Letter to John McTiernan

Dear Mr. McTiernan,

I came to your work through the back door on the wrong side of midnight, knowing of your sentence before I knew your movies, which made watching them all in the span of a month this past January harder, since the only word I can think of to describe a film like The Thomas Crown Affair remake is free, which you are not.

I didn’t grow up with Die Hard or Predator like a bunch of my friends did, I came to your films through the back door, loving the westerns of Hawks, Ford, and Peckinpah already but ignorant and dismissive of the action that followed. Boy, was I wrong.

Growing up, I assumed Predator was a macho splatterfest for rowdy boys who played Mortal Kombat and made fun of my glasses. Not having seen it, how could I know it was actually a mythological parable about the uselessness of overwhelming firepower in a fight against forces of the invisible? No wonder you became so critical of the Bush administration; Predator suggests that you, more than anyone, could’ve made a great film about terrorism, if you hadn’t been made the victim of entrapment and prosecutorial vindictiveness.

Your movies themselves are still as free as they’ve ever been. “If there’s joy in the picture,” I said, after seeing Die Hard for the first time, “how can I say no?” All my preconceptions and prejudices about action movies fell away upon encountering a visual clarity that conveyed meaning with immediacy married to a musicality and feeling of weightlessness that seemed to embody what cinema is or can be. This is Hollywood at its best, I thought.

Someone should write a book about the formal and structural qualities of your movies; it’d be even better if you were involved in it. You must read a lot in there. I don’t wanna make any presumptions, though, look how wrong I was about action movies. I remember this one passage from a book by Piers Vitebsky about Siberian reindeer herders, it shows how much presumptions are worth:

A shaman from Nepal met a Westerner, who remarked how good it must be to live in harmony with the cosmos. The shaman replied, ‘The main part of my job is killing witches and sorcerers.’

Isn’t ‘witches & sorcerers’ just another name for producers?

What’s your favorite Scotch? I’d like to know so I can drink a glass in your honor when you get out.

Yours sincerely,

Otie Wheeler

p.s. Even though some say it tastes like old man boot, I’m a Laphroaig 15 man myself.