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What films have changed the course of your life?!

A few weeks ago we finally received our rental copy of (convicted child molester) Victor Salva's latest directorial effort, Peaceful Warrior. While I'm not sure what it's about exactly (I'm fairly certain it's not about a samurai), the back of the display has a quote from a critic that states that this film will "change the course of your life forever." Wow! That's a bold statement. If you're curious, the front has a quote that says it's "like Rocky for the soul." But it did get me thinking: has anything I've ever watched changed my life so much that I would feel compelled to publicly state as much. Would I even be aware that the film had changed my life immediately after viewing it? How could one even have that perspective? There certainly are films that affected my imagination, my vocabulary, and my toy chest: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc are some easy choices from my childhood. It becomes more difficult for me to think of significantly affecting films: ones that actually changed my world view or beliefs. I do remember watching Taxi Driver for the first time my sophomore or junior year of high school, and having the epiphany that every aspect of a film production is controlled. That is to say, there's a director there, and he's controlling a lot of how the film looks and feels. I don't know why this hadn't occurred to me before, but it hadn't. Specifically, the scene that got me interested in the process of film making was the one in which Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) watches an Alka-Seltzer dissolving in a glass of water. There's a subjective shot, a slow zoom down into the bubbling water, that generates such an amazing sense of mood and character (he's not sleeping right and he's zoning out of the conversations around him). I knew then that film was capable of communicating ideas in a way that was so special, and frankly, much cooler than other forms. And yet, I'm still not sure that Taxi Driver changed the course of my life. It did more so than a lot of other movies I watched on VHS that year, but I'm just not comfortable making such a bold statement. I think that I've learned a lot about the world from watching films: various customs, cultural traits, histories, and even a few words in foreign languages. Does that count as a life change? Through film I've traveled to space, backwards in time, forward to the future, and then back to the future again (three times). I've seen every single major War of the 20th Century, including the "Future Wars" in which the remnants of mankind attempt to fend off robotic armies. Yes, I was there for the Robot Holocaust, but also the "dawn of man." And when I wasn't busy fending off killer sharks, hordes of pirates, or shopping malls full of zombies, I made time to grow up in Sweden at the turn-of-the-century and again during the time of the space race. Once, in college, I partied with the Marquis de Sade, but I redeemed myself by spending some time with Jesus. I studied abroad in Hungary, where life was alternately whimsical and horrifyingly bleak. Later, in 1950s Japan, I spent a summer with a typical Japanese family, right before my trip to the Island of the Mushroom People. I suppose I indulged a bit much in 1970s France, because when I woke up in 1960s New York, I had no idea what I was looking at. And so goes the story of my adult life. Perhaps I can't pinpoint a film that has changed the course of my life, because, in some ways, they all have. Yup, even this one. Film has been very important to me: it's my favorite art form and my favorite form of entertainment. It spills onto my bookshelves in the form of books on film, into my music collection as soundtracks, and even onto the walls of my house in the form of posters. Right now I'm at a computer on the internet writing about film! It's pervasive. And perversive! Sometimes I imagine banal situations in real life as they would be filmed in a better movie. To me the cinema is alive, regardless of what Peter Greenaway says. Even if, in my opinion, fewer remarkable films are being produced now than in previous decades, the wealth of stories, experiences, and craft that exists right now is enough to fill the lifetime of any new cinematic acolytes. I would argue, therefore, in my lifetime the drive I should feel, and that all caring cinephiles should feel, is not just to seek to have their lives further altered by a film, but to alter the course of film itself.

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