My Life in Films: Chris Burns



Dir: James Cameron

This list probably could’ve been entirely made up of James Cameron’s 1980/90’s output. I was 11 years old and in the run-up to the release I recorded a special making-of documentary on VHS and I watched it over and over until I finally got to see the film itself on the cinema. I saw it seven times and it was the most formative cinema-going experience of my young life. I was obsessed and mesmerised by the spectacle and James Horner’s soundtrack. It was so melancholic and dramatic – and I’ve always had a great pull towards both things. Maybe it is a bit of a Nicholas Sparks novel wrapped up in a historical disaster but there’s something to be said for the earnestness and sentiment of the romance. It might be clumsy but its classical and sold so well by Leo and Kate – who practically have to climb over some of the clunks in the script at times, but there’s a wondrous lack of cynicism in Cameron’s epic and we all need that from time to time.

Romeo and Juliet (1996)

Dir: Baz Luhrmann

I was too young to ‘get it’ when it came out in 1996. I watched this when I was around 18 years old. Luhrmann took the DNA of the classic story, coloured it in and flipped it into a camp emo opera of sorts. I’m a sucker for the Shakespeare in drag style, the reckless cool of the romance that’s wired with a sadness throughout, the dusty cinematography, the neon pink glow of those Hawaiian shirts and the eternal youthfulness of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romeo beautifully painted against that apocalyptic beach-scape. Luhrmann’s film was everything I wanted at that time of my life. It felt literary but not slavish to the play and I got a big kick of how it played dangerously and irreverently with religious iconography – the Virgin Mary encrusted onto those John Woo like silver and gold guns –  how could teenage me not fall head over heels for this?

Point Break

Dir: Kathryn Bigelow

I was living in run-down house in Australia when I was 21. We were living in pretty squalid conditions but we had a DVD player and a rental place was just down the street. My friend was on a bit of a Keanu Reeves kick and one night he decided to rent every Keanu Reeves movie in the shop. One of these movies was Point Break. I had never seen it before as we sat down and put it on late one night during this crazy summer heatwave. I later read in Rolling Stone that Kathryn Bigelow’s film is the best ‘female gaze’ action movie ever made and that rings so true. Bigelow shoots right through the fallacy of masculinity and ‘the tough guy’ which had just laid siege to the 80’s, and instead what’s on show is way more interesting. Basically, the Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze dynamic is so hot. Instead of brash, pent up meatheads, we get something more spiritual, kinda sensual that glistens with tension- sexual and otherwise – and yet the action is never compromised. There are some game-changing set pieces and some iconic lines and imagery – who can forget the creepy rubber Presidential masks Brody’s gang wear?  I guess Point Break altered the action movie landscape for me and made me realise how different they can be.

Batman Returns

Dir: Tim Burton

I desperately wanted to see Batman Returns on the cinema as a five-year-old but the 15 certificate saw to it that I couldn’t. I watched it pretty soon after it came out on video and I think I was as scared by it as I was fascinated. It’s a genuine haunted house of a film that is so comfortable with its own weirdness and that appealed to me so much as an awkward kid. I loved what Tim Burton did with that world and his no holds barred approach to the darkness of it all. It’s almost impossible to think there was ever a Batman film that looked like this – every character is pathological, there’s the twisted psycho-sexual edge, the tongue in cheek O.T.T feel of it, the BDSM laced costumes, the expressionist set design and that nightmarish score by Danny Elfman – it’s daring, it’s pure Gothic theatre and it’s a comic book film wearing the rags of a sadomasochist fantasy. There’s nothing like it. I loved it then and I love it now.  

Blade Runner 2049

Dir: Denis Villeneuve

I love going to the cinema and I especially love cinema experiences that give me some sort of transcendental buzz. It’s like I want to be questioned or maybe guided spiritually or something. It’s sci-fi that does this better than anything – films such as Interstellar, Arrival, 2001 and Ex Machina have all worked that way for me. I was going through a weird transitional time in my life where I had thought I had failed at a lot of things when I saw Blade Runner 2049. But something in it made me feel at peace. It’s a beautifully hypnotic film that perfectly gets to grips with the idea of loneliness in asprawl. 2049 also plays on the concept of identity, status and purpose – a few things we can struggle with, in an instant insta-fame world. Denis Villeneuve’s film broke the mould and came to the rescue in a time where, thanks to social media, you always want someone else’s life. There’s a creeping existential dread as Ryan Goslings’ Agent K moodily walks the wasteland alone believing he has found his reason to live. But the film then gently pulls the rug on us and instead reveals itself to be a film that says it’s actually okay to be yourself, to be who you really are and that it’s okay to feel normal or even average, because you matter and your actions matter. Sometimes you see a film at the right time and this was the right time for me.

Words by Chris Burns


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