Do you guys ever look at the special features on your blu-rays and DVDs? You really should! Sure, sometimes they're just stocked with studio-generated EPK fluff, but a solid special edition can be like a weeklong film class, giving you an educational glimpse inside the process with interviews, archival materials, and such. I ask because more and more I see vintage content going viral as if it’s some mind-blowing archaeological discovery, when very often it’s something you can find on the extras menu of something that’s likely already sitting on your shelf.
To wit: this week someone must have finally taken the shrink wrap off their Criterion edition of Videodrome and checked out its ample bonus features, because this 1982 video of Mick Garris interviewing John Landis, John Carpenter, and David Cronenberg for Los Angeles’ Z Channel about the then-current state of horror cinema is making the rounds like crazy today. (Sort of like it did last summer, but hey.) It’s a great nugget: a half-hour of the three directors talking about what’s “scary” to them, their very different approaches to filmmaking, and their respective challenges with the MPAA (especially that organization’s constrictive standards as the 70s gave way to the 80s).
But the real draw here is the time capsule aspect, this specific moment in history in which these three artists found themselves on the same couch: peers and equals, if only for an instant. Cronenberg is promoting Videodrome, his biggest film to date, and his career is about to go to the next level. Carpenter discusses his new film The Thing (the clip they show seems to be a half-deleted scene, by the way), a film he would arguably never best. Landis regales the guys with stories from his most recent film, American Werewolf In London. From here he’d head to Twilight Zone: The Movie, and...well, if you don’t know what happened there, I’m going to have to write you another piece about it.
But what I love about the video is that it's essentially the genre director version of the Million Dollar Quartet, that famous moment at Sun Studios in Memphis, in which Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins got together in 1956 for an impromptu hangout and jam session before going their separate ways. Garris is the group's Carl Perkins - on the scene from the beginning, eventually working alongside these icons as a director, but never reaching the same heights himself. Carpenter is, fittingly, the group’s Elvis, a guy who lived and breathed his craft as a young man, until success tamed him, bored him, and burned him out. Landis is the Jerry Lee Lewis of the group - fun and silly, and undone early on by scandal. Cronenberg, then, must be our unlikely Johnny Cash analogue, rising up from a once-disreputable style of entertainment to become a venerated elder statesman of his craft.