theyliveIt seems the novelist Jonathan Lethem is writing a book-length essay about THEY LIVE (a fact I learned from this post on the blog of Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger). This is good news for the world. Bad news for me, though, since I’ve long been planning on doing exactly fucking that for my next Lulu book.

Okay, it’s my fault for letting this one sit for too long. I got sidetracked putting together Yippee Ki Yay Moviegoer. So it’s not like I wasted a bunch of time writing it, it was still in my head. But I had the structure all figured out and had even done some research such as reading Roddy Piper’s autobiography and purchasing the obscure comic book that Carpenter bought the rights to as part of the basis of the movie (bet you thought it was just the short story “8 O’Clock In the Morning” by Ray Nelson, didn’t you, Lethem? WRONG!)

Did you know the guy who wrote the short story also claimed to have invented the propeller beanie? Yes, you do now, because I’m sharing my research with you.

Well, I’m sure the Lethem book will be good and I look forward to reading it. And then throwing it out the window in a fit of jealousy. I’ll have to wait to read it to see if there’s a need for two book-length essays about THEY LIVE. And jesus, I better get on some of these other ideas. If I don’t hurry up and write a (REDACTED) book I fucking know somebody else will beat me to it, it’s so obvious. Man, I didn’t have to look over my shoulder like this when I was writing Seagalogy. (until that guy made that websight called seagalology.)

Anyway, it’s gonna be a series of books kind of like those 33 1/3 books they have for essays about albums. The second one’s on DEATH WISH.

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56 Responses to “SONOFABITCH!”

  1. Daniel Strange

    June 3rd, 2010 at 2:23 am

    Hey man, don’t worry about it. Just write it anyway. You know? All you have to do is assume yours will be better, regardless. Don’t waste your time waiting to read his. His might be shit, he might take a really long time to finish it, he may NEVER finish it – whatever. The important thing is, no matter what, it won’t be your book. Not to sound all motivational-speakery, but, this is a fact I know: unless he is you, he will not write your book.

    Just write it anyway. That’s my two cents.

    Good luck bud.

  2. It figures it would be something like this.

  3. How many books have been written about the life of Jay Leno? Two. Thus there is room for at least three or four They Live books.

    I have already read other reviews of movies you write about on this site. But the reason I read YOUR reviews is because they are insightful and funny. The existence of other reviews doesn’t change that in the least.

  4. I hate that. Happens a lot. If every good idea one had was produced upon the time of said inspiration, we’d all be geniuses. Frustrating.

    But all is not lost. Cut it down and make it a part of something of larger context. Cut the jokes. Nothing was ever hurt by being cut too carefully.


  6. biomechanical bell end

    June 3rd, 2010 at 5:18 am

    I’m sure this other dude’s book will be ok, but They Live deserves to have a book that tells it like it is. It should also come with a free pair of shades, just in case.

  7. The story of my life. I got a good idea and somebody does it before me. Vern, be smarter than me and don’t just sit there and give it up. The world needs your insight.

  8. Vern – I say work on it on the side or backburner it. Then come back in 5 years because unless that particular THEY LIVE book transforms THEY LIVE from cult nerd classic to great cinema quality and delivers in a fashion similar to your down to Earth insight and humor……you’ll have the room to still put on your shades.

  9. If there is a God, one of those books he’s actively developing is the summer movie book he’s been taunting us with for a year. And even if there isn’t a God, it’d still be cool if he was writing that book.

  10. Jareth Cutestory

    June 3rd, 2010 at 6:39 am

    I agree you should work on the material. Your book will have the benefit of being able to discuss all the shortcomings of Lethem’s book. Think about it like an academic, part of whose job is to engage in discussion with other scholars: after hundreds of years, they’re still finding things to say about HAMLET.

    Besides, it’s not the subject matter of the book that is important, it’s the subject position of the author. No way Lethem will inhabit as badass a subject position as you.

    And if Lethem puts out something as goofy as some of the weaker 33 1/3 or Kill Your Idols entries, your book will be a welcome correction.

    Also, you know how Wu-Tang Clan got their name and picture all over a bunch of old Shaw Brothers films? They call it “Wu-Tang Presents” or something. The world needs a “Vern Presents” series of dvd releases. It’s a logical destination for the Loose Canon.

