Saturday, 27 March 2010

Lights. Cameras. Action!…….

I have discussed in part on this blog how I can be described as a bit geeky. I wouldn’t come out and say it forthright. If you asked me “Dan, are you geeky?”, I would probably reply by sneering in a cool way, flipping up the collar of my shirt and trying to do a passable impression of the Fonz, because quite simply, Fonzy is cool and in no way resembles a geek. A bit like me.

But the one area of my life in which I am quite happy to hold up my hands and say “Yes, I’m a geek. Guilty as charged. Deal with it.” is my love of cinema.

Ever since I ran screaming out of Romford cinema at the age of three as fast as my stubby little legs would carry me due to my mum taking me to see Sleeping Beauty and me having the shit scared out of me by the wicked witch, a passion for film was seared into the very fibre of my being. A passion that grew more and more as time went by.

I love the whole notion of cinema, and also Hollywood as well. I don’t mean the plastic version that we have today, but the classic version of the 40’s and 50’s, where film was still a fairly new mainstay of popular culture and it slowly began to engrain itself into public conscious. The lights, the glamour, the largeness of it all. The simple fact that for a completely made up medium, it’s amazing how you can just lose a few hours of your life and go somewhere you have never been before.

That sense of anticipation as the lights go down. The collective hush from a complete group of strangers sitting together to share the same experience. The twat behind you who is also a massive movie geek, but won’t shut the fuck up about it, and keeps trying to impress the girl he is with with a load of facts that he actually hasn’t got right in the first place (Yeah, you know who you are buddy! Your film knowledge is no match for mine!).

Here is a list of my top five favourite films.

1. Jaws.
2. An American Werewolf In London.
3 The Blues Brothers.
4. Ghostbusters.
5. Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

Now some sniffy film snobs may look at that list with a slight air of disdain. A simple list of huge blockbusters that are pure popcorn fodder. I can almost hear the tutting and sighing.

These aren’t classics, these are populist trash!

So, what's wrong with that?

I’ve immersed myself in cinema all my life. I’ve watched most of the true so called classics and the first early pioneers in the medium because I wanted to experience everything to do with film.

I’ve enjoyed Citizen Kane (though I preferred Welles Touch Of Evil. That ten minute tracking shot for the planting of the bomb, Scorsese so got the inspiration for the Copacabana scene in Goodfellas from that),

I’ve devoured Hitchcock's entire catalogue and marvelled at how he created all the techniques for creating suspense that are copied to this very day (the only other person to fall within that category is John Carpenter. Seriously, watch Halloween now. Not scary at all, been done too many times. But imagine seeing it for the first time? Amazing).

I've sat through both Nosferatu and the original Friz Lang’s Metropolis, wouldn’t say I enjoyed them, just sat through them.

I’ve watched Bergman's The Seventh Seal. Didn’t understand any of it, but I think it’s because I don’t understand chess?

I’ve watched Battleship Potemkin after learning De Palma based the whole Grand Central Station scene in The Untouchables, with the baby falling down the stairs in its cartridge, from those famous six minutes in Eisenstien’s film (and this is the main reason why I have watched most of these early classics, a sense of duty to see where the later homage's came from).

So I understand all the history and all weight behind titles like these, but in all honesty, when you strip away all the pretensions and graces, I believe films should be about losing yourself for two hours in a world that makes you happy, and most importantly, and takes your mind off reality for a little while. And that's what my list does for me. If I’m ever down or upset, or if I just fancy spending a few hours with something that feels like an old friend to me, I’ll stick on a film from my list and I’ll know I’ll be in good company.

When I was a kid, my love of films spilled out into the games that I played as well. My friend had a huge climbing frame in his back yard, so when I went round there to play, that naturally became the Orca and we would play Jaws. And the strangest thing was, as I hung from the bars of that climbing frame, the green grass of his lawn changed into the murky waters of the sea and I could see the dark shape of the great white lurking menacingly beneath it. I can still remember it vividly to this day. How we would both be looking in the same direction, pointing at the same imaginary shark, with its mouth like an open cave filled with teeth like carving knives, just waiting for us to fall into the water so it could eat us. It’s amazing how potent a child's imagination can be.

If I was playing alone in my house, I would pretend to be Indiana Jones. If my dad was sleeping off a long nights work, I would make it my quest to try and steal something from his bedroom as he slept. So I would creep around, trying not to set off any booby traps and awake the great god Mick, as all the natives were incredibly afraid of him when he was grumpy from a lack of sleep. So with my trusty sidekick Benji, my pet dog, we would crawl up the stairs, avoiding all the poison arrows and trapdoor steps, to reach the temple door of the great god Mick, where I would open it with the magic amulet (a piece of my mum’s jewellery) and try and sneak in the bedroom to steal something from there. Sadly, my plans would always go awry, as Benji would then leap in the room and on the bed, licking my dad’s face so he awoke. I always wished for a better sidekick like a monkey or something.

