How Movies Changed My Life

“EXT. TATOOINELARS HOMESTEAD

 

The giant twin suns of Tatooine slowly disappear behinddistant dune range. Luke stands watching them for a few moments, then reluctantly enters the domed entrance to the homestead.”

It’s beyond cliche at this point for a guy my age to cite Star Wars as the film that jumped me into this weird gang we loosely call cinephiles. I know that. But to ignore it and use another, maybe more obscure, example here wouldn’t be me being what the kids nowadays call my “authentic self”, and it would also make me an insufferable fucking hipster.

Besides, it’s true. I don’t care how cliche it is. When John Williams’ music swells as Luke stares out at the twin suns on the horizon, wondering what’s out there waiting for him, and counting the days before he can leave the isolation of his uncle’s moisture farm behind and venture out into the stars and to whatever adventure awaits him there, I get choked up.

Every damn time.

Like Luke, I spent a good chunk of my life fighting off isolation and boredom in a nowhere place surrounded by nowhere people. But while Luke’s only connection to the outside world was a low-rent spaceport miles away – I had movies.

The town didn’t have cable, and we were just far enough out that getting a signal off the antenna was pretty unreliable. Fortunately, home video was a new thing, and even though my family wasn’t well off, we got a VCR soon after moving to Nowhereville. There were a couple of places to rent movies in the nearest town, and my parents quickly began assembling a small library of movies that were near and dear to them. My aunt managed a video store in another nearby town, and that kept a steady stream of new and unusual videos coming in and out of the house (that were never due when they were actually due). Sci-fi was big, but my mom and dad (especially my dad) would try anything. Even now, he tells me about movies I’ve never even heard of.

Those clunky, black plastic bricks saved me. They fired my imagination. They showed me the world beyond the borders of my small town existence, and gave me something to aim at once I graduated and could get clear of the gravity of Nowhereville. They introduced me to a world full of new people with new ideas, and that world was pure neon to my provincial, idea-starved brain.

I made it to the city at age 19. Video stores were everywhere back then. Many of the local ones (before Blockbuster ran them out of business) had “Employee Picks” sections (and porn in the back, usually). I’d never seen anything like it, and I had never heard of most of the films that filled those shelves.

Straw Dogs, The Mission, Fist of the North Star, A Clockwork Orange, La Haine, Reservoir DogsThe Killer – I ate them up. I thought I was really onto something. These movies. Movies you couldn’t rent at the grocery store back home. Movies that challenged you. Movies that scared you. Movies that made you think about who you were and who you were in the world. Movies that made you feel small and made you realize that you weren’t shit after all, but that you could maybe be shit if you worked at it. Movies that made you realize that that was possible. That anything was possible.

That’s what movies did for me. That’s how movies changed my life.

They showed me a world – outside of the little, prescribed world I grew up in – where anything was possible. Where I could be who I wanted to be. Where I could be what I wanted to be. And somehow, despite my best efforts to fuck it up, I managed to end up making my living using my imagination. I think I have, at least in part, movies to thank for that. For letting me know that it was even a possibility. 

There were no stormtroopers. No space stations or princesses.

But, man … I’ll take it

Author: Billy Dhalgren

“A man writes because he is tormented, because he doubts.” -Andrei Tarkovsky