by Glenn Matchett
Whether it’s called big screen or silver screen we’re still talking about the magic of cinema. I love films, I really enjoy not much more than going to the cinema to see a good film (or what I hope will be a good film). In the past when I’ve been really eager to see a film I’ve been there first night usually at a midnight (or even later) showing. I specifically remember going to see Star Wars: Episode III which started just after midnight and someone I’d went questioning their sanity for coming along at that time in the morning. I’d say it was well worth it but I don’t go to the cinema at what my girlfriend lovingly refers to as ‘stupid o’clock’ much anymore but I usually see a film I’m interested in within the first week of its release.
My past articles have had a bit more of a temporal flow to them where I’ve been able to call ‘yes that happened then I did this or that.’ With cinema it’s harder. Sometimes you see a film and you can’t remember what age or sometimes anything about it. I recall loving L.A Confidential despite only seeing it once and remembering next to nothing about it. My memory when it comes to cinema is fuzzy and to be fair if I were to talk about all the films I’ve seen we’d be here for a very, very long time. Longer than usual in fact so I’ll try to hit the main beats.
I do remember my first trip to the cinema. I don’t know if it was the first film I saw but the first film I saw on the big screen was a rerelease of Disney’s ‘Peter Pan’. It’s not one of Disney’s best films but as a child of probably 5 or 6 I adored it. I do have a fond memory of afterwards my brother sneaking me in to view a part of Batman Returns and me wondering why the Penguin was driving a toy Batmobile, ah memories.
I don’t know for sure how many films I’ve seen in my life. The rather addicting website Flickchart charts me at over 1000 movies but they include Pixar shorts and even Doctor Who Christmas specials for some bizarre reasons. I think it would be safe to say I’ve seen over 850 so that roughly equates to 34 movies a year. I suppose in the long run that doesn’t seem like very many. The cabinet I have downstairs that is bursting with DVD’s would disagree on me with that point.
Sticking with Disney they are of course the films the majority of us grow up with. Not just because they’re animation but because some of them are excellent films. Growing up in the 90’s I feel very lucky to be young during what I feel to be Disney’s creative peak. In the early to mid 90’s Disney released three films that blended not only comedy and brilliant storytelling but brought them into a new level of excellent movies. Those three films were Aladdin, The Lion King and Beauty and The Beast. Those were the three films that really stuck with me in my younger years and even today I have an issue picking a favourite out of the three. Sure I appreciate the earlier Disney films as they’re surprisingly really visually stunning in places but to me those 3 stand in their own class. Perhaps it is nostalgia but I also watched other Disney offerings like Pocahontas in my youth and the less I say about that film the better. Indeed with a few exceptions Disney suffered a bit of a creative lull. To me with the exception of Mulan, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Emporer’s New Groove and Lilo & Stitch they really struggled for a few years.
Perhaps it is because they ran out of things to adapt. However in 1995 a little company called Pixar brought out a title called Toy Story and today that company is making some of the best films in cinema today. They’re not just for kids as Pixar has gained the ability to tell amazingly powerful stories with memorable characters and they have crafted two films that along with Beauty And The Beast share an elite honour of being animated films nominated for best motion picture. I distinctly remember in 1995 going to see toy Story and it being hyped as the first fully computer generated feature film ever. It’s funny how many of these films are released these days and shows how far technology has advanced. You don’t even notice it but when you watch Toy Story 3 and the first film the difference in animation quality is astonishing. Other companies like Dreamworks have tried to match their success but much like Disney in the early 90’s Pixar seems to be in a class on their own. I must admit that some Dreamwork offerings like Shrek and ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ are really great films well worth watching. I was also happy that last year Disney seemed to have returned to form with its new film ‘Tangled’.
Beyond animation there is a lot of ‘real cinema’ out there. Again I could literally talk all day about my memories watching this or that. Originally I was going to cram everything into this one article. I think here I’ll talk about directors and actors while I create a separate one for next week that deals with movie franchises. Not only does this not make the article so long that you’re contemplating those tasty cyanide pills halfway through but also gives me an extra article to write. Yes you way in the back are happy huzzah!
