A Counterfactual History of John Carpenter’s _Escape from Little Rock_ by Ray Ogar



In Late 1982 Producer Debra Hill approached John Carpenter to re-team with writer, Alan Howarth to draft a sequel to _Escape from New York_ and to feature the character Snake Plissken (ever growly-whispery-voiced by Kurt Russell). Carpenter initially declined (just coming off the release of _Christine_ and beginning production of 1984’s _Starman_). But in talks with Hill Carpenter mentioned his ideas for a “wider world” in which the Plissken character could inhabit. It has since been revealed that while filming _Starman_, Carpenter did share drafts with Howarth for a TV series in which Plissken's adventures could be told in a more serialized fashion, stories which would fill in the gaps both before and after the storyline filmed in _Escape from New York_ (here-on shortened to EFNY, NEW YORK or NY). Over time Carpenter’s vision for the serialized version of Plissken grew and became too big for any reasonable budget at the time. Discussions with Hill and producer Larry Franco (brought on weeks after initial talks) returned to the idea that perhaps several movies spread over the next decade or more would be the better option. This would allow Carpenter to (most notably) film his upcoming _Big Trouble in Little China_. The ESCAPE storylines would depict how the echoes of the hard cold war world depicted in the EFNY film would evolve into Plissken’s personal nightmare.

A central question of the newly expanded movie series would remain, “Will the state continue to harass Plissken into service?” and “Will Plissken ever reform?” To explore a more complex character Snake’s adventures would include such locales as, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Little Rock, Los Angeles, New Orleans and “Earth” (Carpenter did finally film _Escape from LA_ (1996) and there are rumblings he continues to develop _Escape from Earth_). For Carpenter each city would represent a core ideology he and Howarth felt reflected some sticking point in politics, war or the culture of America at the time. Howarth and Carpenter’s story drafts were detailed and specific about the route Plissken’s life would take leading to his, hopeful, eventual true escape.

Weeks after filming _Starman_, Carpenter believed his next movie would be _Escape from Little Rock_. The story would begin with mercenaries tracking Plissken, claiming a bounty in an area of the Unites States which does not necessarily recognize all the powers of the President. Upon Plissken's arriving for arraignment at the Arkansas State Lunatic Asylum for processing he is pitched to “save the new president” under similar circumstances as filmed in NEW YORK. Carpenter’s narrative theme, as seen in the plot draft below, seems very similar to what he eventually filmed in _Escape from LA_, at least in its use of the central conceit of morality. What was eventually filmed in LA (in comparison to the draft for LR) seems both off center and perfected. Little Rock as a setting does present a foundation for issues ranging from religious freedom, 2nd Amendment gun rights, strained minority relations and more, but Carpenter’s draft for EFLR reads more along the lines of New Age mysticism mixed with issues of genetics, obviating a more nuanced direction than what was finally realized in the nearly carnival aspect of _Escape from LA_.

Unfortunately (as we know) Carpenter never filmed _Escape from Little Rock_; he quickly dropped further Plissken adventures and moved forward to soon complete _Big Trouble in Little China_. Carpenter did however shoot a few test scenes for LR: primarily location scouting edits with scraps of dialog subtitled in. What limited scenes Carpenter shot were extremely raw and unpolished; the scenes speak more of potential, ambiance and mood than any necessary coherent vision. Likewise, Carpenter did not score any incidental sound or music.

To begin to more fully realize this possible project I have taken great liberty in creating a vague cinematic aural impression of what the film _Escape from Little Rock_ might have been. Because there were no test scenes shot with Kurt Russell, nor any real dialog captured I have had to construct approximations of dialog snippets, choosing from possible dozens of movies Russell features in over the past 50 years. To make the samples more challenging, I have chosen (hopefully) dialog selections from movies, interviews and video that are, for all practical purposes, unknown or little known (at least in relation to fans of _Escape from New York_ and the current generation of movie goers). I could have easily ripped dialog from popular Kurt Russell movies, but I felt that there was too much of a chance that the veil cast over the casual moviegoer (and thus listener) might drop if the chosen dialog’s original context becomes too easily identifiable. This is not an ideal situation, but there will undoubtably exist cognitive dissonance along the way for some listeners.

