ve seen it. And the legendary special effects work, though slightly over-the-top in my opinion, has lost none of its power to both revolt and entertain.

Worst overall John Carpenter film: Of the ones in this list, it’s no contest – Prince of Darkness. Now I remember my friends and I renting this with glee from the local video store as teenagers, and we must have watched it more than once because I still recalled certain scenes from it as if I’d seen them several times over. So I thought going back to watch this would be pretty fun at least from a nostalgia point of view. Well, I knew it wasn’t Citizen Kane or anything, but I was surprised at how utterly lame and absurd this movie was. It’s not scary, it’s not original – hell it’s not even coherent. And it features some of the worst dialogue and most egregious overacting (in one case from a respected actor too – Donald Pleasance!) I’ve seen in a long, long time. I don’t know if Carpenter lost his abilities or got too jaded and just stopped caring in the late 80’s, but whatever the case he really fell hard after at least a decade of energetic and inventive filmmaking.

Biggest surprise: I’m going to go with Starman, because my expectations for this one were pretty low. All I knew about it was that it was a love story involving an alien (!), starred Jeff Bridges and was supposed to be Carpenter’s attempt at something at least resembling “family fare.” Well, it’s not perfect by any stretch and it wallows in some pretty ridiculous sentimentality at the end, but this movie has its interesting and unexpected aspects. As a kid in the early 80’s I remember being captivated by hype surrounding the Voyager spacecraft launchings, and so I was intrigued to discover that Carpenter chose to make them an important element of the plot (never knew that). I also like how in the first half of this movie you’re never really sure of the alien/man’s intentions, whether they’re hostile or not – makes for some nice tension. And there are a few surprisingly unsettling moments in this thing early on that make an impression.

Hardest to classify (and therefore, kind of admirable): If you’ve seen it, you know the answer: Big Trouble in Little China, without a doubt. How the idea for this movie was ever pitched, accepted and then funded by a big studio is totally beyond me (though it’s worth noting that it was such a commercial failure that it remains, to this day, the last major studio film Carpenter ever made). “Hey, let’s have Kurt Russell star as a buffed-up truck driver, who thinks he’s Indiana Jones but is really an idiot, who gets involved in an attempt to rescue a Chinese man’s green-eyed fiancee from rival gangs of the Chinatown underworld in San Francisco. The reason she needs rescuing is that a 2000-year-old man named Lo Pan wants to marry her, and then sacrifice her, so that he can get an immortal curse lifted from his head, and by the way watch out for those three supernatural spirit-warriors, Thunder, Lightning and Rain, who appear randomly to kick everyone’s ass without scruple.” Part action movie, part spoof of kung-fu cinema, part romance and part comedy… no wonder this one has gained a considerable cult following. It’s an utter train wreck - but the looney-tunes plot, cheesy effects and especially Kurt Russell’s goofily likable performance make it a lot of fun.

John Carpenter MVP: Kurt Russell, easily. Without his central performances in China, The Thing, and Escape (probably the LA version too, though I haven’t seen it) these would all be much lesser movies. I’ve heard he gives a solid performance in the titular role in Elvis, too. Maybe he could have salvaged something from the wreckage that is Prince of Darkness

Recurring themes and Carpenter hallmarks: It’s worth pointing out that Carpenter had a habit of shooting everything in anamorphic widescreen, regardless of what type of movie or story it was. I say this because just about every Carpenter film is really nice to look at, and if you’re into truly ‘cinematic’ filmmaking this will make a difference in your experience. For example, as bad as Prince of Darkness is, it’s still pretty cool to look at with its wide-angle shots looking up at a church steeple superimposed over an ominous moon, or an altar lit up only by flickering candles and shadows. Just about every one of these movies have scenes that look amazing – Carpenter is great when it comes to creating an atmosphere. (The scenes of the creeping, titular Fog slowly invading over a seaside town are a good example of what I mean.)

Also, Carpenter’s got a thing for people being holed up inside an area, usually a building, with enemies storming the gates. He’s said many times that Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Hawks’ Rio Bravo were both key influences for him, and that certainly comes out in films like Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Escape from New York, The Thing and even Prince of Darkness. It’s actually kind of surprising that Carpenter, as far as I know, never made an all-out Western considering how important they were to him as a young film fan.

Other notable Carpenter movies I haven’t covered: They Live, Dark Star (his feature debut), Christine, Vampires, Ghosts of Mars, and actually there is a new one out this year, The Ward – though as with just about all of his post-80’s movies, sadly, it’s getting terrible reviews and looks unoriginal and half-baked.

So that’s one man’s brief, bird’s-eye view of the films of John Carpenter… if you’re a fan of genre movies and movies that don’t quite fit into cookie-cutter bins and patterns, you’re probably already a fan of Carpenter. Overall I would have to conclude that Carpenter is an interesting, fun, but probably overrated and overpraised filmmaker. However, his best films like Halloween and The Thing certainly shouldn’t be missed by any genre film buff. The Thing sets the gold standard, so far anyway, for horror movies set in cold places. There’s one Carpenter film that I think is going to be watched and enjoyed for a long time to come… maybe even as long as we’re watching movies.