MICHAEL SEYMOUR BLAKE on film with Rebecca Gransden

What film, or films, made the first deep impression on you?

Hi. I’m overwhelmed with the amount of responses I have to almost all of these questions. I’m terrible with stuff like dates and technical details etc. and I forget important chunks of information all the time, only to blurt things out weeks later during a conversation with an unrelated person who is probably in the middle of talking about their day. In other words, I will forget to mention movies that live in my heart. I will forget super critical moments. I’m gonna answer this stuff with whatever randomly popped in my head at the time, mostly sticking to my younger years. In no particular order. Random. Incomplete. 

Here we go…

An early favorite was 1967’s The Jungle Book (Wolfgang Reitherman). Thing is, I was super young so all I have is the vague impression of how important it was to me. I loved Baloo and wanted to be his best friend.

Next is something I respected and deeply feared, and that is 1987’s The Gate (Tibor Takács). I almost didn’t include it here because it was only years later when I realized how much of an impact it had on me. I remember seeing it at my braver-than-I-was friend’s house for the first time and thinking it was “sickkk!” but also having to close my eyes a lot. I lost a lot of sleep because of this thing. As a kid I often felt isolated and terrified, and The Gate played on my fears of being left alone without knowing who to trust. It was my first major exposure to horror movies, which still fascinate me to this day. Much love for The Gate. “YOU’VE BEEN BAAAAAAAAAAD!”

The NeverEnding Story (1984, Wolfgang Petersen) — This movie disturbed and fascinated me in a different way than The Gate. Where The Gate felt more domestic in its horror, The NeverEnding Story haunted me in a more cosmic, existential way. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I could watch and appreciate it without my heart racing and my stomach going sour. Gmork is still one of the most frightening creatures ever. I associate this movie with being at my grandma’s house because I think I was there the first time I saw it.

The Last Dragon (1985, Michael Schultz). This may have been the first martial arts movie I ever saw. They used to play it all the time on tv and I was enthralled. I probably watched this whole thing conservatively forty times as a kid. This is also one of the movies I just assume everyone has seen and I’m usually surprised to meet someone who hasn’t even at least heard of it.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie (1990, Steve Barron). At the time it felt super edgy and dangerous. Gritty. But somehow it didn’t feel like an “adult” movie. I viewed it as a “cool older kid” movie. I was 7 or 8. 

Turtles leveled up my appreciation for cinema. To this day it fills me with joy when I watch it. My favorite turtle was Mikey, but my favorite scene — the scene that blew my mind — was when April O’Neil was writing and sketching in her diary. It lent a gravitas to the whole experience. I remember listening to her voice, her tone solemn and serious, and just being enraptured. I thought  “This is the real stuff!” I wished so much I was one of those turtles. I wanted someone like April to care about me enough to put it in her diary. 

But as much as I loved it, I didn’t quite think about it in an adult way. I took its existence for granted. 

Then a few years later I saw Mel Gibson’s 1995 epic, Braveheart

Braveheart is the first movie I had what I’d call an “adult love” for. I wore those VHS tapes (yes, it was long enough for two tapes) out. Couldn’t get enough of it — the gruff aesthetic, the epic battles, the just-over-my-head political intrigue. Stephen (David O’Hara) was my favorite character. I was so stressed that he was gonna die during my first watch. I remember thinking “He’s like me!” (meaning a real weirdo). I loved his introductory line delivery of “Stephen is my name!” I believe this is also the first time I saw the main character in a movie die. Not positive on that. The ending always made me intensely depressed. Sometimes I’d just stop it while he was in the cell so I could pretend he got away.

Unlike the movies I loved before it, I thought of Braveheart as an impressive film rather than just some awesome thing that existed. I didn’t have the vocabulary to express it (hell, I still kinda don’t), but I was very aware of the cinematography, the acting, the dialogue, the music, the choreography of the fights. It was a revelation. Still, I never lost that magic of living within the world on the screen. Corny as it sounds, I still watch movies with that wide-eyed sense of wonder. 

