Sunday, July 02, 2006

11 key films in my life

True lovers of film are simultaneously born and made, I'd say- born because their personalities contain more artistic curiosity than most, and made because one doesn't leap from Disney to Dreyer overnight. Of the eleven films listed below (roughly in chronological order), many of these are among my all-time favorites, but I've selected them because they represented a key moment in my evolution as a film lover.

FANTASIA- kids, by and large, love movies. It's not so much the movies they're watching as the act of watching them, seeing the figures looming up on the screen, larger than life, acting out stories for your entertainment. I don't remember most of the movies I watched when I was little, but I remember FANTASIA well for one very good reason- it was the first movie I remember disliking. All of a sudden, movies weren't categorically fun anymore, like a trip to the playground or a bowl of ice cream on a summer day. Movies could be good or bad now, and while I didn't like the movie, it was okay for me not to like it. I had an opinion, and I was as entitled to it as anyone else.

BACK TO THE FUTURE- this is the first movie I ever saw that wasn't a so-called "family movie." Still fairly kid-friendly, to be sure, but also a peek into a more grown-up world than I was accustomed to. Needless to say, this was my favorite movie back in the day. Some kids preferred GHOSTBUSTERS or GOONIES, but BACK TO THE FUTURE was the movie for me. I still love it today.

TAXI DRIVER- I fondly remember the HBO preview weekends of my youth, catching old movies with all the bad words you couldn't hear on TV. I snuck out of bed in the middle of the night to watch this one, expecting Louie and Latka- imagine my surprise! If I thought BACK TO THE FUTURE was grown-up, this was another thing entirely. I picked up fairly quickly that this wasn't made for me, but I kept watching, fascinated by the completely alien world of the film and even moved by how different it was from the world I knew. Perhaps it was Jodie Foster's character who really got to me- she was only a few years older in the film than I was when I saw it, yet she wasn't acting like a kid at all. Of course, my parents never found out I watched this...

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN- my dad brought this home one night when I was in middle school, telling me how funny it was. And boy, was he right. I hadn't yet seen Whale's versions of FRANKENSTEIN, but I'd absorbed enough to get most of the jokes, yet what really struck me was that the movie was in black and white. At the time, I still associated black and white with old movies, yet here was a movie that starred people I recognized, only it wasn't in color. Then a realization came to me- it was black and white FOR A REASON. Mel Brooks (who I already knew because of SPACEBALLS) made a conscious decision to shoot the movie that way. That's when I first became conscious of the role of the director as someone who makes decisions as to how a movie is made. And my interest in filmmaking and filmmakers has only grown from there.

JURASSIC PARK- I enjoyed watching movies on video when I was younger, but it wasn't until I got to high school that I went to the theatre regularly. I suppose I have my friend Matt to thank, since we almost always went together. Our first movie was UNFORGIVEN, but the one that really got me hooked on going to the theatre was JURASSIC PARK. We saw it on opening day, and were blown away by the spectacle of the thing. I picked up on the moments of hokeyness, but I didn't care- these were dinosaurs, as big as life, as real as I'd ever seen them. "Again! Again!" we cheered when it was over. We must've watched it a dozen times when it came to the local discount theatre.

PULP FICTION- once again, the right movie at the right time for a developing movie lover. I'd never seen anything like this- wacked-out chronology, riffing dialogue, violent scenes that were also funny, etc. As scruffy and cool as JURASSIC PARK was spectacular, my friends and I got caught up in the PULP phenomenon with a vengeance. Quentin was a hero to us. We even started writing a PULP remake populated completely by idiots. For the first time, the idea of making a movie became an attainable goal to me. And naturally, Tarantino's film-drunk interviews led me off the Hollywood path into independent and even foreign cinema, beginning with...

