This concept was inspired by my friend Paul’s own post on his list of 10 Movies that Scared the Beejezus Out of Me. Since he had already covered horror and I agreed with most of his list, I didn’t see a point in doing my own version for horror movies (though I do have another idea for the approach of Halloween).
What I did take from his post was…well, I work in a strange genre, at least as far as I’m concerned. While I technically straddle the line somewhere between paranormal and urban fantasy, I’m not comfortable defining my writing with either of those labels. There are, however, other writers who do the kind of thing I’m trying to accomplish: China Mieville, some of Clive Barker‘s work, and Grant Morrison‘s work on the seminal Invisibles comic series. But I have trouble nailing down exactly what this genre should be called.
So I thought, rather than using a label, I could compile a list of movies that have built the idea of this genre in my mind. I’ve come up with the top ten genre-defining films – those that best define what I’m trying to accomplish. Some of these may intersect with a “most influential” list, others may not. Eventually I want to do a book list as well, but that is still in its infancy and I’m quite sure I haven’t read the best examples of those.
Oh, and a note: again, these are in no particular order, simply the order that they came to mind. I know I couldn’t possibly rank these.
10. Videodrome. I first saw this movie as a youngster. I couldn’t have been older than six or seven, in fact. It blew my mind, though. I couldn’t totally understand what was going on, but the visual aspects captivated me. I worked really hard to try to understand what was going on. Unfortunately, upon re-watching it I realized that I had created a lot of my idea of the plot out of whole cloth, but I also realized how much it accurately predicted about our lives today. I see how it became so influential in my work, and I have a soft spot for it. Cronenberg created something that combined thriller, sci-fi, and horror, though it’s often referred to as “body horror”, which seems somewhat meaningless to me. It was the original inspiration for Entanglements, though the only thing that remains is the central conceit of the brain creating reality. I couldn’t start my list without this movie.
9. City of Lost Children. A genre-bending weird-fest that you have to watch a few times before you can really grasp what’s going on and what some of the symbolism means. It was a coin flip between this and Delicatessen, but ultimately I chose this because I’ve seen it more. I mean, a dystopian future where a scientist steals dreams? Nothing could be more “Jonathan”. This is one that, for me, has been more influential in terms of symbolism than the plot, which sometimes veers into the nonsensical. Highly recommended, though.
8. Dark City. At least, the Dark City that I imagined based on its teaser trailer. But even the movie itself is very influential. It dabbles in a lot of concepts that are near and dear to me: alienation from other human beings via societal constraints, the feeling of being someone in a world that you don’t 100% understand, the ability to bend reality, and altering perceptions by changing the context in which the character operates. It also examines the question of what memory is and its role in determining the nature of an individual and his or her personality. That’s definitely something I’d like to explore some day.
7. Donnie Darko. It’s become something of a cliche, but I don’t care, and ironically, while the director’s cut presents a better, more cohesive story, I prefer the dreamlike quality of the original cut. The brain has to make more jumps to fill in the blanks. It also explores some of the qualities I mentioned in Dark City. Being someone in a world that you don’t understand. Trying to understand that new context and retain your humanity in the middle of it, as well as reality-bending and time travel. Those are some of the things that fascinate me and show up in my work quite a bit.
6. Lost Highway. Tough call here, but I went with Highway, Lynch’s underrated gem. I liked Mulholland Drive, which is basically the same story explored from a different angle. I love Blue Velvet (probably the best and explores another concept that I enjoy, the world beneath a world). Twin Peaks is just amazing. But this one calls me back because it came along when I was trying to figure out what it was that defined my writing. When I saw the film, something clicked for me. A lot of people seemingly couldn’t understand the plot, but it just made sense to me. It plays with some of the themes previously mentioned: alienation, reality-bending (although in the character’s mind this time), strong psychological themes, and the ultimate question of how to define reality.
So those are the first five. Maybe you’re getting an idea of what I’m talking about now – films that challenge consensus reality in creative ways. Tomorrow I’ll look at the next set, which should be pretty interesting.