Dear White People
You could make a (film geek) party game out of guessing director Justin Simien's influences, but his vision seems to spring directly from what's up…
Editor's note: To give you a chance to get to know our writers better, we've asked them to respond to some questions. In coming weeks, we'll be posting their responses, which will always be available as a link from their contributor biography page. Here's Brian Tallerico.
Where did you grow up, and what was it like?
I grew up in the Detroit suburbs and I remember a happy childhood (other than a bout with depression in high school), surrounded by the kind of supportive, wonderful people that I try to surround my kids with now. I learned the importance of family and friends growing up, always supported by brilliant parents, who taught me the value of intelligence and passion, and a sister with whom I fought when younger but now inspires me daily with her love for life and her allegiance to those who are important to her. My father's large family also lives in the Detroit area to this day and, like a lot of people, most of my memories of growing up are associated with family events on holidays or, of course, spending time with the friends I made in middle and high school. I adore Chicago but I do sometimes think fondly of those days in Detroit. (And will be a Tigers and Lions fan till I die.)
Was anyone else in your family into movies? If so, what effect did they have on your moviegoing tastes?
Both of my parents were movie fans but it was my mother's adoration of musicals that I think had the most formative effect. I remember watching movies like "Singin' in the Rain," "On the Town," and "Kiss Me Kate" repeatedly as a youngster, along with classics like "Some Like It Hot" and the majority of the Hitchcock catalog. My parents instilled in me a love for classic cinema. It also helped significantly that they were theater lovers, especially my father, who took me to Broadway at a young age. It sparked a love for the stage in me, pushing me toward a career in theater. I acted a good amount in high school and college but fell in love with directing, mounting plays in college and even one here in Chicago. Not able to pay rent with it, I took only a slight turn from my Theater/English education and focused on writing about what I loved, including film, but I trace a lot of what I do back to watching and, importantly, discussing films with my parents at a young age. They encouraged conversation. I remember talking about what I read or watched and THAT had the greatest impact. Fiction and film weren't just to ingest, they were ways to spark discussion.
What's the first movie you remember seeing, and what impression did it make on you?
It's a weird answer given how easily people who do what I do can usually pick one out but I don't think I have one. As mentioned above, I saw so many movies as a kid. We would go rent any VHS tape that had a Disney logo on it, along with all of those musicals and classics. So I don't have "that movie." They all blend together.
What's the first movie that made you think, "Hey, some people made this. It didn't just exist. There's a human personality behind it."
I'm not sure which movie it was (probably "Rear Window") but I'm pretty sure that Alfred Hitchcock was the first filmmaker who created that feeling within me. When I started to connect the dots from film to film and see how he approached cinema differently, it really opened the concept of the auteur to me. It wasn't just Hitch's human personality, it was the fascination that his choices inspired decisions in others—the idea of "influence" from one genius to another—that really opened me up to the idea of criticizing film in the first place. And then that concept introduced me to Roger's writing and the rest is history.
What's the first movie you ever walked out of?
Never happened. I think we talked about it at "The Crow 2: City of Angels" but I'm pretty sure we stuck it out. From a very early age, including even in middle school, I was writing reviews for my school paper, and so I always say watching movies as research to some extent, buying into the clichéd theory that you can learn as much about the form from a bad movie as a good one. I still think that's true most of the time.
What's the funniest film you've ever seen?
What's the saddest film you've ever seen?
This one's tough. I think the saddest film "experience" I can remember came after talking to my grandfather about some of his time in WWII, a subject about which he rarely speaks, and then watching "Schindler's List," which happened to be airing, uncut, on network TV that very night. I was alone, in a dark room, drawing parallels in my emotions from what my beloved family member experienced and the story in front of me. I was a wreck by the end. I get emotional even thinking about it now.
What's the scariest film you've ever seen?
There are only two films that I can say for sure entered my dreams in the form of a nightmare—"Halloween" and "Carnival of Souls." Whenever anyone asks me to list the scariest movies, I always put those two at the top.
What's the most romantic film you've ever seen?
Again, a tough one. I adore "Casablanca" and "Annie Hall" as much as the next guy, maybe more, but when I think of passion and romance, "In the Mood For Love" is high on my personal list. It's a film that's not just about doomed romance in its narrative but it displays a romance for the period and for filmmaking in general. It is romance in every frame.
What's the first television show you ever saw that made you think television could be more than entertainment?
