Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Shelf Life: The Film That Changed My Life by Robert K. Elder

Posted By on Wed, Dec 29, 2010 at 3:18 PM

GENRE: Collected interviews

THE PITCH: Thirty directors discuss a single film that made a lasting impact on their career and work with an insightful critic and columnist.

THE REAL DRAW: Elder has a knack for keeping his conversations casual and disarmed while sticking to a relatively tight set of questions for each director. The longer interviews, like Danny Boyle on Apocalypse Now, sprawl out for pages of intimate, personal memories and tangents about film history, while others, like John Waters on The Wizard of Oz, are focused with witty jabs of insight. In either case, the conversations never feel forced or canned.

PETER BOGDONAVICH ON CITIZEN KANE: "It fucking flipped me out."

HAPHAZARD SELECTION: The directors collected here run a gamut from commercially successful to artistically revered, domestic and foreign, contemporary and dated. Sticking to a specific generation or school of filmmakers might have given the book a more organized punch, but the haphazard selection still offers some fruitful intersections. Richard Linklater discusses Raging Bull before Kevin Smith discusses Linklater's early masterpiece, Slacker. The influence of Orson Welles comes up with everyone from Frank Oz to Henry Jaglom, an interestingly wide range of directors.

JOHN WATERS ON THE WIZARD OF OZ: "Girl leaves drab farm, becomes a fag hag, meets gay lions and men that don't try to molest her, and meets a witch, kills her. An unfortunately - by a surreal act of show fetishism - clicks her shoes together and is back to where she belongs. It has an unhappy ending."

BOLD PRINT: Robert K. Elder has written for The New York Times, Salon.com, and served as a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune for a decade. His previous books include John Woo: Interviews and Last Words of the Executed.

JOHN WOO ON REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE: "I thought I was James Dean. I always felt like there was a lot of misunderstanding between me and my parents. We were living in a very old system. I tried to run away. I needed love, I needed someone to care about me."

BACK COVER HYPE QUOTE: "These lively conversations reveal just how much one generation of filmmakers influences the next - and how a single movie can change the course of a young person's life and career," - Leonard Maltin

FINAL CUT: Elder has made a worthy contribution to the discussion of art and influence. At times, these conversations resemble the Paris Review's probing conversations with authors. Necessary reading for anyone who appreciates the transformative power of cinema.

The Film That Changed My Life: 30 Directors on Their Epiphanies in the Dark by Robert K. Elder. Chicago Review Press. $16.95. 304 pp

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