BETTY BLUE- of course, it's hard for a newcomer to foreign film to know where to begin. So many unfamiliar, hard-to-pronounce names on the shelves. But being a high schooler, BETTY BLUE had something we wanted to see. "Check this out dude," said the guy at the video store. "There's all kinds of sex in this one." The guy wasn't lying, and the rest of the movie was interesting enough that I didn't bother fast-forwarding to the next sex scene despite the occasionally difficulty with subtitles. Eventually, the subtitles got easier, and I found slightly more high-minded reasons to watch foreign films. Once I'd plowed through the filmography of Beatrice Dalle, that is.

ANNIE HALL- all of the films I've listed up until this point took me to new places, but what I loved about ANNIE HALL was how much I saw of myself in it, even when I was sixteen. Most guys I saw in movies were smooth and cool with women, but Alvy was as nervous and uncertain as I was at the time. And Annie made an impression on me too, not some bikini bimbo who attracts men with her body, but a daffy, funny woman who you love for who she is (admittedly, Diane Keaton was still easy on the eyes, but not in a show-offy way). I must've watched this every week in the summer between my junior and senior years and recommended it to all my friends- some of whom gave me odd looks, as this wasn't so long after the Woody/Mia scandal.

BELLE DE JOUR- another foreign film I saw primarily for the T&A factor, I actually made the trip up to Cleveland with some friends to see it in the theatre during the summer after graduation. I mean, a housewife who secretly works as a prostitute- cheesecake city, right? Well, no. But while they grumbled all the way home, I had fallen in love. Not only with Deneuve, not just the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen in a movie but also the most enchanting screen presence, but with the movie itself. In retrospect, what really got to me after that first viewing was the idea that a film didn't simply have to deal with external action or adventure, but could also explore private fantasies and dreams. Even today, BELLE DE JOUR remains my favorite film.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY- way back when, I tended to trust my initial impression of a film to the extent where if I wasn't especially keen on it I wouldn't watch it again. Such was the case with 2001, which I'd originally caught on video back in high school. But during my first year of college, I saw a review of it in that stated the importance of seeing it on the big screen. I was a bit dubious- watching at home is as good as the theatre, I thought- but I went anyway, to give it a second chance. Sure enough, the review was right- what was weird and silly in the confines of my living room was thrilling, ambitious, and breathtakingly big in the theatre. Since then, I've watched as much as possible on the big screen.

THE NEW WORLD- my most major filmgoing experience in the last decade. Sure, there have been some masterpieces during that time, even some I've been hopelessly obsessed with (AFTER LIFE, WAKING LIFE, 8 WOMEN). But nothing has compared to THE NEW WORLD. For perhaps the first time in my life, I felt like I was bearing witness to the opening of one of the great classics of the cinema. Truly transcendent cinema is rare, and to be valued, and I will always cherish my first experience of THE NEW WORLD.

What about you folks? Any moviegoing experiences that stick out in your minds?


Scott said...

A few:
"Star Wars" in 1977.
"2001" rep showing in early 80s.
"Blade Runner" in 1982
"The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" in 1990.

Champaign American said...

Pirates of the Caribbean, Heat, Falling Down, The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

-Matt Varble

fay said...

pirates of the caribbean,mr deeds, daredevil, ghost ship, hellraiser, blade 1 2&3 van hellsing, gothica, the grudge,all time faves luv fay

Donna B. said...

Great topic. I'll have to give this some thought for a post of my own. Some ideas:
* The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 with a bunch of tweener buddies preceded by Godfather's Pizza (I had been faking having seen Star Wars for years, and in fact didn't see it for some years thereafter)
* Defending Your Life in 1991 in Athens
* Days of Heaven at the Tate in 1990 or so, probably
* Robocop in 1987 was probably the first time I understood what satire could mean in cinematic form
* Gandhi in 1982 when I was 16 was the first time I had ever seen an "epic" length and scope film in a theater, and I still remember the interplay between the big landscapes and the intimate feel of the performances

Vadim said...

I remember the key movies that got me hooked as a kid. I was 10 that summer, and Austin's Paramount Theater showed all kinds of classics, mostly of the staid Hollywood variety. I saw Lawrence Of Arabia, which was fantastically spectacular and long and generally amazing.

Later that year they showed the director's cut of The Abyss, which was even more spectacular. I was in.