They Live

They Live

D. Harlan Wilson
Ernest Mathijs
Jamie Sexton
Series: Cultographies
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 128
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/wils17211
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  • Book Info
    They Live
    Book Description:

    Born out of the cultural flamboyance and anxiety of the 1980s,They Live(1988) is a hallmark of John Carpenter's singular canon, combining the aesthetics of multiple genres and leveling an attack against the politics of Reaganism and the Cold War. The decision to cast the professional wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper as his protagonist gave Carpenter the additional means to comment on the hypermasculine attitudes and codes indicative of the era. This study traces the development ofThey Livefrom its comic book roots to its legacy as a cult masterpiece while evaluating the film in light of the paranoid/postmodern theory that matured in the decidedly "Big 80s." Directed by a reluctant auteur, the film is examined as a complex work of metafiction that calls attention to the nature of cinematic production and reception as well as the dynamics of the cult landscape.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-85074-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: THE BECOMING-PIPER
    (pp. 1-7)

    Two one-liners leap to attention like divining rods:

    [1] ‘I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass – and I’m all out of bubblegum.’

    [2] ‘Life’s a bitch – and she’s back in heat.’

    Most twenty-first-century American teenagers probably don’t know where these words come from, who speaks them, or what they mean. The source may even elude their parents. But something familiar – a sense of comic irony, a shiver of existential dread – echoes down the hallways of memory. In the real world,déjà vuis the limit. InThey Live, the one-liners possess a special...

  5. 1 THE CULT OF THE EIGHTIES
    (pp. 8-21)

    The 1980s began as a hopeful period in the United States. Americans anticipated a return to the romanticised prosperity and ‘moral values’ of the 1950s that were trampled during the 1960s and 1970s. Stephen Feinstein explains:

    The decade of the 1980s in the United States was a very different time.… The social upheavals in the 1960s brought about by the Vietnam War and opposition to it continued into the 1970s. Americans in the 1970s also witnessed the sorry spectacle of the Watergate scandal and President Richard Nixon’s resignation from office. And the 1970s ended with the humiliating episode of Americans...

  6. 2 WAKE-UP CALL
    (pp. 22-30)

    They Livederives from an eight-page illustrated story, ‘Nada’ (1986), which appeared in issue six of the comic bookAlien Encounters. Ray Nelson’s short story ‘Eight O’Clock in the Morning’ (1963), originally published inThe Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, served as the basis for ‘Nada’ The comic was also written by Nelson and illustrated by Bill Wray, who is more well-known for his work in American comedy magazineMADand the splattershtick cartoonThe Wren & Stimpy Show(1991–98), both cult productions in their own right. As is often the case, the film and its sources are different...

  7. 3 REEL POLITIK
    (pp. 31-37)

    The first part ofThey Liveis set in Justiceville,15a shantytown encampment situated on the periphery of downtown Los Angeles. Nada squats here with an eclectic group of other homeless people. As in the comic, the elegant skyscrapers of the cityscape loom over Nada and his cohorts in blight, but as part of the backdrop, accentuating the disparity between downtown wealth and fringe poverty. Carpenter AimedThey Live‘on locations that bore the closest possible resemblances to the settings in the Aim; no studio set was used to create Justiceville or the old church or the flophouse on Skid...

  8. 4 THROUGH A PAIR OF CHEAP SUNGLASSES DARKLY
    (pp. 38-61)

    On top of being adapted from a story and comic,They Livewas shaped by input from cast and crew, much like the production of a Shakespearean play, if we agree with critics who claim that Shakespeare did not write his plays himself but in tandem with fellow thespians, playwrights and sideliners, notwithstanding how the bard bootlegged his scripts from older sources. For his part, Carpenter bootlegged the western and situated it in the present day. Steve Swires summarises the writing process:

    Carpenter acquired the film rights to both the short story and the comic-book adaptation. He then wrote a...

  9. 5 THE PATHOLOGICAL UNCONSCIOUS
    (pp. 62-85)

    Nada’s upbringing reveals a lot about his character. And yet his upbringing is hardly revealed. Still he is not, as his name would have him, ‘nobody’. He has a history that acutely informs the flows of his desires.

    There is only one reference to a mother figure in a wisecrack uttered during Nada’s first killing spree. Levelling a shotgun at an alien yuppie reporting him into a wristwatch radio transmitter, he says: ‘Mama don’t like tattle-tales.’ This might seem insignificant. Certainly it’s a goofy thing to say. And that’s the point: protagonists cast in the mould of Hollywood action heroes,...

  10. 6 LEGACIES
    (pp. 86-98)

    In the aftermath of Nada and Armitage’s decidedly mutual asskicking,They Livefeels a lot like anticlimax. Over thirty minutes remain. Despite plenty of blazing gunfire and some key expository dialogue, at no point does the film accomplish such a level of uncanniness, badness and wistful ferocity as it does during Carpenter’s homage to pro wrestling.

    Nada and Armitage never become bosom buddies, but they do become brothers-in-arms. Hiding out at a hotel, they encounter Gilbert, one of Justiceville’s rebel leaders. He tips them off to a secret meeting where fellow humans conspire to overthrow the aliens. Holly shows up,...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 99-108)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 109-114)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 115-120)