Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.

The Love of Cinema


Do you remember your first movie? Mine was STAR WARS. At least, that’s the first movie I remember seeing. I was 6 and 1/2 when it came out in May 1977 and went to see it with my father and brother. Everything about it was awesome and new and I believed all of it, from C-3PO and R2-D2, to the creatures in the bar, to Darth Vader (who scared the shit out of me).

The next year I went to see a very different kind of movie with my mother called THE LAST WALTZ, Martin Scorsese’s documentary on The Band’s final show. It might seem strange to take a 7-year-old to see a film about coked-out musicians but I’m sure my mom was thinking about the music… Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchel, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison and countless others. When the lights came up she turned to me and said, “Want to see it again?” I did. We sat through the second showing. Then she bought the soundtrack and played it every weekend for the next 10 years.

In 1979, my older brother and sister snuck me into a screening of ALIEN, which makes me laugh every time I think about it. I’m not sure either knew what it was about when we snuck in. For most of the movie my sister was covering my eyes while squealing beside me, but I could still hear it and I still saw that infamous scene with John Hurt because neither my sister, nor anyone else in the world seeing it for the first time, saw THAT coming. To this day, it’s one of my favorite films.

Around the same time, I became obsessed with musicals. From the Busby Berkeley spectacles, to the fantastical WIZARD OF OZ, to the romantic WEST SIDE STORY and THE SOUND OF MUSIC, to the grittier HAIR and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, to the super corny OKLAHOMA, MARY POPPINS, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and so on. It didn’t matter what year it was made or the genre. And if Barbara Streisand was in it, forget about it.

As I got older, my mother started taking me to an art-house theater in Philadelphia where we saw foreign films by Truffaut, Fellini, Antonioni, Kurosawa and Bergman. I remember walking out of a screening of AUTUMN SONATA (about a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, played by Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann) saying with a sigh of relief, “I’m so glad we’re not like them.”

I grew to love certain directors, especially Martin Scorsese, Sidney Lumet, Milos Forman, Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Ridley Scott, Billy Wilder, Terrence Malick and others. Each had his own style. Each brought out the most amazing performances from their actors, music from their composers, editing, production design, costume design…

It wasn’t until college that I considered making a film. That was a task for other, far more glamorous people, who lived very far away in a place called Hollywood. I never thought I’d be living there. Once I learned the basics of the craft I wanted to study film in NYC where my idols Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee worked and lived. But those schools didn’t accept me, so I went to the school that did. I thought film school was heaven. Imagine seeing the epic Sergio Leone film ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST or the beautiful Caroll Ballard film THE BLACK STALLION (both in all their 70mm widescreen glory) for the first time in a pristine theater with only 10 other people… and then talking about them

Cinema has changed over the years. I’m rarely blown away by a film like I used to be when I was young. I admit, I also don’t go to the theater as much. But I’m trying to get in touch with it again, trying to reconnect with that initial thing I loved about movies… to be transported to another world, to be enlightened, to feel compassion for characters I would normally never meet in real life or never love, to feel a togetherness with the other people in the audience, to witness the unique vision of the filmmaker.

I’m trying to remember the difference between cinema and movies, as so eloquently explained by the director Steven Soderbergh‘s in his recent keynote speech at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival:

“The simplest way that I can describe it is that a movie is something you see, and cinema is something that’s made. It has nothing to do with the captured medium, it doesn’t have anything to do with where the screen is, if it’s in your bedroom, your iPad, it doesn’t even really have to be a movie. It could be a commercial, it could be something on YouTube. Cinema is a specificity of vision. It’s an approach in which everything matters. It’s the polar opposite of generic or arbitrary and the result is as unique as a signature or a fingerprint. It isn’t made by a committee, and it isn’t made by a company, and it isn’t made by the audience. It means that if this filmmaker didn’t do it, it either wouldn’t exist at all, or it wouldn’t exist in anything like this form.”

Do you like movies? Was there a film that made a big impact on you?

Author: nivaladiva

Freelance writer and independent filmmaker.

29 thoughts on “The Love of Cinema

  1. I assume (?) you’ve seen Malick’s Days of Heaven? I finally saw it last year. Such a beautiful film.

    My Dad made docs and a feature film and TV for a living so I have always been really interested in film. My favorite (seen at six) was Dr. Zhivago and I have memorized entire scenes and dialogue having now seen it dozens of times. The color palette in that film is extraordinary…and a feature of every film I now look for especially. Oddly, perhaps, I also love The Devil Wears Prada. I was in a small NYC meeting last year that included the female producer and almost fainted at the thrill.

    • Yes, I love Days of Heaven and Doctor Zhivago (and David Lean, the director). I would have had the same reaction to The Devil Wears Prada producer because I adore that movie!! I could watch it again and again. How cool about your Dad!

  2. I am going to have my son read your post. With film school a few months away I am sure he will be thrilled. I remember vividly Star Wars and Alien. Jordan just watched it in his media class last week and we discussed it. I remember Jaws scaring the bejeezus out of me. I remember so many films as so many made an impression. It is hard to pick one or just a few. I do know that the first film I ever saw was Fantasia. I do not remember – my mom said I was a baby. But it must have made some impression because I ended up becoming a ballet dancer!

    • So true, it is hard to pick just one or two. I remember Jaws too, so scary! And I love Fantasia. I’m excited for your son’s experience. Film school is a lot of work but if you’re into film, you thrive on it. He’s going to have a blast!!

