ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13
US, 1976, 91 minutes, Colour.
Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Martin West, Tony Burton.
Directed by John Carpenter.
Assault On Precinct 13 is the second film of young writer-director (editor and composer) John Carpenter (Dark Star, Halloween, Elvis). It is an expertly written and made police story (serving as a dramatic microcosm of '70s U.S. - blacks, whites, prisoners, free, men, women, besieged by defiant, uncompromising violence in a modern city?). The characters can be quickly identified with and are introduced and set interacting for the siege briefly but tellingly. While the title highlights the assault, it is the siege and defence that is the core of the film - nerve, resources, courage, help. The guilt and responsibility of society (oppressive authority, reacting criminals) are highlighted in an expertly persuasive, though uglily violent film.
1. The quality of this film? Its place in the career of the director? His reputation built on his early films? The contribution of the director in terms of writing, editing, musical composition?
2. The use of Panavision colour photography for this small thriller? Its capturing of aspects of Los Angeles suburbs? Day and night, exteriors and interiors? The contribution of the editing for pace, suspense, movement, atmosphere? The contribution of the special effects especially for the siege?
3. The structure of the film: the prologue with the times and this sense of time throughout the whole film? The slaughter and the police killing so many of the invaders of the station? The interview and the police comment on the attack? The build-up of Wilson and the group travelling towards the precinct, Bishop and his supervision and driving towards the precinct, the precinct itself and its being closed down, the father and the search for the house, the little girl and the ice cream? The brief establishing of all these characters and their environment, the screenplay quickly bringing them together? The supplying of information and its later use?
4. The film's use of violence? Appropriate, exploitive? Atmosphere of realism, choreographed and symbolic? The presentation of blood, gore, deaths? Police and violence, crime and violence? The role of the police and their violent approach, the reaction of the gang and its defiance? Urban violence? Guns, explosives? The speed and prevalence of death? The violence of the attack and the siege? Aggressive violence, self-defensive violence?
5. The emotional response to this assault and siege? Identification with the people, their ordinariness, besieged by uncompromising violence, reaction to threats? Emotional disgust with the attack? Identification with the defence? The build-up of desperation and the need for help? The emotional response to heroism and the use of strategies for survival?
6. The screenplay and its attitude toward the police, pros and cons? The critique of the system, the double-talking cover-ups? The support for the individuals trying to live out their responsibilities? The initial attack and deaths, the official interview compared with Bishop and his pleasantness, his skills, human regard? Wilson's guards and their attitudes, the bus trip? Police training, demands, hard work? Police intuition? What view of the police was the audience left with?
7. The picture of Los Angeles as a city, a city in the '70s? The various racial groups in the city? The gangs, motivation? Defiance, slaughter? Cars, guns, protest?
8. Bishop as the central character? His commission, the taking over of the precinct and closing it down, an ordinary and genial man? Any significance in his being a negro, growing up near the precinct, his reaction against his father, his free walking out of the ghetto and becoming a policeman? Car and cruising, cigarettes, the coffee? His relating with the various members of the precinct? The demands made on him and his rising to the occasion?
9. Wilson as condemned killer, reputation, the enigma of his name, Napoleon and his keeping people puzzled? A loser? His demands for cigarettes, his being bullied by the jailer? His conversation with the policeman on the bus? His presence in the precinct, imprisonment, his skill on release, taking chances, becoming a hero?
10. Wells and his presence on the bus, in the precinct? The black convict compared with Wilson, the white? His wanting to escape? His going through the manhole, his skill in getting the car started, the ugliness of his death? Achieving a kind of heroism, death for others?
11. Leigh - the woman working in the precinct, her charm, her relationship with Bishop, her skill at her work. her coolness in the difficulties, her sense of timing especially in releasing the prisoners and shooting the attackers? Her bullet wound? Her defying Wells? Her survival? The contrast with Julie and her fears, her wanting to surrender the father, her death?
13. The build-up of the story of the father and Kathy: their driving, looking for the address, their talk together, the family situation? The father and the phone call, Kathy and the ice cream? Her return and the sudden ugliness of her death? How was this prepared for with the ice cream driver and his watching the car continually cruising, his fear, the ugliness of his being shot?
14. The sinister atmosphere at the background of Kathy's death? The sinister pact of the group playing cards, deciding to attack the precinct? The killer and his being shot? The car chase? The father rushing into the precinct and the occasion of the siege? The father and his catatonic fear?
15. The counterpoint of the bus ride, the taking custody of the prisoners, the remarks about the prisoners? The prisoner who was ill? The difficult situation on the bus, the discussions? Arriving at the precinct? The lack of communications? The cutting off of the phone - and the later picture of the dead telephone man on the pole?
16. The silent ugliness of the assault: the use of silences, the death of the policeman outside the door, the attack, the sense of menace? The sinister aspects of removing the bodies? The massed attack and withdrawal? The invasion? The feel of terror, violence, ruthlessness? Detail?
17. The contrast inside with the reaction to the initial assault, the continued gunfire, the papers and debris floating around? Strategies, difficulties, drawing on resources? Guns, ammunition, flares, the use of gas, the basement? The atmosphere of fear and desperation? Not knowing what was to happen or the significance of the assault?
18. The patrols and their cruising, the lack of decision at first, the final alert and relief? The sustaining of hope?
19. The sense of survival with the ending?
20. The success of the film as a police story- action drama, picture of heroism? A microcosm of the United States in the '70s?