Juliet of the Spirits
I saw Juliet when I first landed in the USA; I was sixteen. I said to myself, This business of making movies looks so great—basically this guy is filming his dreams. That’s a racket I must get into!
Passion and joy are effortlessly married here. I heard a quote from Renoir to the effect that it’s most important to make the viewer believe that there is life beyond the frame; what an awesome definition of filmmaking! I also love his quote about the tragedy in life being that we ALL have our good reasons for all we do. This man loved people and explained them with such veracity; lift your leg high and you’ll know!
Something Wild made me fall in love with Melanie Griffith and with the idea of making movies. Like Jeff Daniels’s character, I wanted to be taken on a wild ride and to take people on one. There’s both such joy and terror in here, hardness and frailty. It made me appreciate that contradictions in characters are what make us sit up in amazement at the movie theater. There’s a Ray Liotta inside all of us!
The voice-over in Shock Corridor affected me deeply. It helped me realize that as a storyteller, you really have all the freedom in the world to tell the story the way you want to. There’s a line in here where an inmate wakes our hero in the middle of the night, chewing gum, to tell him that if you chew enough gum your mouth gets tired and your mind gets tired and then you don’t feel crazy, and he shoves gum in our hero’s mouth and then goes to sleep. Everyone is coping the best they can, madness is in all of us, ambition will take you down and don’t you forget it—how comforting!
This is a flawed film from the master, and I read in his autobiography that after it tanked, he tried to kill himself and did not make a film for five years. I love it! Such gorgeous vignettes, like the man who stops talking and loses all the color in his flesh after he finds out his wife cheated on him! Or the drunk couples who swap partners every night! He built a whole artificial dumpster on a stage and painted it in radiant colors, and then went about telling the most heartbreaking short stories of madness and despair in it. It’s like Raymond Carver on some very good acid, taking no prisoners!
In the early nineties, when this was only available on video, I watched it over and over till my store had to throw it away. Sirk is fearless in his melodramas because he is so confident in what he’s got to say. No other director, in my opinion, makes such accurate criticisms of the myopia of our prejudices while fully and earnestly asserting that love is all we’ve got—even though we’ve set up a society in a way that totally suffocates it.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
This crazy German took what Sirk had done to a whole new level with only five bucks in his pocket. There’s never been a more precise director working in the low-budget world. I love the delivery of every line here. Love has such small chances in a world riddled with bullshit, and Fassbinder proves that it can thrive only where tremendous kindness is exerted. Also, I will never shun couscous after watching this!
I’d lie if I said this film doesn’t knock my socks off—I’d like to, since it’s so prevalent, but it’s undeniable how cool and free it is! This will never be replicated ever; it’s Godard’s Citizen Kane, cursed by that fact, I’m sure, but thank God he hired all the right people and made it. Cool was dead after it—why bother?
Do the Right Thing
And this is Spike’s Citizen Kane; I would have retired after it. It’s so passionate, colorful, and full of life, I’m glad to be walking on the same planet where it was made!
Trouble in Paradise
Elegance and charm have not found a better comedic vehicle. This is like a gemstone, a marvel of style and cheekiness. Made me wish so bad I had been alive and working in Hollywood in the thirties! By the way, the star of the film had a wooden leg, and you could never tell it.
Jonathan Lethem’s Top 10
Winner of a 2005 MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program genius grant, Jonathan Lethem is one of America's premier contemporary writers. His works include the novels The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn.
Richard Hell’s Top 10
Richard Hell was a founding member of the early CBGB bands Television, the Heartbreakers, and Richard Hell & the Voidoids. His Voidoids album Blank Generation (Sire, 1977) is generally acknowledged as seminal to “punk.”