I wrote the other day, "I think 2001 is the year I became aware that movies could be art and not just entertainment." And specifically, I think three films that came out that year are what did the trick.
The first, and most important, was Moulin Rouge, which came out in June. (I was almost fourteen--the perfect age to go completely nuts for it.) I already loved musicals, but I had never seen one like this. I thought it was brilliant, dazzling, enthralling... in fact, it was so important to me that I am having a hard time blogging about it. Suffice it to say that I may have seen it more times than any other movie, because it's the first DVD I ever owned-- i.e., it's the movie that spurred my parents to buy a DVD player the following Christmas. I love it in a way that surpasses explanation, and you'll just have to believe that this movie is part of me.
Last week, I rewatched Moulin Rouge for probably the fifteenth time. Then a few days later, I rewatched The Royal Tenenbaums for the first time since it came out at Christmas of 2001--and that's what got me thinking along these lines in the first place. As I wrote a few days ago, I loved Tenenbaums when I saw it in the theater, though I couldn't really explain why at the time. But now, I think it's because (like Moulin Rouge) it was so original, and so clearly an aesthetic experience.
The third of these movies, also released at Christmas of 2001, was Amélie. I've seen that one an intermediate number of times--maybe three or four. It's actually the first French movie I ever saw. A bit of a cliché, I know... and indeed, Amélie has been criticized for pandering to cliché notions of "Frenchness" instead of providing a more complex, less nostalgic view of Paris. But, just like Baz Luhrmann's Montmartre and Wes Anderson's New York, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Paris is a fantasy world.
So in the span of a few weeks at the end of 2001, I was watching Moulin Rouge repeatedly on my new DVD player (I loved all the special features!) and seeing The Royal Tenenbaums and Amélie. While I didn't make note of it at the time, that had to have had an impact on me.
These three movies all fall into different genres, have different thematic concerns, etc., but at the same time, something seems to link them. They are all obsessively made, and obsessively stamped with their director's personality. All three directors pay great attention to the formal and aesthetic elements of their films: controlling the costumes, sets, cinematography, even the color palette! They create their own worlds: you can say "Anderson" or "Luhrmann" or "Jeunet" and picture exactly the kinds of movies that each man makes. These films are the work of fanatics.
Did I love these movies because they spoke to something that was already in my soul, or did they mold me into the person I am today? That's perhaps the most important question, but I can't answer it. However, if the only thing you knew about me is that, at the age of fourteen, I loved Moulin Rouge, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Amélie, you'd probably be able to paint an accurate portrait of my personality now, eight years later. From my love of these movies, you could predict that I am a romantic. An aesthete. A lover of beauty. An auteurist. A francophile. An idealist, a fantasist, an escapist. An admirer of cleverness and audacity, but only when combined with a sentimental heart. You might even predict that I'd become a writer myself (note that both Moulin Rouge and Tenenbaums feature characters who are playwrights!).
And also, because these three movies taught me that artists could become known for their voice and style, they might have contributed to my becoming a writer. In 2001, I enjoyed writing, but I worried about my lack of ability to come up with interesting and unique stories. That's what I thought writers did: construct plots. I was reading a lot of fantasy literature at the time, and thought I liked it because it always had an exciting and fast-paced plot.
But these three movies are distinguished by their style, not their story. Moulin Rouge has a clichéd plot, and knows it, and therefore it puts it onstage and strings it with sequins and makes it sing and dance. The Royal Tenenbaums is a dysfunctional-family dramedy--a well-worn genre. But, love it or hate it, it's a lot more memorable than dozens of other dysfunctional-family dramedies, because of its unique style. Amélie is a series of anecdotes and character sketches that hangs together only because everyone is so charming and so darn French. So these movies might have made me subconsciously begin to realize that plot isn't the most important thing. (I also began to understand that I loved fantasy novels not for their plots, but for the worlds they created.) Voice, mood, style, soul is what I look for in art.