Friday, January 27, 2006

First Movie Memory

Wartime London. A bachelor flat. An unopened bottle of whisky sits on the side-table next to the telephone. The man—a recovering alcoholic—walks over to the window and opens the curtains. He doesn’t see the street, or the cloudy night sky: just the whisky bottle reflected like a bright lamp in the window. Suddenly he is standing by the bottle, which has now become the epicenter of the room. The man has a wooden leg.

All we hear now is a loud clock. The man starts to sweat, and he starts to shrink. A deep close-up of the innards of the clock—it looks like some robotic predator, breathing loudly, its mechanism emitting not one sound but several metronomic lines, intertwined in industrial counterpoint. Meanwhile, the clock is expanding to fill the frame, crowding the man to the edge.

Overlap dissolves of clock and man now coming harder and faster, the soundtrack swelling. The wallpaper, previously innocuous, is now replaced by neatly arranged patterns of black bottles. Next, with a thunderclap, the walls are transformed, every inch paneled with a phalanx of clocks, just clocks, in a deafening roar. The man is now on the brink of derangement. He looks up, and finds a giant monster in the room, standing as tall as the ceiling. It is the looming, lumbering whisky bottle. He stands stunned for a few seconds. Then, instead of being cowed by the bottle like you would expect him to be, he hobbles over to it and starts raining feeble blows on it with his fists. The bottle starts to tip in his direction, getting ready to crush him completely as it falls.

This is the first movie scene that I can remember from my childhood. For the longest time, I could recall just stark black-and-white images and clock-music, until I returned to it as an adult and filled in the details. It's from a beautiful thriller by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger called "The Small Back Room" (1948).

So, if you feel like reminiscing: The first film (or scene from a film) that you can remember?

55 Comments:

Blogger girish said...

It was common in post-colonial India for prints of both classic and obscure old British films to circulate through theaters and clubs for years.

January 27, 2006 9:16 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Yum.
Through Zach, discovered a nice web film magazine: Cinemad.

January 27, 2006 9:18 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Jen at Invisible Cinema points us to mirror neurons and how watching movies might increase empathy.

January 27, 2006 9:21 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Joshua on "yet another dirty lying memoirist. This one is possibly my favorite of all."

January 27, 2006 9:23 AM  
Blogger girish said...

What an excellent Filmbrain post: "The Orientalization Of Myrna Loy". All new to me, but of course, it makes perfect sense now.
If the author is reading this:
How did you get the idea for doing this post? Was it from encountering Thirteen Women? Or had you been thinking about it for awhile?

January 27, 2006 9:40 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Another one for the Feb. 13 Code Unknown blog-a-thon: Matt Seitz at The House Next Door!

January 27, 2006 11:07 AM  
Anonymous jmac said...

Very surreal movie, G. One of my early memories was of the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz. Her green face was so frightening . . .

By the way, my idea that movies increase empathy through mirror neuron firing is purely my own conclusion. But we know movies increase empathy, right? :)

January 27, 2006 11:27 AM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Hey Girish --

I was simply going to write about Thirteen Women but then I started thinking about the Fu Manchu movie (which I saw last year) and how Myrna Loy was Asian in that one as well. Coincidentally, I stumbled across that Camera Obscura article, and the rest was history.

As for my first movie memory:
Can't say for sure that this is the first, but one that had a powerful effect on me -- a boy, a talking flute, an overweight woman in a bathtub of fruit, a talking chimney, a pink alarm clock, a go-go dancing witch, and a hippie tree -- I'm talking of course about the Pufnstuf movie, a psychedelic drug-infused trip that children shouldn't be allowed anywhere near.

Speaking of fake memoirs -- I watched The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things last night. It's been quite a while since I've come across a more repulsive film. I also can't believe that people ever bought into this JT Leroy thing. (I'll probably write up the film next week.)

January 27, 2006 11:58 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

One of my earliest memories continues to go unsolved. It must have been made in the mid-'50s/very early '60s. I used to see it on TV a lot, most likely before 1965. All I remember:

An empty oil truck carrying a gang of thieves. It gets stopped at a roadblock. A cop unscrews a spigot on the bottom of the tank and a pair of eyeglasses falls out.

It's not White Heat, it's not Plunder Road.

