manur— ' Love, craft and madness
Genre veteran John Carpenter tells Nigel Floyd about his latest, In The Mouth Of Madness.
‘What you have in In The Mouth of Madness.’ explains director John Carpenter, ‘is an old-fashioned. book- end narrative — the man in the asylum tells his story. but of course he thinks he's not insane. You get to take this character. who begins as a sophisticated and cynical man of the world. as only Sam Neill can play him. and you turn him into a gibbering idiot. It‘s a great deal of fun.’
After twenty years of horror and sci-fr ﬁlmmaking (from Dark Star. Hallnwe 'en and They Live through to this Lovecraftian nightmare). Carpenter has retained three things: his love of genre movies. his sense of humour and his Kentucky accent. In his latest film. Carpenter fully realises the Lovecraftian weirdness only hinted at in the eerie at mospherics of The Fog and monstrous excesses of The Thing. ‘This is the first time that I‘ve gone to the Lovecraft mythos.’ he explains. ‘the idea of this whole order of beings. older
than mankind. that live on the other
side. that were expelled once but are waiting to take us over once again. The
, screenplay called for the writer almost
to be writing H.P. Lovecraft. so this was my chance to do it for the first time.‘
The writer in question is Sutter Cane.
a Stephen King-like author whose 1 books. it is alleged. exercise a
dangerous inﬂuence over his more susceptible readers. transforming them from ordinary citizens into homicidal harbingers of global chaos. Shortly before the delivery date of his latest novel. Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) disappears. so his publishers hire world-weary insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) to track him down. But having entered Cane's small
‘ ‘ In The Mouth Of Madness: ‘lovecraftian weirdness’
r On.“ I
6 ~ “
i home town of Hobb's End (a nod to
Nigel Kneale's Quurennass And The Pit). the cynical Trent experiences a progressive blurring of the line between,
‘You get to take this character, who begins as a sophisticated and cynical man of the world, as only Sam Neill can play him, and you turn him into a gibbering idiot.’
reality and ﬁction. ‘Basically.’ adds Carpenter. ‘what you have is a cross- genre movie with a cynical Big Sleep- style investigator who goes looking for this missing writer and eventually ﬁnds himself in the mouth of madness. The question is, is he insane or is the world
really coming to an end?
While other directors have used horror movies to jump-start their careers. then moved progressiver towards the mainstream, Carpenter has remained loyal to the genre material that established his reputation. His long- chen’shed desire to make a Western was only partially realised when his El Diablo script made it to the small screen last year. directed by somebody else. His next project, a re-make of Village of the Damned (based on John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cue/mos. and recently released in the States). marks a return to more familiar territory. After two decades. Carpenter's commitment to horror and sci-f1 is as strong as ever.
‘There‘s an old saying back in Kentucky — “You dance with the one who brung yer." If you go to the ball and you’re escorting a beautiful woman. when it gets to the last dance at the end of the evening. you have to dance with her. And I was brought to thd party by horror ﬁlms, that's what got me my career, and that’s what I get offered. frankly. because that‘s what people see me as. I love horror movies, always have. and I can make them. I would love to make other kinds of films. and I‘ve had an opportunity a couple of times to do softer material. Srarman is one example — I got to do a love story at least one time. But. look, she brought me here. so I’m gonna dance with her.‘
In The Mouth OfMadness opens on Friday 16 June.
creating a president
The normally unruffled tones of director James Ivory betray just a hint of pique. A foreign ioumalist has enquired whether the release of
Jefferson In Paris and a forthcoming biography of Picasso means an
abandonment of the handsomely i
mounted English heritage films for which Merchant-Ivory have become justly celebrated.
‘Let me go on record,’ he states firmly. ‘I'm not English. I never was English. I never lived In England. I made four and a half English films. I’ve made something like eight American films and I’m now launching on a third French film. Sure I’ll make other English films, but I’m American and I’ve always felt that, no matter where I went, my films were still part of American cinema.’
An original screenplay, rather than a literary adaptation, Jefferson In Paris has all the hallmarks of the Merchant- Ivory style, from impeccable period detail and sumptuous frocks to witty dialogue and a classy cast that ranges from flick llolte to Greta Scacchi and Thandie flewton to Simon Callow. The prolect has been coming to the boil for around a decade and concentrates on the period between 1784 and 1789 when the future President, played by llolte, was the American ambassador to France.
’l’ve always wanted to explore that
period of history and I never knew if the opportunity would ever arise,’ Ivory explains. ‘The biggest challenge was to get the balance right between the great sweep of history, the scenes for the French Revolution, and the more human, intimate moments.’
It is those more human moments that mired the film in controversy on its American release. The man who drafted the Declaration 0f Independence, asserting that all men were created equal, Jefferson arrived in Paris as a grieving widower who had vowed never to love again. An innocent liaison with flirtatious continental Scacchi and a carnal interest in teenage slave girl llewton
'prove to be more than his flesh can
bear. At the same time, the events surrounding the French Revolution force him to confront the
contradictions of a man who defended and defined liberty whilst continuing to own plantation slaves.
A box office disaster in America, Jefferson In Paris came under heavy fire for the wild liberties it is accused of having taken with the historical facts. The claims that Jefferson slept with his slaves and even sired children by them have not been well received in a land that likes its heroes presented as flawless.
Pressed to defend himself against the charge that the film takes fanciful flights from the known facts, Ivory
‘ explains that Jefferson In Paris is the
result of many years’ research. his own favourite historical figure is lincoln, but extensive reading on the subject of Thomas Jefferson, he feels, brought him a deeper understanding of the man and his times.
‘I remembered having visited his house at Monticello, where the architecture was very much in advance of its time. As I began to know him better, you could see a character that was very puritan, very cold on the outside, but passionate underneath. You can discern that in his letters, which are very direct, very dispassionate in some ways, but also full of humour and irony. In zoo years, there’s been a lot of circumstantial evidence about the relationship between Jefferson and the slave Sally flaming, and so it was a very interesting possibility for us as a means of examining both the institution of slavery and Jefferson’s character. We had very few qualms.’
Almost bemused that one of his films should have provoked such debate in the editorial columns of the heavyweight American press, Ivory seems resigned to having to address the matter once more.
‘We’re not historians,’ he protests. ‘We weren’t creating a film to be shown In schools and all that. Anyone who makes a historical film has lots of facts, or what appear to be facts. You go through those facts and the characters, and you Interpret them according to your own likes, and hopefully you find a way of presenting your own view of them. That’s what we did.’
Given the mixture of stifled yawns and outraged scepticism that has greeted this foray into American history, a retreat to the safe haven of EM. Forster or Henry James might be on the cards sooner than expected. (Allan Hunter)
Jefferson In Paris opens on Friday 23 June, and is reviewed on page 23.
The List 16-29 Jun 1995 21