I could keep going… but let’s pull back for now. A ton of other movies are popping in my head. Dances With Wolves was another huge one. Also a bunch of other Disney films.

Very often film is one of the ways we first come into contact with a world outside that of our direct experience. Which films introduced you to areas of life away from the familiar circumstances you grew up in?

How apropos! Dances With Wolves (1990, Kevin Costner). I did not plan this.

Dances With Wolves was the first movie that directly exposed me to a different way of life. I have no idea if it’s seen as problematic now or whatever, but back then it helped reinforce my interest in different cultures and peoples. It also filled me with deep sadness and anger. I wanted to be a part of that Sioux tribe. I wanted that strong community. 

Few years ago in Arizona I met a young Navajo man, had to be in his late teens. I struck up a convo with him and he starts telling me about his favorite movie and then he goes, “The movie’s called Dances WIth Wolves, have you ever heard of it?”

What films first felt transgressive to you? Do you remember being secretive about any films you watched growing up?

Transgressive shit: Akira (1988, Katsuhiro Ôtomo). Saw this on a bootleg VHS (I think. Could have been legit) at a friend’s place when I was too young. I’m terrible with age shit, but I was between 11 and 13. I had no idea cartoons could do what Akira did. I didn’t understand much of what was going on, but the movie felt important. And it was.

Secretive shit: I thought hard about this one. I mean, Akira maybe had elements of  “I shouldn’t be watching this,” but describing it as something I was “secretive” about feels inaccurate. I can’t think of any movie I felt secretive about. It ain’t really in my personality. I like to show people who I am and what I like and just really hope they don’t think I suck. I never got into overly sexual movies or anything like that to be embarrassed of. I dunno… can’t come up with much for you here. 

Sort of related, I remember showing my mom and her then boyfriend a scene from Romero’s Day of the Dead because they were watching this show with mild violence and commenting how fucked up it was. I said, “You wanna see fucked up?” 

After the scene was over (it involved zombies pulling someone apart in gory detail) they just stood there grimacing. Then my mom whispered, “You’re fucked up.”

I did feel slightly embarrassed once when I told someone how I wept during The Notebook.

Are there any films that define your formative years?

I googled “formative years” and it defined them as ages “0-8.” I will keep it strictly within those parameters. I also already mentioned a few formative years shit in the “deep impressions” section. There’s a ton of crossover in this entire interview. I could write in exhausting (and frankly, boring) detail about another bazillion movies here. 

Moonwalker (1988, Jerry Kramer & Colin Chilvers) — Michael Jackson was a hero to me. In Moonwalker he turns into a rabbit, a car, a laser-blastin’ robot and a spaceship. I watched this so much. I’d bring it with me to people’s houses and stuff. I remember wishing I could put a mask on and transform into an animal. I felt I was in danger all the time, and fantasizing about transforming into cool shit to either evade or fight would-be attackers made me feel temporarily powerful. I wanted to know the Michael Jackson in this film. I also wanted to be him. He was so caring, brave, strong… and THOSE MOVES!

The Land Before Time (1988, Don Bluth) — I’m drawn to ensemble casts. I’m drawn to epic journeys that build or reinforce relationships. Dinosaurs are cool. This movie had me exploring the woods in search of the Great Valley with a few real or imaginary pals. I felt like part of the tribe whenever I watched it. 

Joe Dante’s Gremlins (1984) and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) — I had a stuffed Gizmo that I took everywhere with me until I lost it (devastating). My friend and I would pretend we were gremlins, or we were taking care of gremlins. There’s a gremlin named Stripe in the first one and there’s one named Mohawk in the second, but we referred to both of them as one character we called  “Spike.” I don’t know why. I’d always pretend “Spike” was actually a good guy through some strange plot twists when we played. I soooooo wished Gizmo was real. I wanted to be Billy because he had a cool secret pet, and that made him special. 

