Like most people my age, I spent most of my twenties trying to live out a fantasy of who I wanted to be and who I wanted people to think that I was. Now there are just twenty days left of my twenties, the decade that I most looked forward to for all of my life. I thought I’d take one last opportunity to publicly embrace my reality while celebrating my love of fantasy, but most of what I felt inclined to reveal was directly related to my lifetime of movie-watching. As such, I’ve decided to share some of my favorite movies and movie experiences….twenty that came to mind.
1.) My favorite American horror movie is A Nightmare on Elm Street. Freddy Krueger played a HUGE impact on my life as a Child of the 80s, but it was not until Halloween ’91, at the age of ten, that I and one of my closest childhood friends braved our first viewing….and absolutely LOVED every minute of it.
2.) After A Nightmare On Elm Street, and barring its mind-blowingly awesome sequels, my favorite 80s horror movie is Fright Night. Living next door to Chris Sarandon was also my reigning romantic fantasy when I first saw the film in the fifth grade!
3.) My favorite Japanese horror movies are Hideo Nakata’s Ringu/Ring, Toshiharu Ikeda’s Shiryo No Wana/Evil Dead Trap, and Nobohiku Ohbayashi’s Hausu/House. Although most of my favorite horror films are American and European, I consider Japanese horror films to be the most frightening, the most spiritually potent, and among the most influential on my own work.
4.) The first time I ever saw The Exorcist was the night before Easter 1992. My Dad showed it to me, because he felt I was mature enough to appreciate it. I knew it was a horror movie, but it was not for many years that I knew it was supposed to be scary—as someone who grew up Catholic and believed in demonic possession as a very real possibility, I simply viewed the film as a wrenchingly realistic mother-daughter melodrama!
5.) My first brush with Hollywood came in 1995, when my family and I were cast as extras in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Eraser. We spent several days filming and being part of the shoot in September 1995 in New York City. It was a fantastic, defining experience. However, after seeing the movie four times on the big screen and owning it on VHS, letterbox VHS, laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray, I can finally confirm that my family is nowhere to be found in the film.
6.) I regard Otto Preminger’s Laura as the most intoxicating Hollywood film I have ever seen. Everything about it—the sex, the violence, the wit, the elegance—represents not only what I most hope to achieve as a screenwriter, but also the elements of great American cinema that I hope will one day return to the big screen in full force.
7.) I consider Jacque Tourneur’s Cat People to be the most spellbinding movie I have ever seen. I think that the film and legendary producer Val Lewton’s dreamy interpretation of “the horror movie” paved the way for many of my favorite European filmmakers, none more than my idol Dario Argento.
8.) When I went to see Halloween: H20 in the suburbs of Boston, the print used was dubbed in French. As ushers flashed their lights at people demanding to see ID to prove they were of MPAA-age to be watching a teen horror film, people pointed out the fact that the movie, and its opening titles, were in a foreign language. “It just starts out that way” was the response from uninterested ushers. Group by group, people filed out to get refunds before having the movie spoiled, but I stayed to see the end of the dubbed opening sequence. When a major character got her throat slit in the first ten minutes, the women sitting behind me yelled out together “Au revoir!”.
9.) Just Jaeckin’s adaptation of Pauline Reage’s The Story of O is my favorite French movie of all, and the Pierre Bachelet score is probably my favorite film music not to come from Old Hollywood or EuroHorror.
10.) My favorite “gay movie” is Paul Verehoeven’s De Vierde Man. It was also the first Dutch movie I ever saw, and watching it was the first time I had my defining dream of living and working in The Netherlands.
11.) I briefly lived in Amsterdam, and one of my favorite daytime rituals there was to get dressed up in nice clothes and sit in a local gay porn theater. I'm pretty certain that I was unconsciously imitating Marilyn Chambers in David Cronenberg's Rabid...up to a point, of course. In those weeks before I turned twenty-five, catching the gaze of older men checking me out made me feel wanted. But leaving before any of them could have a chance to speak to me made me feel enigmatic. To this day, I still appreciate the Garbo-esque effect derived from both.
