Movies have meant the world to me since earliest childhood, when they helped me make sense of the universe in which I lived. Well, Heaven help the kid who relies on cinema to tell him how the world works—films can be as unreliable, bigoted, lazy, crazy, gender-biased, politically cockeyed and boring as any parental role model, but they can also be charismatic, thrilling, oneiric and intoxicating, as addictive as a Jolly Rancher-Xanax blend—if such a hybrid exists!—and any normal kid could end up fiending on them, almost to the exclusion of living his or her own real life away from the screen.
My earliest kino highs, I realize in retrospect, have been further heightened by false memory. For example, I misremember a toddler-era TV viewing of Fourteen Hours, a 1951 picture featuring Richard Basehart out on a high-rise window ledge threatening suicide for its entire running time. That part I recollect correctly, but I remember Basehart’s mother being played by my own mother, and I remember the movie as a daily TV show. Every day the same suicidal man talked back into safety by my mother!
I misremember the lead role in Gilda (1946) being played not by Rita Hayworth, but by—Google image search helped me out here—Cobra Woman herself, Maria Montez! And the Glenn Ford character being played by Buddy Ebsen of the Beverly Hillbillies. And a teenage Sandra Dee shoved into the proceedings as a romantic rival for Montez. I’m not sure what film I really saw during that grindhouse Sunday matinee, but I guarantee it’s every bit as great as the real Gilda, which I’ve actually never seen.
Films are moving myths, I’ve concluded, chimerical and ever-mutating artifacts of intense delight and arousal, role modeling, cautionary warning, Utopian reverie and social wrath. For this carte blanche I’ve decided to sort through my most formative movie-viewing experiences, titles seen decades ago and not glimpsed since. They are an addled array of sensations that dripped a succession of intoxications into my soft and spongy brain. They won’t trigger the same responses in a 2016 audience, but if only I could measure, in a controlled experiment, how these powerful dream-inducers perform now! Pink Narcissus, which I saw in 2005, is the only film I’ve seen as recently as thirty-five years ago, but that roseate spectacular is maybe the most beautifully tripped-out viewing experience of all my chosen titles. I’m not even sure I saw it!!! – Guy Maddin, artist, writer, filmmaker and Visiting Lecturer in the Visual and Environmental Studies Department, Harvard. His latest feature, The Forbidden Room, screened at the HFA in December 2015.
PLEASE NOTE: Due to technical issues, Laugh, Clown, Laugh has been cancelled; The Blackbird will screen in its place.