My Girl (1991, Howard Zieff) — Being exceptionally afraid of death and having a hyper-aware sense of the fragility of human health at a young age made this movie hit me like a Louisville Slugger to the guts. It ain’t like I never saw death on screen before, it just never felt so close to home. It gave me a sickly feeling about being human/mortal. Most of my friends viewed Thomas’ demise as something sucky but ultimately distant from them. Not me. I’d look at people and think, “Any of us could die at any time.” It didn’t make me appreciate life more, I just felt unsafe and a little desperate. Also I had a mini-crush on Vada. Also I identified with Vada… so I kind of had a crush on myself. 

The 1990 It miniseries felt like a movie so I’m including it here. Another ensemble cast with a focus on relationships. Saw both episodes at a friend’s house. And when I say “saw” I mean I watched maybe 45% of each episode. I tried to force myself to watch because I was really invested in the story. I just wasn’t brave enough. I kept hiding in other rooms or collecting myself outside. (Yeah, it was so terrifying to me that I chose to be alone outside rather than even hear a sound from that series.) It was around this time I became more consciously aware of how much horror impacted me in comparison to others. Like, no one else was running out of the house every ten minutes. The way It made each character see things others didn’t cut right to my damn soul.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is worth repeating. It was possibly the biggest movie of my “formative years.” 

Some quick ones:

Disney movies (anything I could get my hands on). The Little Mermaid (1989), Bambi (1941), Dumbo (1941), etc. etc. Those films were there for me when my mother was deeply depressed and I was afraid and confused. Forever grateful for that.

Star Wars original trilogy (1977-1983, George Lucas). I was born into a Star Wars family (well, a few people on my mom’s side). Always took these films for granted, like they were a relative or something. Just part of my life from the start. It’s difficult to coherently explain what they meant to me because of this, but these were a major part of my formative years.

The Muppet Movie (1979, James Frawley) — although my appreciation definitely grew as I got older, it was still a big one.

The Secret of NIMH (1982, Don Bluth).

Back to the Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis). 

Batman (1989, Tim Burton).

Home Alone (1990, Chris Columbus).

An American Tail (1986, Don Bluth).

Can you talk about the influence film has had on your writing or art?

I can’t because nothing specifically comes to mind. I’m terrible at talking about art shit.

What directors, film movements, or particular actors have been an influence?

John Carpenter.

Akira Kurosawa. 

Anthony Hopkins. 

Toshiro Mifune.

Hayao Miyazaki.

Steven Spielberg.

Johnny Depp.

Jackie Chan.

Winona Ryder.

Ruth Gordon.

John Woo.

I could go on and on. Some of those don’t have as much influence now, but others still do. These are all fairly older picks.

Have you ever made a film? If so, has the process of doing that had an influence on your writing?

I made two very short, very ridiculous movies. It’s hard work, even if the project is just for fun. You need everyone on board and committed… and it’s hard getting people to stay committed when things get uncomfortable. 

It’s had no discernible influence on my writing, but it reinforced something I already knew: judge people by their actions, not their words. You can tell me “I’m in!” but when things get uncomfortable, I’ll see where you’re truly at. 

(I’m only using the actions/words thing in the context of creating art together. I’m sure there are exceptions). 

Are there films you associate with a particular time in your life, or a specific writing or art project?

A ton of the movies I already mentioned fall into this category. I’ll toss a few more in. Let’s get in and get out quickly and incompletely like a bad police investigation.

Jurassic Park (1993, Steven Spielberg). 10 years old. Coolest visuals I’d ever seen. I gave the dinosaurs dialogue (after the tenth time of watching with pure reverence). Pretending to be velociraptors with my friend Jer. 

The Matrix (1999, Lilly Wachowski, Lana Wachowski — at the time known as “The Wachowski brothers”). 16 years old? In a toxic, destructive relationship. Me at my most misfit. Knew zero about the movie and saw it on opening night. Partner had a panic attack during it. I adored it. Reminds me of a period where I was called a freak and regularly had shit thrown at me in school etc. 

