I've attempted two drafts of this post on separate occasions, but always felt like I got lost in the weeds with all the details and wasn't getting my point across. As Polka said, maybe some things are better left for our memoirs. I'm gonna attempt to write it though, because it's been nagging at me for weeks.
It's normal for all kids to watch their favorite movies over and over and I don't consider that cinephilia. The staples for me were Disney's 'Beauty and The Beast', 'The Rescuers Down Under', 'Mrs. Doubtfire', and 'Jurassic Park'. I don't have anything to comment on these films in particular except that I watched them repeatedly on a day to day basis and they provided me with an immense comfort.
At age 5, I snuck 'Friday The 13th Part 5' into our rental stack at blockbuster. I chose it knowing that the inoffensive cover wouldn't startle my mom
I remember coming home that afternoon feeling so lucky about what I got away with. I immediately put it on, making sure to stay extra close to the screen so I could ride the volume or stop it if someone came in the room. Right away, I was transported into this adult world where I had no idea what the codes of conduct were for these characters besides that Jason was going to kill them. All of the profanity and nudity was just icing on the cake for me, and messed me up a lot worse than any of the onscreen violence I saw. There's a scene where Jason decapitates a man riding a motorcycle and as a lad I thought "are movies really allowed to be this cool?" Bear in mind that I also believed I was witnessing actual deaths by volunteers who either wanted to commit suicide, had cancer, or were on death row. It really was a sensory overload and perverted me in a lot of ways , but looking back I know that I wasn't traumatized by it. I loved the entire spectacle of it and just wanted to find more in any way I could.
The next year, my brother and I flew to Florida by ourselves to visit my Grandma. One night, he tricked her into renting 'From Dusk Til Dawn' for us. I don't think she even cared about what we watched as long as she wasn't present for it. I didn't know that I was in for a horror movie or being introduced to who would become one of my all time favorite directors. That movie really kicked it up a notch in terms of my connoisseurship, because it throws you for such a loop thinking it's this heavy crime film at first but then it's so funny and suspenseful and action packed that when the vampires show up you're like "ok, where the am I?" It really solidified the idea in my head that a movie could be so much more than just one thing, like you could just throw everything but the kitchen sink into these motherfuckers.
From then on, I was devouring any horror I could get my hands on, Child's Play, Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street. Now I knew that the violence wasn't real, but still didn't understand how it was executed. I became a little more discriminating in my taste, avoiding 'cheesy movies' where the special effects looked fake, acting was lame, or camera work sucked. My parents had caught on by now that this was a fetish of mine and became a little more discriminating about what they'd let me rent by reading the synopsis or checking the ratings. They really just didn't want me to be exposed to any extreme sexual violence or serial killer type stuff at that age and I thank them for that.
At a certain point, when they'd knowingly been renting me R Rated movies for such a long time, my Dad decided to step in and up the ante by recommending 'The Shining'. I was hypnotized by it, and unlike all the schlock I'd seen, actually scared. Like, palpable fear that's bubbling up in your chest and making you start to question your own surroundings. I'd never felt that actual ghostly presence in any of the slasher films I watched. I think it really opened my mind to movies as being beyond just entertainment, because that haunting feeling would stay with me all day long, like I'd been infected by it.
'Carrie', 'The Fly', and 'The Thing' were some other suggestions from my Dad, so by the time I was 12 my head was thoroughly fucked. Then one night at Blockbuster when I was having trouble picking something he shows me the box for 'Taxi Driver', making sure to point out a picture of his mohawk to ensure that 'he goes crazy by the end'. I was underwhelmed by the violence in it, because there was nothing more grotesque than what I'd already seen. What I connected to was the sense of danger throughout, that the city threatened Travis at every turn and made him a monster. As I revisited the film through my teens, I never identified with a protagonist so much or really have since.
