Five photographers share the films that influenced them most.
The Incredible Shrinking Man
I have always been drawn to the darker side of home life and in particular the house as a source of vulnerability as well as comfort. Jack Arnold’s 1957 film was probably billed as a science fiction or horror film but for me it was a pure existential probe into being and nothingness. It tells the story of a man who, having come in contact with radiation slowly shrinks to the size of a speck of dust. In the process of his miniaturization the world around him becomes crazily gigantic and impossible to navigate. His own home becomes a dangerous and threatening place filled domestic terrors including the enormous pet cat and menacing, gigantic spiders. I was 12 when I first saw the film and the shrinking man’s loss of power and diminishing masculinity proved a perfect reflection of my own adolescent anxiety. [Buy]
5:10 To Dreamland
In 1977 I had just finished creating a book with artist Mike Mandel of institutional photographs titled Evidence that was, in part, inspired by Bruce Conner’s first film A Movie. Conner was a master of creating haunting films from old newsreels, industrial films, commercials and stock footage. He was brilliant at weaving together disparate images into a hypnotic, ethereal and open-ended narrative structure the result being more of a trance than a film. For me, Conner’s 1977 5:10 to Dreamland is his most poetic work. When I first saw the film in the late 1970’s I was stunned by the dense atmosphere of the sound track paired with the sequencing of disconnected images and the mysterious, heavy beauty it created.
I don’t think any filmmaker nails the fundamental claustrophobia of suburban domestic spaces better than Todd Haynes. In his 1995 film Safe he transforms the signifiers of “hominess”––bedroom sets with mirrored closet doors, lushly furnished living rooms into a toxic and unsettling environments. It is architecture as a stand-in for the sickness of the spirit. The way the camera moves in these rooms and frames the actors within them creates a sense of heightened estrangement and discomfort even in the most familiar and mundane terrain. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for daylight glowing through drawn drapes but I’ve never seen interiors made so beautifully uncanny and sinister. [Buy]
Jean Vigo died at the age of 29 after having made only 4 films. His 1931 short film Taris, a “documentary” on the champion swimmer Jean Taris is probably his most modest film, but for me, it is a masterpiece of magic realism. What might have been a straightforward depiction of a great swimmer becomes, in Vigo’s camera, a haunting meditation on a white body in inky water. The scenes shot underwater are breathtakingly graceful and strange. It is also an incredible testament to an artist’s open-minded curiosity and the feverish exploration of a developing medium. In the end both Taris and Vigo walk on water. [Buy]
An American Family 1973, Alan and Susan Raymond
The Loud Family allowed television cameras into their Southern California home in 1971 to shadow them for over 300 hours as they went about their daily life. Alan and Susan Raymond’s program first aired on PBS in 1973 and created a major stir and controversy. That the representation of someone’s else’s life in all its vivid and banal specificity could not only be interesting but bring to mind my own family life was an incredible revelation––one that gave me reassurance and courage over the 9 years that I photographed mine in the 1980s.