Prompted by the occasion of Kiarostami’s passing, an attempt to chronicle some measure of the development of my cinephilia. An even more stream-of-consciousness post than usual.
Formative Films: Blade Runner, The Battle of Algiers, Close-Up, Eraserhead, Sans soleil, Jeanne Dielman, Yi Yi
It must be said that, especially before the first wave or phase of my cinephilia, I retain random, often off-color memories from bad movies that I happened to watch; hopefully these will fade eventually. Perhaps inevitably, most of my favorites are in here, though important films/probable former first-place favorites to me, like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Back to the Future, are not.
Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin: at least for the foreseeable future, I think this is the first film memory I have. The timeline fits: it was released the year I was born, obviously is a children’s movie, and conceivably I could have seen it when I was only a few years old; I still remember the “skull” and the shadow of Christopher Robin (no clue on what was the first film I saw in theaters though, might go back and try to figure it out)
First Wave of Cinephilia (summer of 2013?) 2001: A Space Odyssey, City Lights, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Blade Runner, Citizen Kane, The Searchers, Raging Bull, Vertigo, North By Northwest, The Deer Hunter(?): some mixed reactions from this time; e.g. distinctly remember being awed by 2001, though not to the extent I am now, while my mother and sister fell asleep, and was somewhat underwhelmed by most of the latter half; kind of happy that this wave ended quickly, wasn’t nearly invested enough to truly engage with the films. From these films, Blade Runner was probably formative; remained my favorite film for an extended time and I truly was in awe of the soulful spectacle.
Autumn Semester Break Weekend 2015 (January 29-February 2) Breathless, Chinatown, La jetée, Badlands, 8 1/2, Night and Fog, The 400 Blows, Seven Samurai, Singin’ in the Rain, Casablanca, Sunrise, Tokyo Story: pretty sure that this is the weekend that restarted my cinephilia; must credit They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They for making me aware of people like Tarkovsky (and, memorably, Salo), but I don’t think it really clicked in a sense deeper than a film like Apocalypse Now until that weekend; mostly on an emotional level then but I still remember certain moments, like the marsh tracking shot and the city zoom in Sunrise, that struck me on a technical level even then.
The Battle of Algiers, Close-Up (first half of 2015, June 25): if I can call any two films formative before I started Letterboxd, it would be these two (maybe discounting 400, Sunrise, Tokyo Story). It helps that I saw these at relatively isolated points, and though I remember seeing various films like Vivre sa vie, La dolce vita, and L’avventura distinctly on their own, these two were the ones that especially stood out, Battle for how boldly political it was (especially at a time when I was staunchly conservative) and Close-Up for its heartbreaking celebration of cinephilia; I was aware of the various techniques of both but they swept me up with such gusto, such awe.
Eraserhead (midnight June 6, 2015): this is my B.C./A.D. The visceral impact, the technical perfection, the pure nightmarish quality shook me to my core. I saw Mad Max: Fury Road later that day and was underwhelmed because of how profoundly affected I was at the time.
Sans soleil: if Close-Up is the must-see film for cinephiles, then Sans soleil is the must-see film for any living person; I remember I started to watch it but was interrupted 15 minutes in by my dad, who wanted to watch Kingsman (we both hated it); I restarted the next day and was destroyed and rebuilt.
Days of Heaven: don’t know why I chose to restart my Letterboxd (which had lain dormant with only one diary entry for Moonrise Kingdom, I think on April 18?) with this, but perhaps the move to Georgia emboldened me to usher in a new stage; last film I saw before was Grave of the Fireflies on the plane.
Jeanne Dielman/Persona: a bit unsure on these but I think these two, especially Jeanne Dielman, inform my sensibilities to a strong extent; both two immensely formal and daring works that shocked me to no end.
Yi Yi: I could put just the camera move on Ting-Ting when she’s taking out the trash on this list and it would suffice, it was such a revelatory use of simple but pure camera movement to convey a sense of humanism, of emotion that put me in a true state of awe. The crosscutting between the first date and the reminisces was similarly revelatory, but everything felt so alive yet so precise; just so .
Queen of Earth: I remember being surprised that, in a day of seeing (and meeting!) Wenders and Melville that this film by a director I had heard little about was the best I saw. I wouldn’t necessarily stand by this statement now, but I’m fairly certain that this was the first truly independent film, and was an important step for me to rely slightly less on the canon.