The first film I remember seeing in a theatre was Steve Reeves's Thief of Baghdad, and I still find it loaded with nostalgia.

January 27, 2006 12:13 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Filmbrain, I tried to watch The Heart Is Deceitful a few months back and bailed after twenty minutes...
But I'm reminded: Asia Argento, Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe gave some of the best, most naturalistic performances I've seen in a while in Abel Ferrara's New Rose Hotel.
Love that movie; also R-Xmas.
I feel the urge to do an intense Ferrara immersion, especially now that I have the Brad Stevens book, which looks really great.

J., Sorry I didn't mean to put words in your mouth, but I guess I did because I wanted those words to be true. :-)

Flickhead, Matt the Esoteric Rabbit will also likely partake of our 'thon, which makes nine.

January 27, 2006 1:44 PM  
Blogger Filmbrain said...

Alright! Another Ferrara fan! I thought I was the only defender of New Rose Hotel. (Cinephiliac and I have argued several times about this film.) I think the film is remarkable -- even if a third of it is shown twice. Brilliant, that is.

I'd be up for any group-Ferrara thing. (Hint, hint.)

January 27, 2006 2:01 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Filmbrain--Ferrara-thon: brilliant idea.
I'd love to.
Zach and Matt are huge fans and would eat it up like cake.

January 27, 2006 2:18 PM  
Anonymous jmac said...

G. I'm glad that you mentioned the mirror neurons! I'm really excited by the empathy studies . . . If only they could study our brains as we see movies!

P.S. I was at home with the flu yesterday, watching Oprah & James Frey, if that explains my comment. :)

January 27, 2006 2:37 PM  
Anonymous dvd said...

Speaking of influencing each other's viewing patterns: I watched New Rose Hotel last week and liked it a lot (and absolutely loved the last 30 minutes). I've only seen a handful of his films, but following Haneke with Ferrera sounds like a great way in which to get better acquainted with the guy.

...although I think Matt had his heart set on proposing The Sandlot for blog orgy #3.

January 27, 2006 3:24 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

TSBR was your first film memory?! This explains a lot. (Fear not, that's a compliment.)

January 27, 2006 3:37 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Get better soon, J.

Ben, I thought of you when I was writing the post last night coz you're one of the few I know who shares my love for this little gem.

David, I don't know Sandlot but I'm sure I'll enjoy reading what all of you have to say about it.

After seeing how good the Brad Stevens/Ferrara book appeared to be, I checked on his Monte Hellman book, only to find it costs a stiff forty bucks, and no used copies, at Amazon. Think I still wanna get it...

January 27, 2006 4:48 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey look: Flickhead announces Blog-A-Thon II: Code Unknown.

January 27, 2006 4:56 PM  
Anonymous Matt said...

I was being (more or less) sarcastic.

Though I would suggest, if we write on Ferrara, we do something that gets (a little less) ink; say, The Blackout, Ms .45 or even (in memory of Chris Penn) The Funeral.

Or rather, we should delegate Ferraras. Though maybe I'm just saying that because I almost can't actually pick a favourite.

Here's an e-mail I wrote to David about New Rose Hotel last week:

"The last half hour is one on the greatest statements about the ambiguity of the image--and of Asia Argento, David, dammit! When does she turn? How the fuck can we ever know? They say they think they know, but they don't know! We don't know! Only Asia herself knows, goddammit, David! She's ambiguity incarnate!--that I'm aware of. It's just [a] tour de force. Oh, man, you make me want to see the movie all over again. So, I hope you're planning on tracking down some more Ferrara? I think you'll like The Addiction--or have we already talked about this before?

Also, interestingly, in Brad Stevens' book, he writes about how Ferrara uses Walken's bad performance in the film--namely, his predictability, the unpredictability of his renaissance (oh, my God, see King of New York!) having itself become predictable--to offer a counterpoint (not merely aesthetic, but moral) to Asia, who's just--I don't think I've made this point clear enough yet, David, nor that I've used your name enough yet, David--holy-mother-of-fuck-what's-the-go?-ish. 'Ambiguous' is a moral state in Ferrara: Asia and Walken, their characters and their performances (!), representing two ends of spectrum, which slowly but surely pull Willem Dafoe apart (he wants both, but [Asia's] motion [is incompatible with Walken's] stasis).