Initially I conceived of a much more specific aural production for my re-conceptualizing of _Escape from Little Rock_. The sound I generated and molded would always be a personal project. At one point I asked what would it mean to find similar if not the exact equipment Carpenter used. Another option more in line with my own past sound production: what if I directly sampled EFNY. (Or even used tracks from his 2015 sound release _Lost Themes_ where when interviewed about its production Carpenter states, “I wish someone would make visuals for these sounds”.) Except being both a consumer of movies and music and a maker I have come across projects doing just that, continuing in the manner of Carpenter. In particular I would like to point out to the listener Unit Black Flight’s _Escape from Indianapolis_ on Bunker Records. Unit's use of Carpenter’s analog equipment completely evokes a world similar to what Carpenter developed sonically for NY. But for me, it has been the years intervening NY’s 1981 release, LA’s 1996 Release and now that have genuinely been needed for me to see the vast influence Carpenter has had on, if not electronic music in general, then most assuredly many niche genre in the world of underground electronic music.

The mutation and spore of Carpenter’s sound which infects all manner of electronic music is too vast and well beyond the scope of this writing. But over the years of my own private listening I have taken note of direct reinterpretations of Carpenter’s NY music (e.g. Booka Shade’s “The Sun and The Neon Light”) as well as loosely influenced renderings (e.g. a large portion of the brilliant Hauntologies of Pye Corner Audio and the night driving pulsations of Symmetry/Johnny Jewel). So to construct the false memory of _Escape from Little Rock_ I have chosen to rip, edit and sample from those artists who seem both influenced and original in their echoes of John Carpenter’s EFNY music and it is then I combine their creations with found dialog. True, many of these artists may not feel themselves directly aligned with Carpenter’s music at all, but I contend that the influence of NY's aural landscape and Carpenter's stripped production of it are so pervasive in cinematic and sound culture that it is too interesting for me to believe otherwise (I find it striking that Michael Crichton’s _Looker_ was released mere months after EFNY with a score by Barry De Vorzon that strongly evokes Carpenter in its fresh, tense, analog sounds; the sound virus already spreading).

In the end, the dream is mine and you may choose to believe or not; I will continue to enjoy the delusion. My initial playlist of what I believed to be tracks echoing down the long dark tunnel of Carpenter’s sound included well over 10 hours of music stretching from the mid 1990s to 2014 (and there is obviously more I have missed). I had to whittle and condense. I am not the creator of these sounds but the re-mixer. The artists whose works I have re-edited and mixed include, Scuba Death, Pye Corner Audio, Boris Divider, Route 8, Achterbahn D’Amour, Donato Dozzy, Boards of Canada, San Serac, Smackos, Imre Kiss, Discoverer.

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_Escape from Little Rock_ PLOT Draft Summary
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Open text crawl summary to include portions of the following: Plissken has seemingly, finally, escaped New York, and lives along the (now nearly green, globally warmed) coast of The Alaskan Autonomous Zone. The Alaskan frontier opened soon after the President's cassette tape blunder depicted in _Escape from New York_. Then Vice President Amanda Clintock (a Liberal Loyalist) became President after the impeachment of her former officemate. After President Clintock took office the Unites States fell into a much deeper cold war and factionally split along party lines: the New Hope Unionists (States mostly west of the Mississippi River) and the Loyal Confederation of the Right (States mostly east of the Mississippi). Tennessee and Arkansas, among other states near the Mississippi, exist in a no man’s land: what is termed the Aggression Zone or the Void. Some cities in the Void (Little Rock and Memphis) remain active seats of neutral commerce and culture despite the surrounding dead zone. These cities have also become a safe haven for the poor as many of the wealthy fled along party lines either east or west years prior.

Open, lightly snowed forested expanse near coastline. Close-in on movement across the ground which resolves into Plissken in hunting gear returning to his cabin with furred animal carcasses flung over his shoulder. As he approaches the cabin a man on his porch in battle fatigues raises a weapon, badge and plastic piece of paper lined in bright colors and the insignia of the Unionist Territories. We hear a calm male voice, almost mechanical, declare Snake stand down; he is under arrest for various (supposed) indiscretions in the Unionist Territories. Plissken moves for his bow and dozens of points of movement erupt from around the cabin yard, men in various stages of camouflage reveal, all aiming weapons at Snake. Plissken is surrounded. The calm voice, coming from the man in fatigues, begins to mechanically repeat the warrant for Snake's arrest.