  11. Deep Impact vs Armageddon. Tombstone vs Wyatt Earp, Knight and Day vs Killers. Write your damn book.

  12. Vern, it’s so obvious………

    Full length dissertation of On Deadly Ground.

  13. After reading the “LOST” finale review, I want a Vern book that is a collection of reviews of TV finales. Except
    “The Wire”, of course.

  14. By the way, I haven’t figured out the significance of him inventing the propeller beanie, but I’m sure I would’ve figured it out eventually. The one thing I know is that the chapter on the fight scene would have to be way longer than all the other chapters.

  15. Jareth Cutestory

    June 3rd, 2010 at 10:10 am

    I don’t want to speak for all my brother missionaries who are trying to convert Vern to THE WIRE, but I think it needs to be said: you don’t have to write about it; that’s a big job and no one should expect you to do it. Just watch the damn thing. And thank us later.

  16. To echo what everyone else is saying, I think you should still go through with it, Vern. Academic discourse is full of overlaps, but I have a feeling you’ve got a distinct enough understanding of the film that it would contrast and add depth to the study, rather than simply mimic it. And as part of a series of essays on Badass cinema, it would also compliment and deepen the readers’ understanding of the meaning of the genre as a whole.

    On the other hand, I think a book about the Summer Blockbuster still needs your attention. Or a book on the history of Mega- Acting.

  17. That other book will be trash. Right your book man.

    You should also use this picture for something:

  18. err..


  19. Jareth Cutestory

    June 3rd, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Mr. Subtlety brings up a good point: some of your best work discusses specific films within a larger context of genre or dominant trends in cinema, like your classic essays in response to TRANSFORMERS. The summer blockbuster book that Mr. Subtlety mentions would be a great vehicle for such an approach. I’ve never really thought of you as a reviewer, but rather as a cultural critic whose “reviews” function more as rough drafts of ideas and material that articulate the overall world view of Vern.

    Also, I’d like to read a book about what it would take to make Tom Selleck the badass he was born to be. I want to know what went wrong and how it can be fixed. I’m sure such a book would also hold some interest for Mr. Selleck.

  20. Shitz McNichols

    June 3rd, 2010 at 11:40 am

    You should write a book about planning to write a book about THEY LIVE only to be beaten to the punch by a writer who is most likely less passionate about writing such a book but will probably sell more copies than you would cause the people of the world have sucky taste in everything.

    It doesn’t really matter what the subject is that you write about, we just like reading what you have to say about it. Personally I would read a book long essay you wrote about an episode of The View.

  21. I read a book by Lethem and it was good, and showed a strong knowledge of soul music and graffiti culture within a sort of semiautobiographical novelistic type deal. So I think he’s a smart guy who’ll do a good job. Also I believe Soft Skull Press is a small sort of countercultural publisher, so this is not The Man beating me to the punch. I think it will be good. I’m just bummed they got there before I did. As with Seagalogy, part of my inspiration with it was thinking that the world would be a better place simply by the existence of a book entirely about analyzing THEY LIVE.

    But I might still write it. We’ll see.

    A book about an episode of The View might be a good idea though, depending on the episode.

  22. Jareth Cutestory

    June 3rd, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    If Lethem is a thoughtful writer who represents a non-establishment perspective, it doesn’t necessarily lessen the significance of a book or article by you on the same topic. Your dialogue (whether direct or indirect) could represent a bold step toward establishing the Badass Movement as a valuable social entity, like when the Frankfurt School came together. Or when Miles Davis started incorporating Sly Stone and Hendrix on his fusion-era records. Think of it as your ON THE CORNER.

    At the very least, it would be a welcome change from engaging your critical abilities with nitwits like Cyrus.

  23. I know people who still think that action/horror/SF/fantasy are a lower form of Cinema . They basically think that if a movie is not directed by Fellini , Leone or Welles , it is not worth their time . “They Live ? Isn’t that another Carpenter horror ? You should grow the fuck up , CallMeKermiT.” That kind of bullshit makes me think that the more books about They Live ( or any other movie deserving an entire book to analyze ) , the better . I like reading non-fiction/informative books or articles ( one of my favorite is a piece by Lovecraft about the origin of fantasy literature , and one day I will read King’s “On Writing” ) and I think that one or more books on They Live can only help increase the respect that that movie deserves . In that regard , if you write your book the world will be a better place for it !

