I have seen a lot of movies. And you could make the argument that they have all shaped me as a filmmaker. That being said, I’m going to mention a specific few that I draw a lot of strength from. It should also be noted that these are films that have influenced me positively. I could easily argue that a very influential movie for If I Had Wings To Fly was, let’s say, Transformers, because I saw that and thought, “I want to make whatever is the opposite of that.” This applies to most big blockbuster movies. Honestly, another negative influence is the WNC-set Songcatcher. Harrison and I saw it, and we wanted to do something really different.
I am also writing this to give a little bit of recognition to these mostly-on-the-obscure-side films. There are a lot of really good movies that will simply never play in most American cities, which to me is a shame.
(This list does not necessarily reflect the influences of Harrison.)
Old Joy – Directed by Kelly Reichardt (2006)
This is a beautiful little movie about the spaces between friends, set against the wild of rural Oregon. To me, it shows the artistry that can be accomplished with a relatively low budget. Check this one out!
Mutual Appreciation – Directed by Andrew Bujalski (2005)
In my opinion, this is the most worthy and wonderful film in the “mumblecore” genre. It’s very subtle. The acting, the imagery, the storyline, all seem to have the volume turned way, way down. It is an intentionally cheap, low-key, intelligent, yet unambitious look at young people who are cheap, low-key, and intelligent yet unambitious, acted out by non-actors who are all these things in real life. Its triumph is simply getting all the unimportant stuff – big name actors, big set pieces, big drama, etc etc – out of the way to let the small moments of humanity and truth shine through.
Slacker – Directed by Richard Linklater (1991)
Iconoclastic hipster director Richard Linklater’s first film, shot on a ridiculously low budget. Basically a portrait of the young, grungy unemployable intelligensia of early 90’s Austin. As he was making it, he would tell his actors (all non-professionals) “I’m making a documentary about people acting in a movie” or something like that. Everyone is playing themselves and they seem to be having a pretty good time. Some critic once wrote that it is “in the tradition of great Russian novels. That is, the most important philosophical questions in life are at the very center of the story.” Or something like that.
Tropical Malady – Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2004)
I love this movie! I can’t say exactly how it’s an influence…. It interweaves a contemporary, human story with elements of folklore and fantasy, which I admire. It is steeped in wonder and love for the natural world, which I admire. It is really, really slow, which I like, but of course that turns a lot of people off. The first half: a young solider in Thailand falls in love and begins a tender courtship with a local farm boy. The second half: the farm boy is re-imagined as a shape-shifting tiger, the solider as a hunter. They stalk each other in the jungle, where all sorts of wondrous events occur. Sound weird? See it!
Days of Heaven – Directed by Terrence Malick (1978)
Here is a movie to which I, like many other young filmmakers, will ever aspire. The story unfolds like a dream. Image after shining, beautiful image rouses from slumber, stretches toward the sky, and then fades away. The very landscape aches with the unfulfillable longing of the characters. Yikes!
I’m Not There – Directed by Todd Haynes (2007)
Todd Haynes is one of my favorite directors, and this is a artful and brilliant exploration of Bob Dylan’s career. I admit, though, I’m Not There doesn’t really resemble If I Had Wings to Fly. Its influence comes from the way it uses music – I’m Not There is not only about music and a musician, songs are woven into the very texture of the film. From the soundtrack, to on-screen performances and music videos, to lyric fragments in dialogue, and visual puns, the film bursts at the seams with music. Music permeates the story, but does so in a way that advances the narrative, and illustrates the emotional journeys of the characters. It is music used intentionally – rare in a film industry where a cloying musical underscore is an unquestioned convention.
Bummer Summer – Directed by Zach Weintraub (2010)
Harrison and I went to college with Zach. He left school a semester early to go to his hometown, Olympia, Washington, to make a little movie about young hipstery kids like himself. Then, Harrison and I moved to North Carolina with some vague ideas about making a little movie about young people playing banjos and hanging out in the woods. A few months later, we got to see an early cut of Bummer Summer and we said, “Hot damn! If he can do it, so can we.” So we decided to stop farting around and actually make If I Had Wings to Fly. Actually, the farting around continued for a long time, and hasn’t really ceased as far as I can tell, but the movie did get made.
To be exact, Bummer Summer more inspired than influenced us. Most movies, when you see them, you think to yourself, “I could never make that” or “how the heck did they do that?” Which, to my way of thinking, is bad. I like a movie that makes you say, “Hey, I’m gonna make a movie too!” Like Bummer Summer did for us, and as I hope If I Had Wings to Fly does for somebody else.
Woody Guthrie said “I just hate a song that makes you feel no good.” And Bob Dylan said something like “I’m just trying to inspire people. I mean, what else can you really do for anyone?”
So there ya go.