Posted: 02/09/2011


The Film That Changed My Life: 30 Directors on Their Epiphanies in the Dark


by Robert K. Elder

Reviewed by Jef Burnham

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In The Film That Changed My Life, columnist Robert K. Elder interviews 30 directors about the films that had the greatest impact on them, not only as future filmmakers, but as individuals. The first thing you’ll notice about this text upon scanning the contents is the incredible array of personalities accounted for in Elder’s interviews, including Edgar Wright, Danny Boyle, Peter Bogdanovich, Guy Maddin, Michel Gondry, Arthur Hiller, John Landis, Kevin Smith, George A. Romero, Frank Oz, and John Waters to name but a diverse few. When you factor in the equally diverse list of films these directors discuss throughout, there’s certainly something to be found within to interest every cinephile.

The conversations in The Film That Changed My Life are occasionally highly literate and engaging in a way not unlike those interviews with filmmakers on The Dick Cavett Show. After all, these directors have had often lifelong relationships with the films discussed, and know these works inside and out. As such, the interviews deal extensively in the historical and occasionally tend toward the more theoretical, as in the Elder’s conversation with John Landis about The 7th Voyage of Sinbad in which the always passionate Landis discusses the precarious relationship between cinema and the individual viewer.

In certain instances, of course, those well-read on the directors within may already be preview to much of the information that comes out in the interviews. For instance, a large portion of Elder’s conversation with John Waters rehashes statements about The Wizard of Oz the director previously made in his 2006 lecture film, This Filthy World.

Readers will walk away from this book with a laundry list of viewing suggestions, whether they be the 32 life-changing films discussed within or the films of those directors interviewed. Moreover, the book also suggests, if indirectly, an interesting exercise for cinephiles. Each interview suggests its own double feature in which one would compare those films that inspired the interviewed directors with those directors’ signature works to see if the film’s influence can be felt in the director’s work. In certain instances, the connections are obvious even before a double feature is commenced, as with Edgar Wright and John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London. However, in the case of John Landis and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, the connection may be less apparent.

Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of

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