Sunday, February 16, 2014
my life in movies: a digest
1-6: Movies are there more or less from the get-go. Disney, of course: The Jungle Book (1967), Robin Hood (1973), Fantasia (1940), Beauty and the Beast (1989), then Aladdin (1992) and The Lion King (1994) as they come out. Monsters lurk: Universal's old stable, though less in the actual movies than in derivative merchandise (a Frankenstein jigsaw puzzle, a coloring book featuring the whole gang); Godzilla reliably squaring off against King Kong/Mothra/Mechagodzilla on many a Saturday afternoon. Jurassic Park (1993) at age five is the first real memory of theatergoing, or at least a better foundational theatergoing memory than Beethoven (1992). Primal traumas, Spielberg-Lucas presiding: Elliott searching the bushes behind his house at night and finding ET, whose shriek of terror is the wellspring of a couple years of nightmares (ET of course turns out to be friendly and relatively docile, psychic transference thing aside, but my subconscious distrusts the narrative's trajectory and sticks with my first impression); the trash compactor at the Death Star (horrible dreams of loved ones compacted thusly), Han's body frozen stiff in a block of carbonite slamming to the floor with a jolting thud, Luke's fight with the Rancor so scary I leave the house and sit on the curb out front till it's over, so scary I don't need to see it to know it's beyond some kind of pale; hiding my face in a pillow for the heart-ripping in Temple of Doom (1984) and the Penguin biting that guy's nose off in Batman Returns (1992); more fascinated than freaked out by the Night on Bald Mountain sequence in Fantasia, like an early glimpse of a party I will one day be old enough to attend, but badly scarred by the demise of the dinosaurs at the end of The Rite of Spring, scarred by its swiftness, its implacability; an episode of the Discovery Channel's Movie Magic about horror movie FX introduces to my first-grade self the Hellraiser and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises, plus The Exorcist (1973), Altered States (1980), and Day of the Dead (1986), showing some of their most graphic scenes almost unexpurgated, sparking after the shock wears off a quest to see them and their sequels and spinoffs, surreptitiously if necessary. My parents, sensing my nascent interest in SFX, fill a whole 8-hour VHS tape with episodes of the show, which I watch sometimes when home sick (or "sick") from school. Erol's Video on West St., then Blockbuster on Ritchie Highway, which in the early '90s has an amazing horror selection (particularly fond of/terrified by the malicious bleedy faces on the box of Lamberto Bava's Demons 2 (1986)). Watching 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) early one morning before school and not being bored by it at all, not even confused by Dave turning into the Star Child, which just seems a natural progression of events. Certainly capable of being bored, though: I last through maybe 30 minutes of Citizen Kane (1941), then go upstairs, leaving Dad to watch his boring snowglobe movie.
7-12: Come home one night from Cub Scout camp to find my parents have rented me Alien (1979), which leaves me surprisingly untraumatized, though the shadows in my room seem deeper than usual afterwards. Aliens (1986) is more harrowing on first go, but I quickly become so enamored with it I convince my parents to rent it for me at least half a dozen times, and I sometimes watch it twice a day, till I know every line, every detail, by rote. Aliens might also be where I discover the word "fuck." (What is this nicely percussive word the Space Marines keep grunting and blurting that upsets my mother so?) Memorize the speech Bill Pullman gives near the end of Independence Day (1996), recite it to much amusement at familial gatherings. Die Hard (1988) and its derivatives (Air Force One (1997), Die-Hard-on-a-plane, gets a lot of play when that hits VHS; memorable evening watching Con Air (1996), Die-Hard-on-another-plane, at the house of a friend whose family is the sort of family that owns a lot of movies like Con Air). The first two Terminators. The Dirty Dozen (1967), whose lengthy climax seems to play on an endless loop somewhere on cable and which marks the first time I see John Cassavetes (the second is Rosemary's Baby (1968) when I'm a little older). Siskel and Ebert. Foreign cinema, beyond the odd dubbed Toho creature feature, enters my consciousness when Kurosawa dies and Dad rents Rashomon (1951), Dreams (1991), Throne of Blood (1957). He buys me The Psychotronic Video Guide To Film at a used bookstore, which I pore over at night, furtively as though my reading it wasn't sanctioned by its being purchased for me. I sometimes read online parental viewing guides like Screen It!, as a means of indirectly experiencing the juicy parts of movies I'm not yet allowed to see, and find myself marveling at the fact that not only is there a mysterious word that can only be written on a family website as "c**t," but that there exist movies in which it is said as many as five times. I become aware of camp and its