You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Thursday, February 24, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: THEY LIVE, by Jonathan Lethem

They Live (Deep Focus)They Live by Jonathan Lethem
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Does the world need a book-length study by Jonathan Lethem of John Carpenter's 1988 alien invasion film They Live?

My answer to that will have to be an unequivocal, Yes.

This book is among the first offerings from Deep Focus, a new series from Soft Skull Press that invites literary types to write in depth on popular cinema. (The other volume currently in print is Christopher Sorrentino on Death Wish.) My only disappointment here is that I now know that I am not the only person in the world, outside of some geeky, hormonal adolescents watching it repeatedly somewhere in the midwest, who loves this film. Turns out Slavoj Zizek and Greil Marcus are also fans. But that veneer of respectability does not intimidate Lethem when it comes to discussing Carpenter's taste-defying ninety minutes of cheesy action, bad dialogue, minimal special effects, and the occasional moment of art-house mise en scene--I figure if Lethem can use diegesis, I can use "mise en scene."

I won't rehearse the plot. I will only say that reading about They Live sent me straight to the video store for the well restored DVD. Book and movie movie are both a pleasure from beginning to end.

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