My first art movie was Visconti's The Leopard. It was a school outing and I dreaded having to endure something that I knew would bore me blind. I knew it was going to bore me blind because my English teacher had said it was made by an Italian in Italy and the actors spoke Italian. Which meant that The Leopard (silly name for a picture) couldn't possibly be a Hollywood movie and if it wasn't a Hollywood movie, then obviously it was going to be punishment, not pleasure.

I'd been weaned on MGM, RKO, Universal and Warners on the box and at the local fleapit, the Stadium, at the top of the Shankill Road. My idea of cinema was entertainment, escapism, a chance to leave the humdrum behind, to forget the whistle of bullet fire that haunted my nights.

The Leopard didn't allow forgetfulness - the plot was about a civil war-cum-revolution tearing a country apart - but it did provide an escape: an escape from Hollywood formula. Luchino Visconti's masterpiece has epic sweep, but at the time it was its unaccustomed depth that mattered to me. I made a discovery; the subtitles and foreignness of the characters (bar Burt Lancaster, above) didn't preclude understanding of complex emotions I couldn't yet name, like Lancaster's regret as the Prince of Salina, watching his way of life die while his life went on.

As Lancaster walked away from his own party into the cold dawn, I realised, with a pang that marked the passing of innocence, that Hollywood would have spelt it all out for me. And realised too that having everything explained was fine if you were a child, but that no one could remain a child forever.

'The Leopard', showing at the Everyman tonight, see Independents p10

(Photograph omitted)