Category Archives: Life-Changing Movies

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Eulogy for a Repertory Film Program

imagesAs an angst-ridden loner child who always carried with him the vague feeling that he didn’t belong anywhere, going to the movies was a kind of sacred ritual that I purposefully experienced on my own. I would go to the movies several times a week through my teenage years, but things changed when I discovered the  now-defunct repertory theatre in my home town, which was the only place adventurous moviegoers could escape to in order to avoid the mainstream Hollywood onslaught.

During a sweltering Kansas Summer in 1998, at the age of 15, Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor opened up a world of demented filmmaking that expanded the possibilities of the cinema for me. I first saw Fuller’s 1963 film as part of a now-defunct repertory program in my hometown that few people attended, which was run by a guy named Jake, who simply programmed films out of a love for the cinema. Shock Corridor was one of innumerable masterpieces that Fuller made outside the Hollywood system, and it was artistically and politically far ahead of most of the movies I had seen as a budding cinephile during the mid-to-late ’90s. The film turns on its head all polite notions of political correctness, good filmmaking, good taste, and the pseudo-seriousness of all of the big-budget Hollywood trash that major studios co-opted from more modest B-movies from previous years (Michael Bay’s Armageddon came out weeks earlier, and literally made me physically ill for about three days). And no other movie punched me in the gut as hard, up to that point in my life, and nor had I seen work by any filmmaker (R. Fassbinder comes close) who had the balls to make such a tough movie. Fuller’s sledge-hammer, surrealist style in Shock Corridor filtered the world through a dark, cynical lens that ran contrary not only to early 1960s American society, but also to the world as I knew it as a movie-obsessed teenager growing up in the Midwest at the end of the 20th century. I was instantly hooked by Fuller’s hard-boiled style, his odd mixture of unintentionally arty surrealism, its chaotic subjectivity through the use of nonsensical moments,  splashes of color stock footage, the sense of psychosis that permeated the whole work and gave the impression, as it flickered across the screen in a befittingly damaged 16mm print, that I too was trapped in the senseless, crazy milieu of its characters.


For those who are unaware: On its surface, Shock Corridor follows ambitious crime reporter Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck) as he sets out to solve the murder of a patient by having himself committed to the hospital where the killing happened, in order to solve the crime and win a Pulitzer Prize. He enlists his nudie-bar dancer girlfriend (Constance Towers) to pose as his sister, who reports Johnny to the authorities by saying that her “brother” raped her. After Johnny is committed, a slow descent into madness takes place, and Johnny goes insane. On another level, many of the darker parts of American society that dismayed and disturbed Fuller were critiqued in Shock Corridor in the forms of some of its most deranged characters. Barrett, on his quest to solve the murder, comes across characters who subvert the Patriotic facade of America during the Cold War years. One patient who may have witnessed the murder was committed after he defected to the side of the Soviets because he was disgusted by all of the bigotry that was forced down his throat by his parents. There is the scientist who was driven insane by the crushing guilt of having helped develop the atomic bomb; he has been reduced to a child-like state. And then there is the African American college student who was driven insane by all of the racism that he experienced on his college campus. All of these characters are victims of American political and social problems that Fuller attacked by saying that the country we live in is like one big insane asylum.


Growing up, I always had an obsessive interest in film, which deepened during the Summer of ’98 when I started showing up to regular screenings at the Wichita Center for the Arts’ film series, held during various times throughout the  year. With the exception of certain well-known films, I was often the lone spectator in the theatre. Screenings were comprised mostly of 16mm prints of classic Hollywood, foreign films, cult classics, and the occasional oddball art film. That Summer, the film series also screened Abbas Kiarostami’s A Taste of Cherry, one of the first non-English-speaking films I had ever seen. To this day, that film’s  attitude towards the subject of suicide is oddly contemplative, strangely life-affirming. Weeks later, I saw Jay Rosenblatt’s experimental film Human Remains, which offered banal portraits of real-life fascist dictators, and had the effect of making its subjects all the more terrifying. A little later, I saw Happiness, and I realized that Todd Solondz was the master of American dark comedy. I was hooked. The town I grew up in as a kid isn’t known for its repertory film programs, and so the Center for the Arts’ film programming was a safe haven for a kid who was instantly drawn to all things subversive, transgressive, counter-culture. I could only watch so many big-budget Hollywood releases at the local mall that I could not relate to on any personal level, before retreating towards the flickering glow inside the Center for the Arts’ theatre.

