Monday, May 02, 2005

Ten Works that Changed My Life: Part II: 5-1

5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer - I don't think any work had a hold on me for such a long time as Buffy did. 144 episodes, plus 112 for Angel, just the sheer time I put in watching the show means it would have a big impact on me, but add to that the fact that this was such an amazing story and you've got something that really changed the way I look at storytelling. I think that Buffy did that no other work I've encountered has done is allow you to watch characters grow and change over a really long period. It's amazing to compare Willow from season one to Willow from season six because there's so much change, but at the core, it's still the same person, and I feel like that's what real life is like. So, Buffy had these massive character arcs, which proceeded along over seven years. It's just such a big story, following seven years in these peoples' lives.

Also, Buffy has made me much more open to relationship driven storytelling. This was a work where the plot was always secondary, it was primarily about the characters, and that's changed the way I would approach stories. In what I'd consider the best season, season six, there's not much outside plot, all the conflict comes organically out of the interaction between the characters. Seeing that sort of story opened me up to stuff like Six Feet Under, which is quite similar to Buffy, only without the vampires. This is the work that solidified for me the potential of telvision as a completely unique storytelling medium.

4. Twin Peaks - I wasn't sure whether to put Twin Peaks or Buffy higher up on this list, but I chose Twin Peaks, because it was Twin Peaks that led me to watch Buffy, it was the first TV series that really addicted me, and led me not only on to many other TV shows, it also led to me to all of David Lynch's other films. I think what Twin Peaks does that is so unique is create an atmosphere that makes the series like a place you can go to, rather than a bunch of people that you watch. So, the show really is about the town, not about the specific characters. Watching this show was such a strange experience, it's still the most bizarre TV series ever made, I remember watching the red room sequence for the first time, it was perhaps the most stupifying thing I'd ever seen, and still is, with the possible exception of the series finale, which left sitting there stunned for literally five minutes without moving, wishing that I could have just a little more.

It was actually Mulholland Drive that led me to watch the show, but TP really solidified my interest in David Lynch's work, and led me to check out all his other films, he's perhaps the most influential director for me in terms of the films I'd want to make. The surrealism, most notably in TP, was unlike anything I'd ever seen before, and I'd love to make stuff that otherworldly. Watching Lynch makes every other dream sequence or fantasy scene just seem pathetic, with the exception of Buffy's Restless. In Fire Walk With Me, Lynch makes a film that is incredibly surreal, constantly making you question what's going on, and yet keeps an emotional throughline, so that even if you don't know what is going on, you can feel what the characters are feeling, and I'd love to make a film that does the same thing. What this series also did was raise the bar on what I thought television was capable of. I'd never seen something with this level of serialization, or with lingering consequences like this. It was so refreshing, and sent me off to look for other series that would replicate the experiences. If I hadn't seen Twin Peaks, I probably would not have seen Buffy. Anyway, I guess most importantly, the show really made me think of what qualifies as strange in new ways, and the wordless storytelling in 2.7 or the last episode made a huge impact.

3. Watchmen - Before I read Watchmen, I was a casual comics fan, reading the occasional X-Men book. After reading Watchmen I was hooked for life. The book completely changed what I thought was possible with the medium of comics, it was the first comic book I read that I would consider art, and the way it used the medium was awe inspiring. This was also one of the first works that I really analyzed deeply on my own. Rereading the book, I discovered so many layers, and was just astounded by the world that Alan Moore had created. Part of what was so striking was the sense of discovery, I just picked up this book after hearing about it online and was stunned to find such an amazing work of art. I read a lot on the book after going through it, and it sent me out in search of a comic that would match it. In this search, I read a ton of great stuff, and eventually did find a comic to top Watchmen.

Part of the appeal for Watchmen, much like I talked about with Twin Peaks or Magnolia, is the way that it blends this perfect construction with incredibly emotional stuff. The Jon on Mars chapter is a really intricate view of 4D time, but it's also a really sad story of a man drifiting away from humanity. Very few things have hit me as hard as the end of this book, particularly the series of panels at the end of Chapter 11 and the opening of 12. So, this book made me want to make comics, and really changed what I thought was possible with the medium. I've thought about this book more than almost anything else I've read.