Finally, where you and me differ is this: You'd rather do what you're doing than work a soul-crushing job. That's fine. To me, the world is soul-crushing, period! Doing what I love is soul-crushing! Hugging my mother is soul-crushing! The only thing that isn't soul-crushing, obviously, is...

...Asia Argento.

Okay, I'm being silly now.

With much fervour,

Matt."

January 27, 2006 5:11 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Interesting exchanges you guys must have, Matt/David...that was fun to read.

My two cents: I think we should (if we can) each pick a different Ferrara film. (A little overlap here and there may be unavoidable, and that's OK.) And we should share the knowledge of our choices, so we all know what film others are writing about, thus discouraging too much overlap. That way it'll be a wide-ranging (yet focused) Ferrara tribute rather than a tribute to just one film.

Also, I think we should allow some time between blog-a-thons and not make them too frequent. It might help keep enthusiasm and anticipation high, and not ever feel like a burden or obligation.
Like perhaps do them no more frequently than once every 1-2 months.

Just thinking out loud. And very open to persuasion.

January 27, 2006 5:24 PM  
Anonymous dvd said...

For the record, I have seen The Addiction and King Of New York, amongst a few others.

Did any of you guys catch the news last week that Ferrera's next picture will in fact be a prequel to King Of New York, minus Walken?

January 27, 2006 5:24 PM  
Anonymous The Pop View said...

I swear to God -- if y'all pay homage to The Sandlot, I'm gonna have to spread some hateration around here. A simply awful movie that pretends to love baseball, but doesn't actually know a damn thing about it.

Of course, that's just one man's opinion...

January 27, 2006 5:26 PM  
Anonymous Matt said...

No, David, I hadn't heard that. I'm still lusting after Mary. The trailer (and behind-the-scenes documentary) are mouth-watering.

So, shall we do one blog-a-thon per month? In other words, shall we put together a Ferrara tribute in March?

January 27, 2006 5:27 PM  
Blogger girish said...

David, I didn't know about that...

Mary: I didn't know what the hell to make of that thing. Didn't really like it (the first Ferrara I felt that way about), but now realize I want to give it another chance. Probably because quite a few folks seem to hold it in esteem.

January 27, 2006 5:33 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Late March would work for me (like the last week of), but probably not earlier. But that's just me.

January 27, 2006 5:39 PM  
Anonymous Matt said...

Me, too. I like the idea of sizable breaks between these things. I'm just too lazy for otherwise.

January 27, 2006 5:45 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"I swear to God -- if y'all pay homage to The Sandlot, I'm gonna have to spread some hateration around here."
Seriously: LOL.

January 27, 2006 5:52 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Matt--Are these "good" Ferraras?
Driller Killer, Cat Chaser, Fear City.
They're all at Netflix.

January 27, 2006 5:58 PM  
Anonymous Matt said...

I haven't seen the latter two, but I've heard Cat Chaser is very good. The remarkable thing about Stevens' book is the way it makes a case for more or less everything though (even Nine Lives of a Wet Pussy, the porno), so get them all.

The Driller Killer is outstanding: hilarious, twisted, frightening. Listen to the commentary track, too, one of the best ever:

"Whose that guy?!"

January 27, 2006 6:05 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Off to Netflix before everyone else starts bumping 'em to the top of their queues. :-)

January 27, 2006 6:17 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

I'd be hard pressed to choose a favorite, but if forced I'd go for The Funeral. Where else are you going to find a Marxist gangster film? And with Vincent Gallo to boot? Kills me that it's not on DVD in this country. Might have to buy the UK disc, which comes paired with The Addiction.

The Driller Killer isn't very good, but the somewhat-rare 2-DVD edition has some neat bonus features, including a few short films of his, and a trailer for the porno film he directed under the name Jimmy Laine, (Nine Lives of a Wet Pussy. (Who's gonna take that one for the blog-a-thon?)

I'd love to see Fear City again, but I fear it reeks of 80s. Cool poster though.

January 27, 2006 6:19 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I'm thinking: Ms. 45 or R-Xmas.
Filmbrain, that UK disc sounds good.

January 27, 2006 6:25 PM  
Blogger girish said...

My favorites are probably King Of New York or Bad Lieutenant but I figure they might be pretty popular for the blog-a-thon.

