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The turning point in your growth as a film viewer 
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Post The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
Shitty title, I know. I couldn't find a better one. To expand a bit, I am sure most of us have that one film which blew our mind away and showed us the true power of motion pictures. We might've been casual viewers or even flirting with more serious cinema, but then this one film comes along and turns us into what we are today. This can be one film or films in general, but I think most of us have experienced these watershed moments as viewers that mark our transformation, and I want to hear about it.

For me, it was Schindler's List. I'd been exploring more serious cinema at that point in time (mid-to-late 2000s) and going through the usual lists to get my bearing on what films were considered classics. That was when I came across this film, and I mostly watched it because Steven Spielberg was a household name here. I did some light reading and knew it was about as serious as cinema could get considering the subject matter, and it was a 3 hour film which I thought was a good way to measure my credibility as a serious film-buff. But I surely wasn't expecting what I would get out of it.

I've seen Schindler's List many times since and recognized that it is peerless in all the technical aspects of film-making, but back then, as an inexperienced film viewer, the only thing that mattered ultimately was the actual viewing. That sequence at the end when the actors morph into the real Schindler Jews and you realize the magnitude of what this man pulled off was a transcendental experience for me. That it's given me the same feeling on each subsequent viewing is testament to its greatness. But I will never forget the first time I felt true catharsis and realized the actual power of motion pictures as a medium that can genuinely move us and touch our very souls.

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Last edited by Balaji Sivaraman on Sat Mar 16, 2013 10:00 am, edited 1 time in total.



Fri Mar 15, 2013 3:09 pm
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
It was probably sometime in my teens (13-14 maybe?) when I saw both Taxi Driver and The Shining over the course of a weekend. Fucking blew me away; I'd never seen anything like those two films before, and it was the first film to really show me that a movie didn't have to have an explosion or car chase every two minutes to be really interesting and really good. Now if you were to ask me why I decided to rent those two films, I wouldn't be able to tell you.

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Fri Mar 15, 2013 4:20 pm
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
The Shining? That's an interesting turning point, personally I don't see what makes that film so much better then most other horror films, Nicholson's over-the-top performance just didn't do it for me.

My turning point was Casino.


Fri Mar 15, 2013 4:56 pm
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
During college, so I was probably 17-18 years old. I was always a fan of films, but mostly mainstream stuff, the usual. During college, I found my way into a film forum within the EW website, started reading and posting, which piqued my interest more about films. I got involved in discussions, which inspired me to go beyond what I would usually see. I think I might also give credit to David Fincher's Seven, which I probably saw around the same time. That film left a mark on me for its craft, and its bold (at the time!) outcome.

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Fri Mar 15, 2013 5:12 pm
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
Vexer wrote:
The Shining? That's an interesting turning point, personally I don't see what makes that film so much better then most other horror films, Nicholson's over-the-top performance just didn't do it for me.


It's the style Kubrick used; his long, drawn out takes, they way he used silence so effectively, and how he used so few scares and just built an atmosphere of dread throughout the film, and it never lets up for two and a half hours. It was a lot different from the horror films I'd been watching, and it showed me that even the horror film could be a form of high art.

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Fri Mar 15, 2013 5:23 pm
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
Anthony Mann's films, which taught me film grammar as I had never understood it before. Also Armond White, whose writings offered a solution to my dissatisfaction with the general critical consensus.


Fri Mar 15, 2013 5:47 pm
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
I'd say I'm still too young and still have too much future growth to be able to single out a specific turning point. Maybe it's already happened, maybe it's yet to come. Give me 10 years and I'll get back to you.


Fri Mar 15, 2013 8:15 pm
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
A year after college I watched "2001: A Space Odyssey" for the first time (the year was 2001, appropriately enough). It turned out to be a watershed moment for me. It completely opened my eyes to the potential of film as an art form with something to say about the world in which we live.


Fri Mar 15, 2013 8:18 pm
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
The Japanese movie Be With You. It is still easily in my favorite top 5 of all time. I watched many more movies since then trying to get an experience like that again.

But for ones that turned me towards being "serious", as in trying wider range outsides of my then comfort zone (mostly animation and romantic comedy), I don't think I can pinpoint just one, but I'd say it's a combination of movies I happened to see during a short period: All About Eve, The Departed, 12 Angry Men, and Before Sunrise/Before Sunset.


Fri Mar 15, 2013 9:47 pm
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
Great answers you guys.

For me it wasn't a single film. Requiem for a Dream made a massive impact on me, but more personally than cinematically. For me, the turning point came when I went back to college Sophomore Year and realized that with Netflix and the Campus DVD Library, I could see essentially any movie I wanted to see. This was a revelation. So I had this week:

Week of 9/19 – 9/25
Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) ***½
The Producers (1968) ***
Do the Right Thing (1989) **
12 Angry Men (1957) ***½
The Last Picture Show (1971) ***
Cape Fear (1991) ***
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) ***
Junebug (2005) **½
Rear Window (1954) ***
Saved! (2004) **½
The Beast of War (1988) **

And there was no turning back.

