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They Live (Deep Focus) Paperback – November 1, 2010

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Product Details

  • Series: Deep Focus
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Soft Skull Press (November 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159376278X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593762780
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 4.9 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #687,831 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

“I’ve come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.” It doesn’t rank with “go ahead, make my day,” but that memorable line from director John Carpenter’s 1988 sf action satire They Live holds a special place in the hearts of cult-movie fans everywhere. This low-budget, poorly acted genre piece is the first specimen put under the microscope in a new series of long-form film criticism books called Deep Focus. The series takes a hip, contemporary writer and lets him or her loose on a classic (or not so classic) movie. They Live is lovingly picked apart, scene by scene, by Jonathan Lethem, the best-selling author of The Fortress of Solitude (2003) and a highly respected essayist. He finds hidden subtext in the smallest of details, while jovially debating the intentionality of Carpenter’s views on television, consumerism, race, misogyny, and so forth. In Lethem’s opinion, They Live “is probably the stupidest film ever to take ideology as its explicit subject. It’s also probably the most fun.” He is convincing. --Chris Keech


Praise for They Live

"Apparently, author Lethem was the only other person than me to take They Live as brilliant, stinging social commentary. He explains why in this great book.” — Sam Stowe, California Literary Review

"Who would have thought that one of the cleverest, most accessibly in-depth film books released this year would be a smart-ass novelist exploring a cheesy-cheeky ‘80s sci-fi flick wherein a former wrestler combats an alien occupation via magic sunglasses? . . . [Jonathan Lethem] is able to seriously dissect the movie’s message and often highbrow references, while also fully acknowledging its silliness." —Hartford Advocate

"Novelist and occasional critic Jonathan Lethem pulls apart the threads of John Carpenter's 1988 science fiction film of the same title, to entertaining and illuminating effect . . . Carpenter’s film emerges from Lethem’s inspection a more human and mysterious work, less coherent perhaps but fully immersed in the noisy, ceaseless traffic of cultural exchange." —The New York Times Book Review

"A fun read, packed with references to other films, literature and artists . . . one of the few books one would enjoy reading while watching a movie." —USA Today's Pop Candy

More About the Author

Jonathan Lethem was born in New York and attended Bennington College.

He is the author of seven novels including Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, which was named Novel of the Year by Esquire and won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Salon Book Award, as well as the Macallan Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger.

He has also written two short story collections, a novella and a collection of essays, edited The Vintage Book of Amnesia, guest-edited The Year's Best Music Writing 2002, and was the founding fiction editor of Fence magazine.

His writings have appeared in the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, McSweeney's and many other periodicals.

He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Rob Gordon on February 2, 2011
Format: Paperback
A complete surprise. This book has some of Lethem's sharpest, funniest, warmest writing -- he becomes a brain you're willing to take a flyer on, a voice you'll follow anywhere. Here the book is on watching Roddy Piper take up the cosmetics and call sheets of an actor: "Piper could be seen as a version of the TV star who's attempting to move into feature films. Traditionally, that's something like a baseball player trying to jump from the minor to major leagues: a routine attempt, but still carrying a hint of embarrassing hopefulness, and no guarantees." Here it is not only on movies but on language, politics, and their pretzeling together: "The Reagan-era dismantling of the psychiatric-service infrastructure flooded urban zones with those formerly under treatment for full-blown mental illnesses. Ironically, in the same era in which political sensitivity was demanding 'bums' be re-euphemized as 'homeless persons.' (A shift, like 'drunk' to 'alcoholic,' from something verbishly active -- 'I'm bumming, I'm drinking' -- to something nounishly passive -- 'I endure homelessness, I suffer alcoholism.')" And here it is on the repeat-They Live screenings the book made unavoidable: "I've watched the entirety of my subject film a dozen times at least. Some days I hate the thing, for a while it bored me completely. But it came back, too. I watched They Live with friends, lettng it do its work on new victims -- that was one way to refresh myself...I'm sure I'll watch it again. If we meet up, I'll watch it with you." Sharp, awake, open. "Writing like this," Martin Amis once said, "wins one's deepest assent; it seems to enlarge the human community."

How good is They Live? It's one of the few books (sorry, Amazon) I've immediately clicked on and bought after finishing the sample.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Adam G on January 23, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Lethem has written an analysis that is fast-paced, wide-ranging, weirdly obsessive, and deeply perceptive. He clearly loves this movie, but doesn't apologize for or flinch from its flaws. With time-stamped chapters linking you straight into the movie, and an excellent survey of the film's cultural and literary environment, this book makes a delightful companion to a cult classic.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Bob Fingerman on November 5, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Lethem writes a handy (pocket-sized), dandy (very thoughtful), scene-by-scene analysis of John Carpenter's seminal paranoiac sci-fi B-movie classic. Lethem is a high-minded fellow who can take the time to truly appreciate a high point in low culture like They Live. Essential reading for fans of Carpenter's oeuvre.
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