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'Growing Up Cinephile' by Leslye Headland 

Photography by Bruce Gilbert, Provincetown International Film Festival[Editor's Note: Leslye Headland, whose debut film 'Bachelorette' opens on September 7th is today's very special guest blogger. I'm loving this memoir  -Nathaniel R]

When preparing for this guest blog, I thought about what I would’ve written about if I were guest blogging seven years ago as my blogger alter ego, Arden. Most likely I would’ve wanted to get super nerdy and introspective so here we go:

If you’re like me, movies are your life. They cheer you up. They bring you down. They connect you to people. They alienate you from others. You develop passionate arguments about the state of film today. You rehearse those arguments in your head then unleash them upon unsuspecting acquaintances during an otherwise friendly gathering. They can get you a job. (I truly believe my first assistant gig was secured by my encyclopedic knowledge of Star Wars). They can get you laid. (My number one turn-on in bed? Oscar trivia.)

As Truffaut said, we are sick people. But we weren’t always this way. What happened? Well, if you go back in your life, I bet you can find the most formative years were shaped by a handful of films. I decided to take a look at the symbiotic nature of what I watched and when I watched it.


Love and Death (1975, dir. Woody Allen)

This is the first film I ever remember watching. I slept on the top bunk in the bedroom I shared with my sister. From there, I could see the TV in the living room and would watch films my parents put on when they thought we were asleep. Love and Death was mind-fuck for an eight year old. Absurd physical comedy coupled with Prokofiev? It looked like a grown-up film but it was funny enough to entertain a child. However all the Bergman references were unsettling. I was filled with joy and a tinge of dread. Later in life, a professor described my senior thesis directing project as “the work of a sincerely disturbed person who has an infantile sense of humor.” I blame Woody.


The Philadelphia Story (1940, dir. George Cukor)
Rear Window (1954, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)


Being brought up in a strict religious home where pop culture was shunned, it was all glamour all the time. No 80s teen movies or cartoons for me (I didn't see The Goonies til I was 27) ...

Instead it was screwball comedies, the Marx Brothers and MGM musicals. The Philadelphia Story was viewed so often that quotes would fly across the dinner table. That film had me rooting for my first “unlikeable” heroine.

Hitchcock was probably the first time I noticed what a director did and became aware of the camera as a tool. Rear Window is his best film. Economical, succinct, practically a play, painfully realistic yet heightened as all hell. It’s Hitchcock naked.


The Big Lebowski (1998, dir. Joel Coen)
Jackie Brown (1997, dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Many people assume from Bachelorette’s subject matter that I must’ve based the characters on my own friends from high school. That is not the case. I was neither cool nor uncool. Outside the action looking in at the nonsense of high school hierarchy. I felt like a spectator, with a wry voiceover. It makes sense then that I would gravitate toward these serio-comic neo-noir entries from two of my favorite directors. Before Lebowski-fests, there was the “E-period Crew” a co-ed group I ran with senior year. Armed with a VHS and White Russian mix, we spent weekends watching this now cult classic and knew every line. And while all the cool kids bowed at the alter of Pulp Fiction I had a profound crush on Jackie Brown. Probably because it’s subtle (not a word often associated QT) and, at times, truly romantic.

COLLEGE! (or as CMH likes to call it COLLLLLEEGGGGEEEEEE!!!!!!)

The Shining (1980, dir. Stanley Kubrick)
Fight Club (1999, dir. David Fincher)

Here we enter a dark time. Going to college in New York City would’ve been intense enough but with the 9/11 attacks smack in the middle of those four years, a formative era was intense and harrowing. The upside was that it was also the first time I was creating art on a regular basis. During this period I watched The Shining so many times I probably should’ve been hospitalized. After forty viewings in one semester I stopped counting. To this day, the tinkling of the piano during the Warner Brothers logo on a DVD menu sends a shiver down my spine. Fight Club is just cool and I was lucky enough to see it during it's theatrical run before the ending had been spoiled by many a film nerd. That film set up for me a life long artistic need to make a joke about what’s truly painful. Fight Club began it all with an aggressive no-holds-barred mash note to cultural dissatisfaction. It would’ve started a revolution if music downloads and social networking hadn’t side-swiped us.

(Give me a break. I was a late bloomer)

Rushmore (1998, dir. Wes Anderson)

Sex the first time was sort of a let down. I mean, I didn’t love or even like the guy. He definitely wasn’t interested in me. It was awkward, sort of empty and was done mostly to just get it over with. Afterwards, a thick disappointment hung in the room. My deflowerer half-heartedly offered up a solution:

Him: Do you wanna watch Rushmore?

Me: What’s Rushmore?

Him: The greatest thing you’ll ever see.

Watching Rushmore, naked, innocence freshly lost, was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. As the slow motion closing shot set to The Faces flashed before me, I was treated to the tears of real love and tenderness I’d hoped my first sexual experience would bring. 

Thank you Wes Anderson. You saved Latin. But, for this cinephile, you also saved sex.

