Listen To “The End” By The Doors
By Leroy James King · April 10, 2010
When I was applying to colleges oh-so-long-ago, I only applied to one film school (which shall remain nameless, as I didn’t get in and I want to save them the embarrassment from turning down my application). Anyway, I remember having to write an epic essay onwhyI wanted to make films – write them, produce them, direct them, whatever. I recall writing about 4 really horrendous drafts about how I wanted to change the world; that I wanted to make films like The Elephant Man and Mulholland Drive and Catch-22 that made people feel equal parts confused and moved, and blahblahblah (at the time I was on a major David Lynch kick, in tandem with a hard on for surrealistic films from the late 60s and early 70s…obviously).
But when I read the essays, I called bullshit on them every time. Not so much because I didn’t believe what I was saying about my artistic aspirations, but more because these kinds of films were flavors of the month for me. I wasn’t thinking down the line or long term. These were essentially film “crushes” – I wanted to bone them in the moment, but I knew they’d sooner or later leave me feeling somewhat empty and duped.
And my intuition was right. Don’t get me wrong, I still love these films – I think all three of the films I’ve mentioned above are masterpieces in their own rite… but these aren’t the films that still move me when I simply think about them. I might get an erection when we re-connect; a tingle of nostalgia in the frontal lobe of my brain; even a familiar scent in my nostrils of the bedroom I grew up in. But even so, it’s like my psyche has moved beyond them. I’m not saying that I’m some prodigious auteur or that I’m above these films now – just thatI’vechanged and moved past them.
So yeah, even in high school I somehow knew this “moving on” would happen – I wish I could say the same for my girlfriend at the time.
Thus, it was back to the drawing board. I knew that I had to identify the films that had moved me for years, and would continue to move me in different ways into perpetuity. This essayhad tobe about the films that challenged me on more than one occasion – not that Mulholland Drive still doesn’t, but that’s a different kind of “challenge.” That one’s a challenge it’s acacophony of fucked up, sensual jigsaw pieces. The challenge I needed to write about was the more in the vein of:
When I first saw this movie, it provided me with a new perspective on the world of film that I never knew existed.
Going even further, I knew I had to write about movies thatfrustratedthe hell out of me when I first saw them. Not because I initially thought they were bad or anything like that, but because there was something about the films that initially alluded me. Something about them that fucked up my world in the best way possible when I first saw them, but couldn’t articulate why they had.
So I wrote about Raiders of the Lost Ark and Apocalypse Now. I wrote about Raiders because when I saw at the tender age of 8, I remember totally ripping my parents a new asshole for letting me watch it – this was solely because of the scene where all the Nazis melt at the hand of God. During this scene I started screaming and ran to the VCR and shut off the movie. My dad laughed hysterically at me – I kept yelling, “You’re assholes! You knew this would give me nightmares!” Then my dad totally blew my mind, “Hey Lee… it’s fake. Not real buddy. It didn’t actually happen. That’s why Indiana Jones looks like Han Solo… heisHan Solo. He’s an actor.” And my life was changed forever. It hit me like a ton of bricks that you could get paid to tell stories where Nazis melted at the hand of God.
Apocalypse Now was for an entirely different reason. When I first saw it (I was about 13 or 14) I was going through an intense Vietnam War movie phase. I immersed myself in films like Platoon, Hamburger Hill, Casualties of War, and Full Metal Jacket to name a few. I was obsessed with FUBAR culture – the romanticizing of violence by amplifying its atrociousness. I had just finished up my slasher phase of films, so it was time to move onto films that were just as bloody and fucked up, but with at least a shred of substance behind them. I had told my grandpa about my new obsession with Vietnam cinema (who was a huge advocate for my introduction to quality cinema at a young age – when he heard I got throughRaidersat 8 years old, he immediately showed mePsycho, which provided me with Norman Bates nightmares for years). He immediately said it was a travesty that I hadn’t yet seen Apocalypse Now – arguably the best Vietnam War film ever made. So I rented it immediately.
After I watched it, I was pissed. The movie was incredibly long, slow paced – there weren’t that many major action sequences other than the famous helicopter raid, and I thought it was so gratuitous when they executed that poor cow at the end of the movie. But there was something about the build of Colonel Kurtz’s mystique and pure evil that still affected me. I hadn’t seen a movie before where a character perpetuated every scene of a film without actually meeting them until the final 30 minutes. Later I’d identify that this breaks a huge screenwriting convention – but certainly in the best way possible.
So after I let the film swim around in my brain for about a month, I watched it again. I knew there was something there that I just didn’tget. I ended up renting it about 5 or 6 times over the course of a year, never able to figure out what I was missing. Then I came to the realization that this Vietnam War movie wasn’t actually a Vietnam War movie. It simply took place in Vietnam during the war. History just gave the film a unique backdrop.
Finally around the 7th viewing, it clicked. This movie was about the evil that lurks within every man, and how there’s a choice to engage the evil, or to obstruct it completely…with extreme prejudice…
I could go on and on about Apocalypse, but I’ll spare you. The point is that I wrote about these films because of their long term effect over me.
And the whole reason for bringing this up…
Are there films like these anymore? In the past ten years I can only think of a handful of films that seem like they could this kind of potency. For me:
Traffic, Sin City, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, The Wrestler, Disctrict 9
Even these films are really genre “revisits” – they pull so much of their effect from a number of classic films and smoosh them together in an incredible way. But still… will we see anymore films that truly move us in inexplicable ways? I just don’t know.
I want your thoughts. More so, I want to know the films that have fucked up your world in the most potent ways possible.
Alright, I’m done.