John Carpenter loves to work. In the 1980s, he made a new movie almost every single year, including soon-to-be-classics like “The Thing,” “Escape From New York” and “They Live.” Even in semi-retirement, he has re-emerged as a musician, releasing a new album with his bandmates (his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies), “Lost Themes II,” this year.
The 68-year-old artist appeared on Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast to, in traditional Maron fashion, discuss his entire career. They talked Carpenter’s friendship with longtime collaborator Kurt Russell, his confusion about the generational of movie-watching and most incisively his fear that the politics he attacked in “They Live” are more alive than ever today.
“I wanted to be a director,” said Carpenter. “I didn’t care about the money. I wanted to be a movie director. I did the TV movie ‘Elvis’ the same year as ‘Halloween.’ I didn’t care if it was a TV movie, or a musical, or a Western. I wanted to do it! Let’s go!”
The interview touches on many of Carpenter’s films, including “Halloween”(“People saw this movie come out and went, ‘Wow, this cheap little movie made a whole bunch of money!’, and that’s what they took away”), “Escape From New York” (“We were a low budget movie. We had to know what we were going to do and figure things out ahead of time”) and “The Thing” (“It was hated at the time. Too strong, too bleak. People needed some hope back then, I don’t know. I thought it was the best I made”).
He also discusses how surprised he was that film watching has gotten literally smaller as time goes on.
“When I was a kid, television was threatening the movies,” he said. “They had to come up with things to get people. So we had cinemascope. Now it’s watching a movie on a phone! It’s all going in a different direction than I imagine. Movies are supposed to be seen on a big screen with other people. That’s the whole point, in immersing oneself. It’s just a different world, man. But that’s okay! Everything moves on.”
The hottest moment of the conversation was when Maron brought up “They Live,” his controversial 1988 film on the dangers of Reaganomics conveyed through aliens and giant lizards.
“The eighties never ended,” he said. “They are still with us today. They live as truly more of a documentary than a film. These people out there today…they’re real. There are no lizard people in a sphinx, there’s nothing like that. Reagan is an icon now for the values he brought to the country. Business runs us. It runs our politics. An unregulated market will destroy the world! That’s all it is. It’s not that free markets are bad — free markets are great — but you can’t let them bury us. Capitalism is not a pure virgin you mustn’t touch.”
Listen below for the full interview, as well as Maron’s talk with “Gremlins” director Joe Dante.