Saturday, April 30, 2005

Ten Works that Changed My Life: Part I: 10-6

Here, I'm going to write about the ten works of art that made the biggest impact on me, the works that changed the way I look at the world, and the way that I created fiction. If I hadn't encountered these works, I would be a very different person.

10. The Beatles 'Magical Mystery Tour' - When I was young, about eight or so, I was watching a documentary on The Beatles with my parents and I heard this song called 'I am the Walrus,' which was just the most bizarre song I'd ever heard. The lyrics were nonsensical, but reallly vivid, and the music was really off beat. I'd say this was the first song I really loved, and I have a really vivid memory of hearing it for the first time and just falling in love with that sound, so I listened to the whole 'Magical Mystery Tour' album, and that was the first album I really loved. It's still one of my favorite albums, and 'I am the Walrus' still stands out to me as one of the best songs ever made. This is the album that made me open to older stuff and made me explore a lot of different types of music.

9. Batman Returns - I first saw this film when in 1992, at the Mamaroneck theater. I remember getting a little poster for the film when I went to see it, and I also remember loving the movie. A few years later, I bought the movie on VHS and watched it a whole bunch of times. When I was younger, this film was #4 on my top films list, behind only the Star Wars trilogy. At the same time, I loved both the original Batman and Beetlejuice, and when the film Ed Wood came out, I realized they were all directed by the same director, Tim Burton. A few years later, when I was in eighth grade, I decided to rent Edward Scissorhands, because it too was directed by Tim Burton. I watched this and loved it, and it gave me a greater understanding of the thematic development of Batman Returns, something I applied when I watched it again. I also started to really investigate Danny Elfman's scores, and I bought the soundtrack to Batman Returns, my favorite score of his. So, what this film did was set off my first investigation of a filmmaker's whole body of work. Tim Burton was my favorite director for a long time, I sought out all his films and read a bunch of books on him. Even my Nightmare Before Christmas shirt, which I always wear, was a result of this.

So, I guess what makes the film so special to me was that it was really the lynchpin for my love of Burton's work. It was the thing that I loved enough to seek out his other work. I always loved the film in a way that went beyond just liking the action, there was something deeper there. Subsequent to viewing all Burton's work, I've gone through a number of other directors: Gilliam, Lynch, Wong, Linklater, Tarantino, etc. but I don't think I ever was so immersed in one director's work as I was in Burton's. A few weeks ago, I revisited Batman Returns and was struck by how amazing it still was. It's Burton's best film, visually magnificent, thematically rich, and still #8 on my all time best films list. I wrote a 23 page paper on the film, which I finished last week, and I felt like that wasn't even enough room to say what I wanted to about it. The film was crucial to making me view cinema as not just a bunch of random movies, but instead as the product of a director with a unique vision.

8. Chungking Express - Last year about this time, I saw the film Chungking Express in class, and I loved it. I bought the DVD soon after, and enjoyed it even more the second time. I love this film, but perhaps more important, it really changed the way I view the medium. I used to view cinema primarily from a storytelling context, and, while I appreciated technique, I saw that primairly as an additional cool element, but what this film, and Wong Kar-Wai's subsequent work did, was to make me see how every single frame of a movie could be an amazing experience in and of itself. His perfect synching of music and visual produces moments that don't need to be understood in the context of a story, but instead stand alone as just dazzling images. When I was shooting Ricky Frost over winter break, I just imitated a bunch of Wong Kar-Wai shots, particularly with the so called 'Chungking effect,' aka using a low shutter speed. This sent me off to Wong Kar-Wai's other movies, and watching them really changed the way I approach and create cinema. I would argue since seeing this film I have been in the Wong Kar-Wai stage, where his was the dominant type of story that dominated my views, and I viewed things in the context of his work. More than most of the works on here, he's made a huge impact on how I want to create cinema.

7. Blade Runner - Blade Runner is a film that reignited my love for science fiction, in a way that no film since has done, it's a film that really showed me how cinema has the potential to create entirely new worlds. And, watching this film sent me down a number of intersting paths. After seeing the film, I began to seek out the work of author Philip K. Dick, and reading his book VALIS exposed me to a ton of new ideas, paving the way for The Invisibles. In addition, it sent me to the internet, where I became a part of the newsgroup, where I have been talking about the film for five years. I've never analyzed anything as long as I've talked about this film, and this paved the way for a lot more online participation in the film scene. Also, from reccomendations on the newsgroup, I found a number of my other favorite films, including Brazil and Leon: The Professional. Also, the work's primary theme, what is human, as well as its noir influences, has influenced a lot of what I've done. I guess what this film does is show me how well cinema can transport you to another world.

6. Magnolia - I think the moment Magnolia really clicked for me was when we see Claudia put an Aimee Mann song on, and quietly sing with it, then we cut to another character, and he's singing it too, and we cut to every character singing along to the song, a moment that could seem so goofy, but in the context of the work, is the most unbelievably heartbreaking moment, and that's when I knew that this wasn't just any movie, it was something so special. And, as the film was ending, I was wishing that it would go on just a bit longer, because I didn't want to leave its world, quite a feat considering it's a three hour film. As I said about Blade Runner, this is a work that creates a world, but this one is much more in our everyday world, what it does is take a bunch of individual dramas, and by weaving them together, makes it into a film that contains virtually the entirety of human emotion. I think that's what makes the work so special to me, the fact that by creating all these parallels, it makes simple stories into something so much larger.

I feel like more than any other work, I wish I could make something like Magnolia, something that's at once incredibly intimate and also epic. It instantly made me love multi-character films, with narrative weaves between the lives of many people. It made me want to make films like this, where we see many perspectives, and are able to compare them. The film I want to do over the summer is three different narrative strands that cross over, clearly influenced by Magnolia. In addition to this, the filmmaking technique completely changed my belief in what cinema could do. PT Anderson so perfectly used really showy technique to support characters' emotional development, and build an atmosphere around the film, so that even as we go through the lives of many characters, we feel like it's one unified story. This is largely due to the use of music, both Jon Brion's score and the Aimee Mann songs, which unite the characters. No matter how many times I see the film, I can't help but smile as Claudia does at the end of the film, because I feel like I've been through everything she's been through over the course of this day. One day I hope to make a film that is on the scale of Magnolia, and will have the emotional impact on other people that this film had one me.

Alright, that's it for the first five, tomorrow see what could possibly eclipse these absolutely brilliant works, and influenced me even more.

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