There are films you like, films you love obsessively, films that you come back to again and again-- and then there are the films that make you feel like John Keats when he took that first look at Chapman's Homer. These galvanic films are immeasurably important on a deeply personal level, and I wrote a bit about one of those films, Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, yesterday.
In that spirit, I thought it might be nice to tell you about three other films, of the select and elite few, that resonated with Tom deeply as both a viewer and an artist. Here, then, in roughly the order I discovered them, is a personal look at my galvanic films.
As I wrote over at Hammer To Nail last year, Tom Laughlin's Billy Jack was, for better or worse, the film that made me want to be a filmmaker. More than that, it was the first film in which I was intensely aware of the director, of cinema being a potentially personal and idiosyncratic art form. This awareness didn't come out of any profound appreciation of his style, but of the sheer messiness of the film, the way, as I said in that Hammer To Nail piece, you can almost see the slightly-smudged tape holding the film strip together. There was something appealing and charming about its hand-made-ness, about its lack of polish, and it's that same vibe we try to capture with the deliberately "doubled-up" noisy sound of Son of a Seahorse, and that same film's hand-made animatronics (by Steampunk Legend Jake Hildebrandt).
Before I saw Olivier's Henry V, I had little use for pageantry in films. I was one of those twits who went into a film looking for the "meaning"-- that is, a neatly-encapsulate theme or thesis-- and disdained any digression therefrom. There was no film, I was convinced, that couldn't be twenty minutes shorter. What an idiot I was!
After Henry V held me in its spell, I was able to appreciate aesthetic beauty in its own right, art for its own sake, able to enjoy films moment-to-moment as an experience rather than hovering over it like it was some kind of exercise. While this aesthetic sense-- so vital to appreciating film as an art, and art, period!-- is one that was developed more exquisitely by other films, particularly those of Powell & Pressburger, this is the film that first showed me what I had been missing in all the intervening years.
I feel so much pity for those poor souls (several of them film critics) who never had a film that did to them what Henry V did to me.
Ivan Passer's Born To Win, with its whiplash tonal shifts, loose clothesline of a plot, and unique structure (more on that in just a moment) feels like it's just barely being held together by George Segal's dynamo of a performance. But that's just the point: Segal's world is coming apart at the seams, and his scheming hairdresser junkie is acutely aware that he's living on borrowed time.
Structurally, the film unfolds in movements-- ten or twenty minute blocks of scenes dealing with this aspect, than that one, rather than the intercut-all-the-various-characters-and-threads school that's long been the norm. It's something that I like a lot about Passer's film, something that we've very consciously done in our own work.