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The Movie That Changed My Life

The Movie That Changed My Life Edited By David Rosenberg Viking Penguin $21.95

By John M. Biers

The Movie That Changed My Life, edited by David Rosenberg, introduces a new and provocative method of considering film. Rosenberg has collected a diverse series of accounts by contemporary authors remembering their most powerful response to a film. The essays reflect upon a movie's personal significance to them when they first saw it and now, upon re-viewing.

In his introduction, Rosenberg explains his view on the potency of film. He posits, "Wouldn't most of us acknowledge we were first up close in the dark with the myths of adult life-love, sex, death, evil-in the movies?" The writers in Movie address the initiation and evolution of their relationship as viewers to what was foreign or tabooed to them as children.

Many authors choose movies in which they originally identified with a central character. This is true for Meg Wolitzer's piece on Teresa Wright's role as Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt. Wolitzer related to the character's youthful naivete and fascination with her mysterious Uncle Charlie. Looking back, Wolitzer sees that the question of otherness explored by director Alfred Hitchcock, in the elder Charlie, captivated both Wright's Charlie and herself-- otherness in terms of age and gender.

Leonard Michaels's essay on Gilda offers the corresponding male version. Michaels recalls his first awareness of sexuality sparked by a seductive Rita Hayworth belting out "Put the Blame on Mame." He reminisces: "If it was a real feeling, could I be violated by it, my own real feeling? Could it happen to anyone? If so, could anyone ever be a good person?"

Looking back, Michaels remains haunted by Hayworth, but realizes how manufactured Hayworth's Gilda and film, in general, are. Nothing her turbulent life and five marriages, he now sees Hayworth differently: "So much of her life was public, spectacular imagery that it is hard to suppose she had a real life, or to suppose that her feelings about Rita Hayworth were not the same as ours."

Elsewhere, Movie describes how a film can reveal truths about society. David Bradley's offers a chilling account of watching Birth of A Nation twice while attending the University of Pennsylvania as one of the few Black students on campus. The experience of seeing the movie first as a sideshow at a fraternity party, then lauded as a work of art at a campus film festival alerts Bradley to the general indifference most white society felt to blatant racism.

Bradley's attitude towards the film mirrors his evolving attitude on the issue of all art he finds objectionable. After initially wanting to stop the film-ban it-Bradley now accepts it as a form of expression.

Bradley's account, like most pieces in Movie, is convincing and sensitive. However, it is just one essay in a collection which is impressively diverse, both in terms of the writers' perspectives and the movies discussed. The Movie That Changed My Life adds an imaginative and unique element to film criticism.

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