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Fri Mar 15, 2013 11:02 pm
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
My turning point was oddly enough, Watchmen. It made me want to explore the realm of film psychology more and furthered my dream to make movies.


Sat Mar 16, 2013 9:53 am
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
A few specific ones come to mind.

First is the Hughes Brothers Menace II Society. Saw it in the theater at 14. The uncompromising brutality yet excellent craftsmanship pulled me in. I'd seen gritty films before (Platoon, Boyz N The Hood). But this was the first one that really shoved nihilism in your face. After seeing Menace and reading up on Albert and Allen Hughes I began to think about film as a career.

Second is Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. It wasn't the first independent film I saw. But it was one that showed me that movies could have more to them than Hollywood formula.

Third is Richard Linklater's Dazed And Confused. First saw it when I was in high school. At the time I thought of it as the most accurate portrayal of high school/teenage life ever put on film. 20 years after its release my opinion has not changed. I also credit Dazed with showing me to look to my own life as a source for material.

Fourth is Monty Python And The Holy Grail. Rented thsi in June 1997 not long after graduating from high school. Watched it and immediately felt it might be the funniest movie I'd ever seen. That opinion still stands. Yet there's another side to it as well. When I first watched MPATHG it was at a time when I was starting to get tired of the three-act structure. Today I think it might be cool to one day make something like Monty Python And The Holy Grail where there are no rules.

Fifth is David Fincher's Fight Club. When I first saw it, there was something simmering in me. But Fight Club brought it to a boil. Fincher made the movie he set out to make and it was released as was. It's teh kind of movie that makes people say "I can't believe Hollywood made that!". That's the kind of films I want to make.

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Sat Mar 16, 2013 11:15 am
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
Warning: life story incoming.

For me, the first big step was my first favorite movie: Superman. I'm not exactly sure how old I was, but it was whenever I first became able to form long-term memories. I haven't put this movie away with my other childish things. If anything, I find new things to appreciate about it with age. It's still way up there for me--a most humane, grand, and entertaining adventure film.

I think the next big step was high school. I had a course in my junior year called Literature & Film, taught by Mrs. Kressler. It was a blow-off course that involved reading a famous novel, watching a movie based on that novel, then writing a paper that compared the two. The first paper was on Frankenstein, which compared Mary Shelley's original with the 1994 Kenneth Branagh adaptation. I used the paper as an excuse to make fun of the movie, which was actually pretty good, but anyone who's seen it knows that there's plenty of ham and cheese to go around. I couldn't help but indulge my snotty high school sense of humor. That paper was probably my first attempt at film criticism.

The next year in high school, I had a class on making short films (yeah, another blow-off class, I know) taught by the theater teacher, Mr. Croley. He was the kind of guy who did stuff instead of just thinking about it. In fact, he enlisted the help of a number of his former students in making his own modernized film adaptation of Macbeth, which played in one of the movie theaters in town, which was really cool. At any rate, I discovered that I wasn't too bad at storyboarding, shooting, and cutting. It was nothing worth holding onto, but I developed a taste for the old-school rules of film grammar as kept alive by Spielberg, the Coens, Tarantino, etc. The experience of using those skills and learning their function as part of the whole piece deeply affected how I process movies.

That same year, I also took AP English, mainly out of frustration with the regular English curriculum. That was taught by Ms. Meyer, who had a great sense of humor but was also very tough in terms of demanding quality work. I also had a class called 20th Century Literature, which was a pretext for Mr. LaFay, our most philosophically minded teacher, to sneak in lessons about existentialism, absurdism, dadaism, and various other modern schools of thought through an English curriculum. Those classes were very important, because they demanded that I think about narrative, which high school classes generally don't do. I owe those teachers a lot. They challenged me in a way that made me into the monster you all know me as today.

After high school, I somehow thought it was a good idea to study for an associate degree in film direction before I moved onto my BA. That didn't pan out, partially because I got involved with a girl and went with her when she moved across the country, which fucked my life up bigtime and gave me a not-entirely-pleasant opportunity to reflect on a lot of things. I hadn't enjoyed studying to be a film director, mainly because of the social aspect. If you're studying to be head chef, the most miserable place you can be is in a project group with a bunch of other guys who are also studying to be head chef. So when my cross-country side-adventure inevitably imploded in a spectacular and devastating fashion, I went back home and eventually returned to school, where I ended up studying writing, music, and theater instead.

