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Talking About Movies



The Crimson recently spoke with David Rosenberg, editor of The Movie That Changed My Life and co-author of A Poet's Bible, a study of Biblical authorship. The following are excerpts from that conversation:

On the premise of The Movie That Changed My Life:

It was likely that most of us had seen an adult film before we read an adult book. So, what you're seeing [on screen] is something you can barely understand. I mean, it's very hard for a kid to understand the sexual and other kinds of politics that go on in an adult film. I think that leaves a deep imprint on you and only later when you see this film does [it] become clear how the experience was originally overwhelming.

On the problem of memory:

Memory is distorted, especially with an overwhelming experience; it's distorted, but there's something about an overwhelming experience, whether it's child abuse or whatnot, that has a powerful connection to reality. It's a process of rediscovering. I mean you may not get it right the first time, but you don't just give up right away; you keep trying when it's that kind of a powerful memory...Most of the writers reflect this process of trying to get at [the experience]. It's not like they're through with this film...

On taboos:

What I'm really trying to deal with is taboos. I think most writers try to approach taboos in their writing, but it's difficult because whether you're dealing with sex, death or politics, most taboos have been swept away now. So I'm still trying to come up with taboos that writers find difficult to approach, whether it's rediscovering [in The Poet's Bible] that there were writers of the Bible, which is a major taboo--the taboo that there really were men and women who wrote that...[it's the] same thing as trying to reclaim these memories of an overwhelming experience.

I think there's a taboo against really confronting those things because it forces a writer to realize that they don't have an easy answer or solution for it--it can only be part of a process. I think the best essays in the movie book show that--they're not incomplete. To me, some of them are like the beginnings of first chapters of books these authors might write.

On Raiders of the Lost Ark:

The experience was something you could share a bit with older people. There are all kinds of icons in the movie of older stuff--look, there's even Nazi swastikas in the movie, if I remember right...And when you're a kid you don't know what a Nazi swastika is, but you may have already learned that there's something evil about it...And just being exposed to it--even though you don't understand it--may have a powerful effect.

On seeing movies again:

I think every time I see The Wizard of Oz--and I must have seen it 20 times in my life, starting when I was five--every time I see it I remember how I saw it when I was five and how I used to close my eyes when the witch melted. You don't forget that. I don't close my eyes now, so I think seeing it again shows you how your memory was distorted or how you misunderstood it.

It is exactly like sex. The first time is not necessarily the best time at all. I mean, later times can be much better...That doesn't change the fact that the first time, or even times that I can remember when I'm in my '20s had special personal associations for me that'll never be replaced.

On modern TV:

I think although kids grow up today watching sitcoms more, they're not as affected by an overwhelming experience because those sitcoms are so carefully controlled. You don't get the kind of horror that you used to get.

On film critics:

I think they're incredibly superficial. Most movie critics, however good they are as movie critics, aren't very much aware of or interested in overwhelming experiences. Most of them are interested in the potential of entertainment.

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