Sorry for missing an entry (again) last week … I have really been struggling to find things to write about that aren’t somehow pandemic-related or at least pandemic-adjacent, and still determined not to have this become a pandemic blog for however long the situation lasts. Normally I can always write about my writing, but as I mentioned a bit ago, I’m not actually writing anything right now. So, uh, thus the struggle.
To avoid another missed week (and utterly breaking the habit of writing this thing, which I still think is valuable), I clutch at the following straw: I was doing my marking this week and some music from the Escape from New York soundtrack came on, which got me to thinking about a time a while ago where I found out a clever friend of mine had never seen Escape from New York, and after I made them watch it, their response back was basically “Why do you like this movie, exactly?”
Which is fair, because it is an extremely low-budget move from 1981 that can seem like such a cooke-cutter action movie (except, again, so low budget) that it’s easy to wonder why this movie is absolutely one of my favourites. Part of it is that I am a huge fan of John Carpenter, who (to me, anyway) does an absolutely great job at creating moods in his films, uses tension extremely skilfully, and tells fairly straight-ahead SF/horror stories that I basically always enjoy. (Yes, even Ghosts of Mars)
Some of the ‘cookie cutter’ nature of Escape is a bit unfair because, again, it’s a really old movie. So a lot of the action movies that a modern audience has seen do all this stuff were made after it. This is not really to argue that Escape was exactly cutting-edge (although, in terms of special effects on a budget, it kind of was) but coming to it now and feeling that you’ve seen it done a bunch of times before is sort of flipping the timeline backwards, unavoidable though it may be.
What’s fair is that the film is extremely basic in its premise and its cast of characters. We have a grim antihero protagonist who (not accidentally) is just about a cartoon version of the Action Hero. We have a ticking clock scenario, with impossible odds in the way and (literally) the fate of the world in the balance. Carpenter (I would argue) plays out that string adeptly and spins out a tale that is fun to watch, so long as your tolerance for ‘done on a budget’ is reasonable.
But, why is it one of my favorites? Well. The thing is that there’s more thought behind the film than you might initially think, and that’s what continues to give it impact for me. Carpenter imagines a world that completely abandons any sense of responsibility for the victims of a world economic collapse, literally kicking criminals ‘out of the world’ to fend for themselves in the ruins of an abandoned New York. We have a President of the United States who clearly does not give even the slightest fuck about the people he governs, and is only interested in the office for its own sake.
And our hero, Snake Plissken (really!), ex-war hero turned outlaw, ultimately decides (spoiler alert) that the institutions holding his troubled society together are simply not worth saving, based in no small part on their lack of regard for the ordinary people who perish helping him rescue their feckless President.
Carpenter says he wrote Escape in reaction to the Watergate scandal, and you can certainly see that, but I don’t think you have to squint very hard to see parallels to some of the situations we inhabit 40 years later, either. So, I feel like this is an old tale that still has some resonance for modern viewers.
Anyway. I didn’t have a real good answer for my friend when they asked, but that’s what I should have said.
Thanks for reading.
Catch you next week. Honest.