Wherein Jim Responds To the Movie Love Questionnaire

Maybe I ought to speak to my therapist about my inability to pass up answering one of these interview-like questionnaires. This one comes from Roger Ebert’s website. You can read critic Matt Zoller Seitz’s answers here.

Here are mine. (Write yours in comments or on Facebook or in Tweets or on your own damned blog.)

1. Where did you grow up, and what was it like?

I grew up in lots of places: New Jersey, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, Washington State. I spent the years 1980-1986 living in Tooele, Utah, which was my longest childhood stint anywhere. Though I met a few nice people there, and developed an interest in theater there thanks to the high school drama teacher, I refer to the bulk of my stretch there as my unfortunate incarceration. When my Mom passed the the bar exam, she, my Dad, and I tunneled under the wall and escaped. I live in fear of being extradited back.

2. Was anyone else in your family into movies? If so, what effect did they have on your moviegoing tastes?

My parents both like movies. I wouldn’t describe either of them as cineastes, exactly, but we were early adopters of both SelecTV (ask your parents, adults) and HBO. (This pissed off our Mormon neighbor no end, which was reason enough to do it. There’s a story in that that I’ll tell you sometime.) We also grabbed on to video cassettes as soon as the VHS/Beta format war ended.  I generally caught movies at home because the town had only the one-screen theater, and going to Salt Lake City was a bit too much of a hassle just to see an ordinary picture.

We watched a lot of classics and caught the New Releases six to nine months later, so I got used to being a bit behind. My Mom and Dad were big comedy fans, so I saw watched everything from The Great Dictator and Duck Soup to Dr. Strangelove to Tootsie. It made me love any movie that makes with the laugh-laugh.

3. What’s the first movie you remember seeing, and what impression did it make on you?

The Apple Dumpling Gang, I think. I was four or five. The details are a blur, but I remember laughing.

4. What’s the first movie that made you think, “Hey, some people made this. It didn’t just exist. There’s a human personality behind it.”

9 to 5. I had read a piece Lily Tomlin wrote in a textbook my teacher gave me because she thought I was too advanced for the 5th grade reader, and there she was on the screen. I’d remembered her from “The Electric Company” and Ernestine of course, but reading her work suggested the part of her life that went unfilmed.

5. What’s the first movie you ever walked out of?

Turning off a movie on home video doesn’t really count, does it? There are movies that made me stop them and take a walk to clear my head, but that was because they were so intense I needed a break, not because I disliked them. (Full Metal Jacket is an example.) No. I can’t say I’ve ever walked out on a movie in a theater. The closest analogue I can think of was a movie I wanted to walk out on, Armageddon. What stopped me? I was 30,000 feet over the Yukon at the time, and those doors really are impossible to open at that altitude. They do bear my claw marks, however.

Oh, yes, I did walk out on Breaking The Waves, but not because I disliked it. The way the hand held was used gave me motion sickness, and I didn’t want everyone to know what I had for dinner.

6. What’s the funniest film you’ve ever seen?

Oh, my. The answer would change day to day. At the moment, I’d have to say Tootsie. The exchanges between Michael Dorsey and his agent, and Michael Dorsey and his roommate, kill me every time.

7. What’s the saddest film you’ve ever seen?

Seitz’s answer, Boys Don’t Cry, is pretty damned good. I try, but I can’t really improve on it.

8. What’s the scariest film you’ve ever seen?

The Shining. I’m not sure why The Exorcist never got to me the way The Shining did. Maybe it’s because The Exorcist eventually shows all its cards. Evil gets a personality and a name and it’s something you can talk to and potentially reason with. In The Shining, whatever power possesses the Overlook Hotel is remote and inscrutable, like the court in Kafka’s The Trial. You can know what the Overlook’s evil does, but it’s motives are obscure, if it can even be said to have motives at all. Whatever the case, it can’t be bargained with, argued with, or driven out. It can only be fled.

9. What’s the most romantic film you’ve ever seen?

I come back to Tootsie. I love that the last line, the one that suggests future romance, is Julie saying she wants to borrow Michael’s Halston dress.

10. What’s the first television show you ever saw that made you think television could be more than entertainment?

Star Trek’s “The City on the Edge of Forever”. Its ending is the most devastating one I remember seeing on television, one that illustrates just how cruel fate and the requirements of duty can be.

11. What book do you think about or revisit the most?

Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night. “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”

12. What album or recording artist have you listened to the most, and why?

Paul Simon, most likely. I’m a lyrics man, and he writes some of the best.

13. Is there a movie that you think is great, or powerful, or perfect, but that you never especially want to see again, and why?