A local denizen of the arts named Jake Eueker was the programmer at the Wichita Center for the Arts, and he is responsible for opening my eyes to all of the possibilities of cinema as I now understand them. On nights he programmed a really obscure movie that no one in town had heard of, I was often the only person in attendance. I dutifully attended screenings like a student who was there to learn some kind of lesson that I knew I was not going to get anywhere else. I walked five miles in the cold just to see Jean Luc Godard’s Weekend for the first time. I was the only patron Jake greeted by name. I often thought that my lone attendance was the only thing propping up the Center’s film series. The kind of romanticizing that cinephiles expound when it comes to sitting in the dark and connecting with a great film came from the regular screenings I attended. Years before I attended film school, my cinematic education started there.


Not only was Shock Corridor one of the first films I saw at the Center for the Arts, but it was also one of the first movies that expanded for me the the possibilities of cinema as an art form. Shock Corridor, like most of Fuller’s work, as I later discovered, made trenchant critiques of the society we live in, but it also pushed the boundaries, visually, towards a demented style of filmmaking that no one has matched since its initial release. Utilizing a limited budget (the film was made independently, when the Hollywood system had no more use for Fuller), the film was better able to convey the insanity that its main protagonist Johnny Barrett was diving into: Looking at the forced perspective of the film’s main set, the corridor that the mental patience whittled away their time in, allows the film to convey its sense of psychosis in strictly visual terms. Stanley Cortez, who was also the cinematographer for the equally brilliant and demented Night of the Hunter, used images and lighting for Shock Corridor that were often flat and high in contrasts between light and shadow, adding to the claustrophobic, institutionalized feel of the film.

After I saw Shock Corridor, I went to nearly every single screening that the Center for the Arts held for several more years. Within this time period, I was lucky enough to see Eraserhead, The Red Shoes, John Waters’ Female Trouble, Nights of Cabiria, 8 1/2, Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu, Imitations of Life, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, the vastly underrated and still little-seen films of Mohsen Makhmalbaf and his daughter Samira, and countless other foreign and independent films, many of which were screened in 16mm prints.

As I got a little older and became a little more dismayed with life in general, and after I got out of my hometown as quickly as possible, I stopped going to the Center for the Arts’ film programs. In 2002, the Center started screening their films using a video projector, a then-new novelty for regular moviegoers and a sacrilegious way to view movies in a theatrical setting. The visibly large pixilation projected onto the screen lacked the warmth of the 16mm prints that the Center previously screened. There was something lifeless about the act of watching a DVD or VHS cassette of a film in a theatre. Now, sadly, digital projection in movie theatres has become so ubiquitous that no one questions watching movies this way.

Beginning in 2003, I had stopped going to the Center  altogether, and, soon after, they discontinued their film series. There was no other place within several hundred miles that showed the kinds of bizarre B-movie treasures and obscure independent and foreign films that Jake showed at the Wichita Center for the Arts.

Nine years after leaving my hometown of Wichita, KS, I accidentally came across Jake’s online obituary. He died of natural causes in 2012 at the age of 50. An article in the local paper noted his active involvement in my hometown’s small arts scene. He seemed to have thrived on providing cultural experiences through music, film, and visual art, for a town that is hardly known for supporting the arts. As a lonely kid who experienced the world by sitting in dark theatres, he was the facilitator of all of the beautiful, ecstatic moments I had while watching movies. I’m not sure if my eyes would have been opened to the possibilities of film as an art form, had it not been because of him. When I read that Jake died, one of the first experiences the news of his death recalled was watching Shock Corridor for the first time, the absolute ecstatic, intoxicating feeling that I had in a movie theatre while watching Fuller’s masterpiece, and of every other great experience I had, sitting alone – yet, not alone – in a darkened theatre.

