A while back I heard of a book The Film That Changed My Life: 30 Directors on Their Epiphanies in the Dark by Robert K. Elder. Elder sits down with 30 different directors and lets them each talk about a film that changed the way they looked at films and, in some cases, made them want to be filmmakers.
I believe that this epiphany isn’t restricted to filmmakers. With this feature I want to interview bloggers/people from all reaches of the internet and let them talk about that movie that made them first realise that movies was going to be this big thing in their life.
This week I got a chance to speak with Ryan Helms, better known to some as Univarn, from A Life in Equinox. His blog has been running for near a year and a half and you can find him on twitter as well as subscribe to his blog’s facebook page.
Enjoy the interview:
Me: I wanted to get you on so that we could talk about the film that made you fall in love with movies. That film, for you is the 1989 film by Edward Zwick, Glory.
Before we actually get into what you actually love about the film, what was the first time you actually say Glory?
Ryan: I remember this one pretty well because I was in eighth grade, in middle school, and we got to the civil war period and we were studying North Carolina History and there’re only a handful of civil war films around at the time. We could watch Gettysburg or Glory and Gettysburg took about six years to watch in a classroom schedule. So the teacher picked Glory and we were in this little trailer out back, like behind the school. We weren’t even good enough for the school building.
We had this really ethnically diverse class, which was kind of nice to watch this movie in, and we sat down and watched it over a couple days. It was fun to watch it because you had all these different people laughing and cheering and all these kind of tough guys crying, it was a great experience to watch the movie in that sort of environment, because I was at the right age for the movie.
Me: So when was the first time you saw this movie as an adult? Where you could understand all the underlying themes? Or was it in eighth grade when you were a child and crying and all that good stuff?
Ryan: I got a lot of the underlying themes. I definitely cried in eighth grade, but that was for a different reason entirely. We kind of watched the “made for school” version. The kind that they show on airplanes and buses when they’ve cut out certain things. So it wasn’t until next year for Christmas that I got it the movie in its actual full entirety with no editing or cutting. I ended up watching it with a couple of friends then. I still loved it then and that’s when it started transpiring more in film to me. It stopped becoming “ohh action scenes”.
Me: So what exactly was it about this film that made you realize that there’s something more to this movie thing? It’s not just action scenes?
Ryan: I think there’re two big issues that helped it become a movie that I attach to; one thing being race. Race was something that I never really thought about, I never really paid attention to it. Around eighth grade I had gotten in trouble at a boys and girls club for calling a black girl a “monkey”. It had never occurred to me. I thought she was acting crazy, crazy equals someone acting like a monkey and it was construed as being a racist comment and all these sort of things happened around the period that I ended up watching Glory a few months later. It really never occurred to me, racial issues, slavery was just something that happened a long time ago, and so were civil rights. It sort of brought to light issues that I had never paid attention to, I had never thought about. I had never really watched what I said around people because I never thought racism existed. So it’s kind of an odd double negative in a sense.
Then the second thing that ended up happening is that it was the first movie where action was nice but I found myself more drawn to the characters away from the action. I wanted to know more about Pvt. Trip and I wanted to know more about Cary Elwes, Matthew Broderick and Morgan Freeman. I wanted to know more about their characters and I wanted to learn about them as much as I wanted the action and that was something new to me.
Me: Tell me more about the racial issues. I, as someone who doesn’t live in America, live in a predominantly black society and in Jamaica we have more class issues rather than race issues and in case you didn’t know I’m actually a white person (a Caucasian)…
Ryan: The picture doesn’t show that at all…
Me & Ryan: *laughs*
Me: No it doesn’t. Race relations is something that I’ve latched onto in films a lot and people don’t believe me when I try to explain that I have a slight understanding of the whole race relation dynamic in America. But, every once is afraid to hear people say that because they’re like “how can you understand?” and I’m like “Okay, I’ll leave you alone”. But for you how did this film change your views of race relations?
Ryan: I don’t know if it changed them. I still treat people the same way I always have. I always treat you as a human being. I don’t sit there I say “Well wait a second. You’re this race, which means I have to treat you on these predefined guidelines.” I treat, you know, someone who’s Hispanic the same way I treat someone who’s Black, the same way I treat someone who’s White. But what it made me aware of is that throughout history the way we’ve treated race has come to define certain attributes we associate with different races.
In certain things that we have used to define them and that there’s more to people than just who they are now. That there’s sort of a long traverse in history that has lead to the way that we are. It was kind of an amusing awakening for me because I started enjoying history from the view point of how it affects people and how it affects characters. You have such a rich sort of colourful series of characters in Glory, because you have the sort of the slave-born, anti-whites, anti-establishment, anti-everything, you have the one that’s born in that society but kind of rises above it and finds his own way and makes things work for him and then you have one that’s born completely outside of that enslaved racial hatred environment who’s always thought of himself superior and finally gets a wakeup call. There’s such a rich diversity there that it just kind of attracted me to how we have dealt with race over the years.
Me: Is it something that you now look for specifically in films as you watch them?
