Tiffany Anders is a musician, music supervisor and radio DJ. She has worked on films such as Drake Doremus’ Like Crazy and Breathe In as well as Gregg Araki’s Kaboom, Ry Russo-Young’s Nobody Walks, Malik Vitthal’s Imperial Dreams and James Ponsoldt’s Smashed and The End of The Tour. She currently hosts a radio program called Listen Listen on Tuesdays from 3-5pm on Luxuriamusic.com.
My mother decided she wanted to go to film school when I was eight years old, and it was a choice that would not only change the course of her life, but also my sister’s and mine. She was accepted into UCLA film school in 1982 and we relocated from an apartment in Glendale to a student-housing complex on the West Side. The long days of study are difficult even for those coming fresh out of high school, but are particularly grueling for a single mother of two. While my sister’s and my school days ended at three in the afternoon, my mother’s lasted into the wee hours of the night. As a result, on many occasions there was no other choice but for us to come directly from our school to hers, and tag along to classes. We knew the UCLA campus inside and out, particularly where every pinball and vending machine was located, but Melnitz Hall was home base.
Melnitz Hall housed film stages, sound stages and an entire floor of editing suites. Everything about the rooms and the equipment had an almost eerie, larger-than-life quality. The stages were big and dark. The cameras and the dollies that carried them were large, cumbersome, robotic things; often we were told to “stay clear” as someone struggled to roll one down the hallway. The second floor was home to the editing bays where our days often ended. My sister and I would roll out our sleeping bags on the floor while my mother and her boyfriend Kurt Voss edited their first feature film. We drifted into sleep while the clicking of film rolling back and forth on the reels eased us into unconsciousness. It is a sound that I will never forget.
The moments that made the biggest impression on me during that time took place inside the classrooms, where I was exposed to many classic films for the first time. The class discussions and lectures that followed could sometimes be very tedious and boring to me as a kid, but they made me inquisitive. I learned about the people who had made these films and identified those directors who had a particular style that I appreciated. I was already a fan of music, and this was similar to liking a band.
Three films and their directors had a lasting impact on me as a child: Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and John Ford’s The Searchers. Double Indemnity was the first film noir I had seen. The look of the film, the snappy dialogue, the L.A. locations of the past and actress Barbara Stanwyck all completely captivated me. It was the first film where I recognized that sexuality was being used as a manipulative tool and Stanwyck does an excellent job of clearly but subtly communicating this. She has a powerful, quietly complicated way about her and she was what I perceived grown-up women to look like: wavy hair, dark lips, husky voice, no nonsense. I had the faint hope that I might look something like her when I grew up. Stanwyck plays Phyllis Dietrichson, the conniving, calculating wife of a wealthy oil company executive who is looking to off her husband and cash in on an insurance claim with the help of Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), an insurance broker. He becomes smitten with her and not only helps her with the crime but hatches their seemingly faultless plan. Suspense, mystery, danger and truly shocking, immoral behavior are all skillfully at play in this story and it had me absolutely riveted.
Vertigo was another thrilling mystery with themes of seduction and suspense, but I recognized it as being stylistically quite different. It’s set against the steep hills of a beautiful 1950s San Francisco, and features nearly every iconic location; I remember my mother pointing out to me the interesting detail that our main character suffers from vertigo and he is surrounded by height. The music, the great cinematography, the beautiful locations and the suspenseful story were very moving to me. It was one of the first times I noticed that I was affected by music in conjunction with storytelling. Bernard Herrmann’s score played a huge role in heightening the suspense, surrealism, tension, obsession and romance, and there are not many moments in the film where his music isn’t being used to stunning effect. Not only did I become a fan of Hitchcock starting with Vertigo, I also became a fan of Bernard Herrmann.
In the case of The Searchers, I took an interest in the film based on the very simple quest of the story, the search to find a little girl who has been abducted by Comanche Indians. The idea of being separated from your family was absolutely terrifying to me as a kid; I can’t think of any feeling that’s worse for a child, and this notion alone had me hooked. John Wayne’s heroic, charismatic cowboy leads the relentless search for little Debbie, crossing state lines and persevering through the changing of the seasons. Wayne’s rugged, dry delivery is both comforting and intimidating. You have faith that if anybody is going to find her, it will be him, but he gives no lip service or inclination of hope in the way he talks. He is a man who has fought in the Civil War and speaks from bitter experience. While he is convinced that Debbie is dead, he continues to search for her; this subtle fact let me know that behind the rough exterior was a soft heart. I found it to be one of the most complicated and heart-wrenching stories I had ever known.
While I may have been raised on classic movies in UCLA’s classrooms, this is not to say I didn’t enjoy E.T., Ghostbusters and any and all Pippi Longstocking films. In retrospect, I think, having no other choice but to be subjected to films almost forced me to be engaged, because sitting there bored for two hours or longer was a much worse alternative. I’m grateful to have seen these films in that setting; they have stuck with me ever since.