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“Ugetsu Monogatari” (1953)

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As most likely every admirer of cinema, I can completely immerse myself into a great film. When I have seen what I consider a masterpiece, however, I find myself stuck in its wonderful captivity. For a few hours, sometimes for days, its atmosphere can determine how I view the world. I even unconsciously adopt some of the characteristic quirks of the actors I’ve admired most in the film.

After several years of writing on the art of cinema, I can now usually state what exactly caused this unique feeling in me. I have learned to analyze and dissect narrative and stylistic structures. Ironically, “Ugetsu Monogatari”, the essential piece of art that revealed to me the power of cinema, remains almost inscrutable to me until today.

“Ugetsu Monogatari” is considered one of the great masterpieces of legendary Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi. Made three years before Mizoguchi’s premature death of leukemia at the age of 58, it was part of a series of outstanding late works of the old master. On its introduction in the West, “Ugetsu Monogatari” received universal acclaim and even won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

Today we know that “Ugetsu Monogatari” was not necessarily one of Mizoguchi’s most personal works. In the prewar era, Mizoguchi had risen to fame with his unflinching contemporary social studies. His protagonists were fallen women on the edge of society. Geisha and prostitutes, whose tragic oppression in a male-dominated society the master analysed with great astuteness and sincere compassion.

His greatest works of the 1930s include such films as “The Water Magician” (Taki no shiraito, 1933), “Osaka Elegy” and “Sisters of Gion” (Naniwa ereji and Gion no shimai, both 1936). All of them grounded and realistic studies, located in the modern era of Japanese history, which were given a hint of transcendence by the picturesque elegance of Mizoguchi’s camera .

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When Mizoguchi began to work for the Daiei production company in the early 1950s, the Japanese film was about to conquer the international festival market. In the early 1950s, Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” (1950) had introduced Japanese cinema to the West and during the following decade of Western recognition, more and more Japanese films managed to win big prizes at the world’s most important film festivals.

But the interest of Western critics in the Japanese film was often aimed solely at the latter’s supposed exoticism. Socio-critical films in contemporary settings were neglected, instead mostly period films gained praise, which mesmerized the Western audience with the splendor of their colors, their elaborate costumes and archaic customs, even though their content mostly was just about average.

Daiei company boss Masaichi Nagata was the man who perhaps exploited this Western tendency of assessing films, more based on their “foreign” exoticism than on their cinematic quality, most effectively. After the Daiei produced “Rashomon” had won the Academy Honorary Award and the Golden Lion in Venice, Nagata produced films which were specifically targeted at the western market and catered to the Western thirst for elaborately mounted period films.

His strategy proved successful. In 1951 Kozaburo Yoshimura’s “A Tale of Genji” (Genji monogatari, 1951) won a technology award in Venice. Three years later, Nagata even surpassed this success when “The Gate of Hell” (Jogkuemon, 1953) was awarded the Palme d’Or at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival and, one year later, two Academy Awards (again the Academy Honorary Award and “Best Costume Design”). Two films whose merits can be found more in their gorgeous cinematography than in their formulaic narratives.

In this respect, it can be assumed that “Ugetsu Monogatari” as well was produced with a keen eye on the Western festival market. Evidence of such is hidden in the elaborate recreation of a bygone period and the magnificent scenery and costumes, rather trademarks of the Daiei produced festival films than those of Mizoguchi, and in the notably literal supernatural elements of the film.

Ghosts were immensely popular among the domestic Japanese audience in the form of the kaidan eiga (“Ghost film”). However, in the usual kaidan eiga, especially those of Nobuo Nakagawa at Shintoho, the ghosts are only visible to those they haunt and never directly harm their victims and thus, their appearance can usually be interpreted as a psychological manifestation of the guilt of the protagonists.

