Friday, September 4, 2015

One Last Goodbye

by Patrick Bromley
I think I took Wes Craven for granted.

It's been a long week. We've been posting a lot of pieces about Wes Craven. For those of you who are sad about his passing, maybe it's helping. For those of you who aren't as affected, maybe it's a lot of "enough already." I'm sorry. I'm almost done.

I said in our Favorite Wes Craven Movies piece that I was shocked by my own reaction to Craven's death because it had never occurred to me that he would be gone. That's not me stupidly saying I assumed he would live forever. That's just me saying that he's been a part of my movie-watching life since I can almost first remember and I never actually considered the possibility that one day he would no longer be. I was caught off guard by the news of his death -- as I said, I didn't even know he was sick (I don't think many of us did) -- but I was caught even more off guard by how profoundly it has hit me.
I'm sad for his family, of course, because I'm always sad for the family when a loved one passes. I'm selfishly sad for myself because I know it means no more Wes Craven movies, no more Wes Craven interviews, no more documentaries on the horror genre in which Wes Craven is a talking head and says the most thoughtful things of anyone interviewed. And while I'm thinking of it, how about no more documentaries on the horror genre for a little while? At least until there's something new to say or someone new to say it? John Landis needs a day off.

But what I'm also struggling with is a sense of guilt. I was unfair to Wes Craven too often. When he would release a bad movie -- and I really did (and still do) think a couple of them are quite bad -- I put too much stock in the failure. I would ask myself if he had "lost it" or if the really good ones came about through alchemy of talent and script and luck. And of course that's true. It's true of every movie, not just the ones Wes Craven directed. But I think the foolish belief that Craven would always be around made me too shortsighted about his work. Sure, My Soul to Take is a disaster; maybe the next one would find him bouncing back or maybe it, too, would end up in the "bad" column. I'd just have to wait and see.
I shouldn't have treated his work as hashmarks in a column. I shouldn't treat anyone's movies that way. One of the things that I've learned during my years running F This Movie! is that I have to always try to be a better movie watcher. I can't ever stop evolving. In my early days it was easy to be snarky or dismissive, in part because I was still figuring out my own voice (and I'm both snarky and dismissive in life) and in part because I wasn't really writing for any audience. Now I know better. People read things that are published on the internet. And even if they don't -- I don't fool myself into believing that the filmmakers involved in the movies I write about read this stuff -- I have to write like they might read it. Provide some context. If I didn't like something, try to explain why I didn't like it. Just saying something sucks is of no value to anyone, least of all myself. The fun of watching and discussing movies is in the "why." Why does it suck? Why is is great? Why why why?

This is not about writing, though. I didn't post a bunch of articles on this site bashing Wes Craven and his work (though I know we trashed Scream 4 when it came out, but again hopefully provided the reasons why we didn't like it...and yes, Heather, I promise to try it again). This is more about the thoughts I've carried around with me all these years -- how I've only ever given Wes Craven credit for his great films and not for his entire body of work. There were plenty of his movies that I didn't like, and I'm not saying I'm going to start liking Vampire in Brooklyn or The Hills Have Eyes 2 retroactively just because Wes Craven died. What I'm saying is that I wasted years dismissing those and not looking for the good in them or giving credit to Craven for trying. And I'll say this about Wes Craven: even with his bad movies, he was always trying something. I mean, Scream 3 comes closest to being a phoned-in effort, but I know there were a lot of problems getting that one to the screen and Craven can't be totally blamed for its failures. Still, it was the only movie in the series -- possibly in his whole career -- that he didn't seem to be trying to do something new or different. I don't think Vampire in Brooklyn works as a horror film or a comedy, but Craven is trying to blend the two in a way that's honest and fair to both genres. He tried to make Eddie Murphy a villain. I didn't love Scream 4 or My Soul to Take, but I can see that Craven was trying to make a horror movie that spoke to young people in a way that most horror movies don't. Again, I don't think he succeeds, but he was trying. Trying matters.
I feel terrible that it took his passing for me to understand that I have to always consider not just the individual film but the body of work. A new Wes Craven film was, at the very least, a new Wes Craven film, and now that we won't be getting any more of those I realize that I shouldn't have been flip about my reactions to any of them. Not every film or filmmaker demands such consideration. I know that. I'm still going to see garbage that I immediately forget or badmouth because it was offensively lazy or made me mad. But this is WES FUCKING CRAVEN. No amount of distaste for the mess that is Cursed (another movie wiped out by studio interference) should make me overlook the fact that this same man once created Freddy Krueger and directed what is probably my favorite horror movie ever made. He was a singular, often times great filmmaker and has more to do with influencing my childhood love of horror than maybe anyone else this side of Jack Pierce.

This week I've been watching a bunch of Wes Craven movies, but because I've seen A Nightmare on Elm Street and The People Under the Stairs and Scream and The Hills Have Eyes enough times already they're not the films I'm turning to while I try to process my grief. Instead I've been watching Shocker and Cursed and Deadly Blessing and stuff I wasn't crazy about the first time I saw it. And I'm still not crazy about most of it -- though both Deadly Blessing and Shocker have risen somewhat in my estimation now that I have some perspective -- but these are the places I'm going to because I want to understand Wes Craven more completely and his misfires can give me as much of a picture of him as his successes. Plus I feel like I owe him that much.
I'm far from finished being broken up about the loss of Wes Craven, but I promise I'll stop writing about my mourning him after this. I'm still having trouble sleeping and prone to seizing up with sadness every few hours. It's not the kind of thing I can talk about in my day to day life, either, so this is the place that I come to share how I'm feeling because I know many of you are feeling the same way -- if not about Wes Craven, then about another artist who meant a great deal to you and is now gone. The truth of the matter is that Craven's just the first in a generation that we're going to start losing sooner than later. Our time with the Masters of Horror is limited. Let's not squander it by lamenting those last two Living Dead movies or Burying the Ex or The Ward. Let's instead celebrate the entire careers and lives of those who made the films that made us love film in the first place.