January 27, 2006 6:29 PM  
Blogger Dennis Cozzalio said...

Girish, all: The first movie I recall seeing, at the ripe old age of three, was an IFC-Abe Levitow directed cartoon (coscripted by Chuck Jones) called Gay Purr-ee (1963), an attempt to capture some of the Disney magic formula outside of Walt's influence. It featured Judy Garland, Robert Goulet and Red Buttons providing the voices and songs for a cats-on-the-loose scenario in Paris, very similar to what Disney Studios themselves would do just a few years later in The Aristocats (1970). Strangely, I remember seeing the film, in particular, details of the hometown theater (long gone), but I remember very little of the film itself...

As for indelible images, there's one that I recall, probably seen on television, when I was about the same age, that stayed with me for years: a man climbing up a very thin vertical girder in the pitch black of night in pursuit of someone (another man? child? undure...) who gets to the top and then plunges to his death before reaching the pursued. I want to think it was from one of the TV dramas popular at the time, perhaps The Fugitive, but I just can't be certain.

But the hairs raised up on the back of my neck when I saw the John Huston film of Annie and witnessed the scene where Tim Curry pursues the little red-headed heroine up a steel girder-- the whole situation, including the staging, was very close to what I remember from my childhood, even though it obviously couldn't be the source of what I remember...

Looking forward to the Code Unknown blog festival!

January 27, 2006 7:06 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

First film ever was on tv. The earliest memory, that I noted in my review of Konga was of King Kong. First movie in a theater was Old Yeller.

I saw a Ferrara double feature in San Francisco of Bad Lieutenant and Ferrara's cut of China Girl about twenty years ago. My fave Ferrera is Body Snatchers.

January 27, 2006 8:45 PM  
Anonymous Matt said...

"Might have to buy the UK disc, which comes paired with The Addiction."

The only problem, Filmbrain, is that the transfers are 4:3, though as far as trade-offs go, it's not a terrible one.

How can you not think much of The Driller Killer?!

And while I think I'd have to say that New Rose Hotel is Ferrara's best, Peter, I too love Body Snatchers, and might go as far as to call it my favourite.

January 27, 2006 9:57 PM  
Anonymous Matt said...

Nine Lives is the name they gave the porno to make it seem more respectable when they mention it as his feature debut. I like it better when the cat is present and accounted for.

January 27, 2006 10:19 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Just returned from my local video store which has (gasp) Ferrara's Nine Lives.
Filmbrain gives me an idea about blogging the film and I'm tempted, but what with family reading this blog, it would just be too weird.
Just picked up the The Addiction on VHS for six bucks at Amazon.
Ferrara on the brain today.

January 27, 2006 10:21 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Oops, deleted & reposted that with an edit, Matt.
Actually, the full title on the video box was Nine Lives Of A Pussycat...

January 27, 2006 10:24 PM  
Blogger ben said...

I'm less of a Ferrara fan than a Walken fan, and it's him (along with many other insanely charismatic performers) that have kept that particular ouevre very compelling.

So,I urge you to read this longish piece about Walken in King Of New York by Iain Sinclair, a superb writer who really goes some way to nail that Walken appeal.

http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/feature/102/

A sample:

"Walken franchises charisma. He has to take on the city, politically, through the currency of crime and the warring clans. The big hair is a Clinton Xerox. The taut skin stretched over an alien skull is David Bowie, fallen to Earth."

January 28, 2006 4:19 AM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

First films I remember seeing were (dubbed versions of) the crazy Mad Mission films from the early 80s. I'd love to revisit them at some point and flesh out some of the scene fragments that are forever stuck in my memory.

Another Ferrara nut here! Definitely be up for a Ferrara blog-a-thon-a-thingee. My favourites right now are probably R 'Xmas and Ms. 45 (and I'm also fond of a few more, China Girl and The Addiction, especially). I still have some more to see though, including New Rose Hotel.

Girish, I wouldn't recommend the 90-minute version of Cat Chaser if that's actually the one that's on DVD. I believe the infamous gun-between-Kelly McGillis'-legs scene has been cut for the DVD release (but it's there on the VHS version, which is what I saw it on). I wish the longer versions of the film were available since even in its butchered state, the film is not without interest in the Ferrara canon.

