Watch Now: John Carpenter and the Coupe De Villes Stir Up ‘Big Trouble in Little China’
Wednesday, December 7th, 2011 at 7:50 pm
I guess we can all thank the 1960s for giving birth to the 1980s. When I look at most of the films, music, and literature made in the era of Reaganomics and legwarmers I can’t help but think that excessive drug use played a major role in it all. Granted the roads and hills running in and around Hollywood were covered with so much cocaine the city’s infrastructure closely resembled the snowy slopes of Switzerland, but it took a more powerful pharmaceutical product to grant those responsible for these cracked creative endeavors the delusion that what they were producing would never be seen as dated the moment it was released to the general public.
The music video for the titular theme song to the 1986 kung fu/horror/fantasy/comedy hybrid Big Trouble in Little China easily falls into that category. You can watch that video, which is included as an extra feature on the film’s Blu-ray, here below.
For the release of Big Trouble In Little China journeyman genre great John Carpenter teamed up with his frequent creative collaborators Nick Castle (who played the grown-up Michael Myers with his mask on in the original Halloween and co-wrote Escape from New York with Carpenter) and Tommy Lee Wallace (the director of the Carpenter-produced Halloween III: Season of the Witch and a friend and filmmaking cohort of the director since the early 1970s) to record a catchy tune that could be used for the film’s end credits and as a handy promotional tool. The name they chose for their band? The Coupe De Villes.
Yes sir, I like it.
Big Trouble in Little China was the last time Carpenter had almost free reign on a movie project for one of the major studios. From then on he would have to go indie in order to keep his creative flame burning, with the exception of Memoirs of an Invisible Man and Escape from L.A., which were respectively an FX-laden failed attempt to launch Chevy Chase as a serious leading man and a failed attempt to turn the Snake Plissken character into a franchise action hero (which kinda goes against everything the character stands for). The movie itself was kicked around by financier 20th Century Fox, who also demanded changes made to the film so that the audiences who didn’t show up for the film wouldn’t be so confused by a narrative so vexing and dense in Chinese mythology that it even confused the movie’s star Kurt Russell, as you can see here.
Released in the same summer that had Fox reaping major profits and adulation with James Cameron’s Aliens and David Cronenberg’s The Fly, Big Trouble in Little China was panned by critics and ignored by audiences eager for an escape from the scorching seasonal weather. Acclaimed writer Harlan Ellison said in his positive review of Big Trouble that Carpenter’s film contained “some of the funniest lines spoken by any actor this year to produce a cheerfully blathering live-action cartoon that will give you release from the real pressures of your basically dreary lives.”
For the majority of his filmmaking career Carpenter has also composed the scores to his movies, usually with the assistance of a synthesizer, a crumpled pack of Lucky Strikes, and nothing else. When they worked they perfectly accompanied the film, or in the case of Halloween made it ten times better. As Carpenter got older and the major studios grew less willing to open their coffers to fund his latest Kurt Russell picture he started taking on a collaborator in the recording studio, such as Alan Howarth on Halloween II and Shirley Walker on Escape from L.A. Other times he would focus on his directing and leave the music to a solo composer, such as Ennio Morricone on The Thing and Shirley Walker (again) on Memoirs of an Invisible Man. He even worked with members of the metal band Anthrax and guitarist Buckethead on the score for Ghosts of Mars.
I think when Carpenter conceived the Big Trouble song and accompanying video he saw it as his last hurrah, so the director, along with Castle and Wallace, decided to 1980s the hell out of them both. The theme of the video is Bowling Green, Kentucky’s favorite son (and if he isn’t he damn well should be) and his bandmates performing in a rather spacious editing room as scenes from the movie show up on film monitors, float around in thin air, and even get hidden in film cans. Carpenter is wearing a decade-appropriate skinny necktie but it doesn’t seem so skinny since the man himself is a post. Much lip synching (is that John’s real voice? Is it possible for a man who smokes more cigarettes than lung cancer itself have a baritone like that?) and cheesy fashions abound. This is either the greatest music video of all time, or one of the greatest. It can’t be anything less.