Wes Craven leaves a legacy of movies -- some great, some not so great, all of them made by a true artist who always tried to grow and give an audience something that would move them, unsettle them, scare them and entertain them. He always tried to be better. I promise I'll try to be better too.

10 comments:

  1. I own people under the stairs and shocker on a double feature and I've never seen them so I think I'm going to check those out this weekend. I will probably watch serpent and the rainbow too. These articles make me feel less dumb for being so upset about the loss so I very much appreciate them. Thanks Patrick.

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  2. Great piece of honest and humble journalism, Patrick. Put into perspective it rings true. I can be really dismissive, angry and at times offended when a film by someone like Dante or Carpenter comes out and is awful. It's generally an unfair reaction based on heightened anticipation with a disregard to what the filmmaker was trying to do or went through in doing so. Sure I still might not like it, but if I hold that artist in such high regard, I should at least treat the property with more respect, right?

    I brought up some points on artists "evolving" in a post I left back in January under Riske's "PTA is Pissing Me Off". I think it's relevant to "being a better movie watcher".

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  3. Thank you Sir. Write about what matters to you and do not worry about the rest.
    I would suspect that most of us don't have many places in our day to day life where we can discuss things like this. That's what we have F This Movie for.
    Thank you for sharing your eloquent thoughts on Mr. Craven and his work. Scary movie month is sure to be filled with the works of Wes Craven and Christopher Lee this year.

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  4. Great piece. I'm sorry Wes Craven's death is affecting you so much, Patrick (though I'm glad to see it's in a positive way as well) - he had such a well-lived and relatively long life and accomplished so many great things that sadness doesn't really enter into it for me. With death the job is finally done - we now know the "complete" Wes Craven and regardless of a few low points I think it's pretty clear that the final analysis is "GREAT" and the legend of his life and work will live on much longer than us and will always be there for us to enjoy. You shouldn't be sad because you won't get even MORE; you should be happy and grateful for what he gave and what you've got. Life's too short buddy.

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  5. Fuck waiting for scary movie month. When I heard the news last week I immediately put on A Nightmare On Elm Street. It's really a damn shame we lost this great man. He left a legacy that will live on in our nightmares.

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  6. I'm definitely going to burn through a lot of Craven this October. I can't wait.

    This is a lovely piece.

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  7. I love these pieces you're writing Patrick. I think they are helping. Its so odd, but the world feels like its missing something now. Something was there but now its gone and the world isn't complete anymore. Maybe the worst thing is now for the first time I'm realizing that we're going to lose others someday. I can't even think about losing Carpenter or Stuart Gordon. But now that I've lost Craven, I have to think about it. Its rough.

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  8. I think you feel about Wes as I would feel about Sam Raimi, I don't love all hes done, but I love the guy, I love what he originally created, I am happy he is in the world, i want him to live forever
    The last house on the Left doesn't get mentioned nearly enough these days. I watched it last night and there's something about that movie, a roughness that works, it does feel like real horror
    Nice column Patrick, I think I need to rewatch My Soul to Take, I know its bad but I feel im ready, I'm know theres someone out there that loves it, it could be Brian Collins? I cant remember who for sure

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  9. Ps Just a thought. Lets dedicate SMM to Wes Craven ;)

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  10. Patrick, all the contributors to F This Movie do a fantastic job by consistently putting together well thought out, interesting, unique and entertaining pieces. So don't for a second think that I don't appreciate everyones writing on here.

    This piece however, moved me in a totally unique and unexpected way. Now rightly, or wrongly, over the last 2 years or so I have been an F Head I have felt that I have come to know many of the contributors; the in jokes, the little neurosis and peccadilloes that make everyone special. F This Movie is by no means just a website that feeds nostalgia, but everyone on here certainly acknowledges the importance that movies have during different parts of our lives.

    We're all on a movie journey, and sometimes on our better days, a life journey too. I know some of the F This Movie contributors were high school buddies, and many are now family men and women, sharing movies with kids of their own.

    It is that sense of journey that you really tapped into in this article so well Patrick. You lost someone that had been an enormous influence in your movie going life. As you point out, Wes Craven wasn't perfect, no one is. But he had the urge to create and share and entertain for his whole working life and that is all we can ask for from artists.

    I remember when James Gandolfini died. I had a similar kind of lingering grief as you. I also remember feeling guilty. I didn't know James Gandolfini personally, so what right did I have to grieve when his family had just lost a father, husband, brother etc??

    What you have written here about Wes Craven though somehow validates that kind of grief and I thank you for that.

    The fact is that there are artists that have had and will have a profound influence on us all, and when we lose them, it plain sucks. We grieve for them because we're thankful for the gifts they gave us, and we understand that these gifts are finite and fleeting.

    We grieve them because we feel that by knowing their art, we knew them. I think that is more than okay.

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