Has a movie changed your life? They can challenge or influence your views but does any one particular movie stand out as an event that you can definitively say, changed your life? Today’s guest blogger, Jon Matthews, shares his life-changing movie viewing experience with us. Given our fan base of this particular film, he may not be alone. Read on and then please let us know if you’ve had a ‘life-changing’ movie experience in the comments section below.
Most people can’t really say a movie changed their life. But, for me, it kinda did. I’ll tell you how. But, first, let me back up a little.
I grew up in a hollow called, Booger Hole, in rural West Virginia. My parents were—and still are—heavily involved in the Evangelical Christian church. When I was growing up, my dad was a part-time preacher and my mom taught Sunday School. They were great parents and loved me very much. But, because of their religious beliefs, they had some pretty strict rules.
I wasn’t allowed to listen to rock music, go to dances, or go to the movies. (Yes, it was a little like Footloose.) I hid my Soundgarden tapes under my mattress and I danced to Janet Jackson videos when my parents weren’t home. But I never dared cross the forbidden theater threshold. Even when I could drive myself to the movies, I still wouldn’t risk it. I wasn’t so sure that God would find out. But I was certain my mom would.
All mothers have a little ESP, but my mom had a true gift. I was sure she’d know if I went to the movies. Maybe she could tell by the size of my pupils. Or the smell of liquid butter on my breath. One way or another, she would know. She was also my high school Algebra II teacher. And I knew that if I went to the movies, one of her students would see me. And, inevitably, they would mention it to my mom at school. So, I abstained. All of my friends tempted and teased me. They’d taunt me with the action sequences of The Crow. Or the plot twists of The Crying Game. But I continued to abstain.
Then, the day came. I was 18 years old and I was going away to college. Leaving the nest. Off to the nation’s number one party school, West Virginia University, to experience L-I-F-E. Sex? Drugs? Rock n’ Roll? Yes! And, right up there with all of those forbidden things…going to the movies!
During my first week of college, I’d had some let downs. Dancing? Uh, what’s the big deal. My first beer? It was good. But a Milwaukee’s Best isn’t really monumental. And sex? Well, I didn’t last long enough for that to even qualify. But, my first movie? “I said God damn! God damn!”
It was my roommate’s suggestion. I wanted to see Billy Madison. But, my roommate, Mark, suggested this movie I’d never heard of. He said, “Trust me, you’ll love the director.” Director? What’s a director? I knew church choirs had directors. (My mom was one.) But movies? I was reluctant. This was going to be my first movie. And I wanted it to be good. But Mark assured me that I wouldn’t be disappointed.
When, I got to the theater, things kind of sucked. It was full of drunk and obnoxious college students. And the only seats left were on the front row. I wanted to leave the theater. But my roommate didn’t want to sit alone. So he twisted my arm. And I decided to stay. The lights lowered. The curtain opened. And a title card appeared on the screen. It read:
What happened in the next 168 minutes changed my life forever. Yeah, movies were always mysterious and forbidden. But, now, they were art. I guess I never really thought of someone being in charge of “making” a movie. I had this idea of a group of actors, standing around a set with a camera pointed at them. I guess I’d heard of directors. Sort of. I mean, I’d seen pictures of a director in his chair with his name on it. But I didn’t know they were artists. Artists who could make wild, unconventional choices. Like chopping the story up as if it were a post-modern novel or a Picasso painting. Showing the audience a mind-blowing animated square in the middle of a film that sets no precedent for such a device.
Using freeze frames, slow motion, and underground music to craft a film so unique that no one else, other than its author, could have made it. That author, of course, was Quentin Tarantino. And his film Pulp Fiction sparked a fire in me that turned into an all-consuming blaze.
- Jules makes a profound decision regarding his future which soon becomes an afterthought thanks to a simple mishap. In this scene: Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), Vincent Vega (John Travolta), Marvin (Phil LaMarr)
- Vincent discusses the differences between Europe and the US. In this scene: Vincent Vega (John Travolta), Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson)
- With a dead body in his garage, Jimmie warns Vincent and Jules about an even greater danger—Bonnie. In this scene: Vincent Vega (John Travolta), Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), Jimmie Dimmick (Quentin Tarantino)
After Pulp Fiction, I went on a fifteen-year filmmaking binge. I went through great movie lists, like the AFI Top 100 and Roger Ebert’s Great’s. After years of living under my parents rules, I had to catch up. So I treated these film lists like to-do lists. And marked through each completed film with a highlighter. When I had completed one list, I went to another. I watched film after film. The librarians in the audio/visual section knew me by name. And I memorized my library card number. Like it was my Social. Checking out stacks of DVDs at a time.
At first, films were a hobby. They were something I did in my spare time, when I finished my nine-to-five job. But, eventually, the hobby turned into something more. I didn’t want to just watch movies. I wanted to create them—to author them—like Tarantino inspired me to do, in my first theater experience.
So, at 31, I decided to quit my seven-year law practice and start NYU’s graduate film program. Now, at 36, I’ve just finished my first feature film, Surviving Cliffside, a documentary that has a style influenced by Tarantino’s editing techniques, story structure, and use of popular music. Watch the opening title sequence.
After their beauty-pageant-queen daughter beats leukemia, a West Virginia family tries to put their lives back together in time for their daughter to make a run for Little Miss West Virginia.
Who knows what would’ve happened if my first film would’ve been Billy Madison. Maybe I would’ve eventually fallen for film. But something tells me it wouldn’t have started the same fire that Pulp Fiction did. Who knows? Maybe I would’ve still been a lawyer—watching movies in my spare time—instead of making movies myself.
More on Jon Matthews
With funding from the Sandra Ifraimova Grant, awarded by Spike Lee, Jon Matthews has recently finished Surviving Cliffside, a feature documentary set in his hometown of Alum Creek, West Virginia. Jon Matthews has another film, Black Dog, Red Dog, in post-production. Jon co-wrote and co-directed this film, along with James Franco and nine other directors. The film was produced by James Franco and stars Olivia Wilde, Logan Marshall-Green, Chloe Sevigny, Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, and Whoopi Goldberg. Jon attended NYU’s graduate film program and currently lives in Los Angeles.
Stay up to date on Suriving Cliffside on Facebook.
Top left photo by Brandy Smith
Jon Matthews and Whoopi Goldberg photo by Kristina Klebe