Someone recently asked me what three or four films defined my life – took it new directions, made a lasting impact, that sort of thing. Being a movie junkie, my first thought was that it would be impossible to narrow it down that far. However, in the next moment, three films came to mind. These films changed the course of my life, each in its own way:
Around the World in Eighty Days (the 1956 version with David Niven) – This is the first film I remember seeing at the theater – The Grand – and it began my lifelong love of movies. The heavy red velvet curtains framed the enormous screen and up on the walls were traditional theater comedy and tragedy masks. The music swept me away from the opening moment and carried me on down the sidewalk to Tony the Greek’s, where we went for ice cream after the show.
The Grand sent out a calendar each month with which movies would show which days. It was a one-screen theater on the corner of routes 20 and 17 in Westfield, N.Y. Eventually it was torn down, and Tony the Greek’s is long gone as well – but those memories are still strong, as is my love of movies and the movie theater experience.
The Bad Seed also came out in 1956, but I can’t imagine anyone took me to see it at the theater – I was a preschooler. I do remember watching it on television, several times. It began a lifelong fascination with how people work when things go off course and a love of well-constructed psychological thrillers.
High Plains Drifter (Clint Eastwood’s second feature film as director, 1973) changed the way I look at films. I’d never heard of Fellini or any other European filmmaker, but I came away babbling about the visual effects and realistic characters – and went back to the theater two more times to watch for details. That awakening led to my repeatedly participating in film appreciation classes at College of Marin – watching and discussing key films. (They showed different ones each semester).
So that’s the three that popped into mind immediately as shaping my life. And then there’s a fourth – which should have been obvious. Working on an early version of the script earned me my first paycheck as a writer and got me started on my current path.
Eye of the Dolphin ended up being written primarily by Wendell Morris, who had a solid record writing for television whereas I had no screenwriting credits and no major publishing credits. Since most of what I wrote ended up discarded when they got enough funding to change the setting of the film, I got a creative consultant credit rather than one as a writer – but it got me started on IMDb. And I still have a photocopy of that first check on my inspiration board.
What films have had a lasting effect on your life?