In contrast, many successful Japanese festival winners possess a relatively literal sense of the supernatural which the ordinary Japanese film usually lacks. Examples include, the seeress in “Rashomon”, the eerie appearance of the female ghost in “Throne of Blood” (1957) or the always present, if toned-down supernatural elements in “A Tale of Genji” (Genji monogatari, 1951) and “Samurai” (Musashi Miyamoto, 1954).

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“Ugetsu Monogatari” takes these supernatural elements to their most literal. Mizoguchi managed to create a magical world where the encounter of a spectral being may be rare, but is always possible. However, Mizoguchi grounded this unique kind of spiritual transcendence by juxtaposing it with the gritty realism of the calamities of civil war.

Nevertheless, it must be noted that, in spite of this nods to the Western market, “Ugetsu Monogatari” manages to be as Mizoguchi-esque as any other of his films, at the same time enchanting fairy tale and critical social commentary on the situation of women in the medieval times of Japan.

The film’s narration takes on the simple, yet profound form of a parabola. Situated during the Sengoku era, a turbulent period of civil war and social unrest, it tells the story of two farmers, Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) and Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa), and their wives. Genjuro is an exceptionally talented potter who wants to sell his goods in the big city. There, he attracts the attention of the mysterious Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyo). Soon she proves herself to be an evil spirit and Genjuro slowly loses himself in her clutches.

Tobei, on the other hand, dreams of becoming a mighty warrior. During the war he unexpectedly rises to fame and his dream comes true. However, both men forget their faithful wives who are plunged into misery by the troubles of war. While Genjuro gets caught in a dream world in the mansion of Lady Wakasa, his wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) fights with her little child for daily survival. Meanwhile,Tobei’s wife is raped by a horde of marauding soldiers and tragically becomes a whore in a brothel.

Structurally, “Ugetsu Monogatari” is a flawed film. Originally, Mizoguchi wanted to expand the storyline of Tobei, but his studio refused. The result is that while Genjuro’s story is dissolved in an epic finale, Tobei’s story suddenly ends abruptly after the newly become warlord meets his fallen woman again.

However, this simple story also emits a great power. It is the contrast between the tragedy of war, which the women have to suffer, and the beautifully photographed scenes in the mansion of Lady Kae, which give the film a heartrending cathartic quality. While Mizoguchi follows the lovely bantering of Genjuro and Lady Wakasa in the cherished garden with elegant camera movements, he shows the plight of the women who, surrounded by filth, crazed soldiers and violence, suffer a terrible fate.

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The most devastating scene for me, however, is the moment when Tobei achieves his long-awaited “glory” in the war. A samurai assists his wounded leader in the latter’s seppuku, the ritual suicide. He cuts off his head and moves away from the body of his companion, crying because of the loss. At this moment, Tobei attacks the samurai from behind, killing him in the process. He steals the head of the leader, which will bring him a splendid reward. A moment most unheroic and bitter. The whole injustice and tragedy of war in just one scene.

In the end, both men experience a fateful reformation. They return to their humble peasant life. But despite of their big ambitions being shattered, the assurance that they are loved by their wives give them inner satisfaction. They became witness to a mysterious force that seemed larger than themselves and finally surrender to their fate. As Genjuro’s little daughter prays at the grave of her dead mother, the powerful classic soundtrack sounds and the camera rises above the grave site and reveals a view of the surrounding fields and houses of the village.

Thus, “Ugetsu Monogatari” ends having put me completely under its spell. I was 15 then and have seen the movie many times since. But what exactly was it that resonated with me so strongly? Perhaps the beauty of master cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa’s elegant camera work? Perhaps the perpetual presence of fate whose force seemed to control the actions of Mizoguchi’s protagonists? Or perhaps the nuanced performances of the actors, including such great talents as Masayuki Mori, Eitaro Ozawa or Machiko Kyo?

While every one of these elements made quite an impression on me, there is something else that caught my attention. A kind of ungraspable force in between the gaps. A “cinematic glue” which connected these many different fields of excellent craftsmanship, from directing to acting to composing, to create a unique masterpiece. I believe it was this peculiar force of cinema, a sense of cinematographic beauty I had recognized for the first time in my life, which impressed me the most.

