Assault on Precinct 13 (1976 film)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Assault on Precinct 13 is a 1976 American action-thriller film written and directed by John Carpenter. It stars Austin Stoker as a law-enforcement officer who defends a police precinct against an attack by a criminal gang, along with Darwin Joston as a convicted murderer who helps him. The story was inspired by the Howard Hawks western film Rio Bravo and the George A. Romero horror film Night of the Living Dead.

The film received mixed reviews with an unimpressive box-office return in the US, but it won critical and popular acclaim in Europe. A remake appeared in 2005, directed by Jean-Francois Richet and starring Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne.



One of the film's distinctive features is its score, written in three days by John Carpenter and performed by Carpenter and Tommy Lee Wallace. Carpenter, assisted by Dan Wyman, had several banks of synthesizers that would each have to be reset when another sound had to be created, taking a great deal of time. "When I did my original themes for [Assault] … it was done with very old technology," replied Carpenter. "It was very difficult to get the sounds, and it took very long to get something simple." Carpenter made roughly three to five separate pieces of music and edited them to the film as appropriate.

The main title theme, partially inspired by both Lalo Schifrin's score to Dirty Harry and Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song", is composed of a pop synthesizer riff with a drum machine underneath that "builds only in texture, but not thematically," according to David Burnand and Miguel Mera. A held, high synthesizer note, with no other changes except inner frequency modulations, becomes the musical motif of the gang members, and reoccurs during certain violent acts in the film. In the film, synthesizers and drum machines represent the city and the gang.

Carpenter also uses a plaintive electric piano theme when Lt. Bishop first enters the abandoned precinct. It reoccurs in the film during the quiet moments of the siege, becoming in effect a musical articulation of rhythm of the siege itself. Bishop is heard whistling the tune of this particular theme at the beginning and end of the film, making the electric piano theme "a non-diegetic realization of a diegetic source." Burnand and Mera have noted that "there is some attempt to show the common denominators of human behavior regardless of 'tribal' affiliations, and there is a clear attempt to represent this through simple musical devices."

Many film critics who praised the film also praised the musical score by Carpenter. As John Kenneth Muir noted, "Carpenter wrote the riveting musical score for Assault... The final result was a unique, synthetic sound that is still quite catchy, even after 20 years … Delightfully, it even serves as a counterpoint in one important scene." Dave Goldner of SFX wrote that Assault had "one of the most catchy theme tunes in film history." In early 2004, Piers Martin of NME wrote that Carpenter's minimalist synthesizer score accounted for much of the film's tense and menacing atmosphere and its "impact, 27 years on, is still being felt."

Beyond its use in the film, the score is often cited as an influence on various electronic and hip hop artists with its main title theme being sampled by artists including Afrika Bambaataa, Tricky, Dead Prez and Bomb the Bass. The main theme was reworked in 1986 as an Italo-disco 12" and more famously as the 1990 UK-charting rave-song Hardcore Uproar. Carpenter's soundtrack has also been a lasting influence on John Several's Tactile project (Tactile's latest release on the Sentrax label is entitled "Assault on M19", and Several's brand of abrasive electronics certainly shows the influence of Carpenter.)

Despite this influence, except for a few compilation appearances, the film's score remained available only in bootleg form until 2003 when it was given an official release through the French label, Record Makers.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Assault on Precinct 13 (1976 film)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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