Going Abroad

I recently had to make a tough decision about a very dear item. My Twin Peaks VHS box-set had to go. There is no way I could just throw it out; this is the series that started my high school obsession. It blew my mind and made me realize I wanted to make movies. It also introduced me to worlds I never knew existed.

Fortunately I’ve found the box-set a good home, and I hope the recipient will get from it even a fraction of what I did. I have a lot of history with those tapes. They were my first introduction to the work of David Lynch, who quickly ousted Stanley Kubrick as my favorite director. I think Kubrick is probably the greatest that ever lived, but there’s something mysterious about Lynch that I can’t resist.

I think it was in the biography Lynch on Lynch where he mentioned that Federico Fellini was one of his major influences. The first Fellini movie I watched was . I find it hard to talk about  because it hit me on such a personal level, but suffice it to say that I think it’s one of the most beautiful films ever made. So I lost myself in the Italian auteur’s catalog. This was a breakthrough for me because I don’t believe I had ever seen a foreign film before 8½, or if I had, it wasn’t memorable.

Now I had a taste for it. I was interested to see movies from other cultures, movies from filmmakers who had a different way of life. I quickly realized that the Hollywood system seemed content within a certain set of values, a homogenous morality and thin, nearly meaningless output. So I unconsciously decided to become a film snob. Fortunately, my brother Jay had a copy of Agurre: The Wrath of God.

That stunning, visceral, hallucinatory take on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (the same source material as Apocalypse Now) made me giddy, and Aguirre is still one of my favorites. German master Werner Herzog became my next guru. He is one of the most exciting and prolific filmmakers I know of, even to this day, and the book Herzog on Herzog made me laugh my ass off. His genius is unique.

From Germany my tastes headed north, to Denmark, when Lars von Trier hypnotized me with The Element of Crime. I really did not connect with all of von Trier’s movies, but he is a magician when he hits, and his recent return to form has me considering, maybe masochistically, of going to see his new film Nymphomaniac.

Near that time my brother showed me Alphaville by Jean Luc Godard. It was funny, it was noir, it was smart, and it was beautiful. Plus, it had Anna Karina. I balanced Godard’s panache with the solemnity of Ingmar Bergman in Sweden. While Masculin Feminin had me giggling, Scenes From A Marriage left me gutted.

But when I caught wind of Andrei Tarkovsky, I started a pilgrimage to Russia starting with the sci-fi classic Solaris. It could easily be argued that Tarkovsky films are boring. He even joked about it himself. But the word boring tends to lose all meaning for me when I get wrapped up in a journey of Tarkovsky’s. Even the bizarre, didactic Stalkera 2 hour, 40 minute sci-fi allegory about transcendence–ranks as one of my favorite films.

Just like that, I had made it from a small logging town in Washington state all the way across Europe. It’s rare that we can trace the cause of our decisions in such clear ways, but I have no doubt that if it wasn’t for that Twin Peaks VHS box-set, I wouldn’t have seen so much of Europe so fast. And now it’s time to move on. After all, the Twin Peaks Blu-ray box-set comes out this year.

Movie Heroes

Think about your five favorite movies and the main character in each. What are their goals? What kind of quest do they go on? Maybe some of these heroes have similar goals. “Kill the bad guy/save the day” and “get the girl” are popular ones. Do those goals tell you anything about yourself?

Some character goals are simple. If you look at most popular movies, it’s easy to tell what the character wants. In Jaws, for example (kill the shark/save the day), or American Pie (get the girl), the goals are clearly marketed to the audience even before the movie comes out. Often the goal is implied by the title (i.e. The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Braveheart, Me, Myself and I, etc.).

“To boldly go where no man has gone before” is a great slogan for Star Trek. It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that. And who watches Star Trek? People who want to “explore strange new [fictional] worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations.” Compare this audience to the demographic watching The Place Beyond The Pines. Now look at the audience for Fast and Furious or G.I. Joe: Retaliation and you can plainly see a different set of moviegoers to match the goals of the heroes.

One of the best pieces of pop cinema is Goodfellas. Henry Hill immediately tells us that as far back as he can remember, he always wanted to be a gangster. And he gets to. He walks on the other side of the law until it’s about to cost him his life, and then he jumps into hiding, and back into square society. This is a fantasy a lot of us would love to live out, and it’s no wonder that movie is a classic.

Sometimes the goal of the protagonist is a little harder to figure out. What is Don Draper’s goal in Mad Men? It’s tough to say it in a few words. How about the characters in Glengarry GlenRoss? As a rule, the more words you need to describe the hero’s goal, the less people will go to the theater to see it.

However our tastes are formed, it’s impossible to say all the reasons we like the things we like. Joe Blow might be a natural-born lover of spy thrillers while John Doe might be a sudden convert to historical dramas after seeing Elizabeth. Trying to appreciate someone else’s top five list is tough to do and involves stepping out of our comfort zone.

Here are five of my favorite movies. The hero’s goal in a few of these is fairly straightforward but some of them leave me wondering about my brain.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Eraserhead

8 1/2

Hurlyburly

Lost Highway