2. The Invisibles - After reading Watchmen, I went on a long quest to find a comic that would match it. I read some great books, but nothing that was on the level of Watchmen. Then in May 2002, I picked up the first volume of The Invisibles. This was a book I'd heard about because it was supposedly the basis for The Matrix, and I'd heard all kinds of things about it, like you didn't have to read it in order, etc. So, I pick up the first book, and I remember thinking, this was better than The Matrix, then I picked up the second book. I remember reading 'Best Man Fall,' and being shocked because I had had the exact same idea for a story, but Morrison did it so well mine was rendered irrelevant. Then, I got Entropy in the UK, and on the first page of the book, it just clicked. The whole book came together in one page, it was Gideon Stargrave driving a boat, blowing stuff up, and the sun looking like Barbelith, with a Pink Floyd quote below it. It was all there, the big ideas, the pop, the cool, and from then on, the series became an obsession for me.

I read through Kissing Mister Quimper, and then had to wait three months for the last trade to be released. So, I decided to reread it, and it was there that the series basically took over my thought process. I had an epiphany on almost every page, and by the time I reached Kissing Mister Quimper again, I was just in awe of what Morrison had done, and felt like I got it, I understood the book. Then, I read the last volume, all 12 issues in one day, the last six in one sitting, and I realized I didn't know anything, but there was something amazing there. Barely coherent, reading that last issue, Robin emerging from the timestream and hugging King Mob overwhelmed me. After that, I went onto the Barbelith message boards, and read everything I could about the book.

At the same time, I started loaning out comics to my friends, and I gave some of them The Invisibles, and as they read them, we began to talk about the ideas in the series, so that for months after finishing the series, I was still processing it and discovering new layers. While reading the books was a massive thing, it was really these discussions afterward that made it so valuable. The Invisibles was a gateway that opened me up to all kinds of new ideas about time, the universe, everything. An entire worldview is contained in the series.

But, the thing that made the series so important to me is that it's not just this dry instructional text, it's so incredibly pop. The Invisibles really created this concept of pop! for me, and it's guided me as I've gone along, uniting many of the works that I love the most. I think a lot of the reason I love Wong Kar-Wai so much is because he taps in to this same sort of pop as Morrison does. Morrison's work is so cool, every single moment is fun to read. So, it effects you both on the surface and very deeply. I think The Invisibles is the greatest work of fiction ever, and it exerts a huge influence on everything I create.

1. Star Wars Trilogy - Even though The Invisibles is so great, there is still one work that has exerted an even greater pull on my life, and that is the Star Wars trilogy. I can't even remember a time when I hadn't seen Star Wars, it's so ingrained in to me, they've always been there. It's like, you know you shouldn't eat grass, but can you remember a specific moment where you found out it's a bad idea, I just know these films. Star Wars has always been with me, I saw it when I was very young, and it was there that my love of film and science fiction began. Even at that very young age, I never wanted to be Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, rather I wanted to tell stories with people like Luke and Han. Star Wars was the first film I loved, and Empire is still my favorite film of all time. Sometimes I'll think there's got to be a better film than Empire, but then I watch it, and it does everything I love about cinema. The visuals are amazing, the score phenomenal, the characters really well developed, and you can't help but get caught up in the story. I've seen the film at least 50 times, and still, every time I see the lightsaber duel, the pure emotion of it is dazzling. I may not want to make something exactly like Star Wars, but I hope to one day make films that build a world like Star Wars does, to take you away from everyday life and give you a glimpse of something fantastic. If I hadn't seen Star Wars when I was young, it might not have hit me as hard, and I might not have gotten the desire to make films. So, I guess that's why it's the most influential work on me, it's always been there and it always will be. There's something so perfect about the fact that the Star Wars saga ends on the same day that I turn 20, because more than anything else that I've encountered, Star Wars has really shaped me.

It's been some good times watching movies and TV and reading comics. Looking at this list, it seems that the things that affect me most are those that blend some supernatural or sci-fi elements with well developed characters, and high emotional content. These are the works that make the world seem extraordinary in some way, and show that there is magic beneath that which seems ordinary.


Anonymous said...

”I think that Buffy did that no other work I've encountered has done is allow you to watch characters grow and change over a really long period."

I really like your blog, inspired. But seeing this quote I wondered why you never seem to mention Babylon 5, a show that I would consider, despite its flaws, to have a far greater and more interesting character development over the course of the series. Especially seen in the characters of G'kar and Lando.

Here's an old link that I think gives a good intro to the strengths of the show. Despite being geared towards role players, its just as relevant for other forms of writing. (Not that I recommend as writing advise, it’s to short and obvious for that.

Patrick said...

I actually haven't seen Babylon 5 yet, otherwise I'm sure I'd be writing about it. But it's in the queue and I'm planning to start watching it in December, reviews will definitely follow.

blowhole said...

Twin Peaks & Buffy are the two best dramedies ever. The comedy written into both dramas is clever, twisted, and brilliant.

TV or movies, TP & BTVS are my two favorite series ever.