Flyover the Aggression Zone into the city: Unit Obsidian Rain delivers Snake to the Unionist Headquarters near Little Rock, a compound residing in the gutted remains of the century old Arkansas State Lunatic Asylum. As Snake is paraded across the grounds, into the facility and along corridors to the Administrator's office he begins to notice how many of the workers, soldiers and staff look very similar, almost as if groups of personnel could be twins or triplets. Snake is finally seated in a sparsely decorated office, Administrator Akando Sarasin skips any pretense and simply proposes Plissken's charges will be dropped if he retrieves the President in time for the upcoming peace talks. Sarasin recounts how President Clintock’s bullet train was derailed while making way to an unannounced summit with Loyal Confederation President Maxwell Jefferson. During the derailing, Clintock was captured and taken to the Crater of Diamonds Compound in Western Arkansas. Sarasin reveals other surgical strikes have taken place in several other locations in the West; each strike being an operation to capture top officials from the Unionist Territories, making the succession of power within its own government system nearly impossible. He notes Jefferson’s secure convoy will arrive from Memphis in so many hours. Plissken remarks on how ridiculously similar the situation is to the New York scenario.

Of course Snake suggests, as in NY, they get a new President. The problem, this is exactly what was supposed to happen. Literally a new President was in the works. Here the Crater of Diamonds compound's true purpose is revealed to be a cloning facility used by America's elite as both a human body parts bank and body farm. In this case the compound has been taken over by Confederation separatists, a sect called Dovekind Sloe, run by a mad man, a Facilitator named Eugene Delacroix. The problem in this case being the President and all backup copies (of her and her top officials) could be killed or worse by Delacroix. Sarasin shows Plissken a black tape cartridge and reveals that the tape contains the imprinted memories of President Clintock: a safeguard which takes place before any trip away from the Presidential Compound. In this case if the President herself cannot be saved then Plissken is to retrieve her clone and these memories will be reimprinted on the clone so she can continue the peace talks. This is the reason for the time limit on the operation. If the clone is not imprinted within hours after breach, it will remain incapable of holding consciousness. The other fear is that the President will be imprinted with false memories and she will become a pawn of the separatists or the Confederation itself.

At this point Snake suggests the Unionists have yet to convince him or prove imperative this is his problem. Sarasin says otherwise, “Have you noticed anything unusual about this situation?” Snake raises his eyebrow, notices he is not wearing handcuffs or restraints, thinks about reaching for Sarasin, almost stands but sits back down. His face visibly tense and sweat across his brow. Sarasin reveals Plissken was infected with a morality virus which curbs the infected's desire to perform immoral acts. Certain actions will remain uninhibited for 18 hours, but afterwords they will be permanent; Snake will be neutered of what is perceived to be his aggressive tendencies. Because the virus reacts pheromonaly, at the moment it has a unique ability to screen for violence against specific Unionists and he will (for now) be able to kill Loyals all he wants. Sarasin remarks that for Snake as the deadline of the virus approaches, other aspects of his “unhealthy behavior” will be inhibited in interesting ways. Urges will atrophy, desires will curdle. Snake will become a neutered version of himself. This moment proves to Plissken that the Unionists are just as bad as the Loyals.

Sarasin explains that before a human is cloned the subject’s memory is muted by a consciousness filter called the Sine Nine Process; without the filter the subject’s consciousness can partially leak into the clone. Plissken is shot with a anti-rapture concoction to suppress the temporary memory wipe process if it is used on him. After his inoculation Snake is taken to a spare concrete room with an array of weapons he can choose from for the insertion; weapons include dual wielding flechette pistols, an aerosol that makes whatever sprayed impervious to small caliber projectiles for thirty seconds, a locator device pinpointing the President and a crossbow. Sarasin next takes Snake to a hangar to show him the Cyclosa, an experimental, one man descent unit. Cut to, night, a flyover of the city of Little Rock in a stealth copter with the Cyclosa strapped to its underside. The flight continues West over the Aggression Zone.

Cramped quarters in the stealth copter and Snake enters the Cyclosa; almost immediately he finds himself in free fall, ejected from the undercarriage of the copter. The Cyclosa targets a forest clearing several kilometers from the Crater of Diamonds Compound. The unit malfunctions and Snake haphazardly guides the vehicle into a lake to quell the fire which has erupted from one of its braking nozzles. Snake finally makes it to shore after nearly drowning trying to escape the contraption. Plissken laments the situation and finds a chair among the rubble along the forest edge; he sits and contemplates the situation for a moment. It begins to rain and Snake continues to scan the area; his cautious movement suggests he thinks someone is watching him and he finally notices a cabin deeper in the woods across the lake.