But the exact definition of this power exceeds my mind until now. In order to better describe my ambivalent feelings towards “Ugetsu Monogatari”, I would like to paraphrase a quote of Akira Kurosawa. In his autobiography, “Something Like An Autobiography” (Gama no abura, Jiden no you na mono, 1981), Akira Kurosawa, quoting an essay by Japanese novelist Shiga Naoya, compares the nature of cinema with the shape of a dog.

“My dog resembles a bear; he also resembles a badger (…) But since he’s a dog, he most resembles a dog. (…) Cinema resembles so many other arts. If cinema has very literary characteristics, it also has theatrical qualities, a philosophical side, attributes of painting and sculpture and musical elements. But cinema is, in the final analysis, cinema.”

Focusing on a single body feature of the dog is insufficient to refer to the nature of the animal. In the end, like a dog is just a dog, cinema is just cinema. For me to ask about the power of “Ugetsu Monogatari” is to ask about the nature of cinema.

I can analyze its beautiful camera work, name the effectiveness of its moral fable or describe the impeccable performances of the actors, but “Ugetsu Monogatari” is more than the sum of its parts. “Ugetsu Monogatari” is simply “Ugetsu Monogatari”. In other words, to talk about “Ugetsu Monogatari” means to talk about this vague and unreliable thing we like to call “The Magic of Cinema”.

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Godzilla, Luke Skywalker, Norman Bates and Me

In a lifetime of watching and loving movies, there are many films that have moved me to the degree that they influenced how I view the world. The films that went so far as to change the direction of my life are far fewer in number. Among this select group I would include the films from my childhood and teen years that first sparked my interest in cinema. All movie fans have memories of special movie-watching experiences from their youth, episodes that transformed motion pictures from a casual diversion to a hobby—or even an obsession. In my case, three films in particular would resonate with me at different ages and help shape my future passion for and appreciation of film. Aside from watching films, playing games on sites like 온라인 카지노 is also a great way to spend your free time.

The earliest of these films I saw when I was about five. While watching some children’s programming on TV, an advertisement came on for a film to be shown late that night concerning, the announcer proclaimed, a prehistoric monster attacking Tokyo. I was already crazy about dinosaurs, but had never seen a dinosaur movie. Since dinosaurs were extinct, the notion that there might be a movie showing me a living, breathing dinosaur had never entered by mind, yet now an advertisement showed me glimpses of what was clearly a dinosaur’s foot and tail. Gobsmacked as I had never been before in my young life, I ran to my parents to beg them to let me stay up and let me see the dinosaur movie—the only way to see it in those pre-DVR, pre-videocassette days. They compromised: I would have to go to bed at my regular bedtime, but they would wake me up at 11:00 PM and let me watch the movie.

The film, of course, was Godzilla, King of the Monsters s impact stayed with me: I was hooked on monster and dinosaur movies. As soon as I was old enough to read I would scour the TV listings for anything with a dinosaur, giant lizard, giant bug or giant ape. At eight I discovered Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, which taught me that there was a vast and varied treasure trove of fantastic cinema out there just waiting for me to discover. It also showed me that I was not alone:  there were other boys and girls out there with the same unconventional hobby.  Well before internet chat boards allowed fans to share their enthusiasm online, Famous Monsters created a sense of a fan community.   Looking back, I can only wonder if my parents still would have allowed me to stay up late that Saturday night if they had known that a black-and-white Japanese monster movie would ignite a lifelong passion for movies in general and fantastic cinema in particular.


I was 11 when the next film to have a major impact on me was released. In the early spring of 1977 a Scholastic magazine mentioned an upcoming science fiction movie starring no one I had heard of save Peter Cushing, who, thanks to Famous Monsters, I knew mostly appeared in inexpensive British horror films. The accompanying photo, showing two armored figures and what looked like some pink gas, did not impress. I decided this was probably some cheap kiddie matinee fare and promptly forgot about it. A couple of weeks later, my father brought home an issue of Time saw the film with her classmates and gushed with excitement about the wondrous sites to be seen. Ordinarily, she had no interest whatsoever in fantasy or science fiction, so this really had to be something special. That settled it: I had to see this Star Wars thing, whatever it was.


