Samantha and I spent the day talking. We’re in a spot we’ve both been working toward for a while now. Two and a half years ago, in a room at a hostel in Auckland, New Zealand, I started thinking about taking a master’s degree in film preservation at Ryerson. When I met Samantha she wanted to get out of Ottawa and figure out a path for herself. Both of us are now sitting in an apartment in Toronto, looking into the mouth of possibility.
We watched “Touch of Evil,” a movie I spent a semester analyzing during the last year I spent in grad school. To this day, it’s the greatest course I’ve ever taken. It was the only opportunity I’ve had to sit with a single movie for an extended period of time and get to know it from the inside out. A movie changes the more you watch it. You start to see it as more than a story, or a series of scenes, or even a collection of moving images – at its root, the aspect of movies that most impressed people when they first appeared out of the darkness just over a century ago. Over time, a movie becomes more than a movie. It becomes something you live with.
“Touch of Evil” is an infinitely interesting film because it’s so hard to decide what it is. It started as an adaptation of a book. Orson Welles was cast in it. Charlton Heston was cast in it, and then convinced Universal to let Welles direct it. Welles finished the movie. The studio shot extra footage and released a version that Welles railed against in an infamous 58-page memo explaining in minute detail where changes had to be made. The studio ignored him. The movie flopped. It was the last Welles would make in America. Forty years later, Walter Murch and team finally made the Welles-suggested edits, to the extent they were able. There are three versions of “Touch of Evil” available on the commercial market.
What is a movie? You put film in a camera, you fire up your digital device, you shoot something. You do it because you want whatever it is seen – by you, by other people. What you put in front of the camera has an effect on you. You think it’s worth shooting. But there are also long chains of other people attached to whatever a movie turns out to be. There are actors, technical crew members, studio executives, exhibitors, designers from firms who overlay ads on your independent content. If your movie strikes any kind of chord, there are audiences. All of these people influence the way your movie is made. They influence what’s ultimately shown, and how it’s shown. They also influence what’s not shown. They influence what disappears.
On the eve of my 23rd first day of school, I’m thinking on the reasons why I decided to go back. I want to know a movie as intimately as I can, beyond the experience of simply watching it, and beyond the reams of theory that elevate its importance. I’m no longer content to remain outside of the process. I want to feel the film strip in my hands. I want to nurse it back to health. I want to pull films back from the brink of being forgotten. There’s something about the idea of a movie disappearing that frightens me to the core. I want this fear to drive every decision I make in this program and beyond. I want to be a person who makes films reappear, when so many others have allowed them to disappear. I want to live with more movies.