Snake believes the cabin to be abandoned and breaks in. While sheltered from the rain Snake toggles his com device to update the Administrator on his situation. He is interrupted by an old man hiding in a huge pile of rags on the floor. Plissken shines a light on the hermit’s face and most of the man’s skin has fallen off on one side revealing a prosthetic cheek and eye. Snake asks the hermit if he was in the war and the old man tells him to shut up in a stage whisper then reveals a prosthetic leg and hand covered in painted on call-girls. The hermit whispers but still protests Snake’s presence in the hovel; he begins to mumble something about hunters. Snake offers the hermit a ration and tells him he’s not staying. The hermit slowly calms and asks if Snake is one of the Gray’s. Plissken answers no and the old man tells him about a group of reject clones called Dorian Gray’s Congress scattered around the valley. The old man spins a story about how the rejects are said to be able to control the weather after being infected with various cold war viruses. Plissken smirks and says he doubts it. Several somethings begin to tear at the cabin and the old man screams and disappears into his rag mound, at last saying, “nightstalkers”. Plissken uses his flechette guns to fire at the clawing coming through the wall. While the rending of the building takes place a neutral human voice (eerily similar to the one declaring his arrest in Alaska) projects into the cabin asking Snake to remain calm and prepare to be taken into custody. In trying to defend his position he sees what is attacking him to be dogs whose skin are partially removed to reveal prosthetic under-skeletons like the hermit’s. These are nightstalker military scout dogs abandoned after the war. The calm mechanical voices are coming from the dogs' collars.

Plissken fends off the nightstalkers and escapes towards the Crater of Diamonds and the President’s signal. He exits the forest into a dead, lightless town south of the Compound. The weather begins to spoil further producing lightening and wind. Snake tastes the rain on his lips and he is uncertain if the dogs are still tracking him. The weather picks up to near tornado force winds and Snake makes his way into a nearby building where he huddles in the dark watching the weather through a window. The weather stops abruptly and he continues to follow the President’s signal. As he approaches the massive Crater of Diamonds compound (which looks like it is a huge mining facility leading deep underground) he begins to skirt its base, staying away from guards and lighted areas. Snake moves further west around the structure to an area which looks abandoned and unkempt. As he approaches the area an old woman with a kerosene torch walks hurriedly towards him shouting incohenrently. Snake doesn’t understand, but he is struck from behind and knocked unconscious before he can retreat.

Cut to, Facilitator Delecroix administers the Sine Nine Process to President Clintock and we hear Amanda Clintock’s murmurings as her memory is suppressed. Clintock's face changes expression from calmness to agonizing distress over her situation.

Cut, We see semi-shrouded (almost monk-like) men and women carrying Snake through concrete corridors past machines and equipment with unknown functions. What machines are unveiled seem to have military markings and safety icons, some even have government weather service symbols scattered across them; all devices appear dead. As Plissken is moved through the space, he wakes a bit and he hears the voices of onlookers chanting his name in whisper, "Snake, Snake, Snake." Plissken wakes fully and the remains of Dorian Gray’s Congress watch him. Most all of his weapons are taken apart and left on a nearby table, a mirror ball hangs above the table washing the room in strange reflections from candle and flame: the smell of scented wax and electricity charge the air. A woman with a partially sagging face greets him and Plissken restrains a smile. This becomes Plissken’s first overt influence of the Morality Virus. Snake’s body spasms as if his nervous system is fighting what he thinks he wants to do. The woman calms him and equally shushes the few who still chant his name. Plissken notices others with slight deformities, extra fingers, a face which seems to stretch completely around a head, others with atrophied limbs. The woman remarks she not only knows who he is but what he is going through, suggesting she has suffered similar. The virus compels him to react calmly and he even explains his mission; Snake continues to eye the table with his broken equipment. The woman says they know a way in to the compound, but they must close the passage after letting him through. Before Snake is allowed to enter the passage, the outcasts chant an affirmation; the woman turns to Plissken as he walks into the passage, she hands him a few restored pieces of his equipment then finishes, “You will always find escape upon reflection”. The door is sealed before Snake can respond.

Plissken makes his way through the pipe system and eventually exits at the remains of a non-functioning waste treatment plant within the compound. As he attempts to sneak, armored thugs of the Dovekind Sloe catch Snake by surprise. The guards string their new prisoner up the shear side wall of one of the many empty treatment pools.