The first director I want to talk about is Steven Spielberg. I remember watching special features on Star Wars Episode I and Spielberg being with Lucas and him being credited as ‘Steven Spielberg: Filmmaker’ and finding this hilarious. We know who he is and he needs no introduction. I must admit that I didn’t enjoy a lot of Spielberg’s early work. Maybe I was too old when I watched E.T and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind but I failed to see the hype around either of them. The first Spielberg film I really enjoyed was ‘Hook’. It was the first time I’d seen an entirely new spin on an existing story and a really good idea at that. I’m not sure how well the film is regarded in general circles but to me it represents the beginning of what I call ‘endless story opportunities’ with established characters like Peter Pan. After all if you can make Peter Pan grow up then why can’t you do anything else? As I grew up and saw more of Spielberg’s excellent work ranging from epic adventure in the Indiana Jones trilogy to breaking ground in special effects and adaption in Jurassic Park to telling incredibly powerful stories in films like Schindler’s list. Lately I’ve enjoyed a great many of his films including The Terminal and Catch Me If You Can and if his name is attached to a film it certainly raises my interest. He doesn’t hit it out of the park all the time but even his influence can be seen in cinema all the time.
Another director that has influenced my taste in film and stuck with me from an early age is Tim Burton. I know this won’t be as much as a crowd pleaser as Spielberg but I can’t help but love the majority of Tim Burton’s films. A lot of people criticise them for looking all the same but if you watch say the dark and moody Sleepy Hollow and the modern fairy tale that is Big Fish you may disagree. My first exposure to Burton was his Batman films and later Edward Scissorhands. I always look forward to his next cinema offering and when I hear he’s directing a film I mark it in my calendar. It is not only Burton’s visual style I enjoy but also his sense of loyalty to actors. I’m not just talking about Johnny Depp who Burton has worked with quite a bit but the many other talented folks who work with him from picture to picture. Legendary actor Christopher Lee who off the top of my head has worked on 5 films with Burton called him one of the great director’s of our time. Argue with me all you wish but argue against Christopher Lee at your peril!
I would say the above 2 directors have probably influenced me the most as a story teller and movie fan. Other directors like David Fincher, Peter Jackson and Sam Mendes have also crafted films I have thoroughly enjoyed over the years. Even before Lord Of the Rings (which I’ll talk a little more about next week) Jackson was directing excellent films like Heavenly Creatures which had the debut of one of my favourite actresses in Kate Winslet.
More recently another director has caught my attention in the form of visionary filmmaker Christopher Nolan. Often it is easy to go to the cinema and maybe let your mind wander a bit only to return to the movie and still follow it fine. On the hand Nolan crafts cinema that not only wants your attention but it demands it. His films like Memento and Inception are created specifically for you to watch them over and over. I have literally seen Memento 4 or 5 times and still notice something new or different every time I watch it. This is what you should get from a film or indeed a comic. These are generally little things that you didn’t notice that add another layer to the story you hadn’t previously considered. Although I love both of those breakthrough films his favourite film of mine that doesn’t involve a certain Dark Knight was the Prestige. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a good mystery and this film has so many twists and turns as well as a sinister undertone that I find it incredibly compelling. In 2005 Nolan also relaunched the Batman films after them being dormant for 8 years following the tritely awful Batman and Robin (more on that ‘classic’ next week too). Although Nolan came in after the beginning what I refer to as the super hero movie ‘boom’ he created a very faithful yet amazingly realistic film based on a comic. Both his Batman films feature great plots, fantastic performances and more importantly care and attention of the person behind the camera which is sadly lacking in some films.
However these was far from my first exposure to Batman but his other films and indeed my love for the character will have to wait another time. I’m likely forgetting a lot of directors whose work I’ve enjoyed. I literally could write 10 articles all about the works of Ridley Scott or Wes Craven or Robert Zemeckis and how they’ve all made films I love and enjoy. We’ll touch on some of their films next week but it’s really refreshing for me as a fan of movies to see so many films I’ve enjoyed over the years.
Now if they would remake Wizard Of Oz and do it properly, then I would be really happy.