What film, or films, made the first deep impression on you?
The first film I saw in the theater was Flight of the Navigator. We must have arrived late. Or it was unexpectedly full. We had to sit in the very front row. I was very uncomfortable. I was seven or eight. It came out in 1986 so I would have been four but that can’t be true. Anyway, when you are four or seven or eight you are really small. I remember the screen was huge. I couldn’t handle the sensory overload. It felt like the screen was going to swallow me up and take me away on the spaceship. It was a very good movie. I have not seen it since.
I was visited by an apparition the night I watched The Care Bears Movie (1985). This sounds like something I would write in a story, but it’s true instead. My parents did not believe me. They told me to go back to bed. They said, “go back to your room,” or something just like that. They said I was scared from the movie. They said it was because of the movie I was scared and not the apparition. But I don’t remember anything about the movie, and I certainly remember the white mass of light that stood over my bed. That was 35 years ago. What did Daniel Johnston say? “Some things last a long time?”
What films first felt transgressive to you? Do you remember being secretive about any films you watched growing up?
I was downstairs on the couch, alone, and it was late. I pressed rewind a whole lot of times. Let me back up a bit.
I knew why Friday the 13th (1980) made me horny. I wanted to be a teenager at a summer camp having sex on the bottom bunk. You could pause it and pretend. That wasn’t transgressive at all. If anything, it was obedience. I was secretive about watching it (and wearing out the magnetic tape of the VHS) because I did not want my parents to catch me being horny. I think that is good and I hope my son, when he gets there in a couple of years, affords my wife and I the same courtesy.
Oh, but I started to tell you the real answer which is Disclosure (1994) starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore. Demi Moore sexually harasses (assaults? rapes?) Michael Douglas in the movie. Spoiler alert or content warning, perhaps. Demi Moore and Michael Douglas used to date & have sex with each other. Michael Douglas is married now. Demi Moore gets hired to be his boss. One night they are working late. She makes a move on him, and he demurs. She gets more aggressive. He gives in, momentarily, and then, while she is giving him a blowjob and he is saying nasty things to her, he recalls he has a family, and he is able to break free from her grip. Well, I’m not interested in the movie on its terms so I won’t summarize further or offer anything resembling an opinion of its internal politics, but it was the sexiest thing I had ever seen, and I felt so naughty over and over every time and I would like to say two things about that:
- The idea of desire so overwhelming it upends your life is extremely appealing to me. I don’t mean Demi’s desire. Her desire, in the context of the film, is to set up an encounter that forces Michael Douglas to lose his job. Michael Douglas’s desire for her, and the transgression of that desire, is where I am at. I am someone with big feelings, not always knowing where I am supposed to put them.
- Sometimes my feelings are inappropriate. I do not act on them. I share them, sometimes, in my art. Sharing them is not a ploy to make my reader complicit. It is a bloodletting, a release, a solemn prayer that I am not alone.
- I know now, because I am older and have some life experiences under my belt, that my own desires awakened by the scene were intimately tied to the feeling of transgression itself. It is a naughty thing to be a pre-teen boy downstairs, alone, on the couch, and it is late, and touching the private parts of your body to arouse apleasure. I connected with Michael Douglas’ feelings of wrongdoing, of sin. Bad, bad boys we were.
Are there any films that define your formative years?
Tombstone (1993). I wrote a fictional essay that touches on the ‘why’ and was fortunate enough to have it published by/at Misery Tourism, but it honestly boils down to “I watched it a ton of times, at a certain time of my life,” which feels sort of accidental/incidental. Most of my favorite pieces of art feel that way. A friend gave me Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives as a 30th birthday present. My father liked North Carolina Tarheel basketball. Our tastes and preferences are less like choices and more likely circumstantial or inherited.
Can you talk about the influence film has had on your writing?
I can’t claim much, truthfully. It’s difficult for me to parse out my (non-literary) influences, but film is such a visual medium, and I cannot think visually. You know that exercise they give you, sometimes in therapy, where they ask you to visualize a red cube and then turn it over, so on and so forth? I cannot visualize a red cube. I thought, for a long time, that my memory was leaking out of me faster than I could make new memories, but it was just that I could not, and I cannot, imagine visually. The elements of films that have stuck with me are always lines. Or, more precisely, how it felt and how I was feeling when I saw the film.
Once, for instance, I went to an afternoon showing of Being John Malkovich, with a friend. When we went into the movie it was light outside. The movie messed with my head. I have some fears surrounding consciousness that were tested by the film’s premise. I was feeling sick to my stomach. I did not like thinking of someone else up there steering my thoughts. I have enough trouble controlling them already and back then, sometimes, they’d try to hurt me. When my friend and I walked out of the movie theater it was dark. I felt like I’d lost time. I felt like I was lost in time. I did not like that. We went to a Boston Market next where I had one of my spells. It was an unpleasant feeling. If I need that particular feeling for a character or scene then I can access it, but I cannot picture what John Malkovich looks like.
Are there films you associate with a particular time in your life, or a specific writing project?
During my mid-to-late-teenage years I lived with a much older man. He had an open-door policy and a couple of guest rooms for young boys to stay with him and he let you smoke in the basement and have full access to his impressive record collection. There was bread and cheese to eat, and usually he would bring home a case of beer and watch us drink it. Some nights he gave us pills and we’d take our shirts off and dance in the living room. If anybody asked, I was eighteen and just didn’t have any ID with me.
He would start asking, usually around midnight, if anyone was up for a massage. That was the only time you could go into his room, if you were up for a massage. I did not ever want a massage and my secret weapon was I can stay up later than everyone else always. So, I waited him out. But as soon as someone did take him up then I would have the television and his video cassettes all to myself. He had a copy of Koyaanisqatsi (1982). The film just blew me right away and I watched it every chance I could get. The house was small, so I turned it up loud and the score was done by Philip Glass and the whole movie was just a series of images illustrating how much we fucked up the environment. There is no dialogue or words, I don’t think. I cannot remember a single image now (no visual memory), but it gave me a feeling of great unease and catastrophe. I have never written about that period of time. I can’t recall anything of interest or particularly literary happening. But I do remember staying up later than everyone else to watch Koyaanisqatsi and being drunk and not understanding the film, but completely digging it.
Do you have any lines of film dialogue you regularly use in your daily life?
- When I am arguing with my wife, “I’m calmer than you are,” (Walter, to the Dude, in The Big Lebowski )
- When I am stuck in a social situation I cannot get out of, I mutter to myself “I realized that not only did I not want to answer THAT question, but I never wanted to answer another water-sports question, or see any of these people again for the rest of my life.” (Anthony, to the two girls Dignan invited over to the pool, in Bottlerocket )