Deep Focus is a series of film books with a fresh approach. Take the smartest, liveliest writers in contemporary letters and let them loose on the most vital and popular corners of cinema history: midnight movies, the New Hollywood of the sixties and seventies, film noir, screwball comedies, international cult classics, and more. Passionate and idiosyncratic, each volume of Deep Focus is long-form criticism that’s relentlessly provocative and entertaining.
Kicking off the series is Jonathan Lethem’s take on They Live, John Carpenter’s 1988 classic amalgam of deliberate B-movie, sci-fi, horror, anti-Yuppie agitprop. Lethem exfoliates Carpenter’s paranoid satire in a series of penetrating, free-associational forays into the context of a story that peels the human masks off the ghoulish overlords of capitalism. His field of reference spans classic Hollywood cinema and science fiction, as well as popular music and contemporary art and theory. Taking into consideration the work of Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, James Brown, Fredric Jameson, Shepard Fairey, Philip K. Dick, Alfred Hitchcock, and Edgar Allan Poe, not to mention the role of wrestlers — including They Live star “Rowdy” Roddy Piper — in contemporary culture, Lethem’s They Live provides a wholly original perspective on Carpenter’s subversive classic.
A fun read, packed with references to other films, literature and artists... one of the few books one would enjoy reading while watching a movie.
Novelist and occasional critic Jonathan Lethem pulls apart the threads of John Carpenter’s 1988 science fiction film of the same title, to entertaining and illuminating effect... Carpenter’s film emerges from Lethem’s inspection a more human and mysterious work, less coherent perhaps but fully immersed in the noisy, ceaseless traffic of cultural exchange.
Who would have thought that one of the cleverest, most accessibly in-depth film books released this year would be a smart-ass novelist exploring a cheesy-cheeky ‘80s sci-fi flick wherein a former wrestler combats an alien occupation via magic sunglasses?... [Jonathan Lethem] is able to seriously dissect the movie’s message and often highbrow references, while also fully acknowledging its silliness.
Apparently, author Lethem was the only other person than me to take They Live as brilliant, stinging social commentary. He explains why in this great book.