  3. I am a lover of film. I good movie you can see, love, forget. A good “film”…I could see again and again and again…and STILL find some intriguing element. I’ve seen “Empire of the Sun”…god, I have no idea how many times. One of my favourites films is one financed by the National Film Board of Canada…”In the Company of Strangers”. …its a docu-drama style, with actresses, they had a loose script….but the rest was all improv. Gorgeous stuff.

    You had an amazing film education….WOW. To have experienced so much at such a young age is fabulous. My education came when I went to art school and took film….Slaughterhouse Five, critiques of Psycho, and a camera and an idea out on the streets on your own….that’s how I learned.

    And don’t even get me started on Star Wars. … I remember the first time I saw that movie. I was stunned.

    • Yes! A movie is forgettable, a film is unforgettable and can be watched umpteen times. I just re-watched The Great Santini and felt as if I was seeing it for the first time. I’ve heard of In the Company of Strangers but not seen it. Will put it on my list! Atom Egoyan is another favorite director and Sarah Polley is a great new female director. Did you see her film Away From Her?

      • I know I have seen one of hers…but I can’t recall which. I remember being surprised when I realized who the director was. She’s come along way from her days playing on THE ROAD TO AVONLEA 😉 She is one seriously talented individual. And I’ve seen a number of Atom’s work. IF you haven’t all ready, I would also suggest the original version of the film THE VANISHING…if you want to be spooked out. One of the only movies I’ve ever seen that actually SCARED the crap out of me. Very well done…it’s a psychological romp thru the mind of a psychopath. 🙂

      • I will check out THE VANISHING, although I’m not sure I can watch something like that alone, lol. I’m a wimp when it comes to super scary movies. There was a point during THE RING when I was so freaked out I almost left the theater! Was clinging to my friend the rest of the time, haha

      • I see there are two versions,1993 version and the original 1988 Dutch version. Will check out the latter first. If you’re interested, another great and spooky thriller (not horror) is the French film CACHE with Juliette Binoche. Anything by that director Michael Haneke is worth checking out, especially THE WHITE RIBBON.

      • OOOooo. Juliette Binoche…I will have to look for that one.

        And yes…its the original dutch. Everything about that movie I found chilling.

  4. The first movie I ever remember seeing in theater is Ben Hur…yes it dates me. I saw it at the Embassy theater in Hollywood, with my parents. It was amazing on the big screen, in color! I loved it and have loved cinema since then!

    • Wow! What a cool memory and experience!! I don’t think I’ve ever seen the whole move, I’ve seen clips. I can only imagine how cool it would be to see it on the big screen!

      • I remember that it had already been released some years before, won Best Picture in 1959-ish. The theater used it as a publicity viewing for its screens…all around us! Long before IMAX was conceived. I’ve seen it several times since then and I think it holds up rather well even today. That chariot race scene that is still talked about today really is amazing, given the lack of special effects way back then. If you ever find yourself with nothing to do…lol…for about 3 hours, its worth watching at least once. Charleton Heston was in his prime! yum! lmao!

      • I’m totally going to watch it now. I know it won’t be the same on my TV but it is pretty big. I’ll get back to you after I’ve seen it!

  5. Me too! My parents would drop my brother and I off at our hometown theatre. Also saw American Graffiti about the same time. We must be about the same age. Oh lala. The men in that movie. I love reading your blog!

    • Ha, thanks. Yeah, American Graffiti is a classic. Young Harrison Ford and Ron Howard! Some of the folks who made that film taught at my school.

      • My cousin Tim Boxell is a director, now teaching film/directing in SF. His wife, Kris is a set decorator. They have been such a huge influence, regarding films and what I should see. Movies take me away from my job as a hospice nurse.

      • How cool about your cousin and his wife. I go up there at least once a year to visit my father.

  6. Karate kid II 🙂

  7. I can’t believe you saw the Last Waltz in the theater…at age 7. That’s all kinds of awesome. I can’t remember if it was truly my first theater movie but the first I can remember is Snow White as a re-release. I went with my grandmother in one of those old time theaters. I also remember seeing Empire Strikes Back in the theater. Anyway, I feel like the last paragraph also describes how I feel about good writing and the lyrics of well written music, both of which I tend to be more snobby about than films.

  8. I saw my first artsy/foreign films in high school at the Ritz in Philly. Is that where you were referring to?

    • Omg, the Ritz!! Yes, we went there but also to a small theater on Walnut street I think, or somewhere near Rittenhouse Square. Not sure if it’s still there, but they used to screen indie and foreign films. That’s where I saw AUTUMN SONATA. I saw lots of other movies at the Ritz. Love that place!

  9. I guess I am not a real movie buff. The first movie I remember seeing was Wizard of Oz. It was played every Thanksgiving I think. I must have been under 10, but not sure exactly how old. I do remember the flying monkeys scared me more then the wicked witch. It was around that time that I watched West Side Story for the first time.
    I still don’t watch many movies. I have a hard time sitting still for that long. I do love the Lord of The Rings Trilogy though. Nice guys to look at and great special effects.

    • Not everyone has to be a movie buff. I feel you on the Lord of the Rings men! If you ever want to see Viggo Mortensen in the buff, check out the Turkish steam room-fight scene in the film EASTERN PROMISES. It’s not the sexiest scene but it’s still awesome (one of the best fight scenes ever) and did I mention he’s fighting in the buff? 🙂

  10. Pingback: Random Tying of Virtual Loose Ends | Riding Bitch

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