attendant snark industry with MST3K and Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), which I MST on my own. Monty Python comes in around this time to colonize my sensibility, as it does that of so many other dorks. Begging my mother in Blockbuster to let me rent the wicked-cool-looking Starship Troopers (1997), her relenting only when the pimpled blueshirt behind the counter tells her I'll be okay so long as I'm an "advanced" 10-year-old. And I do turn out okay, but I'm not advanced enough to not absorb the movie's piss-take fascism credulously, as though it were the real article and as though the real article isn't something to recoil from, but surely by then I've seen the camps, the bodies stacked like kindling, in a TV documentary or two, and the tape in the back row of VHSs whose sharpie'd flank reads SCHINDLER'S LIST has acquired a haunted aura, only augmented by the eventual discovery that the tape is blank. Psycho (1960), Night of the Living Dead (1968). Watch Braveheart (1995) the summer between fifth and sixth grade and ID way too hard with Mel Gibson's martyrdom complex, rewatch it regularly throughout sixth grade, bawling every time William Wallace is castrated and decapitated in that quintessentially Gibsonian variation on the sentimental ending. Flipping through Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide, 1999 ed., as our rent-a-car putters from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where Eyes Wide Shut (1999) is currently playing at Grauman's. The Guide introduces me to a number of movies which in a decade or so will be among my holy texts, and gives most of them two stars. Mom rents me The Shining (1980) and like a good Irish Catholic fast-forwards through the bathtub scene, repeating "I don't remember this part." A short time later I get suspended for absentmindedly writing REDRUM on anti-drug pamphlets in the principal's office. Not a good idea to begin with, a worse one not even a year after Columbine. My first real inkling of what an auteur might be (after Hitchcock, anyway) is my realization that the Stanley Kubrick who made The Shining is the same Stanley Kubrick who made Dr. Strangelove (1964) and 2001. This leads me to the conclusion that I might want to see more of the movies this Stanley Kubrick guy made, since he has clearly got it figured out, whatever "it" might be. My family begins going to the movies about once a week, seeing pretty much whatever has a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Last major cinematic trauma: the assaultive flash-cuts of torture and goo in Event Horizon (1997). First R-rated movie in a theater: Gladiator (2000). I finally see Day of the Dead and hate it.
13-18: Ebert and Roeper. More parental vacillation at Blockbuster, this time Dad wondering if The Evil Dead (1981) will decimate my psyche. It doesn't, as the extremity and cartoon artifice of the gore is impossible to take seriously, but then again it does: I become, officially and, for a spell, helplessly, a gorehound. The Horror Geek Speaks. Stephen Hunter in the Post, who I later realize is a lunatic. Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide, 2003 ed. Make Your Own Damn Movie by Tromauteur Lloyd Kaufman, which I read the same summer I take a filmmaking workshop and emerge with the desire to be a filmmaker. The first of many youthful efforts: eibmoZ (2003), a 20-minute zombie picture that I haven't seen in a while, but which I'm sure holds up as a vital contribution to cinema worthy of Fulci, or at least Wiseau. "It's the Same Old Song" at the end of Blood Simple (1984). First imported DVD: Dawn of the Dead (1978), from South Korea. Army of Darkness (1992), ft. My Personal Hero Bruce Campbell. QT soon lands like a neutron bomb. Asian cinema, psychotronic division. Leone. Coming around on Day of the Dead. The Annapolis Film Festival, the old one. First Netflix rental: Battle Royale (2000). Several hundred pages of unproduced screenplays, mostly sophomoric parodies and QT imitations, adding up mainly to an unflattering portrait of my emotional life during that year I thought the Matrix trilogy was profound, and that other year I thought Oldboy (2003) was the cinematic embodiment of the torments and longings of my secret soul, which is also the year I review movies for my high school paper and manage to get Takashi Miike's name in print on at least two separate occasions, really that whole period when I think callow nihilism is liberating, exciting, to be encouraged in others. A Clockwork Orange (1971), of course. Getting my computer privileges revoked in the school library for reading Outlaw Vern. Film Freak Central, whose Walter Chaw's erudite outrage encourages me to think and write like an asshole, too. Alex Jackson, who I know from the beginning is a lunatic, and that's why I read him. Davids Lynch and Cronenberg. 8 1/2 (1963), Gummo (1997). Goodfellas (1990) every Friday night for at least two months. The ending of Blade Runner (1983) inspires what may be my first genuinely adult thought about mortality. Then college, where I finally meet some people who like what I like.
