Letter to John McTiernan

Dear John McTiernan,

The first time I saw Predator was through my fingers. It was terrifying. Entire sequences went unseen, the tension you maintained being too much for my younger self to bear. I missed the final stand of Mac and Dillon. The magnificently gooey, crustacean-lizard creature mouth haunted my dreams. I suppose you can say, the first time I watched Predator, I experienced it as a horror film.

The slightly-older me smiled gleefully as Arnie’s commandos raised the guerilla village to the ground. The Herculean clasp of Dutch and Dillon, Blaine’s mini-gun, those “boyscout shit” traps, all presented an irresistible testosterone fest for a bunch of pubescent, backwood primitives. Your cinema became, for my friends and I, a macho refuge. Action. The future-cinephile in me, however, began subconsciously taking notes. The camera rising vertically through the trees to find Hawkins’ body. Those gorgeous flashes of light when the Predator fires his laser in the dark. Seeds for a future appreciation.

Now I see the film as movement, relations, lines of fate, delineations of space; it has become quite like a piece of music for me. You have spoken about the relationship of cinema to music, how to rhyme, the idea of visual “key.” I learned this from you. Who else is there to learn it from? When I finally got up the guts to admit that yes, I do consider a film about an invisible alien hunting commandos a masterpiece of cinema, it rocked my world. You taught something invaluable, you taught cinema.

Your films made me finally “get” film. The dream-like slow motion and lighting when Pierce Brosnan throws a ghost off a building in Nomads. The effortless, impossibly fluid camera movements through the canopy in Medicine Man. The way you cut movement into movement as John McClane walks through a hall in Nakatomi Plaza. The incredible spatial definition and kinetic camera flourishes as the vikings cross a waterfall in The 13th Warrior. I could go on all day, easily. What I’m trying to say, with that long-winded cataloguing, is that you’re cinema, your mastery, is in my DNA so thoroughly that shots and edits can get stuck in my head the way a pop song can.

And now you’ve been locked away. Writing about the entire affair is difficult, the details and effects of its existence being so infuriating and demoralizing. I suppose I could, rightly, use words like “angered” and “saddened” to describe feelings on the situation. Most of all, I’m worried. I worry that it could hurt you enough to make you stop sharing your talents with the world.

But then I realize, you don’t need worry. You’re an artist. A man with vision who’s gifted to us great riches. Whatever hardships prison and the legal system present, what we, the cinephiles who love you and your work, need to have, and feel, is faith. Faith that, no matter what happens, you’ll maintain your integrity as an artist and a man. Whether, after all this, you feel you wish to continue filmmaking is your affair, not ours. You’ve already given us so much.

I’m eternally grateful, and know that, whether you make films again or not, you’ll be true to yourself, and setting an example for the rest of us.

With love and respect,
JL

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