Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The film(s) that changed my life, pt. 2

See part one for my first installment. 

On Tuesday afternoons throughout summers in junior high, I'd make a list, bike to my neighborhood video store, and load up on 99-cent rentals. At the time, those rows of VHS tapes were my only available link to movies I'd merely heard about, but was fascinated by. Similar to experiencing Batman on the big screen as an extremely rare chance to see a comic book adapted to film, this now seems like a foreign concept. But in this, the era of the mid-'90s indie boom, Mr. Movies' five-rentals-per-visit policy allowed me to see Do the Right Thing, Clerks, El Mariachi, Hoop Dreams, and Reservoir Dogs (to name a few) for the first time. Each excited me, but Dogs was the one that made me starting thinking differently about movies. 

"This can be a movie?" I thought, watching Quentin Tarantino's debut. As was the case for many Americans my age, Dogs was my first experience with this kind of filmmaking. The bulk of the movie takes place in one room, manages style and bold choices without a big budget, uses pop culture references as currency, and plays with nonlinear narrative. It felt fresh and accessibly challenging, and helped me begin to think about movies in an analytical way. Looking back, Reservoir Dogs may be the first movie that made me love film. 

Simultaneously, my mom started teaching high school film courses, and I reaped the benefits. A public school teacher whose areas of expertise were theater and speech, she was enthusiastic about the possibilities that the subject matter of her new classes afforded. I poured over her curricula and film texts, and watched and re-watched the movies she was teaching when she'd bring them home. This is when I began reading collections of reviews by Roger Ebert, among others, and mentally logging "important" films that I knew I needed to see. As a result, I fell in love not just with movies, but with directors.

In high school, I first saw Coppola (Apocalypse Now may have been the first movie to truly blow my adolescent mind), Scorsese, Hitchcock, Welles, Huston, Polanski. But it was Stanley Kubrick who became my first favorite director as a "serious" (read: pretentious) aspiring teenage cinephile. Specifically, 2001 challenged and thrilled me in a way that still makes it a strong contender for my current Favorite Movie Ever. If Spielberg was the first director I'd checked out library books about growing up, Kubrick was the first director I did the same for in college. (Or at least, he'd do until I could start throwing around names like Truffaut and Rosselliniwho carried more cache in film class—without really knowing what I was talking about.)

The final, key piece of the puzzle was the blessing of having access to my grandma's cable package. We didn't have cable at home, so in addition to typical teen favorites like MTV and Comedy Central, I'd plan spending summer nights at her house based around the Independent Film Channel's (now called IFC, to dispel any confusion about it being home to independent film any longer) schedule. I'd scour the newspaper's TV guide and bring blank tapes to record all kinds of films I never would've seen otherwise, including older and classic movies, world cinema, and documentaries. Of course, I took it for granted then, but in retrospect, I'm incredibly grateful for being exposed to, say, Powell and Pressburger, by a fledgling basic cable channel.

So, it's that combination of luck, video store discounts, and family who encouraged my emerging cinematic addiction that exposed me to the films that shaped my sensibilities, broadened my view of the world, and changed my life. What are some of yours?