In my time studying film, though, I became enamored of directors like Kubrick, Scorsese, Tarantino, Fincher, and the Coen Brothers. I think it's because they all combined a very structural, ordered stylistic sensibility with explosive ideas that were just one wild thing after another. That's a combination that runs through a lot of my favorite movies, novels, comic books, and so on. I think it's because the structure mirrors the way I think, and the ideas mirror the way I wish I thought.

That period after my relationship collapsed and before I returned to school was a fairly ugly time, but one thing I have to show for it is my appreciation for Taxi Driver. It has endured as my favorite film ever since. I'd seen it before and appreciated it on some levels, but I didn't truly understand why it exists until that time. When I watched it again, it shook me very badly, stuck with me, and ultimately comforted me for reasons that I still don't fully understand. There's a Kurt Vonnegut quote that might partially explain it: "I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone." Taxi Driver reflected something in me and helped me to make peace with myself in a way that the character in the movie could not.

I know I'm doing a disservice by omission to the squillion other filmmakers, critics, teachers, and everyone else who has had a tremendous influence on me so far, especially outside of an academic setting, but these are the high watermarks by which I'd chart my progress. Maybe in 10 years I'll go back, evaluate my 20s, and get some more events and people in there.

So that's my story.

Incidentally, Balaji, I thought of you when I was editing that John Williams Lifetime Achievement thing. I was going to use a smaller portion of the Schindler's List clip that omitted the end, but then I remembered that you had the Ishtak Stern quote in your signature and decided to leave it in. If it's important enough for your sig, then it's important enough for our communal recognition of these filmmakers.

Plus, I figured it was only fair, considering that a big chunk of the Scorsese video was about Taxi Driver and that all three Lifetime Achievement videos were generally based around my favorite films by each of the winners.

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Sat Mar 16, 2013 1:01 pm
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
Nice choices everyone though I have to admit I expected a lot more Pulp Fiction.

Ken, Really interesting path you've charted for yourself there, but it is great to hear that a film actually changed your life in a meaningful way. Schindler's List had a personal effect on me, though not anything quite as profound or meaningful. I've basically taken to donating a small sum of my monthly salary to an NGO which cares for children. I bring this up not for my own vanity but to point out that if I hadn't seen Schindler's List and been woken out of my apathy regarding the world at large, I don't think I would've had the single-mindedness to doing something meaningful with my life which I certainly have today.

Also, when I saw the Third Lifetime Video, the only thing on my mind was, "If Ken doesn't use Schindler's List footage, then I am going to have some really bad things to say." Just listening to that violin theme played by Itzhak Perlman brings me to tears and makes me want to watch the film again.

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Sat Mar 16, 2013 5:05 pm
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
Ken wrote:
....I also had a class called 20th Century Literature, which was a pretext for Mr. LaFay, our most philosophically minded teacher, to sneak in lessons about existentialism, absurdism, dadaism, and various other modern schools of thought through an English curriculum. Those classes were very important, because they demanded that I think about narrative, which high school classes generally don't do. I owe those teachers a lot. They challenged me in a way that made me into the monster you all know me as today.



Indeed. HaHa

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Sun Mar 17, 2013 4:51 am
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
I've never really progressed in film knowledge or appreciation. My father loved to watch old Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy shorts whenever they were on and I grew up mainly watching slapstick, forming an appreciation for comedies strictly as entertainment. To this day (I'm 50), most of my favorite movies follow that spirit such as some of the Monty Python and Mel Brooks films.

It is fitting, given the influence from my youth, that the only movie that has ever really made a strong emotional impact on me is Citizen Kane. It's Freudian theme that nurturing (or the lack of it) can shape the structure and events of a person's life profoundly affected me in a way that no amount of textbook psychology ever could. Strange enough, it is one of the few movies of personal drama that I have ever appreciated. Aside from pure comedy, almost all of my other favorites are grand adventure stories and a very few horror movies.

Storytelling is not something I'm good at so I've never really moved into any studies concerning the art of filmmaking.


Mon Mar 18, 2013 9:43 am
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
I've always enjoyed watching movies and there isn't a single movie which has changed my viewing habits significantly. For me, technical developments were crucial in shaping how I experience movies, mostly because they provided better access to older, more obscure or just in general more films.

When I was a child, we only had three public TV programs. If you wanted to watch a film on TV, you had no choice but to see whatever was on the tube. As a consequence, I watched a lot of Godzilla vs. Mothra-type movies, Italian sword-and-sandal-movies starring Steve Reeves, 1950ies sci-fi movies, Westerns, French comedies, James Bond movies, etc. and also Films Noirs. Then came VHS. Now you had the choice of movies from your local video store, mostly newer blockbuster fare, which wouldn't be shown on public TV anytime soon after their release due to the costs for the broadcasting right. You could also watch movies which would never be shown on the telly, for example the more disreputable horror movies, which some mate's older brother might have imported from the Netherlands. (The Dutch were more lenient with depictions of violence than the German authorities). And if you were lucky, you would live close to a video store with a well-stocked classics section with arthouse fare. Watching movies became more a hobby than a way to pass the time, when I purchased my first DVD player. The introduction of DVDs marked the re-release of many old movies in a new format. Online DVD stores made access to obscure and older movies even easier. And, of course, there are many good websites on movies on the internet, so gaining an internet access also furthered my knowledge of film.


