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Q&A: Director Brad Bird on choosing his 'essentials' for TCM

LOS ANGELES — As the youngest member of his family, Brad Bird would often get dragged along to films that may have been a little out of his depth for a child, like “2001: A Space Odyssey.

LOS ANGELES — As the youngest member of his family, Brad Bird would often get dragged along to films that may have been a little out of his depth for a child, like “2001: A Space Odyssey.” But even if he didn’t understand exactly what he was watching, it helped the future director of films like “Ratatouille” and “The Incredibles” form his own esthetic as a filmmaker.

“It opened my eyes to the cinematic technique, because even when you’re drawing an animated film, you’re drawing camera angles,” Bird said. “And when you become aware of that, you start to see that certain filmmakers are always making great decisions.”

Now Bird is getting to share some of his favourite classic films from childhood and beyond as the curator of Turner Classic Movies’ “The Essentials,” which debuts Saturday at 8 p.m. with “Singin’ in the Rain" and runs for 20 weeks.

Bird spoke to The Associated Press about his choices, an eclectic array of films including epics like “Lawrence of Arabia” (June 6), Stanley Kubrick masterpieces, Westerns (“The Searchers,” Aug. 22), Buster Keaton (“The General,” May 16) and Charlie Chaplin (“City Lights,” Aug. 8) fundamentals, and more.

Remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.

AP: Did you have any overriding philosophy for the list?

BIRD: It’s films that re-seeing them doesn’t diminish their power. There’s a bullet proof quality to the things that I would call essentials. It’s just like listening to a piece of music. If you listen to anything from The Beatles to Beethoven, hearing them again doesn’t diminish their ability to dazzle you. All these movies are like that for me.

AP: You’ve chosen a few musicals. Is that because you’re working on a musical now? Have you always loved the form?

BIRD: It’s funny because I don’t love them in general because I consider most of them really bad. When they are good, which is not very often, they burrow their way into your brain in a way that a lot of other kinds of films do not. The bar is set really high. And the degree of difficulty is also really high, which attracts me as a filmmaker knowing that my chances of succeeding are small. It's a really enticing thing to try to be one of those great ones.

AP: I appreciate that you included “The Music Man,” (July 4) which doesn’t seem to make many of these lists.

BIRD: It’s not on anyone’s list because it’s plain. It’s not artistic the way that “West Side Story” is. But the story is fantastic. And the style of the music, it’s deliberately kind of corny because it’s about Iowa and at the turn of the century and it’s about a conman coming in and dazzling everybody. And then he winds up getting dazzled himself. And every song’s a winner.

AP: Why did you choose “Ace in the Hole” (May 9)?

BIRD: I love Billy Wilder, of course, and I reached for “The Apartment” and “Sunset Boulevard,” and then I kind of pulled back and went, wait a minute, I can’t be so obvious. How about if I take one that that I’ll bet a lot of people haven’t seen? And “Ace in the Hole” came to mind. It’s a really nasty movie about opportunistic journalism.

AP: You have both “The Red Shoes” (May 30) and “A Matter of Life and Death” (June 20). Are you a big Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger fan?

BIRD: Those are ones that I didn’t really get to until I was well into film. Once I was channel surfing and it was like 2 in the morning. I wasn’t married and didn’t have kids or anything. I say "I’ll just glance at what’s on before I go to bed." And I bumped into the opening of “A Matter of Life and Death.” I got hooked. I was wanting to go to bed! The movie kind of overwhelmed whatever I wanted and demanded that I stay until the end. It’s a wonderful film and they’re fantastic filmmakers and people don’t talk about them enough.

AP: How do you recommend people watch these films on the small screen?

BIRD: Unplug the phone, turn down the lights and turn up the sound and then make sure all the other business is taken care of. Sit down and make an appointment with it.

Lindsey Bahr, The Associated Press