Journal – 6/1/13

Rollerball10 Movies that Changed My Brain

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories lately; how they’re built, what engages us, why are they important, etc. I think the thing about a good story, one that affects you deeply,  isn’t so much that they implant something new into your brain, as much as they trigger recognition within you of something like a universal truth that you may not have had a clear bead on yet. 

All this cogitation got me noodling on my love for movies, and the different ways I love movies. My enjoyment of film runs the gamut from “good excuse for slack-jawed sloth” to “makes me question reality”, and everything in-between.  And I wondered if any of them had really changed me in any way, or was it just entertainment?

So, as a thought experiment, I looked at my collection of films with that question in mind – and found a few that meet the criteria. The tough thing was separating the physical experience of seeing the film (I had some epic adventures seeing “Blade Runner”, “Alien” and “Mad Max” that color my memory of the films themselves) from the emotional experience.

The list of films below is what I came up with (in no particular order), most seen when I was an impressionable youth slowly struggling toward some kind of identity, with some notes on what impression they made…

  1. The Thin Man / The Philadelphia Story – That a little kid saw either of these is a direct result of the days when there were three networks, channel 5 and channel 20 (PBS didn’t count cuz’ it made you think, except for Monty Python). What I learned: Being an adult was fun, and desirable. Katherine Hepburn and Myrna Loy made me feel funny feelings. Love was fun, heartbreaking and civilized – unless you were getting divorced, then all bets were off.
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird / In the Heat of the Night – What I learned: People – particularly groups of people – are bitches (see Frankenstein below).  Doing the right thing isn’t particularly popular (with aforementioned bitches) and can put you in mortal danger. Do the right thing anyway (if you want to be as cool as Gregory Peck or Sidney Poitier).
  3. Richard Pryor, Live in Concert – What I learned: Art has real power. Something could be so funny that it could kill you. I vividly recall laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe, and thinking that if I died in that theater, it would look really bad.
  4. Dirty Harry – Saw this across the street in the West’s basement, they had cable, this was an R movie, the whole thing felt sketchy and dangerous. What I learned: Follow the rules – unless the rules are wrong, then do the right thing. If there was a person as heinous as “Scorpio”, there’d better be an opposite force as badass as Harry Callahan willing to practice some un-civil disobedience or we’d all be toast.
  5. Frankenstein / The Wolfman / The Creature from the Black Lagoon – What I learned: People don’t need much provocation to turn them into a mob – a mob coming after you! Just cuz’ somebody looks funny, doesn’t make them a monster.  Fire bad. (When the Monster drowned that little girl thinking he was just playing – freaked me out. I think that might have been the most deeply sad moment I’ve ever seen. )
  6. Amadeus – What I learned: Creating art is transcendent. Sometimes somebody is better than you, try harder, deal with it – no need to freak out, blame God and engineer their death. Words to live by.
  7. Rollerball – What I learned: No matter how bad the game is rigged, one man can still make a difference. Internally weak men are always vulnerable to internally strong men.
  8. Pumping Iron – What I learned: Have a passion, live with passion, some will laugh at you and that laughter makes them small. Bench presses and squats might lead to movie stardom, and a governorship if you want it bad enough. In other words, you define your limits, not conventional wisdom.
  9. Videodrome / Blue Velvet – What I learned: Don’t be deceived by appearances, people carry darkness, sometimes manifesting itself sexually, sometimes through violence, and it might be a bottomless void. Proceed with caution.
  10. All the Presidents Men – What I learned: “Look, forget the myths the media’s created about the White House–the truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.” No matter how powerful you get, you can still get got – don’t be a dick.