    Plus : What? They Live is based on a comic ? What is the name ?

  24. CallMeKermit- What’s hilarious about that is that Leone’s movies were dismissed as western-pulp-pap when they were first released, it wasn’t until years after his death that people really and fully embraced stuff like the Dollars Trilogy as true art.

  25. What Jareth said has got me thinking, Vern — maybe you ought to do a book which just outlines your emerging philisophy of cinema. The Tao of Vern, or something. You’re one of the few writers of cinema today who is continually defining and refining theories about some of the less-discussed aspects of cinema. Badass Cinema (including Badass Juxtaposition, Loose Canon, etc), The Summer Blockbuster (shakey cam, “it’s-not-supposed-to-be-Shakespeare”), Mega Acting (Nic Cage, history thereof), Emerging trends (fakeumentaries, fast zombies, kids these days).

    Rather than necessarily writing full reviews, it would be interesting to hear you just draw up a map of cinematic theories which aren’t widely discuessed and demonstrate how they’re related to each other and how they make up your overall philosophy and the state of cinema at present. It would also give you a chance to refine your theories on these topics and concentrate your efforts on them for awhile.

  26. also, the DTV movement, which is, of course, your original alma matter.

  27. Brendan : What’s even more hilarious is that when Eastwood returned to western movies with the Unforgiven , some Italian critics dismissed it as an actor on his last leg trying to ape his Italian mentor ( and his younger years) and revive a long dead genre . I cannot tell you how many jackasses I’ve heard saying shit like ” He learned everything from Leone ” and ” A western ? He’s really getting old” . When talking about Unforgiven here in Italy , the name Leone always came before the name Eastwood.

  28. Jareth Cutestory

    June 3rd, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Mr. Subtlety: If Vern doesn’t write THE TAO OF VERN, one of his disciples will have to assemble a posthumous VERNOLOGY from various reviews, talkback exchanges and urban legends. Sort of like the Sunnah, but asskickinger.

  29. CallMeKermiT – Doesn’t surprise me. I mean how many of your gentlemen directors indeed have (rhetorically) conquered the movie world outside of your Fellini and Antolini (the BLOW UP guy) and Leone? We still get your prime product here and there, like that asshole in the old decade who won the Oscar, crawled over the audience, and then made that infamous PINOCHIO movie. Usually when its Italians infiltrating Hollywood, its your “exotic” actors playing the “foreign” villains or your latest sultress queen showing off the tits.

    Which is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I mean its not like you ever hear American movie nerds gush over a Hunguarian movie.

  30. I am a fan of Jonathan Lethem’s. Motherless Brooklyn is, in my mind, an all time classic (that i hope Edward Norton never ruins by actually getting it to the screen) and I’m sure he’ll do a fine job with his book.
    That being said, you Vern, have a unique view on cinema that all of us here obviously enjoy. Write your book. I’m sure it would be quite different than Lethem’s take on the subject. Let the readers decide which book they’d prefer to read.
    Hell, just do it as an exercise if nothing else. Writers get better by writing. Get it out of your mind and on to the page. Maybe it will lead you in a direction (possibly a new subject/book) that you hadn’t even considered before.

  31. If you don’t have a book about Brian Bosworth’s role in badass cinema lined up, then your priorities aren’t straight.

    Or they are, but that’s no fun.

    Seriously, I would love to see an entire book devoted to singers/rappers/athletes who tried to cross over into acting via the action flick, which seemed to have hit its “high point” with the Boz.

  32. i’m gonna have to look into these 33 1/3 books.

  33. “TAGS: whining”


  34. Kermit – it was an obscure comic called “Alien Encounters” that had a short adaptation of the Ray Nelson story. But it had a different take on it which Carpenter used some elements of so he bought the rights to both.

  35. Hey Vern, how come you’re back publishing stuff at Lulu instead of Titan? Did Titan pass? I have no idea how publishing works.

  36. Lethem’s a good writer and all (I particularly enjoyed his novel Fortress of Solitude), but I think even though he might get his book published first, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for two books on They Live. If the film industry decided they could release two movies about asteroids hitting the earth in one summer, then the publishing industry should be able to make room for two books about They Live.