Like countless children of my generation, the film struck me like a bolt of lightning; to paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi, I felt as if I had “taken [my] first step into a larger world.” Its impact was multifold.  First, it introduced me to the genre of the space opera and led me to explore science fiction beyond the narrow realm of the monster movie. This, in turn, led to me discovering science fiction literature. George Lucas’ frequent citing of Akira Kurosawa and specifically The Hidden Fortress (Kakushi toride no san akunin, 1958) as an influence helped spark a curiosity about foreign cinema. (An interest in Japanese cinema in particular was a natural outgrowth from my days watching Godzilla and his brethren.) The then-revolutionary special effects held a special fascination. Seeking information on how they were accomplished led me to Cinfantastique magazine and their special double issue on Star Wars. My technical understanding of film grew by leaps and bounds, and in Cinefantastique I was introduced to a far more mature level of film writing than was to be found in the pun-filled pages of Famous Monsters. 

The next film experience to change my life came a couple of years later, when I was 13 or so. I found myself at home alone one Saturday night, so I decided to tune in to Canadian television to catch a classic I had never seen: Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. I was well aware of the its reputation as one of the most frightening films of all time; I knew of the famous shower scene; I even knew the twist ending, thanks to having seen it on, of all things, the short-lived movie-themed game show Don Adams’ Screen Test. None of that prepared me for the 109 minutes that followed. From the moment Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane made off with $40,000 in stolen money, I was on the edge of my seat. I kept expecting commercials to give me a break from the tension, but, to my considerable frustration, the CBC had decided to air the film uninterrupted. When Janet Leigh disrobed to get into the shower, I couldn’t stand the suspense and quickly turned the dial (yes, the TV still had a dial at the time) for a break of a second or two, then turned it back. This was repeated a few times until the scene was over. By the end of the film I was both exhausted and exhilarated. This had been unlike any film I had seen before.


Star Wars and the monster films of my youth had been exciting spectacles, but Psycho was more emotionally engaging. I knew that it was more than just the writing and acting; I knew that Hitchcock’s  camerawork and editing had played a large role in provoking my reactions. But how had he done it? Why had I been caught up in this film so much more than others? I felt as if I had witnessed an elegantly executed magic trick, and I wanted to know the secret.

Shortly thereafter, I discovered Francois Truffaut’s famous Hitchcock interview book in a local bookstore. Pouring through it in the middle of the store, I finally began to grasp the artistry of filmmaking. This wasn’t photographing stories, as I had naively thought as a child; this was using the technology of film for creative expression and eliciting responses from the audience. My way of looking at film was changed forever that day. When I later got a copy of the book as a gift it became, in essence, my first film textbook, and I eagerly sought out Hitchcock’s films to further my studies. Monster films and Star Wars may have made me love movies, but it was Psycho and Alfred Hitchcock that made me appreciate them as art. The Master of Suspense’s theories of filmmaking revealed a wide world of exciting creative possibilities, and it wasn’t long before I began to long to somehow be a part of that world. It seemed unlikely; in suburban Michigan, where I grew up, the dream of working in the movies seemed as remote and exotic as becoming an astronaut. Still, when it came time to declare a major at the University of Michigan, I didn’t hesitate to opt for Film & Video Studies (admittedly I made it a duel major with English; the pragmatic Midwesterner in me wanted a backup plan). I never became the next Hitchcock, or even the next Ed Wood, but I did succeed in carving out a rewarding career in the motion picture industry. I’m privileged to be able to work in the field I love, and it would not have been possible without the passion ignited by the films of my youth and brought to maturity by Alfred Hitchcock and Psycho.