12 was a pivotal year for me. All I wanted to watch were Scorsese films after TD. My Dad told me a story about the time him and my Mom hitchhiked to Colorado and caught the Telluride Film Festival where they sat in the same aisle as Marty and Isabella Rossellini for a screening. After reading This passage
in Roger Ebert's memoir, I've never thought of that encounter the same. I watched Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, whatever I could find. They brought my obsession with violence and art of the profane to a new low. Taxi Driver remains my favorite movie to this day, and it introduced to the concept of a 'director's vision' by seeing Scorsese's other work and noticing the same themes throughout. It wasn't until later that year I think I became a true cinephile, though.
One day at the library, I suggest to my mom that she rent 'Magnolia'. I had seen the TV spots and was genuinely interested in it, but since it was a drama that had a flower on the cover, I felt like I needed her stamp of approval. She gave it an attempt, but told me it was 'weird' and couldn't finish it, so I put it on fully knowing I was in for something special. All I can say is that it transformed my idea of what movies could be. By the end, I was so perplexed by it that I stayed up the whole night thinking about what it meant. I just looked out my window as the sun rose and thought about all the people I knew who weren't having as profound an experience as I was coming off from this movie.
That summer, my cousin visits, and the reason that's important will come in later. One night, we're hanging out at the bonfire in my backyard and my brother and his friends come home drunk from a party. It was the first time that he was 'cool' with letting me hang out with him while they were doing something bad. They get into a conversation about 'Requiem For A Dream' and how fucked up it was. His friend says his brother saw the NC-17 version where the end was even MORE graphic. My mind tries to comprehend what that could be, I've seen the cover and know that the movie is about heroin, does a guy shoot heroin into his eye at the end?
My cousin and I are getting along so well, our parents decide I should go and stay with him in Michigan for a few weeks. It's exciting at first, until I get hooked onto his dull routine and am basically subjected to what he wants to do day after day. This involves an obscene amount of watching movies, to the point where Half Baked, Detroit Rock City, and all of the good 90's Sandler movies mean absolutely nothing to me now because I've seen them so many goddamn times. I didn't think it was possible for me to hate movies as much as he made me then. Towards the end of the trip, I go and stay at my uncle's house to wait for my parents to pick me up. It was such a relief, they had this nice spread out in the country with miles of woods behind it. I'd take walks back there, looking for snakes as I was accustomed to do. Then, for the first time in my life, I had the urge to write. I felt so embarrassed about it that I'd hide the notebook under my shirt and walk a good mile out into the woods before I sat down to do it. The two ideas I got at the time were about a couple of kids who went out looking for snakes and ran into a scraggly hillbilly, and a guy who was obsessed with tracking down coincidental connections in the newspaper. I had been pondering over Magnolia so much that I wanted to look deeper into the meaning behind it, so I used whatever the popular search was at the time to bring me to PTAnderson.com, which I can describe as nothing less than a rabbit hole of information for my young mind. The only person I can remember from here back then is Pubrick, because he always had the bee and his opinions were the strongest.
While in Michigan, I rent 'Requiem For A Dream' and it's the most devastating cinematic experience of my life. I can't understand how a film could portray such cruelty and be so unredeeming by the end. I realize the scene my brother and his friend were talking about and feel like I've been duped. It leaves me in a funk for days, where all I can do is rewatch it to try and figure out: why would a filmmaker be so punishing to his audience? It keeps me coming back to mull over these feelings again and again, like a drug of its own. I have to buy it and show it to friends just to try and share those emotions with someone. From then on, I'd seek out more and more disturbing content that would leave me confused, dissatisfied, or offended.
I had no idea what I was in for seeing 'Storytelling' for the first time. I almost felt like Todd Solondz should've been arrested for the places he dared to go. I loved the sharpness of his dialogue, how he could make one line sting so much that it kept you thinking for awhile. It pissed me off, though. I couldn't understand what his stance was on anything or why he even wanted me to watch it. It's one of my favorite films to this day for that very reason, I'm still trying to find out.