The films of Oren Moverman have tended to focus on fractured men, pushed to psychological, emotional, or physical breaking points. His collaborations with Woody Harrelson resulted in the powerful portraits “The Messenger” and “Rampart,” and this summer he’s had a hand in two more terrific, tender, and observational chronicles of men in different kinds of exile. The Brian Wilson biopic, “Love & Mercy,” co-written by Moverman, details the artist’s tumble back into his own mind during his rise to fame. And opening this week is the excellent “Time Out Of Mind,” in which the writer/director guides Richard Gere in a transformative performance as a homeless man trying to survive on the streets of New York City.
However, while Moverman has found a particular milieu of characters and drama in which to excel, the movies that have made on a mark on him encompass a wide variety of genres and styles. As part of our ongoing series, Movies That Changed My Life, I chatted with Moverman about the films that resonated through different periods of his life.
“Time Of Out Of Mind” opens in limited release on September 11th.
What’s the first movie you remember seeing in the theater?
“The Wizard of Oz.” I saw it, but it wasn’t exactly at the theater. I grew up in Israel, and when I saw the “Wizard of Oz,” I think I was 7 years old, it was the first movie that I saw projected in an auditorium, which was also a bomb shelter. But that was, if you will, a movie that changed my life because I got really sick after seeing it and I always associated it with the movie because it terrified me, but it was literally the first movie I ever saw.
What’s a movie that defined your childhood overall?
It wasn’t any particular movie but a particular genre, because growing up in Israel at the time, which was the ‘70s, we had only one TV channel and it was black-and-white. And it was in three different languages. Part of the day would be in Hebrew, part of the day would be in Arabic, and part of the day would be in English with subtitles. And every Friday afternoon there would be a movie in Arabic on TV, and they’d tend to be Egyptian movies, and I would watch them every week and they were pretty bad melodramas if I had to judge them now, but back then they seemed pretty exciting. When I think of my childhood I think of those movies. I also think of a series of French movies that were pretty silly, and I don’t even know what they were called, but they were comedies, very kind of broad slap stick comedies. There’d be like one a year, and my cousin who was a few years older than me would take me every year on my birthday to see one of these. So, that was a big occasion.
When you saw “The Wizard of Oz,” was it in color?
Was that exciting, seeing something in color, when the only TV channel you had was in black-and-white?
Yeah, the whole thing was a trip. I was shaking the entire time and now I can attribute it to the fact that I had a fever [laughs]. But I really thought that it was the movie. So much so that I was terrified to watch it, for thirty years I didn’t watch it, and then my kids said, “This is ridiculous, sit down, we’re watching this.” It’s a lovely movie by the way. But at the time…the idea of sitting in a room and then the lights going down and then this thing started and you don’t know what it’s going to be or where it’s going to take you, that really terrified me and for a long time I was really addicted to that sensation. Like, if I came to a movie theater too late and the lights were already down I wouldn’t see the movie. I really needed to have that transition from life to movies with the lights going down, but it all started with that particular movie, which was really the first movie I ever saw in a movie theater.
What was the first film that you became obsessed with?
I think it was probably “The Conversation”….no, although that was an obsession too, the first one was probably “The Conformist,” because there’s so many things going on artistically with the movie, it was just something I needed to watch and re-watch over and over again and figure out. I was intrigued and watched it a zillion times. “Apocalypse Now” was also a movie like that, especially when I was in the military. I would come home from like a couple of months in the military and just lock myself in my room and watch it twice just to make myself feel better about myself. I should be paying you for this therapist session [laughs].
What was the first movie where you saw it and you realized you wanted to be a filmmaker?
There were a few of them and “The Conformist” was definitely one of them. Believe it or not it was also “Alice in the Cities,” and “The Goalie’s Anxiety At The Penalty Kick.” I’m sure you haven’t heard those [mentioned in these features].
They’re not usually the first Wenders films people tend to reference, so that’s surprising to hear.
You have to remember that living in Israel, especially at that time, while there was an influence of American cinema it was an even bigger influence of European cinema because we’re right there in the middle.
Were those the first Wenders films you saw?
They really were. And later “The American Friend” and “The State Of Things,” and obviously “Wings Of Desire.” All of those things were pretty substantial, but then you know I would watch Fassbinder all the time, and Jaques Rivette, and Renoir, and once the flood gates opened, they really opened. But it took a while, it wasn’t like I saw these movies early on. This was like late teenager moving into to my early 20s.
What was it about “Alice in the Cities,” for example, that you looked at it and you thought it’s time for me to tell my stories? Time for me to do my thing as a filmmaker?
There wasn’t really that kind of articulation — that’s very mature, I was not that mature. I think I was in love with a certain kind of looseness and a certain kind of possibility that these movies presented, and not just these movies, but many others. There was a certain kind of poverty to the aesthetics, that it wasn’t flashy, it wasn’t Hollywood, well made, super lit, with the acting being so precise and all that kind of stuff. It just felt alive, it felt like a bunch of friends are getting together and making these movies. That excited me.
What’s a movie that always makes you cry or feel emotional every time you see it?
I always tear up, believe it or not, at the end of “Nashville.” To me it always feels like an end of an era full of lies and deceptions. I love the movie so much, and I’m so entertained watching it that I never expect the ending to devastate me so much, and then it does. I have yet to see that movie without tearing up at the end.
In “Nashville,” once she starts singing “It Don’t Worry Me,” something about that kind of breaks me.
What film have you re-watched, more than any other?
“The Conformist,” [but] there was a period where it was “The Conversation,” [and] as I said, “Apocalypse Now.”
What’s a movie that you really love that maybe no one would expect you to name as a movie you would like?
I don’t know what people expect from me.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
I do but it has nothing to do with movies [laughs].
I guess from my perspective if you said, “I really like ‘Batman Begins,’ “ I would be surprised.
That would be surprising to me too. I don’t’ know…. I actually like the films of [Seijun] Suzuki, but I don’t know that that’s surprising. “Tokyo Drifter,” ‘60s Japanese trippy kind of surreal, druggy gangster movies.
That’s a good answer. Is there a movie that you always recommend that people see? I’m going to guess that it’s “The Conformist.”
No, I don’t recommend “The Conformist” to everyone. I think “The Third Man” is a must. I would say “Tokyo Story” is a must. And by way of that, these days I would say if you want to watch that story, and its interesting evolution, I would say watch “Make Way for Tomorrow,” “Tokyo Story,” and Ira Sachs’ last movie, “Love Is Strange.”
Is there any film you’ve seen that you maybe didn’t like at first but you saw it again and later came to appreciate it?
“The Big Lebowski.”
I’m the same way actually. It’s still not my favorite Coens’ film, but now I get it.
I remember watching it with my wife and walking out and going like, “Eh.” That was my entire reaction to the movie: “Eh.” And then years later, seeing it with my son, [I thought], “Holy shit, this is really entertaining.”
What’s the most memorable moviegoing experience you’ve ever had?
The New York Film Festival had a screening of “Antichrist,” and it was at Alice Tully Hall, and in the middle somebody started screaming. The movie terrified the shit out of me anyway, but somebody started screaming because somebody was having a seizure. So the lights came up, and there was something about the shock of going from the intensity and anxiety of watching the movie, to the lights coming up, and somebody having some sort of extreme reaction to the movie, a physically endangering reaction, that I remember feeling, “We will never leave this building.” I remember this strange, paranoid irrational feeling of, “We’re all doomed. And we’re never leaving this building,” and [feeling] deep horror in my heart. I’m not a fan of horror films but I felt that’s as deep as horror gets in watching a movie.