What are your all-time top 5 movies? I’m not talking about the ones that took your breath away or opened your mind to a new idea, were the best crafted, or that you mention at parties when you want to seem erudite. I’m talking about the movies that speak to you or remind you of who you want to be, which you drag out of their cases once or more a year to reassure or inspire you.
To put this another way – what films are your emotional tuning forks? I grew up with musical parents and a grandfather with perfect pitch so I often process ambiguity through that filter. For me, there are certain songs that resonate perfectly during certain moods and help me find a calmer center like a singer listening to a pitch pipe or tuning fork to prepare for a song. Example: At those time in my life when I’ve felt sorrow, I have turned to U2’s “With or Without You” as there’s a howl at about the three minute mark that resonates perfectly with that emotion in me, pulling me out of my sense of solitude and connecting me to the human experience like an invisible tether. So when people perform that song poorly at karaoke, failing to properly build to that release, I get infuriated.
I’m starting my list at number 2 as I watched it this evening. I’ll also probably throw in a top 5 honorable mentions for those films I love but just didn’t make the cut.
This Memorial Day I had planned a trip back to my home town to visit my grandparents’ graves, tour Niagara Cave where I once worked as a guide, and take some pictures of the tree farm I own with my brothers. As the weather called for rain and I didn’t want to get my camera wet, I put it off and took a different walk down memory lane.
Clearing out one’s storage area can be unsettling to the psyche. Sure, purging zip drives, land line phones, and 3.5” disks from my collection of stuff was liberating, but then there were the letters from women over the years, pictures of me from when I was a total dork, and other heretofore forgotten relics of the past succeeded in fragmenting my previously optimized cerebral hard drive. Yeah, we’re going to mash-up music and tech for today’s analogies/metaphors.
After three full garbage bags and a box of archaic electronics, I had all the mental fragmentation I could take. That’s when I reached for #2 – High Fidelity. John Cusack is the actor who brought to live the archetypal cinematic heroes of my 20s. This one was a departure from those characters – a morally flawed anti-hero, and yet he made the character relatable and I could see pieces of my own persona in there.
I was living in Mankato when the movie came out in spring of 2000, transitioning from sales/account management for web sites to lead designer as the firm was shifting from an ISP to a web design/development company. I spent many of my evenings at bars playing pool and darts or watching my former co-worker’s band, The Delaineys (now defunct), whose CD I got to be in the liner notes for (since I co-designed their CD liner).
The day High Fidelity opened, it wasn’t in Mankato so I had gotten in and out of work early and had driven all the way up to Lakeville to watch it. The next day I went to Barnes and Noble and bought the book and consumed it in between Everquest sessions and Jaycee road runs. I went on to read most of Hornby’s other works [checked and I’ve evidently missed his 2009 release of Juliet, Naked].
So why is it in my Top 5 and how did it get to number 2? For one it helps me delve into my inner cad, considering where he’s seeping out unintentionally besides the highway. It also helps me to frame the mental chaos through an examination the relationships that got me from point A to point B and why that means I’m dwelling on concept C. Beyond that, it’s partially about redemption and the opportunity to overcome your own stupidity and shortsightedness.
Like all of the other Top 5, every viewing is different – the bright tints and hues of the present mix in with the sepia tones of the past. For example, after chatting online for a couple months with a director, finally meeting her in person and failing to create a connection, the portion at the end with the writer and the juxtaposition between the roles of creators vs. critics had significance as we had discussed my transition from actor to reporter/critic in college and how it’s usually a line you can’t uncross. But I want to uncross it – I miss community theater and I need to find an outlet for that. I also paused at the part where he talks about his believe that what you like is more important than what you are like and how I’ve judged people that way.
There were some other epiphanies, but I need to process them which usually involves unburdening my mind and collaboratively re-examining them to get a fuller understanding, usually over food or alcohol with someone I can trust.