  37. RRA : Well , I think that a lot of Italian directors outside Fellini , Monicelli , Corbucci , Leone and Antonioni ( that Blowup guy ) have left their mark in Cinema , even if it’s in genre movie : Argento , Mario and Lamberto Bava , Castellari , Di leo , we even have Lina Wertmuller , one of the most respected women directors .All of them known outside Italy for a wide collection of movies and genres like horror , giallo , “poliziesco” , social commentary and so on . They’re the inspiration for a new generation of American directors , but here in Italy they’re still considered B-class directors because of their movies , with the possible exception of Argento because he’s still going after all these years ( and he was also a friend/inspiration for Romero and another generation of American and international directors ) so his respect is almost “due”. Italian Cinema is not only Fellini and Leone . Benigni is also a very intelligent person , I know , Pinocchio sucked , but he’s still doing relevant movies over here and theater work.

  38. Forgot about Bava and Argento. Sorry. And I thought Wertmuller was German? But yeah you’re right.

  39. CrustaceanHate

    June 3rd, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    I think Vern should really check out some poliziotteschi films. Stuff like VIOLENT NAPLES or ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH. Maurizio Merli is badass.

  40. RRA : Yeah , with a name like that I always forgot that she’s actually from Rome ! But there’s also truth in your words : our Cinema is less relevant than in the past , that’s why we always like to drop Fellini and Leone names. Our movies today are , literally , mostly divided in two categories : Fart-Comedies and Dramas . It’s been years since a single fantasy or SF movie was produced here , like it’s somehow below us ( and below Fart-Comedies ). We have young directors experimenting like Corrado Guzzanti and his “Fascists on Mars” ( a SF satire-comedy-social commentary ) , but they’re a few and our critics are always talking about our past glories to notice .

  41. Woah woah woah – Vern…you read a COMIC BOOK?

    I thought I knew everything there was to know about THEY LIVE, so the fact that you mentioned 2 or 3 things I never heard about in just a few sentences seems to justify the existence of more than one publication on the subject. Even if you decide not to do the book, I look forward to the lengthy essay you’ll post on the site.

    Maybe you would consider writing a book about the making of GHOSTS OF MARS? Or HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN? Or Keith David’s pre-badass career as a dancer?

  42. Surely the world would be an even better place with two novel length essays on They Live?

  43. Brendan – I’ll keep doing books with Titan for as long as they want me to, but I really liked the self-publishing thing so I hope to do some more specialized books that way in between. That’s if I ever have time though.

  44. Jareth Cutestory

    June 3rd, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    Vern: If it’s any consolation, there’s a guy in the “customer reviews” section of SEAGALOGY on Amazon.com who complains that you beat him to writing a full length study of Seagal. Circle of life.

  45. CrustaceanHate : Oh yes , a little bit of Italian poliziesco is a good idea . I always recommend Milano Caliber 9 or The Boss by Fernando Di Leo , thei’re pretty good , plus Mario Adorf looks like a fat , angry Bruce Campbell!

    Vern: Thanks for the comic name , I didn’t knew that . And judging by the comments , that’s new to a lot of people, a lot of movie lovers and , like myself , comic-book nerds , so if you can write something new for a crowd like us , you already have an ace up your sleeve against that other book. Now I really want to read your book , so , if you scrap the idea , please , at least re-work the material in an online article or a section of one of your next books.

  46. Thanks Vern

  47. Well Vern, I guess you’re just the Harlan Rook to Lethem’s Peter Swan. What can you do? Except steal his list of dead celebrities and make that real.

  48. or… how about you choose another movie to do a whole book about? another movie that fits your criterion of “the world would be a better place simply by the existence of a book entirely about analyzing” it. a movie that most of us around here consider to be a classic but is not generally considered to be a classic (like THEY LIVE). a movie that nobody besides you would ever bother writing a whole book about (but that’s why everyone else is dumb). i’m having trouble thinking of one right now, but i’m sure we can all figure something out, eh, guys?

    if it was ME writing a whole book about a single movie that nobody else would bother writing a whole book about, it would probably be either THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN or STARSHIP TROOPERS, but obviously your choice would be different, vern.

