THE WHOLE HISTORY OF MY LIFE
After reading Chris Funderburg's series The Whole History of My Life on this website numerous times, I was inspired to write about the films that I too "really really love." I have a lot of favorite movies. Most of those movies have taught me a lot about cinema. But very few of them have actually touched me on a personal level and made me take a step back and rethink or question things about my life. It's hard to find films that cater to a large, left-handed, architectural-drafting, historically black college-graduating, young black man with diabetes who received a kidney from his uncle. I don't like or relate to most modern films that concern black people. Kidney disease and architecture are seldom explored on the big screen, and there hasn't been an accurate portrayal of a historically black college in over two decades.
But every few years or so I revisit or discover an exceptional film that truly challenges me and forces me to reflect on my own life...
<< part one: THE BELLY OF AN ARCHITECT >>
<<part two: FEAR X>>
<<part three: SCHOOL DAZE>>
<<part four: U.S. GO HOME>>
STRANGER THAN PARADISE
You know, it's funny - you come someplace new and everything just looks the same.
If I had the ability to travel to a different time and place, the 1984 Cannes film festival would probably be one of my first destinations. To this day I couldn't tell you what films screened or won awards at the festival in 1963 or 1971 or 2008, but most of the lineup from '84 has been lodged into my memory for quite some time. It wasn't just that Wenders' Paris, Texas won best picture or the fact that legends like Huston (Under the Volcano), Leone (Once Upon a Time in America), Bergman (After the Rehearsal) and Herzog (Where the Green Ants Dream) debuted their latest works. There was a new crop of young filmmakers making their presence known that year. Lars Von Trier and Leos Carax made their feature film debuts with The Element of Crime and Boy Meets Girl, respectively. Claire Denis, Allison Anders and Agnes Godard, who were a few years away from making their own films, had worked as assistants on Paris, Texas and Jim Jarmusch premiered his sophomore feature, Stranger Than Paradise. What a historic time for modern (art-house) film! And there were so many connections between the filmmakers at the festival that year. Both stars from Boy Meets Girl went on to star in Claire Denis' films in the future. Denis also went on to work on Jarmusch's next film, Down By Law, which was shot by Wim Wenders' regular cinematographer Robby Müller (many years later, Müller went on to shoot Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark for Lars Von Trier). Wenders and Herzog came from the same German New Wave film scene, and Wenders played a role in getting Stranger Than Paradise made (which we'll get into a little later).
I'm sure if you've read anything I've written, you know I'm big on connections and linking films together. I dunno...that's just my thing. What I love so much about this series is that, although each film is quite different from the last, they're all still connected in various ways. In my last entry, I talked about my awkward encounter with Claire Denis and her entourage of Kim Gordon, Issach DeBankole and Jim Jarmusch. Only recently did it hit me that this was actually my second awkward encounter with Mr. Jarmusch. Back in 2008, fresh off of recovery from my kidney transplant, I went to the IFC Center to see Jarmusch co-host a screening of Empires of Tin with Jem Cohen. I got to the theater early and noticed Jim hanging outside by himself, so I rustled up the nerve to ask if I could take a picture with him. Of course being the cool, laidback guy that he is he said yes, but I still had an ancient flip phone so I immediately closed the phone after taking the picture, effectively deleting it. After realizing what happened, I stood off to the side and once again built up the courage to ask him to take the photo again, which he did no problem. A year later, while attending a retrospective of Tom Jarmusch's films at Anthology Film Archives, Jim attended one of the screenings to support his brother and ended up sitting directly behind me. I didn't bother him for a photo that time, but being aware of him sitting just one row back distracted me throughout the whole movie. And as I mentioned in my U.S. Go Home write-up, I screened Mystery Train (Jarmusch’s fourth film) at Anthology Film Archives for my 30th birthday party.
I'm telling you all this to emphasize how big of a presence Jim Jarmusch has had in my cinematic life so far. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love his work. In fact, when I mentioned to John that I wanted my next film in this series to be Stranger Than Paradise, his response was, "I was wondering when you were going to do a Jarmusch movie."
