SXSW 2000 Film Festival and Conference

(l-r): Harry Knowles, John Carpenter, and Robert Rodriguez
(l-r): Harry Knowles, John Carpenter, and Robert Rodriguez (Photo By John Anderson)

Masters of Cult Cinema

Horror master John Carpenter and Austinites Robert Rodriguez and Harry Knowles were welcomed by a standing-room-only crowd to take part in a chatty, casual discussion on cult cinema that assessed such issues as violence in movies, the MPAA ratings system, and the future of filmmaking. Knowles kicked things off by introducing the possibility of a ratings code that would impact Hollywood much like the Hays Code did over 50 years ago. Carpenter, whose films include such genre classics as Halloween and The Thing, was quick to point out that many of his own favorite films were made during the Code days but that for "philosophical reasons," he opposes such censorship. Currently teaching a class on violence and sexuality in film at the University of California in Santa Barbara, Carpenter said that these days, horror directors are seen as "just a step up from porno directors." But Rodriguez, who used to make family-oriented movies (such as his upcoming Spy Kids) before his career took off with 1992's El Mariachi, voiced dismay at parents who allow their young children to view his films. "I do feel uneasy when parents tell me that their six-year-old kid loves Desperado," he said. Though hesitant to shoulder responsibility for the actions of his films' fans, Rodriguez said he would probably cut down on the violence in future films.

Knowles later engaged the two filmmakers in a debate over digital video, with Rodriguez championing the format's possibilities and Carpenter comparing the increasingly convenient process to a reprint of a painting, noting that, like film, nothing can capture the strokes and shades of the genuine article. During the closing Q&A session, the pair fielded questions from an audience thirsty for their wisdom. "Until you confront catastrophic failure, you're not a success yet," Carpenter said of his resilient career. Rodriguez, who began his filmmaking career at the age of 12 with a Quasar double-decked VCR and camcorder, urged aspiring filmmakers to "Quit aspiring. Start doing."

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