Speechless the Magazine

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Poets' Favorite Movies

Terence Hayes

I was torn between listing the movies alphabetically, chronologically or favorite to little less favorite. The following movies are the ones I own and watch at least once a year. After the first few entries, I realized I'd need to keep my comments short if I wanted to finish in under a week...

1. The Deer Hunter (1978)
I first saw this film with my father when I was a boy. When Nicky (Christopher Walken) "lost" the Russian roulette match just as Michael (Robert De Niro) found him, I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of horror—which must be akin to a child's first encounter with tragedy. As I grew older I came to see all sorts of homo-erotic underpinnings in the relationship between Michael and Nicky. Linda (Meryl Streep's character) was a sort of surrogate between them. As the real life De Niro and Streep have aged, their physical beauty in the film has seemed to grow more intense, more radiant, more tragic.

2. Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Though I become more cynical with each passing year (and passing movie), this one still manages to soften my jaw. It's the relationship between young Salvatore and Alfredo as well as the home Salvatore finds returning as an adult. The movie oozes a melancholy nostalgia. I'd call it sentimentality if it didn't feel so damn earnest. Like many of the films here, the Ennio Morricone soundtrack is a large part of what I love. The music is featured in a commercial for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and every time I hear it, I'm embarrassed by the rush of blood to my face.

3. The Color Purple (1985)
 First time I saw the movie I thought Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg would become our greatest African-American actresses. Wrong there, but their performances show what might have been.

4. Dracula (1992)
Tom Waits is Renfield and Gary Oldman delivers one of his greatest performances. Keanu Reeves ain't so great.

5. Spirited Away (2001)
Hayao Miyazaki's Japanese version of "Alice and Wonderland," I think. Surreal, scary, full of wonder.

6. The Matrix (1999)
Well, all the unreal happenings in the government and I admit in my day to day life take me back to The Matrix: its all a bad dream. The Matrix has become a sort of cultural reference point for my generation. And despite the derivatives (the film itself is an assemblage of derivative film motifs), the action still wows me.

7. The Wiz (1978) and Fame (1980)
I have a thing for movie musicals featuring black folk. I love the steam shop dance when the wicked witch is killed. (The dance scene is as great as that scene in Fame when the kids dance on taxi cabs in the city streets.) And then there's Michael Jackson as the scarecrow.

8. Sexy Beast (2000)
There's lots to like, but topping the list is Ben Kingsley. The soundtrack is also slamming.

9. The Shining (1980)  and 28 Days Later... (2002)
I have a thing for good horror movies.

10. Unforgiven (1992), Harold and Maude (1971), Cooley High (1975)
These last three should suggest how much I'd like to keep going. And how I'd neglect almost everything in my life if I did. 

Terence Hayes is a native of South Carolina. He received a B.A. from Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina, and an M.F.A. from the University of Pittsburgh writing program. He is the author of Wind in a Box (Penguin, 2006), Hip Logic (2002), which won National Poetry Series award, and Muscular Music (1999), winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The African-American Review, Beloit Poetry Journal. Best American Poetry 2005, The Bloomsbury Review, Callaloo, Controlled Burn, Crab Orchard Review, 5am, Harvard Review, jubilat, Pittsburgh Quarterly, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, and Xavier Review. Hayes is an Associate Professor of English at Carnegie-Mellon University.


Speechless Spring 2007
Copyright © 2007 Published by
Tebot Bach