Perhaps, J.D. Salinger said it best when he opened Catcher in the Rye with Holden Caulfield’s observation that, “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kinda crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
Well, I do feel like going into it because I believe that Salinger and Holden were correct. If someone is reading an autobiography they most likely want to know the subject’s origin. It’s not only protocol but also essential information to really get to know the author. What better window into the making of a man than the world that produced and shaped them? Malcolm Gladwell agreed in The Tipping Point when he explained “The Power of Context”.
I conclude then, that if you are reading this, it is because you want to know about me and if you want to know about me then it is a must to start at the beginning. By beginning I also mean my world before my arrival. This is important too because this is, after all, a memoir of growing up in Boston. As such, it is not a general history of Boston but, rather, my history of Boston through my memories. Memories are unique and no two people share the same two just as no two people ever have the same experience in the same place. The only way to understand my understanding of Boston, then, is to understand me. This is a memoir of the city that shaped me and continues to shape me as it will to countless people fortunate enough to have lived here.
There is something magical about Boston that stays with you for life after you’ve seen it. It is a beautiful city, but there is something else there besides the obvious visual splendor of the city. It benefits, for sure, by being a coastal city, and therefore facing the rest of the world almost as if embracing it and welcoming it. Indeed, Boston, like all major cities on a coast is rich in cultural and lingual diversity. Just as the city is diverse, so are there are many facets to the city from the swank apartments of Beacon Hill to the commercial Washington St. running through the Downtown Crossing district. There’s the picturesque Public Garden and the often foggy Boston Harbor. To celebrate the city’s diversity there is Chinatown and a Little Italy in the North End, while the South End and Dorchester (where I grew up) is known for its Afro-Caribbean and Latino influence.
Having had Boston as such an important part of my life, it is easy for me to understand John Krasinski when he says, “Boston is actually the capital of the world. We breed smart-ass, quippy, funny people.” Into this melting pot of cultures and walks of life, I was born on January 8, 1983, sharing a birthday with Elvis. (An eerie coincidence; Elvis was born on my birthday and died on my father’s, August 16).
I was born at St. Margaret’s Hospital in Dorchester.
My surname traces back to a custom of Ancient Rome and the road where my father grew up is labeled “Casse Di Censo” (Di Censo estates) to this day.
Officially, I consider 1996 to be the year that my passion for film was born. I was at a video store and a film guide caught my eye. I began skimming and became enthralled not so much by film reviewing, although that was part of it, but by the ideas behind the reviews. Film, like all great art, inspires conversation and discussion. As a general rule of thumb, the better the film, the more discussion it spawns.
Looking backwards even further, however, this book seemed destined to happen almost since my infancy. Like most children, I was fascinated by moving images on the screen. For me, thanks in large part to my mother’s encouragement towards a love of reading and story development (she read me an abridged version of Oliver Twist when I was eight years old, while I was sick with mono), my interest in film evolved into a lifelong passion. My cinema odyssey is a combination of two of my strongest passions, film and writing, which very often go hand in hand.
I was brought up with customary children’s television shows like Sesame Street, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Pinwheel, and Bill Cosby’s Picture Pages. When I got a little older my favorites became Looney Tunes, Duck Tales, and occasionally I enjoyed watching The Three Stooges with my father. Even at a young age I was fascinated by the development, characterizations, and different narrative techniques and themes.
Eventually I was introduced to feature films and that is when I became hooked. I was first taken to the cinema at the age of three by my mother to see Song of the South on its 1986 reissue. There were a few scenes that stuck in my mind, such as when Johnny is gored by a bull and when Brer Rabbit dupes his adversaries into throwing him in the Briar Patch, but generally my retention was minimal at three. Instead, my first impressionable introduction to the magic of movies came at the age of seven when I first saw Merian C. Cooper’s King Kong on television. Oh, I was scared alright and that night I had nightmares about the giant ape sticking his mighty hand through my bedroom window like he did in the movie. I didn’t realize it then, but this was a testament to the film’s power and a sure sign that it “worked” on me. In other words, King Kong had its desired effect.
King Kong introduced me to the multiple joys of brilliant filmmaking. It scared me, but it also thrilled me and absorbed me into the adventure. It thought me to think beyond what was shown on the screen and to question the morality of the team that captured Kong and brought him to New York. Most of all it made me willing to ignore my parents’ counseling that Kong was a fake model. To me the big ape was very real and that’s what I needed to believe in order for the film to work.
Age brought more favorites. One of my favorite childhood memories is watching The Wizard of Oz for the first time with my uncle and then acting out the movie. When I became sick with mononucleosis at the age of seven, a spoonful of Mary Poppins made the medicine go down. By the time I traveled to Jurassic Park at the age of ten, I had developed a strong and steady love affair with the movies. Yes, I did see them as entertainment but I also saw them to study the craft. I began developing an interest in the different components that produce a good movie.
I never really thought of writing about my interest in filmmaking until that day in 1996 at a mall video store. I discovered that to me, print was the ideal outlet to discuss movies. Written words remain there and, besides, books to me were the most convenient storages for pockets of information and great ideas. I saw the light and became inspired by this combination of my two favorite forms of artistic expression.
I then began reading the works of mainstream critics such as Leonard Maltin, Roger Ebert, and Leslie Halliwell. I had a particular admiration for Pauline Kael when I discovered her work early into high school. Her writing style, erudition, and, yes, even her abrasiveness inspired me. I grew to avoid critics that either loved or loathed every thing they saw. Rather, I reserved my admiration for critics that were in love with the act of going to the movies and with the art of film criticism itself.
In the summer of 1997 I wrote my first film criticism book on a cheap notebook. The following summer I wrote an expanded version with some reevaluations here and there. By the fall of 1998 I had decided to write the ultimate film review book. I decided to drop the star system in favor of letting the entry speak for itself. Besides, I wasn’t much interested in reviewing films per se anymore but discussing and analyzing them.
Although I had spent much of my youth writing, I knew from the outset that this would be my most ambitious undertaking yet. I planned to include all the relevant films, take on a more scholarly tone, and, to quote Pauline Kael, look “deeper into movies”. For the most part, I am satisfied with how well I maintained those basic three objectives. I tried to include representative films from all over the canon. There are silents, musicals, documentaries, foreign films, action, sci-fi, and all the stuff in between. There are still a few noteworthy films that slipped through the cracks and for this I am sorry. Blame, in large part, must be delivered at the doorstep of poor preservation practices in the early days of the medium.
The other two goals were harder to maintain. I found that the best way to keep a scholarly tone was to analyze the film from a socio-historic context. What does this film mean? What kind of legacy, if any, did it leave behind? What was the stance of the filmmakers on the relevant issues of the day? These and other questions form my basis for the analysis of each film. Next, I evaluate the film based on how well it communicates its intentions.
People need to live their passions and cinema and writing are two of my greatest. In a more universal scope, I hope that this project will launch a greater appreciation of cinema and stimulate more discussions on the art form. It is my sincere hope that everyone who reads this and the volumes to come gets something positive out of them. Whether it inspires others to explore recommended films they haven’t seen before or to write their own volume contesting my evaluations, I hope that everyone who reads these books will be inspired to do something. After all, the greatest gift a writer can give to their readers is to help them find their inner passion.