19-24: Not coincidentally, it's around this time I begin to feel a bit uneasy about some of what I have heretofore liked, begin to feel (there is of course a crypto-religious aspect to the cinema bug, don't let anybody tell you different) a touch of Guilt.
(--Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession.
--What brings you here today, my son?
--Movies, father, I've seen movies. These movies, I don't even know where to start.
--Are they adult movies, my son? Pornographic in nature?
--Not especially, no. A lot of them are just horrible. They're horrible movies, Father, and they won't leave me be.
--Perhaps you should watch better movies.
--It's not that simple, Father, because some of them are actually pretty good.
--I don't follow.
--Well, can't a movie be technically well made and maybe even redemptive on some level and still leave you feeling like you've been walloped with a meat tenderizer for a couple hours?
--Because I want to keep those around. I'm fine with those. But I've seen a lot that are irredeemable, too, and I don't know what to do with myself now that they're in my head. How can I really, truly, unmitigatedly enjoy Joyce or Pharaoh Sanders or coitus or any elevated experience in life when I've seen Cannibal Holocaust (1980) three times?
--I'm not entirely sure how I can help you.
--Three times, Father. Why did I do that to myself?
--I don't know, my son.
--I don't know, either. Can't you, like, absolve me of this, somehow, so I can at least feel I can go forth and become an upstanding citizen of the world instead of, I dunno, some wastoid vampire?
--Please, Father. I know it would just be symbolic, but it would help me. Really, it would. Father?
--Just a moment, my son. I'm trying to step outside this thicket of pathology you've led me into, so as to determine if there's a sin I can actually absolve you of. Are you Catholic?
--No, but I don't see what that has to do with anything.)
Magnolia (1999), Requiem for a Dream (2000): a freight-train cinema of big, hysteric gestures. The Rotten Tomatoes General Discussion Forum. Film classes: Altman, Bunuel, Griffith, early Spike Lee. Faces (1968) on TCM. Pauline Kael, J. Hoberman, Andrew Sarris. Who is this Godard guy and what does he want from me? Children of Men (2006). Three, four, five movies from Hollywood Video at a time. Mounting Spielberg ambivalence. The botched robbery at Rahad Jackson's pad. The House Next Door. DFW on Lynch. Zodiac (2007), twice in theaters; There Will Be Blood (2007), five times in theaters. Jonathan Rosenbaum. The Bens--Christ, does anybody remember the Bens, how bad the Bens were? Based on the strength of my writing on forums, I'm asked to write for an up-and-coming website, and proceed to write much less fluently there than I do on said forums. Scott and Phillips, thank God. A subscription to Film Comment. Manny Farber. Pierrot Le Fou (1965) and Week End (1967): Oh, so that's what Godard wants from me. Alain Resnais. Arnaud Desplechin (How many heads does he have? How many hearts?). Dreyer, Mizoguchi, Bresson. The sublime goof that is Love Exposure (2008). The cinema of duration: Tarr, Hou, Tsai, Tarkovsky. Andrei Rublev (1969) and The Mirror (1975) in NYC. Edward Yang, Claire Denis, Hong Sang-soo. "What is the 21st Century?" Another college now, a shift in academic concentration from Film to English, though cinema is still my extracurricular jam. Jacques Rivette, Nagisa Oshima, Pedro Costa, Leos Carax, Mikio Naruse, Hal Hartley. Lemire and Vishnevetsky. First head in the door at the first-ever meeting of what becomes perhaps the strangest film club in human history. A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968), Histoire(S) Du Cinema (1988-98). My undergraduate thesis is a 160 page screenplay that attempts to synthesize my college experience, literary modernism as represented by Joyce and Faulkner, and cinematic modernism as represented by Godard, Resnais et al, with what we'll call "mixed results." Hang on another year for a film minor and make a student film, my first notable cinematic effort since 2009: All My Little Words (2013), a goof, but one in which I start to work out how I might go about making movies and what I might make them about. Out 1 (1971) in the summer. Not Unlike Jean Yanne's Sideburns.
25: Eric Rohmer, Frederick Wiseman. Destination: Lusby! (2014), another goof, but a better one, I think. "The Tracking Shot in Kapo."
possible follow-ups: my life in books, my life in videogames, my life in music, my life among others