5 Films That Changed My Life: Peter Farris

5. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (dir. David Lynch)

When this kind of fire starts, it is very hard to put out. The tender boughs of innocence burn first, and the wind rises, and then all goodness is in jeopardy.

I would have trouble compiling any list and not include something by our favorite Eagle Scout from Missoula, David Lynch. Wasn’t easy to pick just one film of his, either, as I just as well could be writing about his TV pilot-turned-feature Mulholland Drive, fugue noir Lost Highway or the incomparable Blue Velvet (all major favorites of mine). But I’ll never forget my first Lynch experience—Fire Walk With Me.

Just to date myself, I was in 6th grade when Twin Peaks mania swept the country, meaning I discovered Lynch’s work later than some and piecemeal depending on what was available first on VHS, then DVD. For whatever reason, Fire Walk With Me seemed to be the only Lynch title I could find at the time. And much to the dismay of Twin Peaks devotees, I watched this prequel before ever seeing the landmark first season. Don’t get me wrong, I love the television show and every year or so break out the box sets, black coffee and cherry pie for a marathon viewing. But there is something so dark and unsettling, so deviously absurd and perfectly Lynchian about Fire Walk With Me, as if all the director’s tics, fetishes and archetypes were let loose in what I consider his most misunderstood and underappreciated film. And down at the bottom of the rabbit hole we find a tragic (and deceptively simple) story of a young girl in trouble. The best kind.

4. Videodrome (dir. David Cronenberg)

It’s just torture and murder. No plot, no characters. Very, very realistic. I think it’s what’s next.

The first time I saw Videodrome was through the eerily distorted fuzz of a forbidden Cinemax signal, which is kind of fitting now that I think about it. I had snuck into the living room for another late night rendezvous with the hundred pound television, eleven years old, up way past my bedtime and probably praying one of those Shannon Tweed “movies” would be on. But I do remember the whip, and the elastic television screen, James Woods pulling the gun from his stomach and all that unusual dialogue. Despite the lousy reception I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen or change the channel.

I’ve since become a David Cronenberg fanatic and consider Videodrome his thinking man’s horror masterpiece. It’s an audacious film, and a brilliant commentary on the havoc sex, violence and television can wreak on our subconscious minds. We can only wonder what Max Renn might think of Facebook and Twitter.

And like a true disciple of the New Flesh, I can only hope our bodies will eventually mutate after a lifetime of #hashtags and status updates.

3. Shane (dir. George Stevens)

There’s no living with a killing. There’s no goin’ back from one. Right or wrong, it’s a brand… a brand sticks.

If there are two things my old man loves, it’s country music and westerns. Growing up I heard a lot of Jimmie Rodgers and Merle Haggard and if my Pops wasn’t watching the Braves, he was surfing for anything directed by John Ford or Sam Peckinpah.

Naturally as a rebellious know-nothing teenager I despised country music and westerns. In fact, the very first time I saw Shane was with my father, and I laughed and ridiculed what is his favorite picture of all time. I even had the nerve to mock Brandon De Wilde’s sorrowful pleas as his hero rides off the homestead at film’s end, presumably mortally wounded.

When the Paramount Pictures title card appeared my Dad shot me a look that let me know I was being a shithead.

Now a little older and wiser, I’ve since revisited Shane numerous times. Even referred to it as my “gateway” Western. It’s a simple, beautifully told story, with no shortage of subtext that gives the film a depth I never noticed the first time around. With each viewing I’ve fallen a little bit more in love.

And can’t help but smile…at all the country music records and westerns that fill the shelves in my office.

2. Creature From The Black Lagoon (dir. Jack Arnold)

The boys around here call it “The Black Lagoon”; a paradise. Only they say nobody has ever come back to prove it.

I’ve spent the past ten years feeding my inner monster kid. You know? Collecting bobble heads, t-shirts, action figures, lobby cards, plush toys and model kits. But of all the Mount Rushmore Universal icons it was the Gill Man I identified with most. Sure, Creature From The Black Lagoon is basically King Kong in the water, but how could you not dig the amazingly articulated suit (thanks to make-up artist Jack Kevan) and monster design courtesy the brilliant Millicent Patrick? Or the lovely Julie Adams, um, in a swimsuit? Or Ricou Browning’s stunt and swim work and the equally impressive underwater photography? Or the bombastic theme which serves as the ring tone on my cell?

Or how about when the Creature mirrors Kay as she backstrokes across his house, the poor fella falling in love right before our eyes?

As a writer that’s one reason I’ve come to identify with the Gill Man so much. He’s essentially a loner, content in his office, er, cavern lair and weary of intrusions or distractions. He’ll go to violent lengths to protect that sanctity.

But contrary to the Creature’s nature he wants the girl, too.

A lovesick monster? Sounds like every author I know.

1. Heat (dir. Michael Mann)

We want to hurt no one! We’re here for the bank’s money, not your money. Your money is insured by the federal government, you’re not gonna lose a dime!

And finally a crime movie! But to call Michael Mann’s masterwork merely a movie almost sounds like an insult. Heat is Wagnerian, Shakespearean, goddamn epic with a capital E and without a doubt the desert island flick. I’ve watched it hundreds of times, and much to the dismay of my drinking buddies, can recite the script verbatim if the mood strikes me.

From the fabulous Los Angeles exteriors to the jaw-dropping heist and downtown shootout, I could write fifty thousand words about my admiration for Heat. But I think what made such an impression on me, and eventually seeped into my first novel, was Mann’s depiction of criminal sociopaths as folks you could (despite knowing better) empathize with. We see that particularly with the character of Neil McCauley: an obsessive, disciplined mastermind with hopes and dreams that motivate him more than simply the rush of taking scores. It is one reason DeNiro’s character has fascinated me for so long, and been the carrot dangling in front of my keyboard as I strove to write about complicated outlaws.

There’s even a tip of the hat to Heat in my novel Last Call for the Living involving a Sig Sauer P220.

Catch it and I’ll buy you a beer.

Peter Farris
PETER FARRIS is a graduate of Yale University. He lives in Cobb County, Georgia. Last Call for the Living, his first novel, will be published by Forge on May 22nd.