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Filmism.net Dispatch August 8, 2015

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I'd like to take the opportunity in this Filmism.net Dispatch to reminisce about the movie age that's had the most influence on me and probably many of my Gen X contemporaries.

For millions of kids in the 70s and 80s, it was the Spielberg/Lucas era that's loomed large over the movies ever since, and if you talk to the most successful directors and producers who are anywhere near their 40s today they'll rattle off all the same movies that shaped their tastes; Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Goonies, Back to the Future, Die Hard, Poltergeist, Caddyshack, The Terminator.

For me that fertile period started with Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ended with Tim Burton's Batman, a duration of 13 years during which the most inspiring movies in history appeared.

Do I mean there are no classic films or film movements from the early 70, 60s or beyond? Of course not, many people will tell you 1967 was a watershed year when the moribund studio system was shaken up by a new generation who did things (Easy Rider, Bonnie and Clyde) the old names like Sheinberg and Wasserman didn't understand even while the money rolled in.

But if you're talking about sheer volume of influence over the most number of people and the largest slice of pop culture, we're talking about the USC movie brat generation who wanted to make movies using miniatures, special effects, puppets and a tinge of magic and bring back the swashbuckling thrills of the old matinee sci-fi and western serials. Movies that also gave us names like Dennis Muren, Stan Winston, Drew Struzan and John Lasseter.

First of all you may be wondering why I'm not starting with Jaws. It preceded Star Wars and was the genesis of so many changes in the art and science of making and selling movies that books have been (and continue to be) written about it. Having been born in 1971, I was just too young to see Jaws in theatres and never did in its entirety until years later.

You may also be wondering why I haven't started with Star Wars itself, which came out worldwide in May 1977, where Close Encounters didn't reach cinemas in my home country of Australia until March 1978.

Here's the thing. I was six years old, I didn't really have an appreciation of what cinema as an institution was. Star Wars was big and thrilling and fantastic and we pretended to be the characters in the school playground for the next three years, but it wasn't until Close Encounters I remember thinking 'I can see something as cool as Star Wars every time I come to this huge dark room full of people'.

From there every year bought a handful of new delights in that huge dark room. The Empire Strikes Back, ET, Gremlins, Ghostbusters , The Last Starfighter, Sixteen Candles, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Rocky IV, The Color of Money, Platoon, Aliens, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Untouchables, When Harry Met Sally, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. If you're anywhere near my age you've got your own list and aside from a few outliers it will be much the same as mine.

It ended with Batman, which I was so excited about I made a scrapbook with cutouts of newspaper ads, magazine stories, pictures, stickers and badges. What exactly ended with the first film of the modern big screen superhero obsession? Nothing so dramatic; I turned 18, so I wasn't a kid in the sense of being so ready to be filled up with movie magic. Second, I think it was the first time I realised I wasn't doing the modern equivalent of sitting around the primeval campfire, revelling in the tall tales of heroes and villains by someone who loved telling them for their own sake. I was being sold a product.

We all know in today's world how marketing executives, toy licensing dealmakers and focus groups are bought into the moviemaking process before a word has even been typed by a scriptwriter, and it's easy to feel cynical about it. I'm not claiming it didn't happen during the 70s and 80s, either. Maybe it didn't to the same extent, but somebody kept giving Lucas, Spielberg and Cameron money because they realised my friends and I would fork out so much of ours every time they did.

But I feel incredibly lucky. I came of age and came to love the cinema art at a time when the people in control of it (at least the images on screen) loved the concept as much as I did. It's a direct result of those years that I now watch anywhere between two and 10 movies a week, waiting (endlessly, at times) to be gripped by the same magic.

Speaking of Gremlins, it was a real disappointment to see director Joe Dante has either lost his touch or just doesn't care anymore. His latest straight to VOD effort Burying the Ex wasn't a bad idea, but it's a dreadful movie.

You probably missed Self/less, a mind-swap thriller from Tarsem Singh. Critics and audiences were nonplussed with a straight-arrow thriller because we're so used to Singh's visual flourish, but when I interviewed him recently it's exactly what he was aiming for.

I also finally worked up the nerve to watch the Aussie horror thriller that conquered the indie movement worldwide earlier this year, The Babadook, and it's nerve-sawingly effective.

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