Book explores life-changing movies

Robert Hofler
Variety magazine senior editor Robert Hofler began collecting interviews about the movies that changed people's lives a few years ago. He initially concentrated on people outside the entertainment business for a column in Variety. When asked to create a book, he interviwed several entertainers, and has now compiled the stories of 120 people in his new book.
Image courtesy Da Capo Press

To say a movie really changed you life is a pretty dramatic statement. Yet Variety Magazine editor Robert Hofler says a lot of big names credited films with doing just that.

"And it really was kind of amazing to see how many people went into the work that they went into because they'd seen a movie," he says. "An example is Robert F. Kennedy Jr who is an environmentalist; he had seen 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' And that Gregory Peck lawyer is a major reason why he became a lawyer." Robert Hofler says he often heard about "To Kill a Mockingbird." It came up a lot for political liberals.

"And the political conservatives, whether that's Newt Gingrich or John McCain, or Peggy Noonan who wrote speeches for Ronald Reagan, they always talked about war movies," he laughs.

"It really was kind of amazing to see how many people went into the work that they went into because they'd seen a movie."

Hofler says John McCain also credited Marlon Brando's 1952 film "Viva Zapata" for igniting his interest in politics.

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Robert Hofler stresses the films he was looking for weren't necessarily the best films ever, but those that changed lives.

The movies which really intrigued Hofler though were those titles that several people picked for very different reasons.

For example activist the Reverend Jesse Jackson and fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi both chose Douglas Sirk's 1959 film "Imitation of Life." In the film Lana Turner played a struggling young actress who shares her apartment with a young black woman. She in turn has light skinned daughter who rejects her mother and tries to pass for white.

"Reverend Jesse Jackson saw 'Imitation of Life' as a younger person and said he was reduced to tears by this story of this black woman who could pass for white and had internalized society's loathing of her, so for him it had great sociopolitical resonance," says Hofler. "Then you have someone like Isaac Mizrahi who saw the same movie, 'Imitation of Life,' and all he saw were the dresses because Lana Turner is given lots of dresses to wear."

Another movie which inspired different people in different ways was Stanley Kubrick's "2001: a Space Odyssey." Talk show host Larry King says the film led to his life-long hatred of computers, but columnist Frank Rich saw it as a new way of exploring a narrative.

Hofler says it just go to show that when people see a film they may be having a very different experience from the people around them. When asked what answers really surprised him he brings up Fahrenheit 451 author Ray Bradbury.

"And he talked about that his concept of science fiction was expanded by the movie "Singing in the Rain." and I asked 'Why is that?' And he says "Because it shows how an invention, the creation of sound movies changed an industry, so that's what makes it a great science fiction movie."

Hofler says he was also surprised that CNN commentator and one time US surgeon general candidate Dr Sanjay Gupta cited Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky" as his life-changing film. Gupta told Hofler Rocky Balboa's against all odds story resonated with him.

Hofler says for some people, being unable to find any movies which related their lives was the life changing element.

And there were the celebrities who rejected the idea a film had changed their lives, but then contradicted themselves. For instance Candice Bushnell, author of sex in the city denied being influenced by any film. Then later she mentioned her love of the Woody Allen film "Annie Hall."

"'Sex and the City' and 'Annie Hall' were really about someone who had a love affair with the city of New York," he says. "And I thought it was kind of bizarre that she didn't see that Annie Hall had changed her life, because certainly it did effect the way she wrote Sex in the City, which then was turned into a TV show which was then turned into a movie and because of that she is a multimillionaire today."

There are 120 people interviewed in "The Movie That Changed my Life." As Hofler worked on the book one thing which became apparent: the people featured are all a little older.

Younger people tend to cite TV shows as being influential, and that Robert Hofler says, is another book.