We can start with the iconic movie Jaws. The hype was huge that summer. I was 14 when I stood in a line that wrapped around the block just to get a ticket. Halfway through the movie, I ran to the ladies’ room and vomited. Then I went back to my seat, cowered, and watched the whole thing peeking between my fingers. I haven’t put a foot in the ocean since.
I also don’t swim in a lake or a river for the same reason. You never know… a shark might swim up into the Gulf of Mexico, into the Mississippi, and end up in the Illinois river. You can’t argue with me about this logic. It’s an emotional decision. And sharks scare the poop out of me!
The Rose starring Bette Midler put me on my current path. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the magnificent acting of the Divine Miss M. That scene in the phone booth? Damn. It still makes me tear up just thinking about it. After that movie I said out loud for the first time: I want to go into theatre. I want to do that. Okay, so I changed from acting to writing, but still… I want to write a scene that good.
All That Jazz. I think it was Jessica Lange’s second movie? I dunno. I’m not going to look it up because I’m too lazy. That movie merged the best of two worlds for me: Broadway and movies. I decided to move to Los Angeles one day and work in movies so I could be a part of something that wonderful. Which I did. Move to L.A., I mean. I still haven’t written anything near as wonderful as All That Jazz. Plus, Bob Fosse was a god.
The Deer Hunter. The movie didn’t immediately affect me. What happened was I picked up extra work as a Personal Aid to the man, Louis Garfinkle, who created the story and co-wrote the screenplay. This was a decade and a half after The Deer Hunter was released. Lou was stricken with Parkinson’s. The horrible sickness and shaking that went with the disease prohibited him from writing. He couldn’t hold a pencil or sit at a computer. But that couldn’t keep him from what he loved to do. I spent a summer sitting by his bed while he dictated a new screenplay to me. I simply wrote it down for him, word for word. It was a crash course in screenwriting. I got to see a master at work. I learned so much on so many levels: how not to give up, the mechanics of screenwriting, what makes a good story… All the while I was sitting beside the shelf that held his Oscar.
Harold and Maude. You don’t get any better than this movie. It is black humor at its finest. I began to try to weave black humor into all my work. And that scene where Ruth Gordon throws the ring into the lake? It makes me cry every time. The movie is a wonderful lesson: comedy can still have heart.
Victor Victoria and Personal Best. I saw these two movies as a double feature. Only in Tulsa would they put these two movies together. I guess they thought they both had a gay theme, so… I walked out of the theatre and sat in my car, thinking, for an hour before driving home. It was the moment that everything crystallized for me. Thank you, Mariel Hemingway, for introducing to my big, bad lesbian self.
Desert Hearts. I don’t really need to explain this one, do I? One of my favorite lines: “I’m keeping my robe on.”
“Well, everyone has their limits.”
That’s probably not verbatim, but once again, I’m too lazy to look it up. It’s that way in my head and I’m too stubborn to change it.
These days I don’t have to look too far to find inspiration. Now that Amazon and Netflix are producing their own movies, old rules have flown out the window and there are scores of creative, mind-expanding movies.
What are some of my newest favorites? La La Land. Wonder Woman. Anything with Melissa McCarthy. Anything done by Christopher Guest. What a genius that man is! Plus, he has Jamie Leigh Curtis as his wife, proving that comedy is sexy AF.
I’d love to hear what some of your favorite movies are and how they changed your life or way of thinking.
*This book will change your life.