I was brought up on films as well as books, and the silver screen loomed quite large in our family story. My paternal grandfather worked as a cameraman in the French film industry in the inter-war period, and indeed the story goes that he stood in for Douglas Fairbanks Jr, whom he quite ressembled, in a couple of films that he shot in Paris. My father was very keen on both photography and film-making as a young man; he owned some fabulous cameras, including a brilliant cine-camera with which he made some gorgeous home movies of the family which are very touching to watch now. (We had a home cimema too long before these were common). Though we had no TV–my parents both thought it a very second-rate thing–we were frequently taken to films as children.
It’s interesting how films can create a continuity between the generations. My father says that the first film he remembers seeing was Disney’s ‘Snow White’; the first film I remember going to see was Disney’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ ; the first film my youngest son remembers seeing was Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’. ..
I’d probably have to say that films have been almost as influential as literature for me in my own development as a writer as well as a reader or watcher. I watch almost as many films as I read books, in each case looking for that specific thing, that gripping-hand-in-chest feeling of a rivetting piece of art. What do I look for, when choosing books and films? I’m looking for a great story, real characters, a sense of mystery, a beautiful style, passion, thoughtfulness, wit, fun, depth, and a haunting quality that never lets you forget the film or the book. I’m looking for a great music score. I’m looking to be entertained: boredom, tedium is the worst literary or filmic sin, and cannot be excused by a pretence to some spurious intellectual superiority. I’m not looking to be preached at, hectored or lectured in any way. I hate heartless films. I don’t mind genre or light films, if they’re well done–I have no snobberies, reverse or otherwise, about something being ‘literary’ or ‘arthouse’ or ‘popular’: you can find good things in either.
I’d just like to briefly mention some of the very diverse films that have given me a great deal of pleasure in recent years: most of which I’ve watched a few times over, for the sheer emotional pleasure. They are evergreen screen pleasures, for me; though I’m sure not everyone will feel the same! Some of them will be well-known to you; others may be much more obscure. And they are in no particular order.
The Godfather trilogy, esp. Parts I and II;
Shakespeare in Love;
Don’t look Now;
The Princess Bride;
The Passion of the Christ;
Last of the Mohicans;
Lacombe Lucien(Louis Malle’s rivetting film of the Nazi Occupation of France–there’s nothing to touch it)
Hitchcock: I’ve never met a Hitchcock film I didn’t like, but the ones that stand out for me, for their sheer pleasure and gem-like brilliance, are Vertigo;
The Lady Vanishes; Rebecca; North by Northwest; To Catch a Thief.
Oh Brother where Art Thou;
Twelfth Night(a beautiful evocation of my favourite of all Shakespeare plays, filmed in Cornwall, directed by Trevor Nunn and feauring a stellar cast)
The Sixth Sense;
The Gift (Sam Raimi’s amazingly spooky so-called B-grader features fantastic performances from the likes of Cate Blanchett and Keanu Reeves)
The Lord of the Rings(for proving that film fantasy can be grand and beautiful, not hokey and embarassing)
Burnt by the Sun(Russian film about the Stalin purges–beautiful, funny, tragic and horrifying)
Spirited Away–gorgeous Miyakazi animated film about a trip to a Japanese fairyland;
Derzu Uzala–Akira Kurosawa’s fabulous evocation of the Siberian forest in this story of an old fur-trapper before the Russian Revolution;
The Deceivers–wonderful, disturbing, underrated Merchant-Ivory film, starring Pierce Brosnan, about an idealistic young British agent in late 19th century India who inflitrates a murderous gang of Thuggees, devotees of the Kali cult;
One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest;
All About Eve;
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark;
The Remains of the Day.
That’s only a few favourites–I’d be interested to know what other people might nominate!