11. Alfred Hitchcock
Psycho changed my life. That movie changed the way I thought about movies, the way I thought about the composition of a story. Then came Rear Window, and Vertigo, and The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Shadow of a Doubt. Alfred Hitchcock taught me that showing was always better than telling.
When I was younger I wanted to be a filmmaker. I tried. I bought a camera and directed no budget films, using whatever resources I could get my hands on. Hitchcock was always my inspiration. I decided to shoot in black and white because thatâ€™s how he shot Psycho. I tried to use the camera to tell the story rather than falling back on my writing skills to have the actors use dialogue. I got better each time, but sadly, without collaborators who were as passionate about film as I was, my movies never amounted to much.
Thats not to say they were a waste of time. Far from it. When it came time to write Manic Expression: A Collection, many of the stories in that book came from my films. I would watch the footage and adapt what I saw. Because I used Hitchcockâ€™s techniques, my stories always had a cinematic quality to them. I never wasted a word.
Hitchcock once said that a scene with a bomb in it is only scary if the audience is the only one who knows the bomb is there. That quality of letting the audience in on the conspiracy is something Iâ€™ve tried hard to replicate.
12. Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat? …Seriously!?
Yes, Mortal Kombat. As a child of the 90s, I was an arcade rat. I spent countless hours and quarters at the local bowling alley, learning how to tiger uppercut and stomp on Goombas. It was mindless entertainment, until Mortal Kombat came along.
While some would say that MK is little more than a mishmash of cliches, it was epic enough to spark my teenage mind. I became invested in the characters and their struggles, and as the mythology grew with each passing sequel so did my passion for the unfolding story. It was Mortal Kombat that taught me that a great story could often be found in the most unlikely places.
That was 20 years ago, and gaming has changed. I now lose myself in the adventures of Nathan Drake, John Marston, or Ezio the assassin. Still, when I think of the all time great story within a game, I go back to Mortal Kombat. It helped shape the story teller I would become.
Have I mentioned that I like Phil Collins and Genesis?
I want to take you back to the early 90s. A young, sheltered boy has little to no exposure to the music of the day. His parents only allow him to listen to the oldies station. The little bit of modern music that trickles through their protective barrier is Amy Grant and Mariah Carey.
…Sorry, I think I just threw up in my memory.
Then one day this young boy sees a commercial for a concert being broadcast on Fox. Genesis: The Way We Walk Tour. He doesnâ€™t know why, but the boy decides to record the concert, despite not knowing anything about the band. What he sees blows his little mind and changes his life forever.
Genesis was the first rock band I ever got into, right at the tail end of their existence and right as they were going out of fashion. It didnâ€™t matter. Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, and Tony Banks kicked open my musical imagination and allowed the likes of Nirvana, 2Pac, The Who, and a thousand other bands I never would have heard of to enrich my life.
Yet Genesis still towers above them all. Including the Peter Gabriel / Steve Hackett and Ray Wilson years, Genesis had a 30 year career of making sophisticated, surreal music that challenged the way I thought about the world and the way I wrote. The songs were never simple, even when they were more pop than rock. The lyrics could transport you to other worlds, other times. The musical arrangement was more akin to an orchestra than a rock band. This was not a group of egocentric rock stars more concerned with drugs than their work. These were artists. Thatâ€™s rare, not only in the world of music but in the world at large.
14.Â The Three Stooges
I have a passion for classic comedy teams. The Marx Brothers, Abbot & Costello, Hope & Crosby. What I love about these jesters of yesteryear are the cleverness with which they used words. Unlike much of the comedy of today, which is so reliant on gross out humor, these men had to rely on wit, charm, and a well crafted joke. Though you might think they donâ€™t qualify in the same category as the truly brilliant comics, I consider the Three Stooges to be kings among them.
As a child, I adored the Stooges. Finding them was often difficult. Every now and then, flipping through the channels on a Saturday afternoon, you might stumble upon an hour long episode, stringing together three of the Stooges classic shorts. If you were lucky, only one of them would be a Shemp. If you werenâ€™t lucky, one might be a Joe. A good day was when all three shorts featured the classic line-up of Moe Howard, his brother Curley, and their partner Larry Fine.
Often looked down upon as silly, mindless slapstick, the Stooges were so much more. Audiences are often laughing so hard at the brilliant physical comedy that they miss the way these men used words as weapons. Like Chaplin before them, the Stooges were on a mission to point out how ridiculous the upper crust of society really were. While Larry, Moe and Curley might have been the stars of their films, they were rarely the biggest buffoons – that honor went to the society folk and authority figures into whose world the Stooges introduced some much needed chaos.
I think I learned a healthy disrespect for authority by watching the Three Stooges. Thank goodness overprotective parents were so obsessed with the slapping and eye polking that they didnâ€™t see how dangerous these men were to the powerful among them.
15. Christopher Reeve
I was hit by a car when I was 16 years old. I was riding my bike to school. My hand slipped off the break, I was going too fast, and I sailed out into traffic. The car that hit me was speeding. It slammed into me, breaking my femur bone and shattering my knee. I rolled onto the hood of the car and through the windshield just as she hit the breaks, which then launched me ten feet through the air. I rolled along the pavement, my head thumping over and over against the island in the middle of the street.
There was a brief but tense time when there was some question as to whether Iâ€™d walk again or not. Luckily I escaped with only a steel rod in my broken bone and pins in my knee. Still, the physical therapy was grueling, and very discouraging. I wasnâ€™t sure if I could get through it.
Then I saw what Superman was dealing with.
Christopher Reeve was the Superman from my youth, star of my favorite movie of all time. The year before my accident he was thrown from a horse and suffered a spinal injury that left him paralyzed. Seeing the Man of Steel confined to a wheelchair was surreal. This was no actor in my mind, this was Superman himself. How could he be so broken?
Of course he wasnâ€™t broken. Christopher Reeve dedicated the remaining decade of his life to finding a cure for spinal cord injuries. He was determined to walk again, and would push himself to the limit on a daily basis in physical therapy far more taxing than what I was going through. His first interview after the accident aired as I was recovering, and seeing my childhood hero be so brave inspired me to push myself and get back on my feet.
Itâ€™s been said before, but Christopher Reeve wasnâ€™t acting when he played Superman. In the end he was every bit the hero as his fictional counterpart, and though he never did walk again it was his activism that will one day help others to do so.