Besides being an almost perfect film, Stranger Than Paradise is special to me because it branches off into other movies from my childhood and brings up some fond memories. Take Stranger co-star Richard Edson: he doesn't get enough credit in my opinion. There's a good chance some of you don't even know who he is by name, but you definitely know his face. To most people, Richard Edson is best known as one of the two parking lot attendants who take Cameron's dad's car for a joy ride in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Yeah, him. Sure that's a small role, but it's certainly memorable and given that Ferris Bueller is considered a classic, Edson has carved his small place in pop culture history. But to the indie/art house crowd, Edson co-starred in two of the most important American independent films of all time in the form of Do the Right Thing and Stranger Than Paradise. To this day, whenever I see him show up in a random movie I always think about how cool it is that he's one of the figures directly responsible for my deep submergence into cinephilia.
On a side note, that makes me think: it's funny how we associate actors from our childhood with random life moments. For example - like any child of the 80's, I watched The Goonies all the time and had every actor in that film engrained in my mind. I also watched a lot of "grown-up" movies as a kid, but somehow the actors in all the kid-friendly movies I watched never showed up in any of the R-rated adult movies I watched, and vice versa. But one night I stayed up late and ended up watching The Accused on cable and noticed that one of the guys who rapes Jodie Foster on the pinball machine was Troy from Goonies. For years I was ruined. I couldn't watch Goonies for quite some time because I now associated it with the rape scene from The Accused.
Anyway, moving on...
Had I never seen Ferris Bueller's Day Off, I probably wouldn't have rented Stranger Than Paradise, which became of my entryways into a world of cinema that's consumed me since the summer of 2001. Because seeing Richard Edson's face on the DVD cover is what motivated me to rent Stranger in the first place.
Prior to Pinnland Empire, my contributions to The Pink Smoke and my various appearances on movie-related podcasts, I was just the guy who watched a lot of movies and could recite random movie lines word for word. But Stranger Than Paradise really opened me up to film analysis and looking at cinema as an art form. As a kid I was exposed to the occasional American auteur courtesy of my dad's VHS collection (Altman, Kubrick, Cassavetes, etc.) but generally speaking I watched typical stuff like Home Alone, The Neverending Story and other movies that helped to shape that last wave of Gen X-ers and that first batch of Generation Y kids that I belong to. It wasn't until the very late 90's that I discovered stuff like Nénette et Boni that I started to appreciate cinema more and take it a little more seriously.
Growing up, I lived up the street from one of the greatest video stores ever, Video To Go in Amherst, Massachusetts. It was located next to the laundromat my mother used to go to. In between helping her with loads of clothes, I would kill time at what would essentially become my unofficial film school. I wouldn't even always necessarily have any money to rent anything. I just liked all the VHS box cover artwork dispursed throughout the store. To this day I still remember some of the specific covers that always captured my attention. There was that image of a lady dressed like a nun pointing a gun at someone (Abel Ferrara's Ms. 45); the sludgy green-tinted artwork for Repo Man; the androgynous lady I later came to discover was ex-Butthole Surfers drummer Teresa Nervosa on the cover of Linklater's Slacker; and that iconic image of a cartoon Malcolm McDowell poking his knife through the letter "A" on the cover of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.
My generation had the fortune of being the last group of people to remember video stores in their glory before their big decline in the early/mid-00's. Listen, I honestly appreciate the convenience of things like Netflix and Hulu. Hell, for the last couple of years their selection of indie (Trust), art house (The Piano Teacher) and various small forgotten about films (What Happened Was...) has been rather impressive. But the one issue I have with Netflix is that it obviously doesn't come close to the human element of an awesome video store employee, like the ones at Video To Go, who know what you like and can recommend something to you according to your particular taste. It's no secret that the automated Netflix recommendation system is simply based off of the basic information from the last few movies you watched (cast, director, genre, etc). But sometimes it gets really random. For example, and I swear to god I'm not making this up to make this write-up seem better, but the last movies I watched on Netflix were Super, Computer Chess, Blue is the Warmest Color and Prince Avalanche, yet my top recommendations based on that included The Last Stand, American Psycho, Flight, Olympus Has Fallen, various Jason Statham movies and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Yeah, I don't get it either...
CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE
<<Previous Page 1 2 Next Page>>
home about contact us featured writings years in review film productions
All rights reserved The Pink Smoke © 2014