  49. There’s a Stephen King story that echoes They Live… not sure if it came before or after. it’s called ‘The Ten O’Clock People’ (i think) and has the character seeing the aliens after he takes a smoking break at 10. only people who take smoking breaks at that time can see the aliens

    yeah, i know

  50. Scorcese’s working on Part II of his documentary about Italian Cinema, which will cover roughly the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties, and talk about Sergio Leone, Mario Bava, Wertmuller, Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci, ect. Sounds great.

    And write the book, Vern. There can never be enough scholarship on THEY LIVE–looking more and more like one of the best-or at the very least, most underrated–American films of the 1980s.

  51. This is especially fucked up news for me as I originally created my website http://www.allouttabubblegum.com, in order to write about They Live AFTER being inspired by your writing, Vern. I ended up scrapping my original piece on the film, salvaging just a few parts to throw into one of my mini-reviews (an Action Movie Breakdown), but now after a couple years of teaching myself to write more better good, I’ve recently been thinking about going back to do what I originally set out to. And now this… Who the hell would have ever thought that so many people would have plans to cover one obscure little sci-fi flick from the 80s? Sure, I wasn’t planning anything as auspicious as a book, mind, but I had planned on writing something special and outside my normal 4 to 5 pages, including actually doing research outside of Wikipedia and IMDb… So this still hits me as weird.

    Anyways, I agree with most on here that you should totally go ahead with your idea. Reading an entire book on one of my most beloved and inspiring action films, written by the guy that inspired me to write about one of my most beloved action films–that’d be surreal.


  52. THEY LIVE gets more and more relevant with each passing year. I would love to read your expanded take on it, Vern.

  53. That sucks. It also happens to me ALL THE TIME. I still can’t objectively assess Mann’s COLLATERAL because I wrote something with a similar plot, something I was pretty happy with, right before the film came out. (Mine has a supernatural element to differentiate it, though, so maybe it’s time to dust it off.) I also had the idea long ago of subverting Cruise’s “soulless Alpha male” persona by casting him as a psycho. I think Stuart Beattie has been reading my email.

    But I agree — you should do it anyway.

    Lethem strikes me as an okay guy. He’s a big film geek — I saw him recently on the DVD of Nicholas Ray’s BIGGER THAN LIFE (a fantastic “James Mason goes crazy” film that contains what might be my new favorite line ever) sharing his thoughts about the movie as a special feature — but he’s a serious respectable literary type. The famously unpretentious Carpenter is probably laughing his ass off. Vern is a far more appropriate choice for the job.

    “They basically think that if a movie is not directed by Fellini , Leone or Welles , it is not worth their time .”

    One of these things does not belong. That’s like saying “Bergman, Fuller or Resnais.”

  54. I’m late to the party here, but I think there’s room in the world for more than one essay on “They Live”. Sometimes, though, you have to make sure you differentiate between your essay and someone else’s, so here are some ideas for you to do exactly that:

    1) Write it in the style of an alien who has lived on earth in the guise of a human for twenty years or so and is annoyed at the negative portrayal of disguised aliens.

    2) Write the whole thing in Iambic Pentameter (think Homer’s “The Odyssey”. Yes, I’ve read it. There’s a lot of wounds and a big one-eyed bloke. Also the heroes disguise themselves as sheep at one point. Totally badass.)

    3) Write it in the form of an “ironic” sponsored text, with Ray-Bans as the sponsor. (When you think about how prominently sunglasses feature in that film, it could really work well.)

    4) Combine all three of the previous ideas.

    Frank Booth – it’s always fun to see the archetypal “protagonist” actor play the bad guy for once, but I’ve always preferred comedy-actor psychos. (Think John Goodman in “Barton Fink” or Michael Palin in “Brazil”, although I’ve always thought the latter would’ve been more effective if they hadn’t have had the mask.) I think Ronnie Corbett as psycho would be all kinds of awesome, but I doubt it’s ever going to happen unfortunately.

    Topical quiz: why was it called “They Live”? Wouldn’t it make more sense to call it “They’re here”?

  55. Don’t give up, Vern. you already have an estabilshed fan base and readership, even among the academia. Believe it, man. and your take on THEY LIVE, the great american communist movie, man, that would be great! Don’t deprive us of that pearl of criticism, man! Please!

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