Alan Smithee Podcast 59: Escape from New York (1981, John Carpenter) / 2019: After the Fall of New York (1983, Sergio Martino)

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In the 20th Century people were big into the idea of the post-apocalypse created by nuclear war, instead of by realistic causes like zombies. The apocalypse, it was presumed, would happen after the Soviet Union and the United States laid waste to the world and civilization was wrecked. A few films were made along this premise in the 1970s, like A Boy and His Dog and Damnation Alley, yet none of these fantasies struck a chord in the public imagination until 1981 when George Miller directed his masterpiece The Road Warrior and rising auteur John Carpenter made Escape From New York. Carpenter’s conceptual masterstroke was combining what the new subgenre was getting at – that the future would be looking more like Lord of the Flies than The Jetsons or even Zardoz – with the assumption that New York City was so far gone to crime it may as well drop dead. Aside from Walter Hill’s The Warriors, no sci-fi / action / adventure films had explored the fantasy of New York as a lawless playground for gangs and Carpenter’s conception of Manhattan island as an inescapable prison colony captured the imagination of genre fans everywhere.

He also gave Kurt Russell a second career after years of Disney boy Bobby Driscoll roles, as Snake Plissken, a truly self centered and cynical antihero who perfectly matched the grim, bleak tone of his dystopic future adventure. Further rounding out the cast is possibly the best array of character actors ever assembled: Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Ernest Borgnine, Issac Hayes and Lee Van Cleef invest a sense of reality to the low budget landscape like no other cast ever has. As we discuss, this film truly shows off Carpenter’s auteurist skills at their peak from the synthesizer score to impeccable cinematography by his best collaborator Dean Cundey. Escape From New York is one of Carpenter’s greatest films and for the first time since our first episode we do our best to summarize its brilliance.

2019: After The Fall Of New York is by its title alone something of an admitted ripoff. What’s delightful and oft-stupefying is how many other science fiction genre ideas Ernesto Gastaldi, Sergio Martino and Gabriel Rossini decide to borrow when the premise of a Kurt Russell lookalike going into an abandoned Manhattan island to get someone out isn’t enough to sustain an entire movie without copying every single plot beat from Carpenter. Amongst these ideas are escape from Earth via spaceship, de-evolution of humans into ape-like creatures, infiltration of humanity by cybors, and a global infertility crisis threatening to wipe out humanity. This last idea may sound familiar to viewers and readers of Children of Men. 2019: After The Fall Of New York is a textbook case of Italian knockoff cinema complete with a totally overdubbed soundtrack and an exhilarating absence of narrative logic. Highly recommended to fans of Escape From New York and The Road Warrior who are also fans of every other sci-fi adventure ever made.

NEXT EPISODE: BREATHLESS SPECIAL! BREATHLESS (1960, JEAN-LUC GODARD) & BREATHLESS (1983, JIM MCBRIDE)

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Episode 18: Tango & Cash (1989, Andrei Konchalovsky) / California Split (1974, Robert Altman)

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This week An Alan Smithee Podcast gets manly and shirtless with two of the 80s’ eightiest men’s men, Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, starring in one of Jon Peters’ worst streams of consciousness: Tango & Cash. Stallone’s a yuppie hotshot cop and Russell’s just a hotshot cop. All they have in common is skull denting stupidity and gay panic, which only inflames when the pair are sent to prison. Can they stop talking about each other’s cocks in time to bust out and stop the diabolical Jack Palance before he over-the-tops his performance from Batman the same year? Well, no, Palance is ever hammier and he wears all an white suit like Colonel Sanders. Despite this, his flamboyance pales in comparison to the cock grabbing, cross-dressing antics of our boys as they barnstorm through scenarios that make not one luck of sense, ever. Also featuring free floating coked up screenwriter xenophobia towards minorities.

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Then, Robert Altman takes us someplace warmer and nicer with California Split, another buddy comedy featuring George Segal and Elliot Gould as compulsive gamblers at different points in their addiction. This film pulls few punches in the depiction of gambling while also playing things for laughs, making for a melancholy mood of poignancy and loss. Unlike Tango & Cash, Gould and Segal’s romance is soft spoken and romantic as one takes another under his wing to learn poker and a bromance to last the ages is born.

NEXT WEEK: EMPEROR JONES (1933) / BLOODRAYNE II: DELIVERANCE (2007)

Episode 17: Elvis (1979, John Carpenter) / The Resurrection of Broncho Billy (1970, James R. Rokos)

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This week in An Alan Smithee Podcast, Andrew and Matt indulge in John Carpenter’s lost treasures – the 1970 Academy Award winning short film he edited, wrote and composed. Future Escape From New York co-writer and erstwhile Coup De Villes band member Nick Castle, seen here playing keyboards while Carpenter pretends to be a wizard, lensed the short’s black and white photography and co-wrote.

“Broncho Billy” is the tale of a young man in Southern California circa 1970 who wants to be a cowboy. There is lots to read into, knowing what we know now: fans are quick to note the similarity of many Carpenter films like Assault On Precinct 13, Escape From New York, Big Trouble In Little China and Ghosts Of Mars to Westerns. There’s also some good ol’ film school follies, like having Billy wake up from bed in the very first scene!

Check out the whole thing here!

Also on the roster is the epic two-anna-half hour 1979 TV movie event ELVIS, in which Kurt Russell does a pretty darn good imitation of The King. While Carpenter does not write or produce, his compositions and chemistry with cast make this a fascinating oddity. Airing only two years after Elvis’ death there’s a considerable amount of whitewashing, eschewing the fat years and pills, and instead framing his life in the context of the two most important women in his life: “mommhuh an’ Priscillhuh.” The latter is played by Season Hubley, soon to be real life wife of Kurt, although the dissolution of their marriage (art predicts life) is not shown to be the cause of Elvis’ downfall…

There’s also a ton of songs for padding. Check out this excerpt of “Suspicious Minds,” lip-synched by Russell AND performed by someone other than Elvis:

Come to think of it, they don’t even acknowledge Elvis died in this! A truly reverential tribute, and intermittently very entertaining.

Discover all the hidden details and trivia of these two John Carpenter rarities from two guys who know way too much about the legendary John!

NEXT WEEK: TANGO & CASH (1989, ANDREI KONCHALOVSKY) / CALIFORNIA SPLIT (1974, ROBERT ALTMAN)