The Films that Formed Me, Collection 1

Paul R. Potts

Introduction: the Films that Formed Me

During my time as a student and an intern at the College of Wooster, 1985-1990, there were two films shown at the campus theater in Mateer Hall every weekend, and others shown in various other campus programs. This was a huge gift, an opportunity to view classic films, foreign films, and Hollywood films. I did not see all of them, but I saw a lot of them. Although at the time it often felt like going to see a film was a means to procrastinate on my class work, I don’t regret seeing a single one. In fact, I wish I had seen more of them. I came to Wooster with an interest in movies; I left with a sort of ad hoc, experiential education in film, my brain re-shaped by films such as W. R.: the Mysteries of the Organism, Eraserhead, Angel Heart, The Bicycle Thief, Blade Runner, Aguirre: the Wrath of God, Being There, and Shoah.

Sometimes I’d head to an off-campus film with friends, to see more mainstream releases like Dune or Robocop. During my summer breaks, I’d see a few more.

Then, I lived in Ann Arbor for 20 years. Ann Arbor is home of the Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor Film Festival, and lots of other venues to view films. I took advantage of these often, although again, not as often as I should have. I recall in particular seeing Akira, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Solaris, Like Water for Chocolate, Babette’s Feast, Until the End of the World, Prospero’s Books, The Icicle Thief (yYes, The Icicle Thief, not The Bicycle Thief — although I saw that one too.) And many, many small art films and documentaries at the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

While we still had a very modestly-sized family, Grace and I took advantage of multiple Netflix queues, borrowing DVDs by mail, watching films noir, documentaries, and foreign films. He Walks By Night. Unforgivable Blackness. Memento.

Over the years I’ve written about some of these films. This is a sample of those writings. My later blog and newsletters also contain a number of film reviews.

In assembling this collection, I have dug through various archived files and chosen the ones I feel, in 2016, are worth reading. My wife and I have given them a light going-over, updating the formatting, and cleaning up a few of the more egregious spelling and grammar problems, and here they are. In cases where I felt that the original pieces needed updates or explanations, I have prefaced them with some text in italics.

There was some question as to how to handle web addresses. When publishing a web page, it is easy to make a link. When publishing for print, I want the text of the URL itself to appear in the text so that the reader can look it up — but that is ugly. A better system would involve footnotes for all the links, but that is somewhat tricky to express in a single Markdown source, and I have not settled on the best way to do this yet. For the time being, I am treating the web as the main target.

As I reviewed my reviews, I found that some of my original links no longer work. In cases where I could easily find an alternate address, I inserted it. But no doubt some of the addresses will not work in the future. That’s simply the nature of the web at present. If you come across a broken link, you might try putting it into the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to see if it has an archived web page for you.

In retrospect, I wish I had been more organized and diligent in both my viewing, and my reviewing. Had I written a review, even a brief review, of each film I saw over the past thirty years or so, I’d have a much larger collection of reviews to choose from. Even keeping a list of films I saw during my college years and years living in Ann Arbor would have left me with more “bread crumbs” to follow now, to help me remember titles. But I’m grateful to have managed to save this material, meager though it is.

The dates I’ve given to the reviews are, in some cases, guesses. Some of the files had an exact date in the text. Others did not. The text files holding the original reviews all had file creation dates, long ago, but over the years many have been treated in ways that did not properly preserve these dates. In these cases I’ve just taken my best guess.

Now no longer a bachelor, and with young children at home, I can’t often just go out to see a film. And when I hear that an interesting film is coming out, I don’t have to check Google to know that it likely won’t be playing anywhere near my home in Saginaw, Michigan. The world has changed. I can get much more on DVD, or Blu-Ray, or via Apple’s iTunes store, but it isn’t the same. It’s hard to appreciate a director’s beautiful painting with light, or a nuanced performance, on a small screen, surrounded by noise and distractions.

But someday soon, I hope to set up a modest home theater. The cost of creating an immersive viewing and listening environment has declined dramatically. When they are ready, the kids may join me there, and we’ll start again And maybe one day soon you’ll be able to read their reviews.

Saginaw, Michigan and Pittsfield Township, Michigan
May 5, 2016 and July 5, 2022

1992

The Thief of Bagdad Word Cloud

Approximately 1,200 words • This is my review of The Thief of Bagdad, the silent film, accompanied by the Michigan Sinfonietta

1993

Jurassic Park — The Marketing Extravaganza Word Cloud

Approximately 1,500 words • This is a parody of Jurassic Park I originally wrote for the rec.humor.funny Usenet newsgroup (kids, ask your grandparents what Usenet was!)

1995

Strange Days Indeed Word Cloud

Approximately 2,100 words • My review of Strange Days didn’t age well; after a later viewing, re-reading what I originally wrote in 1999 made me cringe. I’d like to think that my tastes and critical faculties matured, but I’ll leave that to other people to decide.