Mon Mar 18, 2013 2:37 pm
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
Vexer wrote:
The Shining? That's an interesting turning point, personally I don't see what makes that film so much better then most other horror films, Nicholson's over-the-top performance just didn't do it for me.

There are so many things to love about The Shining. The crystalline structure, the visual parallelisms, the constantly creeping sense of dread... these things are all of a piece. It might be the most unified, through-composed horror film in existence. It functions like a piece of music, with leitmotives and developments that unite the whole thing and make it so much more than just a plot that somebody illustrated with a camera. The storyline itself is nothing special--man goes nuts in a closed cabin and tries to kill his family--but it's in the telling that the story becomes a masterpiece.

Even Jack's performance is not so much over-the-top as it is theatrical, which is to say that it takes some getting used to before its modulation can really be appreciated. For much of the film, he's not even close to the top. He's building the intensity quietly, which makes it that much more dynamic when he starts frothing at the mouth, like a hammer finally coming down after being raised for so long. It's unreal, which doesn't mean it's bad--rather, its unreality might just be the point entirely. The Overlook Hotel is an unreal place.

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Mon Mar 18, 2013 4:20 pm
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
Ken wrote:
Vexer wrote:
The Shining? That's an interesting turning point, personally I don't see what makes that film so much better then most other horror films, Nicholson's over-the-top performance just didn't do it for me.

There are so many things to love about The Shining. The crystalline structure, the visual parallelisms, the constantly creeping sense of dread... these things are all of a piece. It might be the most unified, through-composed horror film in existence. It functions like a piece of music, with leitmotives and developments that unite the whole thing and make it so much more than just a plot that somebody illustrated with a camera. The storyline itself is nothing special--man goes nuts in a closed cabin and tries to kill his family--but it's in the telling that the story becomes a masterpiece.

Even Jack's performance is not so much over-the-top as it is theatrical, which is to say that it takes some getting used to before its modulation can really be appreciated. For much of the film, he's not even close to the top. He's building the intensity quietly, which makes it that much more dynamic when he starts frothing at the mouth, like a hammer finally coming down after being raised for so long. It's unreal, which doesn't mean it's bad--rather, its unreality might just be the point entirely. The Overlook Hotel is an unreal place.

I mostly agree with JB's review of The Shining, like he said, Jack's character becomes too much of a caricature to be able to really take seriously, and seeing The Shining parodied so many times(especially the "Here's Johnny" scene, which I couldn't help but laugh at in the film) may have also diluted the impact it may have otherwise had, Danny Lloyd also gave a rather poor performance, and the film was WAY too long for me, I don't think trimming 30 minutes would've hurt the film any.


Mon Mar 18, 2013 6:13 pm
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Post Re: The turning point in your growth as a film viewer
Growing up in Germany, I started seeing movies in theaters which weren't made for children at about age 14. That was in 1975. The first of the Hollywood (schlock)busters I saw was "Earthquake". The movie was rated age 16 and over, but the usher didn't say anything. I thoroughly hated that movie. At the time I watched a lot of 50s and 60s movies on tv. I liked them, but didn't love them. My dad was a fanatic, so perhaps this went into my sub-consciousness.

Anyway, in 1976 I was sitting in an old cinema outside the big town, where slightly worn prints were shown after they made their run in the big town (that was Frankfurt in my case). I was sitting in the smelly movie theatre and suddenly it made "click". Everything was different. The acting seemed so real, there was menace I could feel and taste - unlike anything I had seen before. That movie is called "Jaws". I became totally hooked. At the time I also watched re-runs of British 60s horror movies which I found great fun, but they didn't "reach" me as "Jaws" did. Soon after that other movies followed ("Taxi Driver", "The Towering Inferno", a re-run of "The Poseidon Adventure", "Close Encounters...") and "Jaws" opened my mind for all of them. Please don't forget this was Germany and at the time movies took about 7-9 years until they were aired on tv! (no Hitchcock, No Disney, No Bond, no Italo-Westerns at the time on tv - people only talked about them) So all you got was theatrical re-runs or severely cut Super8mm versions. Examples: "Star Wars", "Close Encounters..." or "Superman" weren't aired on any German tv channel when I left the country in October 1985!!! Unthinkable for younger generations. I remember "The Poseidon Adventure" was first aired on German tv in 1981 - 9 years after its inicial release! I taped it on VHS.

Those were the days, and it was a young Mr. Spielberg who got me hooked for good.


Mon Mar 18, 2013 6:41 pm
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