Seven Samurai (1954, Akira Kurosawa). 12th grade. More purposely (as opposed to just random suggestions) exploring movies outside of my comfort zone. Being nervous about the future. Realizing just how many incredible films there were out in the world. Secretly feeling cool that I “discovered” Kurosawa’s movies even though 99.9% of my friends didn’t give a shit. 

Dollars/Man With No Name trilogy (1964-1966, Sergio Leone). Just out of high school. Starting to delve into westerns (in part thanks to Mr. Kurosawa). Bought the box set based on a hunch that I’d enjoy it. Went to a houseparty right after purchasing and took the set inside with me. Frequently visited the set (left on a table in the living room) throughout the night with a sense of excitement. Watched with a like-minded weirdo pal, then pretended to be gunslingers at a few parties — hats, fake guns, cigars and all. People weren’t that amused. Went grocery shopping as gunslingers and staged western standoffs in the aisles. Really indulged in acting like a (harmless) moron during this time. To this day when I’m around other weirdos I get carried away.

Thinking about the places you’ve lived, are there any environments that are cinematic? Have you lived anywhere that has been regularly depicted onscreen? If so, has this had an influence on your perception of the place, or how you’ve depicted it in any of your writings or artworks?

Grew up on Long Island and frequently visited NYC before moving to it. So for sure. But oddly enough I don’t often think about film history when walking around and stuff. I might be too close to it or something. As far as cinematic environments go, I lived in a shitty tiny trailer for a while after my family was scammed and the house we were about to inherit from my grandma got ruined. So it was just some piece of shit trailer next to a destroyed house. Kind of cinematic. 

Are there films you regularly return to, and do you know why?

I don’t often rewatch movies because there’s always something else I want to see. That said, Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is one I’ll revisit often. It’s my all-time favorite movie. I love the ensemble cast and siege narrative. I love how it feels loose and lived in. It’s an old friend of mine. 

There’s a handful of others. Burton’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure rewards repeat viewings. It makes me think about watching it at my friend’s house and feeling warm and cozy and laughing our asses off (except for the Large Marge scene). 

Do you have any lines of film dialogue you regularly use in your daily life?

Tons, but I don’t necessarily use them in witty ways. Like… I’ll just randomly say them. Here’s a handful:

“Good morning Mr. Breakfast!” — Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985, Tim Burton).

“I need your clothes, your boots and your [insert thing I am asking for].” — Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, James Cameron).

“My cat can eat a whole watermelon!” — Rubin & Ed (1991, Trent Harris).

“HEY! Fuck youuuuu.” — Session 9 (2001, Brad Anderson). I don’t particularly love this movie, but that line delivery is too great

“EVERYONNEEEE!” — Léon: The Professional (1994,  Luc Besson). 

“Who’s the baddest?” — The Last Dragon (1985, Michael Schultz).

“I just felt like running!” — Forrest Gump (1994, Robert Zemeckis). 

“Heellooooooo!” —  Mrs. Doubtfire (1993, Chris Columbus).

“FOR.EV.ER.” — The Sandlot (1993, David M. Evans). 

Here’s a recent one (often yelled to someone from another room):  “Mind the doors!” — Death Line (1972, Gary Sherman).

Are there individual scenes that stay with you?

There are a great number of scenes forever living in my mind. I’ll stick to older stuff:

The Brave Little Toaster (1987, Jerry Rees) — The junkyard scene. Cars are being killed while reminiscing about their lives. Fuckin’ brutal even now.

The Bodyguard (1992, Mick Jackson) — Seeing Costner jump out the window into the snow has always stuck with me. I remember it looking really gorgeous and badass. No clue if that scene plays out the way I have it in my mind. Also… hearing Whitney Houston curse! OMG! 

Ghostbusters (1984, Ivan Reitman) — Library ghost. When I first saw that I think I inadvertently yelped. (This was also a formative years movie.)

