American Film

What's your favorite film? Is there a movie that changed your life? Send us an essay of 500 words or less about that film you can't forget – classic or contemporary – and we'll consider it for publication in these pages. In addition to your short essay, send your name, occupation, hometown, phone number, jpeg headshot and e-mail address to We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.


By Cyn Beck Croasdaile

If there's a family gathering when one of us dies, my husband or I – and I cherish the hope that there will be – one of the children will do a riff on THE RIGHT STUFF.  It's only a question of which one launches into it first.

Our family has bonded over Philip Kaufman's expansive vision of Tom Wolfe's book too many times to count since before the last one was even born. In the theater (twice) when it was released. Over and over and over again at home on tape provided by early HBO-adapters. We wore it out. We would settle in to watch, fully aware that just as Sam Shepard canters his horse up a ridge and gazes down at the Bell X-1 jet he'll break the sound barrier in, there'd be two and a half minutes of noise and fuzz. Thank God for DVDs. We own two copies: one to watch, and one to press on uninitiated friends.

We gaze fondly at Sam Shepard and Barbara Hershey as Chuck Yeager and his glamorous wife, Glennis, drinking, dancing, playing tag on horseback. "You'll never catch me. – I b'lieve I will. – Cain't be done" – delicious, every single time. My husband and I might imagine our fathers, young and handsome in their leather flight jackets, and our mothers, wearing wide trousers and dark lipstick. The kids see that we are truly mortal, so impressed are we by the solid coolness of Sam Shepard. One minute Chuck and Glennis are swaying under a full moon to a ballad at Pancho's Happy Bottom Riding Club, and the next, a grinning Dennis Quaid as Gordo Cooper roars down a desert highway in a convertible. It's a rude interruption of Yeager's celebration, all part of the spectacle and fun for us, but you feel regret over how quickly the ground shifted for people who had landed on their feet after World War II.

Because, ten years later, NASA is considering college graduates only for the original astronaut program, choosing Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton and Gordon Cooper. Those names, that era! So immediate for those of us who remember televisions wheeled into our classrooms and the suspending of long division on the day of the first space launch. The next generation, knowing the events surrounding the space program to be actual history (see: "happened a long time ago") mined it for jokes – credit to Bill Dana, aka Jose Jimenez, naturally.

It may be like this: you take a family road trip to the same place year after year. You know the route, the landmarks, the boring parts and the best views by heart. The children are all adults now. You remember how everyone was on the first trip. You marvel at how they've grown; you know that by now they get all the jokes and are no longer awed by the distance covered. It's all familiar territory, and it is beloved because of the bond you share with your fellow travelers. 

Cyn Beck Croasdaile is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Denver, Colorado.


by Robert Mugge

Korean novelist and filmmaker Lee Chang-dong has directed five films to date, from GREEN FISH in 1993 to POETRY in 2010, and all have been well received. One of the more fascinating is his 1999 film PEPPERMINT CANDY which was heavily influenced by Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski's 1981 film BLIND CHANCE (suppressed by Polish authorities until 1987).

In Kieslowski's film, which also inspired the three-part structure and themes of chance and fate in German director Tom Tykwer's 1998 RUN LOLA RUN, the young protagonist Witek races to catch a train to Warsaw. Witek does this three times, and his relative success with catching the train each time sends his life in as many different directions. One version has him joining the Communist Party and inadvertently help- ing to subvert young rebels who are protesting the government's repressive measures under martial law; the second version has him joining the same opposition, though to equally bad effect; and the third has him attempting to stay out of politics altogether.

In that third version of his life, Witek successfully graduates from medical school and establishes a good life with a wife and growing family. Yet, along with individuals whom he had come to know in both previous versions of his life, he winds up on a plane to Paris (a symbol of Western democracy) which explodes just after takeoff, an event that suggests Kieslowski's pessimism regarding any options then available for escaping Poland's political morass. The film underlines this point by opening with the searing image of Witek's open-mouthed wail – clearly evoking Edvard Munch's famously disturbing painting "The Scream" – as he sits on the plane which, only at the end of the film, is seen to explode.

Unlike Tom Tykwer, Lee Chang-dong does not borrow the structure of Kieslowski's film. For that, he turns to Harold Pinter's 1978 play and 1983 film BETRAYAL, or perhaps even to George S. Kaufman's and Moss Hart's 1934 play "Merrily We Roll Along" (and the 1981 musical adaptation by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth), each of which opens with the end of a story and works its way slowly back to an increasingly ironic beginning. [Interestingly, Christopher Nolan's MEMENTO, released only months after Chang-dong's film, also uses a reverse chronology.] But other key elements of PEPPERMINT CANDY were clearly inspired by Kieslowski's film, from the symbolic use of trains, to main character Yong-ho's desire to "go back" before life went horribly awry, to an open-mouthed scream as his own life comes to a dramatic end, to a story illustrating how authoritarian government, martial law and police brutality had poisoned a nation.

For Kieslowski at the time of BLIND CHANCE, the taste of freedom had grown bitter – something long desired but always out of reach. It's a view he repeated in his 1985 film NO END, before largely expelling politics from his remaining work. Years later, in PEPPERMINT CANDY, Lee Chang-dong would present a sweeter view of freedom – something that was fondly remembered but tragically lost. In short, while Chang-dong's film may be consciously indebted to Kieslowski's, it stands on its own... with a peppermint twist.

Documentary filmmaker Robert Mugge is Endowed Chair Professor of Telecommunications at Ball State University. His latest film is SOUVENIRS OF BUCOVINA: A ROMANIAN SURVIVAL GUIDE.

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