I’m standing in Borders Books & Music, staring at a wall of discs. It is the fall of 2002, and, newly returned from a trip to the Telluride Film Festival Student Symposium and a self-imposed furlough from my studies as an undergraduate film student, I’m on a mission to expand my horizons and immerse myself in “world cinema.” I’ve taken two crosstown buses to get here, and, factoring in the copies of RES and Hobo magazines tucked under my arm, I am nearly out of funds. I’m considering the balance of my wallet against the need for coffee and a trip to Tallahassee’s lone repertory cinema, the Miracle 5 theater. The wall opposite me holds the Criterion Collection.
It isn’t the blades of grass mottled against a boy’s skin that grab me—though, as a boy who grew up poor and rolling in the mud and murk myself, this cover does grab me. No, it is the name “Lynne Ramsay” that stirs the last thirty dollars in my wallet. Only weeks ago, I sat across from Lynne, asked her questions. And she answered. Graciously. Humbly. I took her picture. At the conclusion of a year in which I resolved to teach myself to make images, I imprinted on emulsion Lynne Ramsay’s image. Having ended up here before this wall of digital video discs, I cannot look away from spine number 162: Ratcatcher.
Midway through Lynne’s feature film debut, the main character, James, finds himself in an abandoned township. Like me, he has taken a bus to nowhere, to a place beyond the twelve blocks of life and tenement that the world has abandoned him to. As a child, I took these same trips, climbing into the backyards of houses up for sale or demolition, my pockets stuffed with salt and sugar rolled in foil twists, seasoning for grapefruits or oranges or avocados, whatever lucky fruit I might find. James does not look like me. He certainly doesn’t sound like me. And yet, there he is, standing before a picturesque window, the tall auburn wheat fields of the Scottish countryside rolling away before him.
From memory, I can still see it—the symmetry of the frame, both the one that Lynne presents to the audience and the one that the window presents to James; the crispness of the northern light softened by cool, moist air. Many times I stood before windows like this, their translucence the cruelest trick. I inhale as the camera pushes toward that window and James leaps through it. For this briefest of moments, a boy like me has stepped through the glass and taken hold of all the splendor beyond it. I will watch it again to be sure, but on this first viewing, sitting in my college apartment, a considerable moment passes before I remember to exhale.
Menace II Society: The Truth Hurts
With the candor and rage of many hip-hop albums of the nineties, the Hughes brothers’ controversial debut feature depicts Watts as a pitiless urban war zone with no exit.
Citizen Kane: The Once and Future Kane
Modern in conception but postmodern in effect, the film hailed by many as the greatest ever made has been the subject of cinephilic passion and intense critical analysis since its release in 1941.
Once Upon a Time in China: The Complete Films: Past Master
Tsui Hark’s epic martial-arts saga revolutionized Hong Kong cinema by presenting a complex portrait of modern Chinese history and setting a gold standard in action choreography.
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