High Museum of Art: Films

Five Questions for Johan Harper by Linda Dubler
October 20, 2009, 9:30 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Johan Harper knows more about B movies than anyone I know. He’s the go-to guy for everything from obscure Asian martial arts to southern gothic schlock. I met him through the High where he works as a security officer.

Linda Dubler: Though I know I should be open to everything, there are certain genres that I just don’t watch – I stay away from slasher movies and contemporary horror for example. What about you?


Johan Harper

Johan Harper

Johan Harper: I love movies. I love everything about movies and movie theatres. I’ll watch just about anything. I married the manager of a movie theatre. (She has since found a better job.) I started dating my wife partially because she would let me in to see movies for free. I have forced myself to sit through movies that I could not stand. I have bought movie tickets just to get some air conditioning when it was hot outside. I never understood people who would walk out of a movie they paid for before it finishes. The only movie I have never been able to bring myself to finish was Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000.  I don’t  have a particularly good memory, but somehow I remember details about movies far longer than most other things.

LD: My first “wow” movie moment was seeing Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments on a huge screen with my mother. Would you share an early, memorable movie experience?

JH: I watched Flight of the Navigator all by myself in a big old spooky movie theatre in Monroe, Louisiana. It is hard to believe that it was more than twenty years ago. It wasn’t a particularly good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but to watch it alone, in a huge, old fashioned theatre was fantastic! I was just a young boy, but I felt so grown up and independent having the whole theatre all to myself! I remember the popcorn, the soda, and the red Twizzlers. I kept looking around expecting other people to show up or someone to come and tell me that I was either too young to be alone in the theatre or that the management had decided to cancel the showing because they had only sold the one ticket. But nothing happened and I was swept up in the Disney story of a boy my age who discovered a magic spaceship and traveled through time and space. I can’t recommend Flight of the Navigator to discerning audiences, but I wish that everyone could have the happy surprise of experiencing a movie theatre all to themselves.

LD: Is there a movie that changed your life?

JH: When I was an aimless teenager,  John McTeirman’s Die Hard demonstrated to me concepts that until then had been only words. Important things like loyalty, fealty, and sacrifice. Now as a grown man I know there are better movies, and better ways to learn morality, but I still can’t separate those learning experiences from Die Hard. To me, it’s much more than just the quintessential 1980’s action movie — it’s . . . it’s a male romance movie. I have owned it on VHS, on DVD, and now again on BluRay disk. (And no, you cannot have my DVD copy. I need it as a back up in case something happens to my BluRay.) I watch it a least once a year and I cry each time.

I first saw it during the first week of its release in a packed theater with my whole family. Everbody liked  it, even my mother, who despises movies that use violence as cheap entertainment. She saw a man making deep, painful sacrifices to redeem himself in his wife’s eyes. I saw a great cowboy western set in an L.A. office building. The whole theater saw a great movie and stood up and applauded while the credits rolled.

Die Hard is the thinking, feeling man’s action movie. (If you haven’t watched it, please do not settle for the bbutchered, edited for TV version.) It’s fresh even after twenty years. The movie is rated R and it is supposed to be that way. It’s visceral, tense, funny, and everything that every other 1980’s action movie wasn’t.

LD: With all the new technology, people are watching movies on computers, phones, at home on the couch. Why go out to the movies?

JH: There’s nothing like being part of a movie audience. Lots of younger Atlantans didn’t have a chance to go to the movies at the CNN Center Downtown. Nobody ever stayed quiet during movies there. I loved going on Friday or Saturday nights and watching shlock horror movies with large crowds. They would laugh and talk over the whole thing. I remember watching the first Child’s Play there. When that cute little doll got up and started walking around and cursing half the theatre leapt to their feet and started screaming and talking back to the screen. It was a really great place to take a date on the weekend.

Childs Play

Child's Play

LD: Why look back to film history when there are so many new movies coming out every week?

JH: There probably would not have been a movie like ZombieLand if there was not first a movie like Shawn of the Dead.  But there would not have been a Shawn of the Dead if Dan O’Bannon had not invented the Zombie Comedy with his classic Return of the Living Dead. ( I wonder what it says about me that I like that movie so much?) If you are nervous about horror comedy but want to test the waters Return of the Living Dead Part 2 directed by Ken Wiederhorn is a light hearted remake of the first Return of the Living Dead with much less horor and an infamous Michael Jackson parody near the end. But Dan O’Bannon, like everyone else in the motion picture industry owes a debt to the late, great Vincent Price who made the best horror comedies, like The Abominable Mr. Phibes and Bloodbath at the House of DeathBloodbath is especially hilarious. But even further back, Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein is the oldest horror comedy I have ever seen even if there isn’t much horror to it. Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr. together in the same movie reprising the same horror roles that made them immortal stars of the silver screen.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

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