1998

Good Will Hunting Word Cloud

Approximately 900 words


Oscar and Lucinda Word Cloud

Approximately 600 words


The Sweet Hereafter Word Cloud

Approximately 800 words

1999

What is The Matrix? Word Cloud

Approximately words • This is a little rant about The Matrix, as much about the marketing gimmickry as the film itself. In retrospect, I should have titled it “Nine Ways of Looking at a Matrix.” You could also call it “eight ways of looking at The Matrix.”

2000

Magnolia Word Cloud

Approximately 700 words

2002

On Tom Bombadil Word Cloud

Approximately 700 words • In this brief essay I present my ideas about why Tom Bombadil doesn’t appear in Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring.


The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Word Cloud

Approximately 2,000 words

2004

Internal Spotlight of the Shiny Camcorder: a Review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Word Cloud

Approximately 400 words


To Be and To Have (Être et Avoir) Word Cloud

Approximately 500 words


One Gross Movie: a Review of Cheaper by the Dozen Word Cloud

Approximately 1,300 words


The Triplets of Belleville Word Cloud

Approximately 1,500 words


The Incredibles Word Cloud

Approximately 600 words

2005

Star Trek Season One on DVD Word Cloud

Approximately 1,800 words


The Nazgûl in Print and on Film Word Cloud

Approximately 1,500 words


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Word Cloud

Approximately 500 words


“The Alternative Factor” Word Cloud

Approximately 400 words • brief thoughts about an episode of the original Star Trek that has not aged well


On Firefly Word Cloud

Approximately 900 words

2006

God, Nitrogen Sulfide, and Sweaty Vulcan Butt: Notes on Enterprise and Joan of Arcadia Word Cloud

Approximately 6,400 words


Three Films for Grownups: Nine Songs, Y Tu Mamá Tambien, and The Dreamers Word Cloud

Approximately 4,500 words


Star Wars Through the Binoculars Word Cloud

Approximately 9,500 words • This is the first of several bits and pieces I wrote about Star Wars in 2006. Looking through the backwards-facing binoculars of time, as my memories of watching the original Star Wars film get ever-smaller, I look back on those memories, accurate and otherwise, and consider how the constant revisions to the original film, have made it ever-harder for first-generation Star Wars fans to trust those memories.


Star Wars: Deleted Magic Word Cloud

Approximately 3,000 words • This is the second of several bits and pieces about Star Wars. In this piece I discuss remembering scenes that were never actually present in the original 1977 Star Wars, and the fan project known as the “Despecialized Edition.”


Restoration versus Cartoonization: Thoughts on Star Wars Revisionism Word Cloud

Approximately 8,000 words • This is the third of several bits and pieces I wrote about Star Wars in 2006. In this piece, which I originally wrote as a review of the limited-edition Episode IV DVD, which came with a bonus DVD of the original 1977 film. I use the review as a starting point to talk about the difference between restoration, and making a very different movie.


“The Negatives of the Movie Were Permanently Altered” Word Cloud

Approximately 5,700 words • This is the last of several bits and pieces I wrote about Star Wars in 2006. In this piece, I discuss how George Lucas seems to be hell-bent on vandalizing the work of the many gifted, dedicated artists who made the original Star Wars, and also how he demonstrates a shockingly myopic understanding of the ways that beloved films endure over generations.


House of Flying Daggers, Memento, and a Few More Thoughts on The Lord of the Rings Movie Trilogy Word Cloud

Approximately 10,900 words

2007

A New Unicorn: Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn in Print and on Film Word Cloud

Approximately 600 words


Two Noir Films: T-Men and He Walked by Night Word Cloud

Approximately 350 words


Doctor Who, Old and New Word Cloud

Approximately 1,400 words • I discuss the experience of watching both the rebooted Doctor Who series from 2006, starring Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor, and the very earliest episodes from 1963, starring William Hartnell. I also discuss the lost episodes. In 2022, the BBC archives are missing 97 of the 253 episodes from the first six years of the show — an incalculable loss. Fortunately all the episodes survive in the form of amateur audio recordings, and there are also many stills and short film or video clips to aid in reconstruction.


“The Girl in the Fireplace” Word Cloud

Approximately 400 words • This is my brief review the Doctor Who series 2, episode 4 from 2006, “The Girl in the Fireplace.” This episode won a 2007 Hugo Award.

2008

Blood Tea and Red String Word Cloud

Approximately 300 words


WALL·E Word Cloud

Approximately 300 words

2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Word Cloud

Approximately 7,600 words


An Unexpected Journey in Fifty Words Word Cloud

2013

Lexx is Wretched Word Cloud

Approximately 1,100 words • The TV show Lexx is immensely frustrating to watch. While containing moments of beautiful, surreal storytelling, and dark, biting satire, it constantly falls back to an enervated ground state where characters without any character act out their least-interesting urges in endless pornographic tableau, larded with grinding sexism and homophobia that the show’s creators seem to insist is humorous. Is it worth watching for its moments of transgressive artistry? That depends what you’re willing to wade through.

2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Word Cloud

Approximately 2,400 words

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