Clash of the Titans (1981, Desmond Davis) — the battle with Medusa, Bubo the owl, the witches, the monsters, the stop-motion animation… everything. This whole movie is one giant scene in my head. (Another formative years movie.)

Bride of Boogedy (1987, Oz Scott) — Dad from the series (Richard Masur) floating around while possessed by Mr. Boogedy. This really frightened me. Any guardian figure who becomes possessed gets right to the core of me. Possibly some psychological shit going on here.

The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick) — bathroom scene. You know the one. Don’t make me describe it. 

Pet Sematary (1989,  Mary Lambert) — Zelda scene… you know the one. Don’t make me describe it. 

A Better Tomorrow (1986, John Woo) — Mark pouring a drink over his ruined leg. 

Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986, Brian Gibson) — Walked in my friend’s living room and I see this terrifying reverend asking to be let inside a house. I run away. Come back just in time to see the tequila worm scene which, combined with the out of context scene before it, was one of the most disturbing things I’d ever seen. 

Troll 2 (1990, Claudio Fragasso) — I wake up in the middle of the night and turn on the tv. I see a kid transforming into a gooey plant thing and then being eaten. For a long time it was just some random clip that frightened me so badly I wouldn’t eat for part of the following day. Back then it wasn’t easy to just look up movies. I think I even had to post on some forum a few years later to figure out what it was. One of my favorite movies. I introduced no less than 20 people to this.  

Ugh… there’s so many. I have to make myself stop…

The Omen “It’s all for you, Damien!” Suspiria mirror flash. The whole hospital segment of Hard Boiled.

Here’s one fairly recent watch for you: To Sleep with Anger (1990, Charles Burnett) — Hattie’s (Ethel Ayler) first appearance. That big explosion of bright white hair. 

What films have roused a visceral reaction in you?

Shitloads. I’m a visceralass person.

The Blob (1988, Chuck Russell) — There’s something super vicious about the kills in this movie that make my palms sweat. The movie theater sequence still gets my fight/flight response going.

Home Alone (1990, Chris Columbus) — Still makes me grit my teeth. Specifically the nail in foot scene. NOOOOOOPPPEEEE.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974, Tobe Hooper) — Especially the famous hammer bash and the meat hook hanging.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994, John Carpenter) — “Today’s mommy’s day!” First saw that scene in my friend’s dimly-lit bedroom and felt my soul trying to escape my body. 

Saving Private Ryan (1998, Steven Spielberg) — The slow knifing scene turned my mouth and throat into an alien desert landscape. 

Don’t Look Now (1973, Nicolas Roeg) — The ending sequence has to be one of the most memorable endings of all time. It’s shocking, weird, brutal, creepy, and beautiful. 

Threads (1984, Mick Jackson) — Absolutely devastating. 

Which of your writings or artworks would adapt most successfully to film?

No idea. How bout you tell me and we work on something together.

Can you give some film recommendations for those who have liked your writing and art?

I didn’t even mention Die Hard, Labyrinth, Beverly Hills Cop, Indiana Jones, Beetlejuice, RoboCop, The Nightmare Before Christmas, etc. etc. … so many huge gaps. 

Here’s my recommendation for people who like my art:

Ratatoing (2007, Michelle Gabriel). Not to be confused with Ratatouille (2007, Brad Bird & Jan Pinkava).


Michael Seymour Blake is the author of the art book 12 Days of Santa Crying. He periodically sells stuff like shirts, pins, and zines. You can find him strutting down streets as if he knows where he's heading (but he never does). Guaranteed to stop and speak to your dog with childlike enthusiasm. You can find his work and links to his Etsy shop/Instagram/etc. on the oft-neglected michaelsblake.com. He eats, sleeps, doodles, writes, and lives in Queens, NY.

Rebecca Gransden lives on an island. She is published at Tangerine Press, Burning House Press, Muskeg, Ligeia, and Silent Auctions, among others. Her books are anemogram., Rusticles, and Sea of Glass.

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