It recently made the various entertainment pages that Guillermo del Toro went on an “epic Twitter rant” about how great John Carpenter is. Basically it was one film director praising another – but the tone was around how Carpenter is often written off for working in shlock/horror/sci-fi, as if the work isn’t as important because it couldn’t possibly be high art; he’s not making film he’s tossing out movies.
It’s nice to see praise go Carpenter’s way, I’ve always loved his films. But what’s even cooler, I think, is his decision, late in life, to roll out a music career.
Not only is John Carpenter one of my favourite film directors – his They Live is one of the films I’ve seen more than any other, and that’s just for starters – but he’s also one of my favourite soundtrack composers.
As amazing as that opening scene is in the movie Halloween – and I remember vividly the first time I saw it, hanging on for the ride of that longing tracking shot – it wouldn’t work without the music. Carpenter seemed to know, so crucially, that music is part of the framing (and then the finished frame). He’s a wizard not merely as filmmaker and composer but important to both, given the genres he’s worked in, most particularly horror, is his grasp of sound-design. And he’s obviously uniquely positioned to explore and exploit this being both the composer and director.
Never a complete control-freak, Carpenter has sometimes shared the composing duties, or given the job to someone else, but even if it seems he’s only concentrating on the visual component you know with his skills he’s had some input into the music, and some decent taste around the selection of who is providing it.
And even if his films were duds, even if you don’t like them, I think the scores work as music on their own, one of my favourite compilation albums is a collection of Carpenter’s soundtrack works.
Last year he released an album called Lost Themes – pieces of music from his vault, brand new recordings, imaginary scores for imaginary films…
He’s taking this music out to the stage too – with a full band. Carpenter is performing the music from his albums and some of those great soundtrack moments too. Only America and Europe for now. We’ll probably never get him all the way out here to New Zealand. But I’d sure love to see that show.
How great though that Carpenter has decided to concentrate on music – his moody, textured instrumentals have been sampled and used across hip-hop and dance music and been influential for so many bedsit-producers and electronica artists.