A Walk Among the Tombstones
Fans of the hardboiled detective, rejoice. Screenwriter-director Scott Frank and actor Liam Neeson, adapting the splendid work of crime novelist Lawrence Block, have brought a…
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. First up is Odie Henderson.
Where did you grow up, and what was it like?
I grew up in the Greenville section of Jersey City, New Jersey. The Hill, as we called it, was the ghetto. I lived in an especially rough patch of my 'hood, and I have the physical scars to prove it. Yet, while there was danger, there was also joy. I have such fond memories of my childhood and adolescence, and they peacefully co-exist with the bad memories to form my own personal narrative. The Hill was the box of crayons that colored, and continues to color, my worldview as a human being and as a writer.
Do you do any other jobs besides this one, and if so, what if anything did doing those jobs contribute to your sensibility as a moviegoer?
For the past 26 years, I have worked as a software engineer and programmer. Code writing is my primary source of income. I know 19 programming languages, and none of them affect my sensibility as a moviegoer. However, I do believe that my brain does not work in an artistic capacity; it works in a scientific capacity and that is reflected in my writing. There is an odd structure lurking beneath my words, to which I compulsively adhere. That's how my job interferes with my movie love. It's not while watching the movie. It's while I'm writing about it.
Was anyone else in your family into movies? If so, what effect did they have on your moviegoing tastes?
Both my sister and I inherited my mother's movie love. As the oldest, I got its greatest benefits. Mom had more time to watch old movies with me. She would explain who the actress or actor was, and tell me about the movie plot elements that might have gone over my head as a kid. Because of Mom, I love the old actors like Stanwyck, Cagney and Davis. Mom also loved scary movies and trash, and had little patience for pretentious art movies. My readers know I love trash more than Oscar the Grouch. Now you know where I got that affliction.
What's the first movie you remember seeing, and what impression did it make on you?
"The Exorcist." I thought it was HILARIOUS. I was 4. My opinion would change drastically later, once I understood the movie's topic.
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."
"All That Jazz." I managed to get through "Jaws" and "Star Wars" without ever thinking about who made it. I saw "All That Jazz" on PBS when I was 11. This was the old PBS, so it ran uncut. I remember being completely frustrated by it, to the point I wanted to pull out my hair. But I couldn't stop watching, and it made me think about the person who made the film, and just how effed up he had to be. I started reading extensively about directors and writers after that.
What's the first movie you ever walked out of?
1982's "Cat People." I've walked out of 6 movies in my lifetime, and I went back to see 5 of those movies. I went back and saw "Cat People" later, and realized I'd made the right decision. It's not even good trash. My aversion to Nastassja Kinski, which I still have, began with "Tess" but was cemented here.
What's the funniest film you've ever seen?
"Blazing Saddles." However, "Coming to America" contained the biggest laugh I've ever had at a movie theater. You couldn't hear the dialogue in my theater for 5 minutes after that jHeri Curl activator stain in the couch scene. People were literally on the floor laughing, as was I.
What's the saddest film you've ever seen?
Douglas Sirk's version of "Imitation of Life." That funeral scene destroys me every time.
What's the scariest film you've ever seen?
You couldn't get me to watch "The Exorcist" now.
What's the most romantic film you've ever seen?
"Casablanca" is a great romance, and an even greater one once you realize the true love story is between Louis and Rick. But everybody who answers this questionnaire is going to say "Casablanca," so let me put in a vote for 1979's "A Little Romance." It's not a classic, and it has the "I'll do anything for money" version of Laurence Olivier that only I seem to love. But there's something so touching and sweet about these two kids who buy into this claptrap romantic notion of a special ritual that will bring about everlasting love. I first saw it when I was 30. By then, I'd become forever jaded about any aspect of romance, so my positive reaction to A Little Romance was a huge surprise. I rooted for these kids, and my cynicism temporarily melts whenever I watch it. "Moonrise Kingdom" reminded me of this film, though I've never warmed to the way Wes Anderson makes his child actors sound like 30 year olds visually shrunken by that machine in "Phantasm."
What's the first television show you ever saw that made you think television could be more than entertainment?
"Roots." I was traumatized by it, but I learned more than what they taught me during Black History Month in 1977 at my public grammar school.
What book do you think about or revisit the most?
There are three: "The Great Gatsby," "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," and "Inside Oscar." This should tell you all you need to know about my personality.
What album or recording artist have you listened to the most, and why?
I love Stevie Wonder (Springsteen would be my second choice). Stevie is a musical genius, which means when he makes a bad song, it's as if an angry bee on crystal meth flew into your ear. Thankfully, bad Stevie songs are few. I have every one of his albums and I never tire of listening to him.
