The Frida Cinema

Orange County's Year-Round Film Festival

Kason Clark: The Films That Influenced Me

Hey everyone! My name is Kason Clark, an intern here at The Frida. Just like you, I am a passionate cinephile. I love all kinds of movies: action, thrillers, dramas, westerns, foreign, or indies. You name it, I love it. It was hard to decide what my favorite movies are since I have seen so many of them. Furthermore, I do not feel qualified to state what the best movies are of all time as there are still many classics I need to see. So instead of lisiting those things, I chose to discuss the movies that have shaped my love of film throughout my life.

Here are the list of movies that influenced my love of cinema. I listed the films as I initially experienced them, from the movies that introduced me to this medium to movies that expanded the genres of films I watched and changed the way I watch them.

Star Wars (1977):

Along with many film enthusiasts, this space opera franchise was one of my earliest experiences with cinema. As a child, I was constantly watching the first five films of the franchise on VHS. I don’t remember how many times I watched each of these films or my first time watching them. I do not remember when I found out Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father; it feels like I have always known that. I became obsessed with Obi-Wan Kenobi, Chewbacca and Darth Vader and the galaxy they resided in. Everything has already been said about this franchise that is so entrenched in American culture, so all I will say is that if it was not for my love of Star Wars, my love for film may never have begun.

Jurassic Park (1993):

Along with Star Wars, I regularly watched this film on VHS as a child. I was obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid because of this movie, mainly because it was thrilling to see them chasing people around. However, Jurassic Park decided to not just be another monster movie, but, like the best science fiction movies, it chose to have something to say. Through its story, the film illustrates the dangers of how science can go too far. The park’s scientific minds play God by bringing back extinct creatures, which bring deadly consequences for the humans. That blend of fun dinosaur mayhem and a critique of human ego, makes Jurassic Park perfect for both young and older viewers.

The film also introduced me to Steven Spielberg, who was the first director I ever heard of. His work was the first I had ever sought out, leading me to other films that became favorites, such as Saving Private Ryan, Jaws, and Schindler’s List. Spielberg’s combined filmography, including Jurassic Park, showed me the talent needed to create great films.

Toy Story 2 (1999):

Along with many Pixar classics, Toy Story 2 was a regular watch in my household. It was one of my favorite films to watch as a child, but, for some reason, I stopped watching it as I grew up. When I returned to it years later, my perspective of the film had completely changed. While I laughed just as much as I did as a child, I related more strongly to the core themes. I connected more with the idea of growing up and having to learn to let go of parts of your childhood. The film demonstrated that even an animated film for kids can be emotionally mature and have something to say. Toy Story 2 has everything I want from a movie: great characters, plenty of laughs, and complex themes that pull on your heart strings.

Back to the Future (1985):

This is one of the few films where I feel like I know every line. Unlike most of the films on this list, this was not one of my earliest exposures to film nor did it open me up to new genres or ways of viewing movies. Bottom line, I just adore this movie.

I am usually stumped when people ask me what my favorite movie is because I love so many of them and it is hard for me to choose. However, if I had to quickly decide, I would say Back to the Future.  It has so many memorable lines, great characters, killer music, and plenty of heart which makes this a well-deserved classic that I could never get sick of watching.

The Shining (1980):

Growing up, I was easily scared. Horror films tended to frighten me as a child, keeping me up at night in fear. Naturally, I tended to avoid them. I had watched a few great, slightly scary, films such as Jaws and Alien, but I was able to handle those movies more easily because they were about monsters that seemed far away. Ghosts, on the other hand, seemed more realistic, and, therefore, more frightening. Suffice it to say, watching The Shining was unusual for me and could have potentially left me scarred for life. While it did scare me, I did not want to forget about the movie. Instead, I fell in love with it: its characters, its atmosphere, and the joy of trying to figure out its mysteries.  

Not only did The Shining break through to me as a horror film that I loved, but it also taught me what makes horror films great. It had ghosts and creepy children, like many movies within its genre, but that’s not what made it scary. It demonstrated that the best horror films create a great atmosphere and are highly psychological. The best horror films do not reveal everything right away, but instead let terror stir in the audience’s imagination.

The Avengers (2012):

Right before this film came out, I was beginning to lose some interest in movies. But seeing this film on the big screen reinvigorated my passion. Seeing Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk unite was not just a movie, but an event that everyone needed to be a part of. The Avengers demonstrated how movies can connect with audiences, including me, and become a mainstay of popular culture. While The Avengers may not be the best superhero film ever made, it was the one that established the genre as one that would stay, and made Marvel the most popular film franchise of the 21st century.

Taxi Driver (1976):

Martin Scorsese has many iconic films: Goodfellas, Raging Bull, The Departed amongst others, all work to make him my favorite director. Yet, my favorite film from him is the same one that put him on the map: Taxi Driver. This film follows Travis Bickle (Robert de Niro), a Vietnam War veteran who feels cast out by society and becomes a vigilante.

Taxi Driver was one of my earliest exposures to a film that was far from the fun escapism I was used to. It was dark and mature, making me feel as though I was seeing the world through the eyes of a mad man, giving the film a highly unique feeling. It dove into the dark side of the human psyche, with a deranged protagonist instead of the typical heroes I was accustomed to rooting for. While it may not have been “fun,” I found movies like this much more interesting and complex, which opened me up to even more films and allowed me to explore my passion even further.

Arrival (2016):

What makes Arrival stand out in my journey as a cinephile is that it feels like the first time I began to look at more than just the acting and special effects. It was the first time I ever noticed and judged how the cinematography and direction shaped the film. While these are basic concepts for any film student, it felt important because it was my first step in wanting to learn more about the other aspects of filmmaking. Even though I have learned so much more about movies since I first watched it, I still have that thirst to learn more about filmmaking thanks to this film.

Along with creating my appreciation for cinematography, Arrival encouraged me to ponder what a movie is trying to say. I now ask myself this question after every movie I watch, even if the film does not have any explicit message. This has opened a new way for me to critique movies and appreciate them on another level.

Lady Bird (2017):

The other films on this list tell stories that exist in a reality far from our own. These films serve as an escape from reality and make us forget our problems. However, films that tell stories about everyday human experiences have developed into my favorite movies, and that all started with Lady Bird.

Lady Bird tells a coming-of-age story of a high school girl who is navigating her last year of high school, while trying to get into an elite East Coast college in order to escape Sacramento and her contentious relationship with her mother. As someone who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley south of Sacramento, I related to Lady Bird’s desires. I felt like I was stuck in a place void of culture and wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. I was astonished when the film captured that feeling so perfectly; I felt understood.  Now, my favorite movies are not the ones that are the most fun and make me forget about my problems but the ones that have themes that I connect with or have characters that I see myself in. Because that is the beautiful thing about art: it can be used to reflect our own world and ourselves.

Kason Clark is a recent graduate of Cal State Fullerton where he majored in communications with an emphasis in journalism and minored in cinema and television arts. For CSUF’s student newspaper, the Daily Titan, he served as a sports editor and contributed to the paper’s lifestyle page by writing movie reviews. For The Frida Cinema, Kason plans on sharing his passion for film even more with his writing. Kason wants a career either writing about film and television or sports because those are his greatest passions.