Thursday, 26 March 2009

Five Films That Changed My Life

People frequently write about music, songs or albums that changed their life, but having never been into music as heavily as I am into literature and the image, I decided to write about works of cinema that had a profound effect on me.

1. Irreversible - 2002

I first saw Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible in June of 2003. I have only watched it maybe two or three times in the interceding six years. To this day, I still remember how I felt as the early scene in The Rectum nightclub came to an end. I was stunned, gobsmacked and in a state of mild shock. I had never reacted that way to a film – or any art – before. It was a genuine, unfiltered emotion, and – while I can hardly say it’s the greatest film ever made – it drew out of me more than many other films I have seen and loved more since. I realised, watching Irreversible, that art did not have to filter itself. Ever. That, while it was easy to be gratuitous with violence, sex or nudity, to actually make an impact with it was still possible, provided it was treated properly. It is something that I have tried to explore since, and something that will continue to influence my work for a long time to come.

2. The Usual Suspects – 1995

October 2003. I don’t think a film has ever been more important to be creative and artistic development than Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects. It was that twist at the end of the film, that moment when the truth about Keyser Söze is revealed, when my jaw dropped to the floor, I threw up my hands in shock and bowed to the most masterful cinematic sleight of hand I have ever seen. I immediately watched the film again, and perceived a totally different film, specifically the performance of Kevin Spacey. It was this film, and that twist, that made me say ‘I want to write something like that. I want to write something that good.’ I began the very next day, and wrote my first script in a matter of weeks. Was it any good? No, but it was that film that made me, for the first time in my adult life, pick up a pen and apply myself to writing. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it was The Usual Suspects that made me want to be a writer.

3. L.I.E – 2001

I can’t remember when exactly I first saw the masterpiece that is L.I.E. It was sometime in 2005 I think. I remember being bowled over by how good it was. How stunning, how moving and how – some might argue – controversial. Portraying a pederast as a sympathetic character was as dangerous yet courageous then as it remains now. It was L.I.E however, though I didn’t realise it at the time, that really shaped the way I think now. It demands that its viewer disconnect themselves from whatever initial emotional response they may have, to look deeper, and look at the other side of the coin, before making up their mind. It is that demand, that requirement of consideration before response, that changed my thinking and the way I expressed myself. I stopped responding to things I read or watched or thought with immediate emotional outbursts and instead began to force myself to consider, understand look at both sides of an argument before placing my feet on any matter. It has made me the writer and thinker I am today, and for better or worse, I am indebted to it.

4. The Aristocrats – 2005

I saw The Aristocrats in late 2006, and I fell in love with it immediately. ‘Exposing’ as it did, some of the giants of American (and international) comedy in a documentary setting, where they were allowed to sit down and talk about their work, their approach to comedy, and what makes a joke work, remains to this day one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen. Listening to the commentary with directors Penn Jillette and Paul Provenza is just as interesting. It really sparked my love with figuring out why things are funny, a subject I don’t really write or talk about that much, but a subject that I find intensely fascinating. It has taught me so much about jokes, words, context, my friends and myself, as I have tried to figure out why some things are funny, and why some things are not. It has led me to understand so much about myself and who and what I am, and understand how humour, and parts of my own reactions to it, work.

5. Baraka – 1992

It was last year that I saw Ron Fricke’s Baraka. I don’t think I have ever been moved so much by a film in my life. It is possibly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, and really led me to reflect on my perception of the world. My thinking had been leaning that way for a long time, but Baraka is what really set a sea change about in me. It has changed parts of my philosophy and my approach to life. I look at the planet in a different way. I have different desires, I view things differently. I feel differently. I have come to view the species differently. Baraka more than any other has effected me on a more personal level than any other film I’ve ever seen, and I still watch it regularly now. It is fascinating, it is moving, it is – for me at least – life changing.

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