I’ve watched Boys Don’t Cry only once, and though it shows up in my Netflix recommendations for good reason, I don’t particularly want to see it again. The same goes for Breaking the Waves, and a lot of Von Trier really. I can admire his work, but his is a head space I don’t enjoy inhabiting.

14. What movie have you seen more times than any other?

Star Trek II: The Wrath of KhanTootsieRichard Pryor: Live On the Sunset StripDr. StrangeloveThe ShiningGoodfellasThe Third ManRaiders of the Lost ArkThe Godfather, Superman: The Movie, In the Heat of the NightThe Grifters, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

15. What was your first R-rated movie, and did you like it?

That would be MASH, but I don’t remember it. (I was a baby.) The first one my parents (reluctantly) let me see was The Amityville Horror. It was in those early days of HBO. I’d heard about the Amityville house because of “In Search Of…” and the debunking of “In Search Of…” by “That’s Incredible!”, but I still wanted to see the picture. My parents let me. I’ll admit, the movie did scare me enough to keep me up a night or two. But give me a break. I was nine, and I didn’t know what sucked yet. (I figured it out when I rewatched the movie and realized just how little happens in it, and how much Rod Steiger overacted.)

16. What’s the most visually beautiful film you’ve ever seen?

Ran. Though Barry Lyndon gives it a run for its money.

17. Who are your favorite leading men, past and present?

George Clooney in the present. Humphrey Bogart in the past.

18. Who are your favorite leading ladies, past and present?

Charlize Theron in the present. Elizabeth Taylor in the past.

19. Who’s your favorite modern filmmaker?

 

Scorcese. The man’s body of work is just too damned impressive. I’m not sure I’m interested in The Wolf of Wall Street, but from Mean Streets to Taxi Driver to The Last Temptation of Christ to Goodfellas, the Age of Innocence, and The Departed, the man has kept me riveted.

20. Who’s your least favorite modern filmmaker?

Michael Bay. I’ve said this many times. I hate his racism, his sexism, his intentional dumbing down of already pretty dumb pictures, his annoying filmmaking techniques. I want to strap him into a Ludavico technique chair, force him to watch Mad Max: Fury Road and scream at him, “That’s an action film, you chintzy, half witted, bigoted, right-wing fuck!” I feel about him the way Elvis Costello felt about Margaret Thatcher:

Because there’s one thing I know, I’d like to live
Long enough to savor
That’s when they finally put you in the ground
I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down

I plan to live a long time, Bay. And I’m so looking forward to that moment.

I’m about to fall to the dark side, kids. Let’s move on.

21. What film do you love that most people seem to hate?

Eyes Wide Shut. I don’t even know that most people hate it, but many underestimate it.

22. What film do you hate that most people love?

Forrest Gump.  I’d rather watch The Room.

23. Tell me about a moviegoing experience you will never forget—not just because of the movie, but because of the circumstances in which you saw it.

I saw 2001 at the Cinerama a few years ago. At intermission, I checked my phone messages and discovered that my Dad had had a stroke. It was late. My Mom told me he was stable in the hospital and that death wasn’t imminent, so since it was late, and I couldn’t get there for several hours anyway and she was planning to go to bed,  I went back to finish the movie. It was a very strange last hour, mortality and loss mixed in with Hal’s pathetic last words and the glorious Stargate sequence. I must say, the disassembly of Hal’s brain hit me especially hard that night, and it served as a preview of what the next year was to be like.

24. What aspect of modern theatrical moviegoing do you like least?

Previews that go on and on. Since the screen is already active before the movie starts anyway, can’t they throw those up then? I shouldn’t react to the beginning of a film by thinking: finally.

25. What aspect of moviegoing during your childhood do you miss the most?

I’m not fond of prefacing any thought with “In my day…”. I prefer Edna Mode’s “I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now.” Still, when I was younger, comedies, on average, were funnier. There was a lot more wordplay in them. Now that’s moved to TV because foreign markets have become so important for movies and comedies are hard to translate. I still get my laugh on, but I miss doing it with a movie audience.

26. Have you ever damaged a friendship, or thought twice about a relationship, because you disagreed about whether a movie was good or bad?

No. I can be nasty about differences of opinion in some areas, but I see no reason to split a relationship over taste. Though if a friend told me about his or her love for Michael Bay, I’d try to steer them to better movies. (Almost any movie works for this purpose.)

27. What movies have you dreamed about?

Lots, but few of them that I remember clearly enough to do more than name check them.

28. What concession stand item can you not live without?

I live without most of them because they’re fucking expensive, and because drinking too much leads to suffering during longer films. The many endings of Return of the King caused internal damage to me and, judging from the way everyone else was half out of their seats and cross legged, my entire row.

With this in mind, I usually eat, drink and freshen up before I head to the theater. But if I’m feeling flush, I like the big box of M&Ms.

 

 

 

 

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