Is there a movie that you think is great, or powerful, or perfect, but that you never especially want to see again, and why?
Lynne Littman's "Testament." 1983 was a tale of 2 nuclear holocaust movies. On TV, we had ABC's "The Day After," which had no affect on 13-year old me whatsoever. It looked like a Syfy movie. "Testament," which my 12th grade psychology teacher made us watch in 1986, focused on what happened to a family after the bomb. Jane Alexander was great as the matriarch who has to bury her kids as they succumb to radiation poisoning. It ends ambiguously, and when it was over, my entire class was speechless. I was profoundly moved and shaken by it, and I said to myself "this is a great movie, but I never want to see this again." I still haven't. Of course, I HAVE revisited "The Day After," because it's trash.
What movie have you seen more times than any other?
It's a toss-up between "Blazing Saddles" and "Coming to America."
What was your first R-rated movie, and did you like it?
"The Exorcist" was technically my first R-rated movie, but I'll choose the first time I was conscious of the rating and its delicious implications. That would have been a 1976 grindhouse double feature of Pam Grier's "Coffy" and "Foxy Brown." I liked them quite a bit.
What's the most visually beautiful film you've ever seen?
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?
Anybody who has anything to do with the "mumblecore" genre.
What film do you love that most people seem to hate?
Brian DePalma's "Wise Guys." It's a Joisey movie, and I'm from Noo Joisey, so I think it's great. Even diehard BDP fans won't defend it.
What film do you hate that most people love?
"2001: A Space Odyssey," though every 10 years, I watch it again to see if my opinion changes. The last time was in 2012, when it played a midnight screening here in NYC. A couple sat next to me, and the male half was ecstatic about seeing the film. He rambled on to me for about 10 minutes about Kubrick's genius, trying to convince me that I was wrong to dislike "2001." This guy fell asleep 15 minutes in, and remained happily snoring until the lights came up. So I sat next to a physical embodiment of my opinion of "2001."
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.
My "Dressed to Kill" story has too much profanity, so I'll tell another one. By 1980, I was allowed to attend movies without adult supervision. My cousins and I went every weekend. We were all around 10 years old, which meant R-rated movies were verboten. Theaters used to enforce the ratings, and I remember the mean ticket booth lady whom we could never convince we were 17. So from ages 10 to 15, I became very adept at sneaking into R-rated movies. "The Blues Brothers" was the first time I did that, and the sense that I was getting away with something naughty hung over the entire screening. There was fear of being caught, but there was also unbridled exaltation over the car chases and musical numbers depicted onscreen. My cousins and I sat next to an older boy, and when the usher finally saw us and came to throw us out, we lied and said "we're with him!" Thankfully, the guy vouched for us. I still don't know why "The Blues Brothers" is rated R.
What aspect of modern theatrical moviegoing do you like least?
The fact that everybody wants to tweet or text during the movie. Even little old ladies, and they're the worst because their phone backlight brightness setting is Supernova. I also hate the damn commercials. Why did I pay $15 to see 17 TV commercials?
What aspect of moviegoing during your childhood do you miss the most?
I miss the old movie palaces. Granted, they were in disrepair by the time I got to them, but you could see remnants of their former beauty. Since they were usually 1-3 screens by the '70s, there was no movie sound bleeding from the next theater, and the huge screens still had curtains that opened before the film. It felt like an event whenever I went to these theaters. By comparison, the multiplex experience feels so artificial, so canned.
Have you ever damaged a friendship, or thought twice about a relationship, because you disagreed about whether a movie was good or bad?
NO! NO! NO!! I think this is pure arts major B.S., and I refuse any and all parts of it. I am sure people have ended friendships with me because of my movie tastes, and good riddance to them. Judging a person solely on their movie tastes is incredibly stupid. I know I'll get flak for saying this, but you should know how little I care about flak.
What movies have you dreamed about?
I only dream about horror movies. Once, my Mom turned into Freddy Krueger in a dream, then reverted back to her original self when she realized she could not beat my butt with her trademark belt if she had on Freddy's glove.
What concession stand item can you not live without?
I love Twizzlers. Not Red Vines. They're disgusting. Twizzlers.
As we mourn Abrams’ macho Star Trek obliteration, it’s a good time to revisit that most Star Trek-ian of accomplishme...
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
Part ten in Scout Tafoya's The Unloved series tackles "The Village."
An appreciation of David Lynch's "Eraserhead" on the release of the film on Criterion Collection Blu-ray.