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LAMBs in the Director's Chair is an ongoing event in which LAMB bloggers discuss the work and career of a given director. The current subject is John Carpenter. The complete list of posts for this event will go up October 31 at the LAMB site.
Wrestling! It's goofy, completely over-the-top, and staged to a ridiculous degree - but gosh darn it, in the end, it's all in the name of good clean fun, ain't it? Well, most of the time, anyway. As a kid, I was completely hooked on it thanks to a friend in grade school whose wrestling idols included dudes like Superfly Jimmy Snuka and Superstar Billy Graham.
This, of course, was back in the heyday of the World Wrestling Federation. Everybody remembers Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, and Macho Man Randy Savage (still can't believe he's dead, man...). If you were a fan in those days, you may also remember Nikolai Volkoff, the Iron Sheik, the Hart Foundation, the British Bulldogs, the Killer Bees, George "The Animal" Steele, the Junkyard Dog, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Ted "The Million Dollar Man" Dibiase, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, and future Minnesota governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura, among many others. My favorite was a guy named Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, who won the Intercontinental Championship (I think he beat Macho Man to win it, if I remember correctly).
I grew out of wrestling as I got older, but every so often I take a peek at the WWF's successor, the WWE, to see what's going on. I've seen a few Wrestlemanias in the past few years, for instance, and from the looks of things, wrestling has upped the spectacle element by a factor of about 500, although I'm sure that comes with an even higher cost in terms of physical pain. The career of Mick "Mankind" Foley is an excellent example of the toll pro wrestling takes on a human body - and of course, the Darren Aronofsky film The Wrestler spared no expense in showing all the bumps and bruises up close.
Hollywood seemed like a natural match for wrestling. For every Andre the Giant role in The Princess Bride, however, there were at least half a dozen crappy movies destined for the dollar-bin.
Which brings us to Rowdy Roddy Piper. He was one of those guys you loved to hate, though I tend to remember him less for his wrestling and more for his mouth. It seemed like he was always getting on the microphone, talking smack about somebody. Perhaps that was simply his "role." Who would've imagined, then, that his Hollywood breakthrough would be as a good guy in a wryly subversive sci-fi action movie from one of the genre's most successful filmmakers?
John Carpenter's They Live speaks to the themes of class warfare and media manipulation in its tale of a secret alien infiltration of humanity, themes that sadly still ring true today, as the Occupy Wall Street protesters will no doubt agree. Piper acquits himself quite well. When he's not kicking ass and chewing bubble gum, he's got a modicum of sensitivity that peeks through here and there. It doesn't make him Harrison Ford, but it makes him watchable in a movie like this. If the script didn't feel the need to succumb to action-movie one-liners so often, the film would be even better.
Carpenter, of course, is best known as the director of Halloween, regarded by many as the ur-slasher flick and the basis for everything from Jason to Freddy to Ghostface to Jigsaw. He often likes to combine genres - They Live could just as easily be considered a horror movie - and he can go from serious to silly within the same movie. For all its pulp hero campiness, there are scenes in They Live that are also grim and somber. The 70s and 80s are perhaps Carpenter's best years creatively. Surprisingly, he hasn't ventured into television much in recent years, other than his contributions to the Masters of Horror series.
In addition to They Live, I've seen Halloween, Escape From New York, Escape From LA (which I got dragged to; I was out-voted), The Thing and Starman. My favorite movie of his would have to be The Thing.
Previously in LAMBs in the Director's Chair:
Francis Ford Coppola