Horror Films and Stephen King (Part Six)

Stephen King has always been somewhat uncomfortable with the marketing of his name such that he created his alter-ego/pseudonym in large part to avoid the media’s scrutiny of his work. His name was Richard Bachman. “I’ve been asked several times if I did it because I was overpublishing the market as Stephen King. The answer is no. I didn’t think I was overpublishing the market …but my publishers did.” (Bachman, ix). 
 

Over-exposure is something that Hollywood has never been afraid of, especially when a gifted writer who people love to read comes along. In fact, the film which I examine in this paper Maximum Overdrive was recently re-made for TV and it was called Trucks. Many a time King has had little or no involvement with many of the films made from his work and in the past many people have had little or no regard for his actual text or for his input on the project, this has since changed.
 

“Sometimes I feel like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia. I knew enough to get things started, but once they started to march, things are never the same.” (Bachman, vii). Stephen King was taking the helm of Maximum Overdrive just after his pen name had been “outed.” In a way, this was a chance for King to take control of a project but even this was marketed and commercialized. King was the center of the theatrical trailer claiming that he was “Going to scare the hell out of you.” The one sheet also proclaimed the film a masterpiece before it was released. This marketing scheme was poorly thought up, while it’s hard to sell a horror film that’s not as scary as it’s supposed to be, it’s more difficult to sell a film when all the audience sees is the director saying how scary it is. One thing the trailer does seem to imply is that King was looking for someone to do his work justice up ‘til then no one had until Rob Reiner did later in Stand by Me.
 

Miscasting has been a hindrance in many King films. In reference to the protagonist in The Running Man King said “he’s about as far from the Arnold Schwarzenegger character in the movie you can get.” (Long, vii). This is a problem he faced in Maximum Overdrive was in choosing the wrong actors. Not many good actors do horror films when they’re already famous and it’s hard to make a successful horror film when the characters are so horribly miscast. When the audience knows something was a novel their critical faculties seem abnormally heightened and this makes every decision crucial.
    

His difficulties also came into play in reference to length. King is one who likes to slowly develop things and needs time. He once commented that “these days it seems everything wants to be a novel, and every novel wants to be approximately four thousand pages long.” (Nightmares, 4). With film being what it is today, and what it was starting to become in 1986, it’s no wonder that Maximum Overdrive feels like a sketch by Picasso, it lacked color. Sure, Picasso could do a lot with a pencil but to see his full genius he needed a larger surface. King likewise was confined by the need to be a 90 minute film, I sometimes get the feeling that just another half hour and it might have been a whole other film.

Review- Midnight in Paris

Carla Bruni and Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris (Sony Pictures Classics)

I always feel it a necessity to state my general stance on Woody Allen prior to getting into a review of any of his works. I feel this is appropriate so you know where I am coming from and thus so you can take my review with a grain of salt should you need to. Fans of Woody Allen seem to come in two camps: First, those who believe he’s slipping and hasn’t done anything really worthwhile in the past 15 to 20 years and blind followers, while I skew more towards the latter I believe I am somewhere in the middle. I believe Allen has peaks and valleys like many prolific filmmakers but I have really enjoyed his recent works.

Lately, Allen has been globetrotting a bit and he writes and shoots frequently enough such that there are threads of philosophy and narrative choices that run through many of his films but conversely he has periods akin to painters. His break from being tethered to New York City in and of itself has breathed some new life into his recent works.

As you familiarize yourself with a filmmaker you expect certain things, with Allen it had been New York, art deco, Jazz (or another genre whose heyday is past), plain title cards, longing of some kind, etc. When minor changes to the formula are applied to the same voice it can be rather interesting.

What is perhaps most interesting in Midnight in Paris is that Allen attacks head on an issue which many of his detractors (at least of his recent work) cite him for, which is his nostalgic love affair with the past. Rather than having it be an idiosyncrasy of a character (or group of them) that we must either accept or reject it becomes central to the protagonist’s, Gil (Owen Wilson), struggle and part of why he is not understood.

By openly addressing this and applying it to a younger character one of Allen’s motifs is revitalized because he can’t be cited as someone whose “lost touch” with modernity. He’s found here a new way to funnel his voice into a modern setting. Another one of the frequent attacks on Allen’s work is that his scripts are in lieu of therapy. Truth be told it is for a lot of people and it’s more identifiable with him because he’s a personality and is more known. He’s always been a personal filmmaker and this may be his best and most coherent addressing of any hang-up he’s covered.

While I don’t think it’s on par with things like Manhattan or Annie Hall this film does have the inventiveness and flair from that era of his career. A majority of the reason why is that in this film he embraces Magical Realism and allows for facile time travel and creates time-space paradoxes and is not concerned about factual truths but emotional ones which affect his characters.

In a film where a slew of historical figures, who we all have preconceived notions about, appear the casting has to be spot on and it’s nailed on the head repeatedly whether it be Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, Dali and so on. Even funnier are how Allen writes these personalities and how they perform the parts.

It’s without question one of his best concepts in quite some time. Though not running any longer than most of his films the episodes in the past do get a tad lengthy and there is a bit of drag in the second act but not enough that it hurts the film greatly.

It’s also, clearly as the concept implies, one of Allen’s more visual recent ventures. The dialogue is strong while not being audaciously witty. The conclusion is expected but earned and sweet.

You can say what you will about Allen’s recent track record but I have nothing but admiration for an artist who continuously pushes himself to new horizons regardless of their results. However, Midnight in Paris is an unqualified success and a bold new step for this auteur and is therefore highly recommended.

9/10