Introduction

By Robert K. Elder

Movies are personal touchstones.

They provide soundtracks and wallpaper for our memories, and sometimes they become part of our own histories.  For these directors, the films in this book are much more. They provided  a spark that illuminated the rest of their lives. They inspired whole careers and, as the book title suggests, changed lives.

What made this project so entertaining wasn’t just talking about film—although I, like most cinema lovers, can do that endlessly. The best parts of these interviews are not just about the movies themselves but also about the impact they had on each director’s life. For instance, John Woo’s story of how Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets almost made him a Catholic.

Or how Kevin Smith was convinced, convinced that no other movie but Slacker could have made him a director.

In these many conversations, I found not one but two directors who told me about their adolescent quest to find brief cinematic nudity on arts channels—only to have their lives transformed by the movies Persona and L’âge d’or (hint: both directors are Canadian).

Still other interviews took unexpected turns—including Michel Gondry’s thoughts about death and how he’d like to die, given that his cinematic hero was killed while working on a film.

There are great stories of directors meeting their heroes, as in Kimberly Peirce’s tale of meeting Francis Ford Coppola, and these connections turning into enduring friendships. We hear of Michael Polish loving Once Upon a Time in America so much that he later hired one of the film’s stars—James Woods—to star in his own masterpiece.

Throughout this project, I was able to gather directors from across the cinematic landscape. Oscar-winners include Danny Boyle, animator Pete Docter, and documentarian Alex Gibney. I’ve also tried to reach across genres and generations, with conversations with veteran filmmakers such as Arthur Hiller and Peter Bogdanovich, and relative newcomers such as Brian Herzlinger and Jay Duplass. Some were long-winded, others pithy, but almost everyone wanted to keep talking about their love of the films that shaped them. Only two filmmakers refused to stick with one movie. You (and the table of contents) know who you are.

I learned as much about these directors by their choice of films as I did from their own work. Perhaps John Landis says it best: “It’s extremely important to know . . . that how you appreciate a movie has everything to do with your life experience at the moment when you see it, how you see it, and where you see it.”

He continues, “People who see 2001 on DVD, on an eighteen-inch TV,
letter-boxed or not, that movie is not going to have the impact it did when
you saw it in a Cinerama theater in 70mm. It’s just not, it’s a different ex-
perience . . . but that space station set to ‘Blue Danube’ is still one of the
most powerful images ever. And it’s just, how old were you when you saw it?
Where were you? How did you see it? Movies are subjective.”

And that’s why we keep coming back. Movies are not just movies, they
are mirrors of ourselves, our society, and our dreams—even if we’re not
quite ready for them. They make us laugh, cry, ponder our humanity, and
escape from it entirely.

And, for a few, movies make them want to go out and make more movies.

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