Anybody Else All Out of Bubble Gum or is it Just Me?
If you are not familiar with John Carpenters film “They Live” then you are missing out. Do yourself a favor and watch it for the first time or better yet, watch it again over the next few days and see it with a new set of eyes. Maybe even throw on a pair of shades.
I have personally seen this film I do not know how many times since its release thirty-two years ago. I am sure it is in the three figures easy. If it is on, I will watch it and I have always watched They Live at least once a year. I am a film geek, what do you want from me. For me, it is just one of those movies. We even studied this in my college film study class taught by a friend of mine. It is still a topic we discuss and pops up often in a few types of conversations.
John Carpenter knew what he was doing. He cloaked his message brilliantly on a backdrop afforded to the audience by Regan era America and the creeping consumer nation engorging itself while enjoying full on gluttony to the detriment of the working poor as portrayed by its own main characters. Everyone was battling for the exclusive right of the message.
“They Live” was made well before its time while some will argue, like Carpenter himself that the film was made well after anything could really be done, just as the film portrays. “This is actually a documentary of what is and has happened since the release of the film” in 1988 said Carpenter. He seems to infer that they had already consumed us all and this was the last grasp of air in the mythology of the world he created based on a short story based on the 1963's "Eight O’Clock in the Morning" by Ray Nelson as well as being influenced by the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and others.
I decided to sit down and watch this on its anniversary this year. This 1980’s action film wrapped up as a B movie by a legendary filmmaker. The film is cast perfectly for its time.
The film starts out with its main character, Rowdy Roddy Pipers Man with no name. None. Nothing. Nada. His character is credited as Nada. Never is his name mentioned and shared with the audience. His character is a rough and tumble, almost caveman like. Like a Neanderthal discovering fire we see Piper become enlightened by the tree of knowledge delivered via 1980’s status symbol, sunglasses instead of an Adam's apple. His Eve was named Holly Played by the hypnotically blue eyed Meg Foster. Through his ass right out the window over the balcony and down a hillside, almost killing him. Ah, love. Unfortunately she pulls some major bullshit later on in the film. Ity's all about the Benjamins baby!
Roddy Piper. One of the best shit talkers of television wrestling. Roddy had entertained us as kids spewing out challenges and insults to the good guys and the bad. He was famous and well loved. He also seemed to party hard. Known for his white and red shirt and his trademark kilt. Roddy knew how to hold an audience like a comic book hero come to life who just happened to smell like beer. Plus, he could fight. Better yet, you believed it when you saw it.
David Keith’s character, Frank gives the film its heart and ties you to the world. This type of story needs a character who holds that universes integrity. The tether to reality. David Keith anchors every scene you see him in. Always a strong actor. His character, Frank gives the audience a family man hit hard by the layoffs that decimated Detroit of the eighties, taking down a strong city and center of manufacturing. Frank went west to make money to send back to his family, saving even more by living at a homeless camp he brought Nada to stay. Most of all he wants no trouble to come his way. He is trying to keep his head down and live positive in a negative situation. He winds up declaring war and acting against the powers that be to protect his family, trying to take down the off-world yuppies who are enslaving all mankind unbeknownst to mankind.
Within the first ten minutes we already have references to what would become celebrity culture (the non-famous, famous), Branding, Shanty towns, the rich getting richer as most sit unwavering in the midst of shit, uncaring about the chaos happening around them. Just give people a screen and the longing to consume with an added dash of police violence. The view of the media, not optimistic. Message being: if your gonna sell out, sell out big. In this story they seem beyond redemption. It is what it isn't. Odd, sounds familiar.
This film calls out some shit in massive ways. Back in the late eighties we rolled our eyes at the watch phones they had as we saw those wrist communicators in the Sunday paper every week since we were kids in the Dick Tracy comic strip. From ink to Alien we had the connection. Today countless millions of people own a watch just like that, so they can so the same thing as the Aliens do, seek destruction of individuals who will not follow the narrative. Here I thought “mama don’t like tattle tales!”
Drone technology, silent planes flying overhead. Camera watching everyone and the concern about what is being sent through the air. At every moment of our life we are bombarded with all kinds of radio signals, microwaves, ultraviolet and the list goes on. Never forget, for every action there is a reaction. Just because you cannot see it does not mean it is not happening as the film shows you. The razing of compassion as a home less camp gets bulldozed to usher in a new world. When a slate is wiped clean, you will be told what happened in their view and you are not to question anything unless it is in a superficial way.
Seems corporate global takeover is always on the menu with Aliens living in plain sight. I mean, being corrupt on the personal level means you would sell out to be on a winning team. Question is to those that do that is What kind of heinous shit will you ignore to achieve what your definition of success? Anytime I see anyone who has amassed a lot wealth I always am like, “Damn who did you fuck?” People who claim otherwise are lying. People will crawl over the dead for a hot meal and a cold drink in many places in our world, even in the year 2020.
The generically branded Cable 54 who today would be called a content provider or at least a channel that reports something resembling news. At the time the movie was released I remember some people balking and making fun of what they deemed conspiracy theories brought about in the film (apart from aliens – you need a special handshake for that one. SHH!), the angles of the encroachment of consumerism as a way of life and thought guided by a select few. Blindly consumed by the masses and used as a weapon of the corporate state. Embraced and backed by the corrupt individual disguised as being successful in a disgusting manner despite their personal beliefs. Suspending all personal responsibility to win the rat race, but to what end? Corruption is a drug with an epidemic worldwide only growing in its blatant moves against the population. No need for shades, watch the screen. Screen? Phone! You want to check your phone right now don’t you? Your interactive consumer device is listening. Any mention of a product or a point of interest moments ago will not populate your social media. Personalized advertising. Consume. Most of all, Obey.
Think. Question. Pause. Maybe we should all try that.
Made for Three million dollars and shot on location in Los Angeles for eight weeks, “They Live” brought in thirteen million dollars at the box office. A hit for its time. Not a huge one, but it still made money. That week it beat out U2: Rattle and Hum, The Good Mother and Mystic Pizza for the number one slot and stayed in theaters for nine weeks before retiring to be a cult classic.
Almost directly in the middle of this film is the best fight scene ever. Coming in at around five minutes and thirty seconds, this was a huge departure from on screen fights of the time. The old one punch and everyone gets knocked out kind of bullshit. NO this was dragged out, resting in between and even a couple of laughs. It was also brutal in some ways and delivered incredibly well. Even a spot where Pipers character feels bad for breaking the car’s rear windshield but not for kicking his buddy’s ass. Not that Frank cared either. Guys. The stunt work was very well done and performed. Not to mention the way it was shot. The dance appeared well on screen. You can feel that fight. It is like that song that just will not end. Get’s quiet in spots and then comes back for more. Piper and Keith kick some legendary ass here, the whole time the audience hoping he puts the damn glasses on.
The time is ripe for a sequel if it is done correctly. The story one could tell today is measurably deeply engrained and saturated into almost everything. Sleeker. Stealthier. You also need his hands in the mix to make it work. Not some bullshit hollywoke version that will just fuck the story while trying to hit talking points. Get that shit the fuck out of my entertainment. We go to for escapism not to be preached at or too. Virtue signaling the trolls of the internet. They would not even realize they would be the Aliens telling people to obey. The message might be lost completely. What would his satirical look on what will come true next as consumerism continues to spread like a virus afflicting us all? In the end the title of the film says it all. THEY are still here, THEY have consumed us and yet, They Live.
Rumor has it that John Carpenter is working on one right now. Man, I hope so. I would so CONSUME that.