Escape from New York

Escape from New York ★★★½

Listened to the commentary track with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell during this rewatch. I couldn't find out when the commentary was recorded originally, but it was a little disconcerting to hear Carpenter talking about the World Trade Center in the present tense, noting that the version in the movie is a model and 'not actually what it looks like'.

Other notes:

-Kurt Russell has an amazing laugh. It's infectious as heck, and he busts it out a LOT during this movie, often at moments suggesting he's got a gallows sense of humor. Both he and Carpenter seem to be having a really good time, reminiscing about their younger days and the trials of independent filmmaking.

-Russell was untested as an action star before this, actually, and it's interesting to hear Carpenter talk about the fact that he went with him due to Kurt's work on ELVIS and the fact that while the studio wanted Charles Bronson, he wanted somebody younger for Snake.

-I had also TOTALLY forgotten Harry Dean Stanton was in this, and it was a delight when he popped up. Also, Carpenter/Russell spent a couple of minutes talking about how great Harry Dean is, which was nice.

-The movie gets thought of as an 80s film a lot of the time, but as Carpenter points out right at the start, contextualizing it, he wrote it during the Carter era, partly as a reaction to the Iran hostage crisis. so the actual conception of the president in it does precede Regan, and the dystopian vision of the big city does fit more with stuff like DEATH WISH taken to its extreme than it does Regan-Era Manhattan (although it's easy to imagine Wall Street yuppies watching this and worrying about what the city could turn into). It's also interesting given Carpenter taking urban paranoia to an extreme, that the tone throughout the film is somewhat playful, and the criminals and hooligans that Snake encounters on the inside are in the end shown as somewhat insignificant, or even tragic in the end when contrasted with the forces of the dystopian government (the Duke is literally gunned down by the President, after all)

+Donald Pleasance, who played the President, does a great job here. Apparently he had created an entire elaborate backstory for his character where he had somehow ended up with the job due to Margaret Thatcher taking over the world. 'We didn't really use any of it.' Carpenter deadpans before he and Russell crack up at the sight of Pleasance hopping into his bright orange escape pod.

+In a less comedic note, Pleasance apparently also was a Bomber pilot in the air force during WWII, and was captured and spent time in a Japanese prison camp during the war. He drew a bit on his experiences there for some of his scenes in the movie.

+Thanks to Carpenter and Russell, found out what a 'Texas Draw' is.

+Ox Baker apparently had to be asked gently several times, and then not-so gently, to be a little less real in his fight sequence with Russell. Russell, as he does with the rest of the film, has a blast watching it though, and remembers Ox Baker as a very sweet man.

+I had forgotten how much depth and motion there was in this picture. The camera is always gliding, in front of or behind characters who are walking past the camera, running towards or away from the camera, or falling into the line of vision. It's much more dynamic.

+Seems weird a lot of it was filmed in St. Louis, though.

+Apparently the hardest scene for Lee Van Cleef to do was walk down a hallway along Russell and give exposition. this is because he'd fallen off a horse shortly before filming and damaged his knee. According to Carpenter, he was proud he was able to do it without falling.

+The matte paintings in this still look great.

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