Ryan: I look for it but I try not to be picky for it. Because I think that there are some people who if they watch a movie and there will be this whole series of events and then they’ll write an article about how racist it is because of one scene the white guy helps the black guy stand up. They’ll do that sort of stuff. I don’t try and do that. But I try and, at least be aware of from what viewpoint is it being told. If the movie’s being told from the viewpoint of a racist white male you expect it to be racist. I think that I like how the viewpoint kind of determines the race and I try and when I review films that deal with racism look at it from the perspective we’re seeing it in.
I remember when The Departed came out and the beginning of the film Jack Nicholson gives that monologue and he talks about Blacks and how they don’t get it and everyone goes “ohh this movie’s racist” Well it’s being told by a really big asshole. You can’t exactly expect him to go, “that’s what people don’t get, they’re all just lovely people and they should just do exactly what they want to do because I love them the way they are.” He’s not going to do that, they’re setting something up and so it kind of helped me look at race from the viewpoint of it. If that makes sense.
Me: I get what you’re meaning. Every word spoken depends on who’s speaking it. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand, that even though certain words in certain dictions mean certain things every person puts a different twist on that word. That’s just how language is and communication. Everyone likes to blanket it so that everyone has to give it this one meaning, but whenever there’s an understanding between two individuals there’s always going to be that sense of special meaning. Which a lot of us like to call inside jokes. That’s just how it is, and when you know what a character is then you’re going to have a different understanding of certain things they say and that’s what comes with the viewpoint in films and that’s a great point to talk about when it comes to reviewing films.
Was there any film that you can remember that, having seen Glory, you looked back on and think about differently?
Ryan: I haven’t really thought about it. I would say that when I go back and watch movies it’s definitely, over the years it’s changed especially the movies I’ve seen since Glory, but you look at something like old Disney films and nobody thinks about that fact that all the princesses are as big as a toothpick but still as curvaceous as a Victoria’s Secret model. But you go and you watch it and you go, “wait a second, something’s a bit odd here.” Then you start watching that you watched as a kid and you start noticing when these characters kind of come and go. I think in The Little Mermaid, there’s a lobster that has an overly pronounced Jamaican accent is it?
Me: It’s the crab.
Ryan: He has this really over pronounced Jamaican accent and you go and you watch it and you’re asking yourself, why does the crab have a Jamaican accent around a bunch of white people? Or fish with white people voices…
Me: You can call them white people.
Maybe if you want to continue the race thing you can call the bad person in that movie, the octopus lady – I cannot remember her name right now – the black person in the movie.
Ryan: Well yeah, she was all dressed in black all the time…
Me: Oh Walt Disney!
Ryan: and our hero is pasty white with fire red hair. Though I’ve always found it curious when Princess and the Frog came out and everyone was talking about how it’s the first ethnic Disney princess and all I could think about was that Jasmine from Aladdin was ethnic, and there’s this sort of misnomer that all Disney princesses have been white.
Me: Jasmine was as Arabic as Jake Gyllenhaal was in Prince of Persia.
Ryan: That’s a tough call, I don’t know. That’s walking a fine line there. Jake Gyllenhaal was pretty Arab. He had a tan and he had hair that waved back and forth…
Me: And he moved in slow motion and went back in time. That’s totally Arabic.
Ryan: Close enough I’m sure. It’s all in that ballpark.
Me: So the last question I want to ask is: of course I can tell everyone knows because you selected this movie, that you love this film. You saw it when you were really young. We’ve talked about how it’s brought certain issues to light. What, if anything, do you have to say negative about the film?
Ryan: Well Edward Zwick’s always been a kind of a master of over sentimentalizing issues. Look at The Last Samurai, which is about one-fifty-ninth percent fact. However, he does a good job of really glorifying the underdog and he does a good job here, but at times I felt he leaned too much on the slavery issue.
If my history serves me correct a lot of the people who actually served in the 54th Massachusetts were freed educated Northern blacks. More so that escaped slaves. I think because he does that he creates a nice underdog tone, but he loses a bit of I don’t know I would say I would kind of appreciate and enjoy more of seeing people who didn’t have a revenge aspect to them coming and fighting because of the cause.
Me: Well wasn’t that the point of Thomas’ character in the film?
Ryan: Yup. But he’s a really small component of the film. I mean I love the movie to death, it’s the first movie I’ve ever reviewed, the first movie I ever claimed to be my all-time favourite, but there’s something about the changing of the perspective of history to make it more about the slavery issue I think benefits it. But I think it also takes away from it what some of the men who fought in the war actually did. It kind of minimalises them into one character and expands on a minority which works but I would’ve liked a little more balance at the least.
Me: Well thank you so much for your time Ryan. You’ve introduced me to this film and I hope that this will get a lot of other people out there to go and check it out if they haven’t already.
Ryan: One more thing. I love the score by James Horner. I used to play it all the time and it drove people mad.
Me: Great and thanks again.
Make sure to let me know in the comments not only what you think of this interview and Ryan’s thoughts on the film Glory, but also what you think about this column.