-Leslye Headland

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Reader Comments (29)


August 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

Well, at least that guy had good taste in cinema. To this day, the only Wes Anderson movie I truly love(haven't seen MK)

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy

"You rehearse those arguments in your head then unleash them upon unsuspecting acquaintances during an otherwise friendly gathering."

Can any real cinephile can say this isn't 100% accurate for them? If I try to get out of my head and think about how movies take over my life it would freak me out, which is why I don't think about it - I just give in.

Lucky you learning of the greatness of Hepburn & co. so young. That was over 70 years ago, and you'd think that Tracy Lords' tenacity would have become more a drawing board for romantic comedy leads. If only everyone saw that when they were young.

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

Thank you for this memories, I understand everything you describe, every feeling, every thought. Another example that movies are shared experiences, and doesn't matter where are you from or your age. Love this!

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLuiserghio

That is a very Wes Anderson way to lose one's virginity, is it not?

Also: JACKIE BROWN! Not kidding when I say it's in my top 20 of all time (admittedly, from a 26-year-old wealth of cinephelia so take that with a grain of salt). I love it so.freakin.much.

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

I can relate to movies as diary. I have a book of ticket stubs I keep that dates back to The Lion King and each one brings on a flood of memories.

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

Just re-watched Love and Death today. I've been binging on Woody Allen ever since watching the new Woody documentary. I go back and forth between Death and Bananas as my favorite early Woody.

Sonja: You were my one great love.
Boris: Oh, thank you very much. I appreciate that. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm dead.

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

This was such a great piece. I can totally relate to how movies brings some people together, but also alienates us from others. My film obsession alienates some of my best friends who just don't really like movies that much. I try to gush out most of my crazy movie talk to other people now so that they don't have to bear the brunt of it. haha

I also keep all my ticket stubs, and I love it because it reminds me of not only what I was doing years ago but also who I was with. I even keep my friends and family's stubs in case if one gets damaged or I lose one- hehe

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMel

Jeremy -- that's what I was thinking. How was the sex bad he has good taste in movies!? but then I remembered that i'm a terribly lay and I have great taste in movies. haha

Luiserghio -- totally. movies are the coolest bifurcated thing. we usually experience them communally but how they resonate with us is so personal. Ugh this post reminds me why i love movies so much yet again.

Mel -- i'm having this problem too. weirdly as my life became more and more about movies my best friends cared less and less about them. which does seem to cause weird conversations now and again.

August 26, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Thanks so much for sharing, Leslye! Agreed on Rear Window. Brilliant.
I want to watch The Shining again. It's been some time.
Nice to have you here!

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

God, I love that achingly honest bit about losing your virginity. What a bittersweet, candid example of cinema saving the day. My most formative film years were 2003-2005, and they contained a great deal of influential gay cinema like Bad Education, Tarnation, Angels in America, and then finally, Brokeback Mountain. Magical years.

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKurtis O

Rear Window is PERFECTION on every level.

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChrisD

I have an acquaintance who saves her ticket stubs and used a traditional quilting pattern to put them together in a multi-colored pattern and frame them. Every time I'm over there I gravitate to that wall to stare at her stubs and wish that I was that clever and organized.

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteradri

I'm a ticket-stub saver, too! And definitely a movie-memory archivist. Loved reading all this. Had no idea you were "Arden" from way back when I started reading The Film Experience! This is all so exciting. Really eager for when Bachelorette hits Chicago.

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Hey Nick!!!!
I'm excited for you to see it. You can watch on iTunes or VOD now but if you wanna wait for theatrical we'll be in Chicago. Id probably wait for theatrical. It's so weird to go from blog critic to filmmaker. I'm so much easier on films I don't like now because I'm like: Jesus making a movie is hard. I don't even read reviews of other peoples films anymore let alone my own. It's sad. I miss the round up every Friday. It's too painful now.

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeslye

Leslye: How did Bachelorette make its way from stage to screen? Was it something you were actively seeking out, or was it just happenstance and your producers contacted you directly? Always curious about these things...

It's hard enough to get one of your plays produced, let alone have a film made from one.

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

Hello Beau!
I wrote the first version of the screenplay in 2008 shortly after IAMA Theatre Company produced the world premiere of the play. I did it because I had never written (or more honestly COMPLETED) a screenplay. I knew the characters in the play so well that writing about them was less daunting than starting from scratch. My agents went out with it later that year and it made the blacklist. A list of the best unproduced screenplays to go out that year. Unfortunately due to the darker elements of the story and the fact that it was an R-rated female-centric comedy, all the studios and most producers passed on making it. "Great script. No one will make it." In 2010, I was working with Adam McKay on a different project and he saw the play Bachelorette in NY at Second Stage. He said it would make a great movie and said he wanted to option the play for me to adapt. And I was like "Lucky for you. It has been adapted! It's just no one wants to make it." And he was like "Well I do!" And we moved forward from there.

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeslye

And we're all the luckier for it. Sincerely.

IAMA... going to check that out...

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

One week ago today, a hard drive died on me, taking with it the record of every movie I've watched since 2004, and under what circumstances. It felt like a portion of my life simply blinked out of existence, and I haven't been able to explain to any of my normal friends why I have such an empty feeling, like I actually lost eight years of my life.