"Twin Peaks." The impact of that show on a teenager just realizing the power of the growing medium can't be understated. It changed everything, and arguably opened my mind to film as well as I became more interested in Lynch's work after seeing it.
What book do you think about or revisit the most?
Paul Auster's "The New York Trilogy." It's perfect. Go read it.
What album or recording artist have you listened to the most, and why?
R.E.M. I was introduced to "Murmur" at a very young age, around when it came out in the early '80s, and listened to every new recording, on release, from that point until their retirement. R.E.M. captured something about my youth that no other band got near. They could be both catchy and intellectual at the same time. They crossed pop melodies like the Beatles with poetry in their lyrics. And, as much as I'll admit that they peaked in the '80s, I was a fan until the bitter end, long after others gave up on the band.
Is there a movie that you think is great, or powerful, or perfect, but that you never especially want to see again, and why?
I sat through "Requiem For a Dream" in a bouncy theater at the Landmark Century (Chicagoans will know what I mean but for others, there's an auditorium underneath the Bally's Fitness treadmills above it and the seats bounce with varying intensity depending on the time of day) and the "Sensurround" effect added to the nausea naturally created by the intensity of Aronofsky's film. I think I'll forever leave the film in that moment just on the edge of puking even if I know it's powerful enough that I should see it again.
What movie have you seen more times than any other?
See the comedy answer above. I could watch "Blazing Saddles" every quarter. Ditto "Jaws," which is probably the actual answer. "Jaws" is perfect from first frame to last.
What was your first R-rated movie, and did you like it?
I'm not sure here but I remember my parents had a rule that they would see an R-rated film first to make sure it was "OK" for me to see it. For some reason, one of the first films that I can remember getting the pass was "Coming to America." Sure, decent comedy, but not exactly life-changing. It wasn't the first but I can remember my father allowing me to see "Platoon" at a relatively young age as well and that had a much greater impact.
What's the most visually beautiful film you've ever seen?
"The Tree of Life". There hasn't been a better film released since Malick's masterpiece came out and I think it's going to be some time before it's topped.
Who are your favorite leading men, past and present?
Who are your favorite leading ladies, past and present?
Who's your favorite modern filmmaker?
Who's your least favorite modern filmmaker?
What film do you love that most people seem to hate?
"Southland Tales," fascinating, amazing, and incoherent in a beautiful way.
What film do you hate that most people love?
"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," the worst, most manipulative, vile film ever nominated for Best Picture.
Tell me about a moviegoing experience you will never forget—not just because of the movie, but because of the circumstances in which you saw it.
The London Film Festival, my first film festival, in 1995. "Mighty Aphrodite." The movie and the fest weren't anything particular special but I was only 20, studying in Cambridge, England, and I traveled down to London for the fest. Combining the wonderful place I was at in my life's journey with Woody Allen, a filmmaker I loved at that time, the moment had incredible power. I get to see Woody Allen's new film before anyone I know in London! I'll never forget it.
What aspect of modern theatrical moviegoing do you like least?
The desire of people to instantly judge a film so they can tweet about it or post a status update. Some of the best films ever made need time to sink in. And we don't give ourselves time any more. We're too obsessed with instant response. Is it good? Is it bad? Moving on to the next one. I think things like smartphones, Twitter, and Facebook have hurt the modern theatrical experience by forcing us to define it so quickly.
What aspect of moviegoing during your childhood do you miss the most?
When I was a teenager, I saw "Batman" three times in three consecutive days. I was obsessed with Burton's vision and in love with comics at the time. I guess I miss having the time for that kind of passionate, moviegoing weekend. There are so many options nowadays that the sense of one movie dominating a life for a weekend isn't as intense as it once was. Now, kids would be watching other movies on their smart phones while they wait in line for tickets that they pre-ordered. The days of being "in the moment" of the moviegoing experience are kind of gone.
Have you ever damaged a friendship, or thought twice about a relationship, because you disagreed about whether a movie was good or bad?
No. I can't say that I have. I have friends who hate movies that I love and vice versa but I can't imagine that ever damaging the friendship. It's not a real friendship if that's even a possibility. You can be wrong about "Southland Tales" and I'll still love you. Many of you are. Now, "In the Mood For Love" might be a different story…
What movies have you dreamed about?
Other than the horror question above, I can't think of any. Maybe my dreams are too boring. Or too exciting.
What concession stand item can you not live without?
Not a big concession guy. I spend too much time at the theater. I'd be broke if I couldn't live without any of it.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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