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Meet the Writers: Dan Callahan

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 Dan Callahan.

The Movie Love Questionnaire

Where did you grow up, and what was it like?

Chicago, Illinois, the South Side. I couldn't really tell you what it was like because I was too busy watching old movies in my room that I videotaped off of American Movie Classics.

Was anyone else in your family into movies? If so, what effect did they have on your moviegoing tastes?

Not to the extent that I was. My family would sometimes watch movies with me just to be nice.

What's the first movie you remember seeing, and what impression did it make on you?

Robert Altman's "Popeye" (1980). I was scared for Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall) when the octopus kept dragging her down in the water at the end.

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."

When I was eight years old, Channel Nine in Chicago ran a week of Alfred Hitchcock films. I became obsessed with Hitchcock, and my mom bought me a book called "The Films of Alfred Hitchcock" by Patrick Humphries.

What's the first movie you ever walked out of?

We walked out of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (1984) because it was too scary for my younger sister Tracy.

What's the funniest film you've ever seen?

Probably Woody Allen's "Love and Death" (1975).

What's the saddest film you've ever seen?

A tie between "Brief Encounter" (1945) and "Three Comrades" (1938). I remember when I showed "Three Comrades" to my mom, she said, "No wonder you're depressed all the time if you watch things like that in your room!" As a teenager, I was very much a sad movie junkie. I watched "Frances" (1982) over and over again, too.

What's the scariest film you've ever seen?

We watched about a half hour of "The Exorcist" (1973) when I was in sixth grade. I thought very seriously for more than a year that I was going to be possessed by the devil.

What's the most romantic film you've ever seen?

"Two for the Road" (1967), with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. They fell in love while they were shooting it, and it shows. The Henry Mancini score helps. Romance needs music.

What's the first television show you ever saw that made you think television could be more than entertainment?

"My So-Called Life" (1994). I was in high school then, just like all of the characters. It still holds up.

What book do you think about or revisit the most?

I'm always dipping into Barry Paris's biography of Louise Brooks.

What album or recording artist have you listened to the most, and why?

Billie Holiday, because she is just endlessly inventive and funny and nasty and wonderful. And I'm always listening to Brahms's Symphony No. 4, the first movement, as conducted by Carlos Kleiber. I'm a Brahms person. I love the wistful dissatisfaction in his music.

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'm able to watch the saddest movies over and over again. Though I've only seen Robert Bresson's "Au Hasard Balthazar" (1966) twice, and I'm not sure I could stand a third time.

What movie have you seen more times than any other?

That's tough. It might be Robert Aldrich's "Autumn Leaves" (1956), which I watched constantly as a kid, but it also might very well be "Stage Door" (1937), which to me is a kind of paradise movie.

What was your first R-rated movie, and did you like it?

It was "The War of the Roses" (1989). I liked it a lot, and I still do.

What's the most visually beautiful film you've ever seen?

That's interesting, because "visually beautiful" doesn't necessarily mean "good." It often means that the cinematographer got all self-indulgent. But I'll pick an early Technicolor: how about John Stahl's "Leave Her to Heaven" (1945)? The colors in that movie are so scary, and I'm not sure why they are.

Who are your favorite leading men, past and present?

Lon Chaney, John Barrymore, Spencer Tracy, Charles Boyer, Cary Grant, Gérard Philipe, Robert Ryan, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Michael Fassbender, Ben Whishaw.

Who are your favorite leading ladies, past and present?

Lillian Gish, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, Ingrid Bergman, Margaret Sullavan, Irene Dunne, Anna Magnani, Vanessa Redgrave, Jeanne Moreau, Judy Davis, Gena Rowlands, Meryl Streep, Jessica Lange.

Who's your favorite modern filmmaker?

James Gray.

Who's your least favorite modern filmmaker?

I'll pass on this. Lots of people make bad movies, of course. Too many to count!

What film do you love that most people seem to hate?

I have lots of pet movies, but they aren't so much hated as neglected, like William Dieterle's "The Last Flight" (1931) or Rowland Lee's "Zoo in Budapest" (1933).

What film do you hate that most people love?

I don't hate it, but I also don't understand the reverence for Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968).

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.

Seeing Ernst Lubitsch's "Lady Windermere's Fan" (1925) at a jam-packed showing at Film Forum during a Lubitsch festival. The whole audience gasped when Mrs. Erlynne (Irene Rich) picked up the fan.

What aspect of modern theatrical moviegoing do you like least?

All the commercials before the film, of course. It wasn't like that when I was growing up.

What aspect of moviegoing during your childhood do you miss the most?

I would watch just about anything as a kid. I have to push myself to take chances now.

Have you ever damaged a friendship, or thought twice about a relationship, because you disagreed about whether a movie was good or bad?

You have those thoughts, of course, but they aren't too important. Then again, I just talked to a know-something-ish young guy who told me that Max Ophüls was "impossibly dull" after he had seen just two Ophüls movies. I don't think I'm going to go out of my way to pursue a friendship with this guy, let's put it that way.

What movies have you dreamed about?

I have dreams where I meet certain actors, but it always gets all mixed up. I sometimes dream I'm watching movies, but they are usually only glimpsed.

What concession stand item can you not live without?

I love popcorn with lots and lots of salt, especially the popcorn at Film Forum.

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