At 13, Taxi Driver woke me up to the idea that you can see the world through a director’s eyes. I’ll never forget the day I went to Tower Records and picked up the DVD, unaware of how far it would take me. Had a hard Scorsese trip for several months. The best gateway drug.
At 14, Magnolia and Boogie Nights first showed me a vision that felt like home, and nailed the idea that drama is best when married with humor. I was blown away by the content in these movies…Frank TJ Mackey’s speeches, BG’s whole porn story in general, and that PT lacked self-consciousness in putting it out there. He didn’t care what people might think, and harvested his most personal thoughts for spotlit display. Part of it was just being 14, but it was the ballsiest thing in the world to me at the time. Respect for life. These also starred characters who weren’t “made for the movies”. They weren’t necessarily important people, their crises were smaller in scope, but the stories played out as if they weren’t. "Anything can be material for a movie, everyone’s story is worth telling from the right angle", I thought.
At 15, Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness were the first films to make me feel sick, and I avoided both for a while, until I realized it was because they were true.
Videodrome, Crash, Dead Ringers, and Naked Lunch showed me beauty in perversity, but for a meaningful end. A professor would later tell me to “put my idea into an object”, which fundamentally altered my approach to writing, and nothing has typified the heights this can reach for me like Cronenberg’s films.
You Can Count On Me made my heart swell. I loved it for its writing and the empathy it had for its characters, and it was different than what I’d been watching in the couple years leading up to this point in that it didn’t contain any violence, or swearing, or really anything “edgy” that I was naively convinced movies needed to have in order to be ‘cool’. Road marker.
Kieslowski’s Blue, White, and The Decalogue exposed me to a new plane of filmmaking. ”Movies can do this???” I guess my introduction to foreign films, too. I didn’t love Red. Still don’t love Red.
At 16, Network brainwashed me into thinking dialogue was sacred text for several years, until I lost enough ego to admit I’d never be Paddy Chayefsky.
Also around 16, Benny’s Video, Funny Games, The Seventh Continent, and The Piano Teacher opened up my brain to a different kind of director’s vision, one more detached, less emotionally involved. I saw people in a way I’d never seen before watching Haneke’s movies. It shocked me that he could film characters in such a way that removed his personal politics towards them and (I thought) observed them more objectively. Until Haneke, I couldn’t conceive of putting a camera on two people and not having it interpret their conversation exactly as I saw it through my own eyes. The camera’s POV could reveal something less soiled by subjective perception. It was like growing up and seeing your parents as people for the first time, less marred by your close connection to them. Revelation.
At 17, Eyes Wide Shut changed my sense of storytelling and turned me on to a concept I call “associative narratives”. Parallel storylines that illuminate each other without directly intersecting. Later on, Safe and The Master would tap that same vein.
From there it was a gradual deepening of interest in elements I’d seen in films earlier on…
Sunset Blvd., Singin’ in the Rain, and A Face in the Crowd all stood as new pinnacles of what American movies could be.
The Naked City, In A Lonely Place, and The Killing got me into noir, which I never made it out of.
Bob le flambeur, Le Samourai, and Le Cercle Rouge showed me that crime movies could be more than about their plots — they could have a philosophy. This changed my expectations of everything I saw going forward. Would a film do more?
Scenes from a Marriage expanded my understanding of how nuanced a film could be, with performances that ran deeper than anything else I’d encountered.
And The Killing of a Chinese Bookie convinced me that no matter how much I love the more traditionally cinematic aspects of film: expressive lighting, editing, shot design, at the end of the day it's the actor that matters above all else.