John Carpenter is an artist in every sense of the word; there can be no denying it. He’s a filmmaker, composer and actor, and has experimented to various degrees with each of the aforementioned mediums. His effect on popular culture, and the genre of horror, has been so monumental, to say the least.
Of course, it is as a director that Carpenter is best known for his artistic endeavours. The premium filmmaker of cult classics, he’s given us 1978’s Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York, Christine, Big Trouble In Little China and many more. Carpenter understands the symbiotic nature of the audio and the visual, and this has helped to create some of the most enduring movies of all time. He has a penchant for creating an atmosphere that is largely unmatched, superseded really only by the great Alfred Hitchcock.
Of course, his output throughout the 1970s and ’80s is his most enduring. Each of Carpenter’s best-beloved films carries the same dark hallmarks, just with subtle differences all adding to the expansive universe of John Carpenter. He was the king of ’80s chillers, and his work in the decade effectively established the blueprint for filmmakers wanting to create an uneasy and sinister atmosphere. Quentin Tarantino, Bong Joon-ho and James Cameron are just three of his disciples.
His deep understanding of the audio-visual relationship is, of course, attributed to his stature as a musician. Carpenter is an interesting figure in the sense that he’s a revered director but also a widely lauded soundtrack composer for films. In this way, he was able to fully control and guide the themes of the films he was creating or soundtracking. Some would even argue that the power of his music has defined his iconic artistic style.
Given that he is so well respected as a soundtrack composer across his career, Carpenter has been asked to give his opinion on a wide array of music. At different points, he has mentioned his fandom of acts such as Tangerine Dream, The Police, Goblin, The Beatles and Warren Zevon.
In a 2016 interview with Little White Lies, Carpenter was asked to give his thoughts on whether he believes orchestral scores are overused in the modern film industry. His reply was brilliant, and it directly referenced another disciple of his, the film soundtrack composer du jour, Hans Zimmer.
Of orchestral scores in modern film, Carpenter said: “Well, they sure are used a lot. They’re still considered the best, you know, anyone can play a synthesiser. I have very minimal chops, which is why I say that. So there’s a little bit of snobbery involved. But then you have a guy like Hans Zimmer, who blends orchestral and electronic music really well. His scores are always very memorable.”
Carpenter, of course, is correct. Hans Zimmer’s scores are memorable because of the way he’s able to expertly elevate orchestral scores by blending them with electronic instrumentation and textures and vice versa. Whether or not you like the films he’s scored, such as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Series, you cannot deny the power of Hans Zimmer’s work.
Take his most recent effort, the glorious score for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. His fusion of grandiose orchestral movements with less common instruments like the bagpipes and oppressive pieces of electronica perfectly embody what is happening on screen, augmenting the hazy sci-fi action unfolding in front of you.
However, none of this would be possible without the pioneering steps that John Carpenter has made over his career. Fascinating creatively and as a human being, John Carpenter’s thoughts on anything artistic are always warmly welcomed.
Watch John Carpenter in the conversation below.