Snake is subjected to the Sine Nine Process in an attempt to wipe his memory and Facilitator Delacroix comments. Snake is conflicted on how to act as the Morality Virus makes some of the actions he thinks he should perform impossible. After the Sine Nine Process completes he is placed in a cell. Plissken's face moves through a range of emotions and he finally passes out.

Shortly thereafter Snake is subjected to the cloning process while the facilitator watches and comments again. At this point it seems the anti-rapture shot does not work as Plissken has more spasms; he attempts to stifle physical pain from the process.

Fragments of Snake's mission and memory do begin to clear in his mind suggesting the anti-rapture drug simply needed time to work. It is obvious he wants to strike at something but the Morality Virus seems to be working even more overtly. Snake shakes his head and continues to look at the cell he is left in: the minimal sink, the mirror, the toilet hole and sleeping slab. He doesn’t know what to do or how to escape as all of his equipment is gone and he is wearing only his camouflaged pants. Delacroix removed his eyepatch during the cloning process and Plissken looks into the mirror at the scar and the void left in his socket. He moves his finger around the mirror's surface then outside the surface of his eye socket, next Plissken looks down. He finds it impossible to have disgust and notices he is almost smiling in the mirror. He tries to get angry but can’t (again because of the morality virus) and decides to try to remove the mirror so he won’t have to look at his body as it tries to make him into someone else. Snake begins to stir, his fist raised perhaps to strike the mirror but he can't. He opts for simply tapping on the mirror, a calm logic; but he does manage to reveal some anger and finally cracks the mirror. With the mirror gone, Snake notices a crude, makeshift hole in the remaining space he can fit through.

The air passage is long and circuitous. At one point Snake discovers a vent directed into a vast room of men and women sitting at monitors. The watchers are caked in technology and electrodes. Displayed on each monitor is what appears to be ordinary scenes of life. Plissken initially dismisses what he sees but on a longer look he realizes he sees the lives of people on the other side of clones. Surveillance. Clones replacing key officials, an old story. Except now they are being monitored by the Facilitator and maybe even controlled.

Snake continues on, further, more twists, to an airshaft over the guards locker room and he sees a table with the remains of his gear and equipment, again being picked apart. Plissken waits for the remaining guards to leave then lowers himself from the air duct. Snake dons what little of his gear is left and begins to sneak along corridors and halls, he sees a monitor in a nearby guard's office showing the President simultaneously in two cells. One, the real president and one, the clone. But Snake doesn’t know which one to seek. He makes a decision and sprays himself with the bulletproof aerosol and fights his way to one of the President's cells, battling off guards and bullets. Though he kills off the guards Plissken is still wounded as the spray wears off. He opens the first cell and tries to revive President Amanda Clintock. She begins to fade and finally dies. Snake realizes he has to retrieve the President’s clone instead and discovers her in a nearby cell.

As Snake and Clintock’s clone make for the roof of the compound the clone’s shell-like nature and missing consciousness become obvious. Finally on the roof Snake’s situation becomes more desperate as guards and the like begin to surround his position. The Facilitator makes his way to the roof as well. The weather picks ups and wind whips at the guards and the Facilitator's position. There is an exchange of bullets, crossbow, other weapons. A hopeless moment stretches and a skyhook descends to Plissken’s position. Snake secures the President’s clone to the hook and she is hoisted away. For a moment it seems Snake will not be retrieved, but the skyhook returns and sweeps him off the roof. A stealth copter flies them to the Asylum and the President's clone is imprinted with the President’s old memories. The Morality Virus is removed from Snake as well.

Plissken is pardoned for his supposed crimes against the New Hope Unionists and he returns to Alaska. Walking through the semi-snowed landscape on his way to his cabin Plissken sees someone sitting on the porch. As he approaches he notices the person is a mirror copy of himself, the other Plissken has one blue eye as well.



Escape from Little Rock Soundtrack

Side A

1. Unit Obsidian Rain
2. The Black Tape
3. Void Bound
4. Alternative Medicine
5. Field Deployable Rapid Effects Systems
6. Innocuous Morality
7. Trajectory Field
8. The Cyclosa
9. The Legend of Dorian Gray's Congress
10. Nightstalkers Exit
11. The Diamond Walker
12. Registration
13. Mirrorball
14. Affirmation

Side B

15. Sneaking Vortex
16. Sine Nine for Snake
17. The Red Desert Effect
18. Dark Door
19. Memory Disorder
20. November Sequence
21. Executive Address
22. Ascent
23. Rewind the Black Tape
24. Post Conflict Psych Eval
25. Never Ending (Roll Credits)