In the Church of Cinema, what movie would be your Bible?

I’m not a religious guy but the shared experience of going to the movies can be deeply spiritual and the closest I get to going to church. The older I get, the more I realize how a few movies have really shaped and wired me and given my life purpose and meaning. Here are my three…

  1. Harold and Maude
  2. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  3. My Neighbor Totoro

What are yours??

  1. Star Wars - I was exactly the right age for this to hit me like a damn asteroid. My life has been measured by Star Wars movie premieres. I’ve purchased a ton of merch over the decades. I’ve gone to cons. I played the Star Wars TTRPG for years. While Disney’s and Lucas’ own clumsy additions have tarnished the franchise over time, wizards and space swashbucklers still get me.

  2. The Shining - This was the first movie I remember watching that demanded I fill in a bunch of blanks and interpret events according to what I thought was happening. It was also the first horror movie I saw that showed me that dread and anticipation of violence could be as terrifying as a monster. I can step outside of myself now and see the faults, and I certainly don’t love the way Kubrick bullied Duvall into giving him the performance he wanted, but I still love it. It gave me an appreciation for horror that compels me to watch the genre whenever I can.

  3. Jaws - Literally the first movie I remember seeing in the theater. My uncle took me to see it without my parents’ permission when we lived in Korea. The movie excited me beyond measure and although I didn’t understand some of the adult interactions, I knew BIG SHARK EATS PEOPLE and that’s all I needed. My parents were understandably pissed when my uncle and I got back, but I was a big boy and didn’t have nightmares because I thought it was all so cool.

  1. Spirited Away
    A movie about growing up, and becoming an independent person. When I saw this at 16, it kind of floored me. Might be my favorite movie of all time.

  2. Clerks
    Kind of just how my friends grew up watching this, doing shitty summer jobs and bumming around. Super quotable, and just kind of hit us perfectly in late high school and early college. (10th anniversary DVD was how we got into it)

  3. Dr. Strangelove
    Just a perfect comedy. Skewering those in power as nothing more than the vapid childish and crazy people we live with every day. When I was young, I thought this movie was fantasy, and now that I am an adult I sadly know how true this film actually is.

I should follow y’all’s lead and explain my choices a bit!

  1. Harold and Maude taught me about prejudice.
  2. 2001 covers a vastness of time and the universe that made the big mysteries of life more satisfying to me than any so-called answers.
  3. My Neighbor Totoro is all anyone needs to raise children in a loving, supportive home and community rich with imagination and wonder.

All of them expanded my appreciation of art but each one contains wisdom that goes further into making these movies to live by. I can’t teach 2001 because of its running time but I love to share and discuss the other two films.

I would suggest Wolf Children if you loved Totoro. We watched that recently and it has the same vibe, but even more focused on how you also have to let go of your children at some point too.

  • Ikiru/Living
  • Andrei Rublev
  • Totoro
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • Soup to Nuts?
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The one that comes to mind is When Harry Met Sally. My wife and I went to see it on one of our very first dates. People change and evolve over time, along with the relationships between them, beautifully encapsulated by that movie. And beyond that, Harry’s monologue at the end of the movie about wanting the rest of your life to start as soon as possible is something that has really resonated with me at different points in my life, like when I realized I didn’t want to be an academic and walked away from 7 years of working on my md/phd.

The Ten Commandments and The Greatest Story Ever Told! And I take them literally!

No, actually, 2001 is absolutely one of mine as well. I still filter a lot of my philosophical ideas through what I take from that film.

If there’s anything else that ranks up there… maybe A Man for All Seasons.

I’m a fancypants about some things, but when it comes to movies I’m pretty pedestrian, so I need my imagery blunt and obvious. I also love punchy noir dialogue, so Miller’s Crossing is probably the movie that surprised me and captured me for life. Seeing this in the 90s made me realize that the guys who made Raising Arizona could do anything; the same thing happened to me when I read Tim Powers in my teens and rediscovered him in my 20s.

I think for me one little movie that has impacted my worldview a lot is Alison Anders’ Grace of My Heart. On the one hand, you can enjoy it for what it is, a musical travelogue through the 1960s pop scene (Carole King, Brill Building, Phil Spector, Beach Boys/Brian Wilson, etc. etc). But I think it also is a story about making art for art’s sake. About how putting something you’ve drawn or painted or designed or recorded or written out into the world is the important thing, whether anyone notices or not, and whether or not, really, anyone even approves or gives you positive feedback about it. Just…create, and put art into the mundane things you do, even if they’re soap jingles or whatever.

And also, relatedly: from that movie I learned the power of trusting your artistic and critical instincts. There’s nothing worse than seeing/experiencing/reading/hearing something you like and thinking that it isn’t somehow “good enough”. Maybe, after all, it isn’t…but by exploring why you think it might not be good enough you’ll either figure out why it actually IS good or great, or you’ll figure out what misled you to believe that. And both are valuable outcomes.

I’ve said for many years now (since college I guess, maybe HS) that I liked having my beliefs challenged for precisely this reason. Either you solidify or change what you believe in the process, but either way you learn something.

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Guess I finally need to see that darn movie then! I know you love it and I don’t know what’s taken me so long to get around to it.

John Richards was preaching that gospel last Tuesday on KEXP after playing this cool song called Lip by Mama Zu.

(The song was released in late 2023 from unfinished recordings that singer Jessi Zazu left behind when she died of cervical cancer in 2017.)

I went back to the streaming archives so I could transcribe what he said:

She was still putting art into the world at the end of her life. Think about allll the people out there who don’t put art in the world who have that potential, any kind of art, who are stopped for whatever reason. A lot of the reason is cuz people aren’t nice. Trust me, I know this very well. (laughs) But don’t listen to them. Put art in the world. This is why we don’t criticize music here. This is why I’ve raised my kids never to criticize anyone’s musical taste. We play what we love here but we’ll never criticize what we maybe just aren’t big fans of because somebody out there loves it! And even if it’s just the person making it, you’ve gotta put art in the world. It creates a better world. So keep it up. No matter what anyone tells you. I know that’s easier said than done. But if you have anything in you that is creative get it out. It’ll make you feel better about this world.

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Hot got damn. I can like that post of yours, Morton.