“Film is like magic; they’re like our hands… they’re a weapon.”
When I first saw Cigarette Burns I was greatly disappointed because it didn’t feel like a John Carpenter movie. To me it felt like somebody who wanted to be Carpenter bud didn’t have sense of how to direct. I thought the movie was lacking, the acting was poor and direction seemed rushed so obviously I thought this wasn’t Carpenters greatest but it couldn’t be worse than Ghosts of Mars. To my surprise, it seemed like most people that I talked to or commented on loved the episode saying that it was the best one out of the entire series so I thought I was missing something. Well, it turns out that I was but that something didn’t improve the aforementioned complains but rather gave me an understanding of what Carpenter wanted to accomplish with this episode. With that said, after the re-watch I still think the acting is poor and it lacked that ominous atmosphere that I grew to love about John Carpenter movies. I can look past the fact that he may have been under time constraints. But I want to expand on what I took from the episode.
While looking into the episode before watching it many people have stated that Carpenter was exploring the idea of connecting art with madness, much like what he was doing when he directed In The Mouth of Madness. Some stated that he was discussing the breakdown of civilized people because of art or the idea that art is the expression and liberation of supernatural entities by the artist. They’re all great ideas that I am sure Carpenter incorporated but what I saw was John’s commentary on how film can be used as a weapon and how powerful film can be when it’s given into the wrong hands. I see Cigarette Burns as Carpenter’s Inglourious Basterds. Many have stated that Inglourious Basterds was Tarantino’s way of saying that film can be used as a tool and a weapon but at the same time it could change history. This idea of film isn’t relatively new because a lot of directors feel this way but Carpenter decided to put a horror spin to it.
There are a few quotes that are littered throughout the film that make me believe that Carpenter is touching base on film as a weapon, and in some instances he is blatantly saying it. One quote always stuck with me even before I began watching the film and it was, “Film in the right hands is a weapon” and I believe this to be true. If we look at history, film has been used as a tool to brainwash the general public, it can provide convincing yet falsifying facts to persuade people into believing a lie, in fact the film even states, “The plate of the splicing table can be used to tell a lie or to tell the truth. It all depends whose hands it’s in.” It’s a very compelling argument and I won’t go into extreme detail on specific examples of ‘film weaponry’ but you can find the bulk of them during the World War II era and the 1950s. Film was used a propaganda tool and it wasn’t as obvious as some of the social guidance films but it could also be seen in films distributed by Hollywood. Directors use film to get their message across and we as the audiences are subconsciously affected by it.
In the case of Cigarette Burns, it seems like La Fin Absolue du Monde was such a powerful film that it makes anybody who watches it brutally attack each other or themselves. In its English translation the title means The Absolute End of the World. By using this translation I think I see a connection between the title and the reaction people have upon viewing the film; perhaps whatever is in the film makes the viewer subconsciously aware of our true violent intentions. In this case the end of the world may not be the total destruction of the world but rather the destruction of civilized humans because of some dispute or incident. Maybe the film suggests that it is only a matter of time before we begin killing ourselves or it reveals our deepest, darkest fears and that it pushes the audience to react. We’ll never really know because Carpenter chooses to not show the film in its entirety, and I think that was a good choice on his part.
There is a quote in the film that was said by a film critic that really puts the idea of using film as propaganda on the stand. He states, “We trust filmmakers. We sit in the dark, daring them to affect us, secured in the nous that they won’t go too far.” It’s a very interesting quote because it’s very true. When we see a film that interests us we pay to see it, sit in the theater in hopes that the filmmaker will either impress us or tell us something. It’s a lot of faith that we have in the filmmaker to show us something that won’t push us over the edge. How many times have you saw a film that was so revolting, so horrifying or so hard-hitting that you couldn’t believe what you saw? This bond, the trust between the audience and the filmmaker, is very psychologically based and I can say that I have experienced this bond. I never acted differently or changed personally but I walked out of the theater in absolute awe, shock, terror and assessment… it was The Mist. I left my trust in the hands of the filmmaker that everything will be fine but he broke that trust violently and unmercifully.
All in all I guess what I am saying is that Cigarette Burns may be about the connection between madness and art or the breakdown of civilized people but I think that Carpenter explores the idea that film is a tool and that as a tool it can be used as a weapon. He explores the idea that there is a connection between the audience and the film and the bonding between the people involved with the production and the film itself. “We were part of the film; bound to the negative like soul to flesh.” In this case, I believe that Carpenter is correct. Film is a very powerful tool and that it can hold great power over the people who view it. As many people have said, the film industry is (possibly) the greatest secret weapon that ever existed and I for one thoroughly believe that it is a weapon of destruction.