The Thing: Artbook

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It was just over a year ago that I was asked to contribute to The Thing: Artbook, and the thing itself (so to speak) turned up in the post a few days ago. This is a large, heavyweight volume of 400 colour pages, stuffed to the slavering gills with fanged abominations (and more than a few Kurt Russells), a suitably excessive tribute to an excessive film.

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Publishers Printed In Blood have previewed a fair amount of the artwork over the past year but the variety of interpretations of John Carpenter’s (and, lest we forget, John W. Campbell’s) monsters is quite overwhelming. After wondering how (or if) they were going to order contributions from 375 different artists, the book turns out to be divided into sections based on lines of dialogue from the film, a clever idea when much of the imagery reprises the same scenes or characters. My piece, which you can see below the fold, is in the “Nobody trusts anybody now” section.

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One surprise was the dedication to Bernie Wrightson who died earlier this year. As for Mike Ploog’s original designs for the film’s creatures, I was hoping there might be more of these but the book does open with a couple of Ploog’s drawings.

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I’ve resisted the temptation to post favourites by other artists aside from this piece by Steve Thomas. This one stood out for me since it’s a riff on the same lettering designs from fire insurance maps that I pastiched myself a few years ago for Lavie Tidhar’s The Bookman Histories. Not all the artists produced monster art, there are quite a few contributions like this which present the film via infographics or pastiche.

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Weekend links 131

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Japanese poster (1982).

At The Quietus Steve Earles looks back at John Carpenter’s visceral and uncompromising The Thing which exploded messily onto cinema screens thirty years ago. It’s always worth being reminded that this film (and Blade Runner in the same year) was considered a flop at the time following bad reviews and a poor showing at the summer box office. One reason was The Thing‘s being overshadowed by the year’s other film of human/alien encounters, something called E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. To The Thing‘s status as the anti-E.T. you can add its reversal of the can-do heroics of Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World (1951), an attitude out-of-step with Reaganite America. Carpenter’s film is not only truer to the original story but from the perspective of 2012 looks like one of the last films of the long 1970s, with Hawks’ anti-Communist subtext replaced by bickering, mistrust, paranoia and an unresolved and completely pessimistic ending that most directors would have a problem getting past a studio today.

I was fortunate to see The Thing in October of 1982 knowing little about it beyond its being a John Carpenter film (whose work I’d greatly enjoyed up to that point) and a remake of the Hawks film (which I also enjoyed a great deal). One benefit of the film’s poor box office was a lack of the kind of preview overkill which made E.T. impossible to avoid, and which a couple of years earlier did much to dilute the surprise of Ridley Scott’s Alien. I went into The Thing mildly interested and came out overwhelmed and aghast. For years afterwards I was insisting that this was the closest you’d get on-screen to Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. The correspondence is more than merely Antarctica + monsters when you consider this:

Lovecraft’s story was rejected by his regular publisher Weird Tales but was accepted by Astounding Stories in 1936 >> The editor of Astounding, John W. Campbell, published his own Antarctica + monsters story (under the pen-name Don A. Stuart), “Who Goes There?”, in the same magazine two years later >> Charles Lederer wrote a loose screen adaptation of Campbell’s story which Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby filmed as The Thing from Another World.

This isn’t to say that Campbell copied Lovecraft—both stories are very different—but I’d be surprised if Lovecraft’s using Antarctica as the setting for a piece of horror-themed science fiction didn’t give Campbell the idea.

More things elsewhere: Anne Billson, author of the BFI Modern Classics study of The Thing, on the framing of Carpenter’s shots, and her piece from 2009 about the film | Mike Ploog’s storyboards | Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack music, of which only a small percentage was used in the film.

• The week in music: 22 minutes of unreleased soundtrack by Coil for Sara Dale’s Sensual Massage | Analog Ultra-Violence: Wendy Carlos and the soundtrack for A Clockwork Orange | A Halloween mixtape by The Outer Church | Herbie Hancock & The Headhunters, live in Bremen, 1974: a 66-minute set, great sound, video and performances | Giorgio Moroder’s new SoundCloud page which features rare mixes and alternate versions | A video for Collapse by Emptyset.

One of the main themes of the book, and what I found in The Arabian Nights, was this emphasis on the power of commodities. Many of the enchanted things in the book are lamps, carpets, sofas, gems, brass rings. It is a rather different landscape than the fairy tale landscape of the West. Though we have interiors and palaces, we don’t have bustling cities, and there isn’t the emphasis on the artisan making things. The ambiance from which they were written was an entirely different one. The Arabian Nights comes out of a huge world of markets and trade. Cairo, Basra, Damascus: trades and skills.

Nina Moog talks to Marina Warner

John Palatinus, “one of the last living male physique photographers of the 1950s”, is interviewed. Related: the website of Ronald Wright, British illustrator for the physique magazines.

• “A classic is a work which persists as a background noise even when a present that is totally incompatible with it holds sway.” Italo Calvino’s 14 Definitions of What Makes a Classic.

Huge Franz Kafka archive to be made public. Related: Judith Butler asks “Who owns Kafka?”

• Geoff Manaugh’s Allen Ginsberg Photos & Ephemera, 1994–Dec 1996.

Magic mushrooms and cancer: My magical mystery cure?

Clark Ashton Smith Portfolio (1976) by Curt Pardee.

Jan Toorop’s 1924 calendar.

artQueer: a Tumblr.

• All The Things You Are (1957) by Duke Ellington | Things That Go Boom In The Night (1981) by Bush Tetras | Things Happen (1991) by Coil | Dead People’s Things (2004) by Deathprod.