For Matt Walsh, some movies are linked forever with the place and time he saw them. They never stop evoking fond memories of who he was, and who he was with, when he saw them.
Case in point, speaking to the three films on his shortlist: “I saw ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ on a church retreat when I was in high school. I saw ‘Return of the Pink Panther’ with my father. And ‘This Is Spinal Tap,’ I was with one of my first comedy troupes. So they’re very imprinted on me.”
But he looks at his children, and realizes that this type of experience is gone for them.
Watching the original “Star Wars” trilogy with them, he was startled during “The Empire Strikes Back” when his son said, “Can you pause and rewind that?”
“That made me think, like, ‘Oh, I waited summer after summer for these things to come out and you could never pause them.’ You had to wait a year to next summer to see these things. I also remember plotting a year in advance, then watching it raptly ’cause you knew you weren’t going to [go] back, unless you bought another ticket. Now you can go ‘Let’s watch the first one now.’”
“Fiddler on the Roof” impressed Walsh with its mix of musical comedy and serious drama. “I love characters that talk to God. Any movie where a guy is telling jokes to God, or just having a conversation with the heavens, I’m a sucker for that.”
“‘Fiddler’ is very serious and then there’s these boisterous, rowdy songs. Keeping that continuity so you don’t leave behind what you’ve created, but also letting these songs live in their own world. I think it’s a juggling act, directing a musical.”
By contrast, “The Return of the Pink Panther” has no such dramatic side. His synopsis: “It’s Peter Sellers doing slapstick for an hour and a half, or two hours. That’s what it’s about,” says Walsh. “I love the silliness of the Pink Panther films, because it’s almost like silent movie stuff.”
It was a film he originally saw on video, and it was his father who chose it, showing on VHS in their living room in Illinois. “It was kind of a neat thrill for my father to share an actor he loved. I have a very warm memory of that.”
He loves “This Is Spinal Tap” in part because it essentially invented the mockumentary. “They discovered something that hadn’t really been unpacked and discovered, and that’s what’s really beautiful about that movie.”
He also loves the improvised comedy in the film. “It’s really seamless. Obviously, the documentary style lends itself to improvising, because it feels raw and natural and sort of messy. But it’s obviously very well structured, and it succeeds in aping a genre.”
“When you’re saying lines for the first time, or riffing off what your partner in the scene gave you, you can almost feel that quality acting happening, because it’s real. I think there’s something very special about capturing authentic discovery and real reaction in the moment. I think that’s what improv gives you.”
To watch Walsh’s “memorable movies” — “Fiddler on the Roof,” “The Return of the Pink Panther,” and “This Is Spinal Tap”* — as well as other movies like these, start your Tribeca Shortlist free, seven-day trial here.
*Titles subject to availability