January 28, 2006 11:51 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for the article, Ben. Hope Harry-Lime-Theme returns soon in some form.
And Iain Sinclair's BFI book on Cronenberg's Crash is probably my favorite in the entire series.

Thanks for warning me, Mubarak.
Yes it is indeed the 90-minute version. Drat.
And always nice (and rare) to know another R-Xmas/Ms. 45 fan.

January 28, 2006 1:00 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

If someone put a gun to my head and asked me for the name of America's best working filmmaker (and we all know how often this happens) I'd say Ferrara.

I think it was only mentioned once in this thread, briefly, by Matt, but: The Blackout is a really great one, too, as is Dangerous Games aka Snake Eyes. Both of them are overdue for some serious reappraisal, and revisation on my part (Kent Jones has a great piece on the latter film here). In fact I'd say that the period from '93 (Dangerous Games) to '98 (New Rose Hotel) is his strongest. But I never saw California ...

January 28, 2006 1:23 PM  
Blogger girish said...

And I can't believe he's not in the Senses of Cinema directors section.

January 28, 2006 1:59 PM  
Blogger girish said...

The planning & organizing compulsive in me is trying to nail this down: perhaps Monday, March 27?
That would allow six weeks between blog-a-thons.
If that's too much/too little, or if you have any objections, please feel free to voice.

January 28, 2006 2:11 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Dear Girish,

You do awesome right.

Sincerely,

Tuwa

January 28, 2006 11:17 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Why, thanks my friend! You do damn well yourself, you know.

January 29, 2006 12:03 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Flickhead--Code Unknown: Dennis makes ten.

January 29, 2006 12:42 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

G: Excellent. My piece is almost finished.

Right now, jumping into the Ferrarathon is the last thing I can think about. For the first time in months (years?), I'm attempting to write three articles simultaneously. Not on one subject, but three. Schizophrenia can't be very far off.

If I were to contribute anything to Ferrarathon, it would probably gravitate toward the earlier work.

I find it interesting that Body Snatchers has supporters here. I'd always believed that it was dismissed by nearly everyone. I thought it was quite good, excellent in spots, but I'd attributed most of its qualities to Jack Finney's original. (Note how well the Don Siegel and Phil Kaufman versions still work, along with Gene Fowler's similarly-themed I Married a Monster from Outer Space.)

Perhaps I'll revisit Ms. 45...I haven't seen it since it came out. Its star, Zoë Lund (nee Tamerlis) was an interesting person. She died in 1999 at the age of 37.

And I never did see Driller Killer. Perhaps it's time to catch up.

January 29, 2006 8:19 AM  
Blogger girish said...

"My piece is almost finished."
Flickhead--you rate-buster! :-)

This time around, I won't be a Last-Minute Louie, and hope to have mine done well in advance.

Great to know you'll be (perhaps) throwing down for the Ferrara-thon.

January 29, 2006 8:53 AM  
Blogger girish said...

I challenge you to name one blogger whose posts are as much of an event as Eric's.

January 29, 2006 11:09 AM  
Blogger Eric Henderson said...

Aw, you're only saying that because national holidays in Chad happen more often than my blog updates.

But I should mention that I can immediately think of at least one other blogger whose every update is an event, and I know this because I've more or less ripped off his format: Rich Juzwiak.

January 29, 2006 3:41 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Oh you're too modest, Eric, but thanks for the link to Rich's blog anyway; it's a lot of fun too.

January 29, 2006 7:17 PM  
Blogger la depressionada said...

ann-margaret with the wind blowing on her in bye bye birdie.

January 31, 2006 10:55 PM  
Anonymous chuck said...

First movie theater memory: The Muppet Movie in 1978. I was impressed that so many people were in the theater and, of course, blown away by what seemed like a giant screen.

And in fact I remember most vividly the moment when a giant muppet runs directly toward the camera, breifly shattering the fourth wall and inducting me very early into the world of metafiction.

February 01, 2006 12:33 AM  
Blogger girish said...

LaD, alas I've never even seen Birdie, though I've always wanted to, ever since I saw Ann-Margret in Carnal Knowledge.

Chuck, your future as an intellectual was intimated to you at a young and tender age. How fortunate you were.

February 01, 2006 6:01 PM  

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