Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Fistful of Influences – movies

Conceived and used with the permission of Matthew Constantine and Brad Gullickson, the original dorks.

Everyone has a “Top 5.”  But Brad and Matt, choosing to walk a different path, amended that to “A Fistful…” over at their blog, In the Mouth of Dorkness.  A film-centric blog focused on genre movies – though they very often cover the topics of comics and books and TV and are certainly not averse to classic and non-genre films – these two regularly share their top 5, ranging from “Heroic Kids” to “Spies” to “Summer Movies” to “Punches” to all things in between.  Always fun, often insightful, and something I hope to irregularly pilfer for Warrior27.  As they say:  “If you’re going to steal, steal from those you know relatively well and who will not sue you.” 

With their inaugural podcast, the ITMOD guys delved into their fistfuls of influences, those films that helped to make them the particular film fans they are today.  So, without further ado, here are the fistful of influences that have directed my own path through film fandom (to a far lesser degree than the dorks, it must be noted).  Enjoy.


5. Enter the Dragon, starring Bruce Lee, directed by Robert Clouse

I was young when I first saw this Bruce Lee classic.  I was a genre fan, already, but this opened my eyes to stories outside of fantasy and science fiction, and outside of a white, Western-centric focus.  My best friend had this on VHS (or maybe laser disc; it was the early 80s) and his taste was always to be trusted.  This was a revelation.  Crazy martial arts, beautiful ladies, death without remorse, and the question of how the good guys would get off the island.  Oh, and Bruce Lee.  His charisma was obvious even at a young age, and from the love of this film would eventually come my appreciation of John Woo, Chow Yun Fat, Lone Wolf & Cub (the manga), and Ruger Hauer (Blind Fury!). 


4. Memento, starring Guy Pearce, directed by Christopher Nolan

I watched this with friends the night before I started my eight-plus-year slog in retail.  My life was turned upside down at the time, and I had no idea where I was going.  That night, sharing this movie with relatively new friends, was a big deal for me.  Watching this would lead not only to close friendships I still value today, but also pointed me to newer filmmakers who would become important to me, such as Ang Lee, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Darren Aronofsky. 


3. A Woman Under the Influence, starring Peter Falk & Gena Rowlands, directed by John Cassavetes

I don’t know how I discovered Criterion.  I think I just happened to notice the common trade-dress for their DVDs at local movie/music/game/bookstore, Bull Moose Music.  Regardless, I started checking them out, reading the backs of the cases, doing some investigation online, and “Woman Under the Influence” was the first Criterion film I watched.  It was a revelation.  I am a huge fan of Peter Falk, specifically in his seminal role of Lt. Columbo.  This was like nothing I’d ever seen from Falk – an ugly, flawed, horrific, yet slightly sympathetic man, and the struggles his wife endured in their relationship.  The filmmaking was distinct, the story engaging, and the performances incredible.  This led me to discover the French New Wave, Nicolas Roeg, Costa-Gavras, and Kurosawa (finally), among many other amazing films and directors in the Criterion collection. 


2. The Sons of Katie Elder, starring John Wayne & Dean Martin, directed by Henry Hathaway

I grew up on westerns, specifically John Wayne westerns, and this was the first one I remember latching onto.  Now, I can look objectively at the decades-old debate of Eastwood vs. Wayne and say that, in general, Eastwood’s films are more affecting and more genuine.  But I am so steeped in the Duke’s films, thanks to the superstation WTBS, that I’m unable to divorce my nostalgia from the equation.  This film did lead to Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone and Howard Hawks and John Ford and any number of great westerns, a genre that continues to be a favorite of mine today. 

Of course, these films also formed not just what kind of a film fan I am, but also contributed greatly to the type of person I am.  I romanticize things to a strong degree and love the white hat cowboy in a way that overrides my critical faculties.  This is something I struggle with in my own writing, working to avoid the simplistic cardboard characters that can infest these films.  But still, it fails to dampen my enjoyment of them, even to this day. 


1. Star Wars, starring Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher, directed by George Lucas (like you didn’t already know that)

This is the ur-text for “Chris Beckett.”  I was five years old in 1977.  I saw Star Wars in the theater.  And with that opening shot – as the Star Destroyer continued to pass overhead, seeming as if it would never come to an end – I was all in.  Star Wars inspired a deep affection for science fiction and fantasy stories – Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Dune, Bladerunner, comic books, Star Blazers, Akira, BSG, X-Files, Babylon 5, Harlan Ellison, etc. etc. etc.  I had the figures, the toys, the laser discs (I got to watch them, along with the behind the scenes specials, whenever I wanted Matt), the sheets, the poster books, the popcorn bucket from the ROTJ premiere, the Burger King glasses, the lightsaber, the radio dramas, the comic books, etc. etc. etc.  For years (decades) Star Wars was the focus, the spiritual center from which I crafted my snide remarks, the quotes I dropped into conversations, the reference points for most everything, even if I kept them to myself.  It’s the start of everything, for me.


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