Gary Teetzel lives in Los Angeles, where he has worked in motion picture publicity, film & video servicing and film remastering/restoration. He has reviewed DVDs for the Turner Classic Movies website and been a guest writer at DVD Savant and Sci-Fi Japan.

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“Citizen Kane” (1941)

A new feature here at World Cinema Paradise, “Life-Changing Movies” pays tribute to those films, festivals, and other special screenings that changed the way we look at the movies. Check back here as our contributors write about their life-changing viewing experiences.

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To begin with the obvious, inevitable, but wholly justified inaugural title.

Back in the summer of 1979, I was shipped off by my parents, needing a break from their troubled teenager, for the second time to a filmmaking seminar sponsored by the appropriately named DAFT: Detroit Area Film Teachers. Held at the exclusive, historic Cranbrook boarding school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, teachers and students were provided all the necessary tools – camera, film, overnight processing, lighting equipment, etc. – to produce a short Super-8 film over the course of one week which would then be screened as part of a mini-festival on the final day.

The year before I had made a very modest Claymation short but somebody there, probably John Prusak, aware of my rapidly ballooning interest in movies of all kinds greeted me this year with an enormous gift: my own private Nirvana, a private classroom equipped with a Bell & Howell 16mm projector, screen, and in one corner of the room, something like 200 reels of film stacked in a pile in the corner rising five feet off the floor.

Instead of concentrating my energies on the challenge of writing, shooting, and editing a short film in just seven days, I spent all my mornings, afternoons, and nights plowing through those film cans, this effectively being the era just preceding the home video revolution. (Interestingly, however, the year before someone had gotten their hands on a VHS or three-quarter-inch copy of the still relatively new The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which we all watched one evening.)

I spent hours upon hours in that little classroom, seeing for the first time or rewatching such films as Duck Soup (1933), Lord of the Flies (1963), Night of the Living Dead (1968), untold treasures from the National Film Board of Canada and short films distributed by the late, lamented distributor Pyramid Films.

And then one evening I came across a film I’d always heard, in my teenaged naiveté, was one of the very best of its kind: Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941). But by this time it was already one o’clock in the morning, far too late to watch the whole thing. But, I figured, I’ll watch the first reel, then pick up where I left off the following morning.

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Needless to say that didn’t happen. I was transfixed from the opening scenes, of Charles Foster Kane (Welles) on his deathbed in the castle-like Xanadu, by the abrupt cut to a dizzying virtuosity of filmmaking as a fake newsreel summarized his fabled life, of the next abrupt cut to the newsreel company’s screening room, where reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland) is assigned to find  meaning in Kane’s last words. With short breaks to change reels I finished watching this momentous triumph of movie-making around 3:30 am. And then proceeded to watch it a second time, then and there. And I watched it twice more before the week was over.

(Built in 1922 by the famed Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, Cranbrook, cavernous and bereft of students due to the summer holiday, was especially at night an eerie place to stay, and in its own way quite reminiscent of Kane’s Xanadu.)

Alfred Hitckcock’s Vertigo (1958) last year famously bumped it from Sight & Sound’s 50-year-old poll of the Greatest Films of All-Time but, for my money, there’s still no movie finer than Citizen Kane. I won’t attempt to explain its greatness – people have been doing that for decades – but on a personal level it’s perhaps the most startlingly entertaining of Great Movies. It’s crammed to the gills with so much creativity and ingenuity that, even when one has seen it close to 50 times as I have, there are still always new things to discover. And it still dazzles. It’s as fresh in 2013 as it was 70-plus years ago.

Seeing it that first time was an overwhelming experience, one that demonstrated how far filmmaking conventions could be stretched and even shattered to good effect, and – an especially important lesson in this day and age – how it’s possible to infuse a film with a deeply personal, original vision yet also so involve the audience that they lose themselves completely in the picture they’re watching, and not consciously aware of all they are seeing.

I can’t say watching Citizen Kane that week had any positive impact at all on my own filmmaking ambitions, try as I might, but it reshaped forever the way I look at movies, and made me recognize the limitless possibilities of the medium.

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