So with that in my head, I found this incredibly moving, and thank you so, so much for sharing it. It makes me feel less alone in my obsessiveness to know that there are other folks out there who think about their own history in terms of the movies that happened along the way.

And congratulations on the movie! You give hope to all us wannabe-filmmaker bloggers out there.

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Thanks so much for writing this article of all articles. As a late blooming second year film student who used to take a portable DVD player to family gatherings and who is secretly afraid that no one in the film industry wants to hear what a girl has to say, I was extremely moved by this post. It's personal, it's funny, it's smart. It's an excuse to rewatch Rushmore and The Philadelphia Story...what more could anyone ask for really?

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTB

Oscar Trivia is your number one turn on? I think we need to get married.

Loved the article by the way. It made me want to rethink my life through the movies I watched. My first movie experience was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I saw it in the theater as a pre-school age boy and have loved it ever since. Childhood consisted of The Godfather and Star Wars. Those two have remained my Top 2 favorite movies to this day. The movies that came out during my high school career that probably had the biggest impact on me were The Squid and the Whale and Adventureland. Two Jesse Eisenberg movies that somehow sum up my life in ways people could not guess. College has brought Up in the Air and Midnight in Paris. One I will always remember as being the first movie I watched in a New York City theater and the other for making me feel confident that I wasn't the only person who believed he was born in the wrong time. And then it still made me feel good about living in the here and now. That's a shortened version of my life in movies. Thank you for making me want to do this and I can't wait to see your new movie!

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSean T.

I've seen Bachelorette doing so incredibly well on iTunes and Amazon, but I definitely want to see it on a big ol' screen, so I've been waiting. Really happy for you. I just finished writing my first book, and I, too, am suddenly feeling even more generous about everyone else's creative and intellectual labors, so I get the feeling! Congrats on all your success.

August 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Just a quick question: After countless time you watched The Shining, are you still scare of the film? Is there any particular scene that stand out the most for you?

Oh and Rushmore, It immediate gives a smile on my face just to read that name. I'm also a big Wes Anderson's fan.

August 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertombeet

@Nick -- I wanna read your book! How do I do that?

@tombeet -- I am. The reason I think I became unhealthily obsessed with The Shining was because it's a horror film that gets scarier the more times you watch it. I don't like horror films. I've never seen even the most inescapably obvious horror films (ex. Scream). I think its because I'm a repeat viewer cinephile in general. So watching horror isnt fun for me because I don't like films that only the work the first time you watch them. The trickery of Fight Club's ending was a Holy Shit moment. But the entire film continues to work even if you know thats coming. It's actually get more layered.

But The Shining is a horror film that gets scarier the more times you watch it. It's an actual labyrinth. Even having seen it hundreds of times if you and I sat down to watch it right now I wouldn't quit be sure which scene was coming next. It's also not about ghosts and it's last minute effort to tie in that storyline is a glaring flaw. The film is really about the isolating solitude of two terrifying pastimes: writing and alcoholism. It's the Labyrinth of Jack's conscience.

My favorite scenes are1) redrum on the door. After my first viewing I got redrum tattooed on my back. And 2) when Danny goes to get his truck and ends up sitting on Jack's lap for a long scene I could talk about this movie forever.

@Sean Yeah. I asked someone to do the other night. I think for film nerds such a requests can unintentionally cause performance anxiety.

August 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeslye

This was such a great read, and it made me think about the "major movies" in my life as well. I think, using the same categories you did, it would go like this:

Sentience - The Little Mermaid
Childhood - Star Wars and Singin' In The Rain (the movies that made me love movies)
High School - The Matrix and Amelie (with best friends male and female)
College - In The Mood for Love and Closer (the former was the highlight of my first film studies class and the latter was a huge event for all my theatre friends, since it was a play)
Losing My Virginity - Dogma (we had both already seen it but needed something to do, so we put it in, but since we had already seen it and we were curled up next to each other...)

Thanks for that trip down memory lane! Here's to the success of Bachelorette!

August 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

The very first movie I just had to see at the theater was Murder On the Orient Express. I was 11 and had just read this terrific book, and when I saw the print edition with the miniature movie poster on the cover, I was nearly apoplectic with anticipation. Well, the movie shattered all my expectations with its sumptuous cinematography, lush musical score, witty dialogue and, most of all, that cast! Thinking nothing could top that cinematic experience, just a short month later I went with my family to see The Towering Inferno. Well, that was it. The disaster epic had me on the edge of my seat. It had similar virtues to MOTOE, but this time the sense of excitement and urgency was through the roof. Um, sorry. Anyway, that movie was the first time I ever was completely lost in a theatrical film. And I was so horrified by the death of the luminous Jennifer Jones (who became my favorite actress) that the melancholy feeling stayed with me for weeks. Both movies remain favorites and still hold their fascination for me after all these years.

August 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Wow, I love this post. I am only 14 but I already kind of know the films which have shaped my life so far. This is awesome though. I also found the extent of Woody Allen's references to Ingmar Bergman slightly nauseating.

August 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterL Crossley

L Crossley, I love you

August 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeslye

Haha why?

September 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterL Crossley

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