Posted by: philosopherouge | August 7, 2007

My personal journey through cinema Pt. 1


Today I finished watching Martin Scorsese’s eye opening “Personal Journey Through American Film”, and in many ways, it’s one of the most important films I’ve seen in a long time. Not only is it an eye opener on all the cinema that I’ve yet to see, but made me reflect on what films have changed me, and my perception. Although I don’t have the same perspective, as I am not a filmmaker (as of yet, who knows what the future holds), since film has been a large part of my life since I was very young they’ve left a foot print on my perceptions, sense of aesthetics and artistic sensibilities. Scorsese points out that it’s not always the greatest or most important films that leave their marks, and I realise that nothing could be more accurate.
seventh heaven
Looking at cinema from such a wide (and yet myopic perspective, as we are exploring films that have effected Scorsese, not anyone else), patterns and trends begin to emerge. I was always fascinated by his foray into the silent era, perhaps the most innovative and free time in cinema, and the differences of the directors. His contrasting of Sunshine with the Seventh Seal were particularly effective, even though I haven’t seen either film. We have the contrast of a filmmaker ruled by emotion, and the other ruled by the subjective world and the mind. The films both work as love stories, but with entirely different approaches, despite starring the same actress and being made at the same time.

Watching this film, I realise how different my introduction and passion for film is than Scorsese’s and the men and women of his generation. Like many people my age, film was discovered at home on VHS tapes. I only discovered the true wonders of the Theatre when I was a teenager. I watched movies on my little TV almost religiously until I was about 10 years old. Like many children, Disney films were the bulk of what I watched. From Snow White to The Lion King I was under the spell of this magical animated world. My favourites were 101 Dalmations and The Little Mermaid. But, that wasn’t the extent of my viewing. I also had an old copy of The Wizard of Oz. When I was 5 years old, no other film in the world was as magical or wonderful as The Wizard of Oz. My parents swear that I watched it every day for over a year, and it left a deep imprint on my young and malleable mind.
red shoes
My Aunt who lived just downstairs also had a collection of older films that I would watch rigorously. They were old musicals like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, or old British films like The Thief of Bagdad. My favourite perhaps was Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes. Much like the Wizard of Oz the film plays out as a fairy tale, although more firmly rooted in “the real world”. The colours and the passion of the characters and fleeting moments stood out in my mind until I rewatched it again a year ago, after not having seen it for nearly 10 years. I think it was the colours that got me, just as they did in The Wizard of Oz, and the music. I don’t remember the dialogue, I remember the vibrancy of the reds and yellows, and the Opera of voices and music that permeate throughout the film. Movies were like nothing I had known, and I viewed them as living breathing stories that one can visit and revisit whenever one pleased.

Most of this viewing took place before I turned ten years old. Then for whatever reason, my interest for film seemed to die away. It’s like a mental block, or a change in interest that pulled me away from this wonderful world. However, I turned fourteen and again I had an itch that could only be satisfied by returning to the media I had fallen in love with as a child. I can’t remember what motivated me, but I went to the library and borrowed Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Once again, I was caught in the net of film, and this time it wouldn’t let me go.

From this point on I watched everything, and anything I could get my hands on. Although, for whatever reason I focused on old American films. It was the worlds of Cary Grant, and Alfred Hitchcock that thrilled me, and I gobbled everything I could find. The films I loved most from this period of my cinematic passion were Rear Window, Wuthering Heights, Casablanca and any screwball comedy I could get my hands on. Again, they were for me a means of escapism, although slowly the undercurrent messages and themes began to emerge. Rear Window was more than just a thriller, but an indictment on cinema itself, while Casablanca was an essay on patriotism and sacrifice. Even the comedies like Nothing Sacred or My Man Godfrey had a conscious on the world around them. Slowly but surely I was seeing that film was more than just an entertainment medium, it was a means of artistic and political expression.

It was about this point, I discovered 8 ½. Before discovering Fellini, I had been aware of the artistic and creative merits of film. There is no denying the art of films like The Red Shoes, or Vertigo… but 8 ½ opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of film. It isn’t bound by realism or objectivity, but is a dream world where one can veer in and out of reality, from dreams to nightmares, from fantasy to horrors. 8 ½ was the film that changed the way I saw film, and in many ways art. Film is a dream, and the goal shouldn’t be to recreate reality but to reveal through images and impressions our visions of the world around us. The greatest films are not true to life, nor are the greatest documentaries. Genres “rooted” in realism, like Film Noir are just as out there was a fantasy film. They may seem closer to reality, but even they are heightened and altered through style and exaggeration.
virgin suicides
As I continue to watch and rewatch films, I’m constantly discovering the magic of the medium. My horizons are always expanding, and the more I see the more I realise I have left to see. I’m becoming more self-aware of what I like, and dislike and for what reasons. What themes and characters interest me. Although my niche is older film, I’m finding magic in filmmakers like David Lynch, who’s recent Inland Empire may be the most effecting film I’ve ever seen, and Sofia Coppola who’s giving a voice to young women of my generation. Even though for four years when I was younger film lost it’s hold, I don’t see that happening again. This is a rather brief overview of my life through films, there are still many moments and films that I will return to in the future.



  1. I really liked Martin Scorsese’s journey through Italian films and would probably like his American one too. Is that second picture of Janet Gaynor? One of her silent films? The actress looks familiar.

  2. I highly recommend it, I’m trying to get my hands on his Italian film one too.

    It’s Janet Gaynor from Seventh Heaven. I’ll hopefully see it soon, because it seems as though it’s right up my alley.

  3. Really interesting post.

  4. Yes, I have the DVD and book for ‘Personal Journey…’ I also recommend the Italian one, it’s great and actually contains lengthy scences.

    Nice blog.

  5. I should have known it was Seventh Heaven. That was a really good film, but not her best. I don’t know though, let me know what you think of it.

  6. Allison: I haven’t seen Sunshine either, is that better? Or are there other films you’d also rank about for Gaynor. I really want to check out her work

    Richard: I’ll have to see the book, and check out the Italian one. I’m not as well versed in Italian film, but it will be great for recommendations.

  7. Well Janet Gaynor is one of my favorite actresses. I saw her in the original A Star is Born (1937) and loved it. It was great on a second viewing too. I thought Sunrise was ok, but it’s not quite the classic I expected it to be. If you like other Murnau though, it’s great.

    JG is one of my favorite actresses: I pretty much like anything with her in it. They just showed Smalltown Girl on TCM, and I saw part of it again. It’s also with Jimmy Stewart and Robert Taylor.

    A star is born is really the best, because she does impressions of other actresses and you get to see her range. I’m still astonished at her talent. Unfortunately she retired way too soon and her movies can be hard to find. But if you like silents, pretty much all of her silents are good.

  8. You know, I’ve seen A Star is Born and really disliked her actually… I thought Fredric March stole the show, and she seemed a little old for the part. Then again, I was generally annoyed with the film because I saw it on a REALLY crappy VHS. I’ll check it out again.

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