12.) When I went to see John Carpenter’s In The Mouth of Madness, someone inserted a huge portion of John Murlowski's sci-fi action movie Automatic into the print. Because “Madness” was so surreal, and because John Glover played a supporting role in BOTH films, I and most of the audience thought we were just watching a really bizarre movie. But when the spliced print switched back to In the Mouth of Madness and we all saw the last twenty minutes, I was mortified to have been robbed of the movie experience intended. I went back and saw the Carpenter film again two days later using the free pass we were all given on the way out, but nothing could match THAT first-time viewing!
13.) The only movie I ever saw three times on the big screen in its first seven days of release was Clueless. I never cease to be grateful that THE feel-good-movie of the 90s was released during the most painful chapter of my adolescence.
14.) I first saw Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion on its opening night: April 25th, 1997. On Saturday, May 3rd, I saw the film twice in a row. It became the only movie I ever saw five times in a theater, and remains one of my favorite comedies of all time. (Even though I have subsequently had many important life events take place on April 25th, I STILL regard 4/25 as “Romy and Michelle Day”!)
15.) In January 1991, my Aunt and Uncle took my sister and my cousins and I to see The NeverEnding Story Part II on the big screen at the dearly departed Showcase Cinemas in Dedham. For reasons unbeknownst to the audience, someone in the projection booth included trailers before the film for both Not Without My Daughter AND The Silence of the Lambs. The former was what introduced me to Sally Field, and the latter was the most effective teaser I had ever seen. It is also why I’ve never been able to be as frightened as everyone else when watching The Silence of the Lambs: the images from the rapidly-cut teaser were even more terrifying when they took a senseless, nightmarish shape in my young mind that could never be recaptured on film or in memory.
(Note: The "Silence" teaser I refer to is not on YouTube, but for those of you who own the 2001 DVD or more recent BluRay, it's THERE and it's STILL a mini-masterpiece in its own right!)
16.) I think that The Silence of the Lambs is a perfect film, and Jodie Foster’s performance as Clarice Starling has influenced my life and my writing as much as any characterization on film. Yet I still prefer Michael Mann’s Manhunter, not least of all because William Petersen’s "Will Graham" coupled with Kim Greist’s turn as his wife "Molly" represents my ultimate fantasy of noir-tinged wedded bliss on the Atlantic Ocean.
17.) Despite my love and appreciation for Ridley Scott, I prefer James Cameron’s Aliens over Alien. I think it’s scarier, I think it’s more human, and I think that the collaboration of Cameron and Sigourney Weaver was what elevated "Ellen Ripley" to being one of the greatest characters in the history of American film.
18.) I was given a surprise birthday party when I turned twenty-one, but I showed up so late that I missed my own surprise! It was the first time I had a Friday birthday since I was fifteen, and I had gone to an evening show of The Banger Sisters because I thought it was amazing that, six years after The First Wives Club, another Goldie Hawn movie opened on my birthday. I was in a taxi when I got a call implying that there was a crowd waiting for me at a certain restaurant, so I paid the driver his fare and got out of the cab while traffic was at a standstill. As I got out, he started moving again, and my thankfully sturdy shoe got wedged. “Would you mind driving back a bit? My foot is under your wheel” was my request to him. By the time I got to the restaurant, several of the guests I was so pleasantly surprised to find had been in attendance had already had to leave. Hardly my best birthday. DEFINITELY one of my best birthday stories.
19.) During the years that I have lived in "walking cities", I frequently took middle-of-the-night strolls while listening to Dario Argento scores on my MP3 player. In Boston and Amsterdam, I began my walks by first listening to Laura Branigan’s “Self-Control”, and when I later moved to New York and Miami Beach, I always watched the “Self-Control” music video before embarking from my apartment. Laura’s onscreen erotic journey was a perennial fantasy of how I hoped those nights would go, and kept me distracted from the more realistic fears of violence that I both ignored and took advantage of. Today, Laura Branigan’s “Self-Control” is my favorite non-Madonna music video, my favorite William Friedkin film, and an instant throwback to some of the most dangerously exciting nights of my life.
20.) The first time I ever saw Flashdance was on May 26th, 1994. What began as a casual way to spend two hours while I awaited Memorial Day Weekend became my favorite movie of all time. Seventeen years later, it remains my favorite movie, and every May 26th I make every effort to rewatch it.