Every Wednesday my mum and dad would take me to our local supermarket for our weekly food shop. As soon as I stepped through the door I became James Bond, Superspy, and would spend the next hour stalking them through the aisles, hiding just out of vision, but always keeping my targets in sight. You never know what those Russian defectors would get up too. They may look like they are buying semi-skimmed milk, but in reality, all just a ruse. World domination was their plan, and I was the only one who could stop them.

Now I am older and more mature, I’ve ceased playing games and pretending to be characters out of a film (Well, there was the one time where I was Batman and Kates was Catwoman, but to be honest, we probably shouldn’t talk about that). But the film loving person inside of me still relates certain moments in my life to the cinema and the big screen. And that is purely down to the invention of the mp3 player.

Having an iPod is like having your own personal movie soundtrack in your pocket, and for a cinema obsessive, it can sometimes do weird things to your daydreams.

You could be walking along the street on a beautiful summer’s day, a bright and bouncy tune playing in your ears, and suddenly it’s the opening credits of a feel good comedy. You can almost picture the titles scrawling across the screen as you walk, the camera tracking you as you take the route to wherever it is that you are going. Everything bright and cheerful and happy as you nod and smile every time you pass a complete stranger.

Or you could be travelling on the train home on a dull winters evening, purple light pressing hard against the window as you rest your head on it, watching the rain run down your reflection in the glass. Suddenly a sad and melancholy song comes on your iPod and all of a sudden it’s the heartrending scene in a movie where the hero is leaving the one he loves, the pain and sadness etched on his face, visible to see as the train puts even more miles between the two of them. No one on earth can truly understand the anguish the hero feels, its immense, but saying that, most people that travel home from Liverpool Street station at six in the evening have pain etched all over their faces. Even more so if you can’t get a seat.

So all through my life, I have always daydreamed at certain odd moments that I have had movie cameras on me (Come on, surely it can’t just be me?). In the middle of emotional snapshots of my life, could be an argument, or some deep and meaningful conversation, a tiny voice at the back of my brain would whisper: This is where the Coldplay song would kick in.

If I am out with friends and a particular good time was being had by all, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy would suddenly spark up in my mind with Go Daddy-oh and I would be slap bang in the middle of a scene from Swingers (Top tip, if googling Swingers for images, real good idea to turn the safe search on. Mmmmmmmmn, filthy).

My one main worry is that this merging of film and real life will become too confusing. Do I really want to be in the middle of McDonalds to be told that they had run out of Banana milkshake and then find myself on my knees crying “Nooooooo!” with arms aloft like in that scene from Platoon while Barbers Adagio For Strings plays mournfully around me?

Actually yes, I probably would, just to see the expression on people’s faces. 

So my little collection of favourite movies have been with my nearly all my life. They have entertained me, comforted me, kept me company when I have been alone, been shared amongst friends and partners, and above all, been the one constant thing that I can rely upon. I know what I am going to get from them every time I turn on the TV and settled down to watch them.

And how many things can you say that about?


hope said...

Nicely said!

With all the hoopla [which is a polite way of saying lying politicians] in Washington, DC this week, there's a small part of me that wants Jimmy Stewart to swagger in the door and play out his filibuster scene from "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington".

You're right...they made better movies then. Because they let your imagination come out to play instead of making you rely on Industrial Light & Magic to make it so.

Eva Gallant said...

I love the same movies almost. I'm not as big a fan of American Werewolf, but I love Indepence Day and Gran Torino. (There's no accounting for tastel I know!)

Alice in Wonderland said...

I love the idea of walking down the street listening to my i-pod, and music coming on that was either totally appropriate or in appropriate at the time!
Loved this post, Dan. Ever since I was a little girl it was always the cinema on Saturday afternoons!

JenJen said...

I keep re-reading that you went to the store every wednesdday, and it makes me wonder what memories my kids will have that I don't know I'm making right now.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Memo to self - do not try and be clever in comments whilst at work. It doesn't go to plan, you mis-read and have to delete your comment because it makes no sense.

So I'll just say what I said at the end. Another good, thought provoking piece, Dan.

Right, back to the grind again.....

aladdinsane12 said...

love your top 5! i completely agree that while movies like "the godfather" and "schindler's list" should certainly be respected and admired, good old fun movies like "ghostbusters" shouldn't be overlooked just because they're a bit silly.

i TOTALLY do the same thing with the whole pretending you're in a movie thing. i even did it today. no joke.

and you and i are going to have a fight. a huge fight. because "temple of doom" is my favorite movie of all time. "the last crusade" is my second-fave indiana jones, and "raiders" comes in last place without a doubt! i always found it kinda boring...and believe me, for me to find harrison ford running around flexing his muscles, it's gotta be boring.

Jana said...

Hi Dan, it was a very interesting post as usual. As someone who gets really involved in a movie while I’m watching it I can understand what you mean when you talk about being influenced by the movies. I too have suddenly found myself going through these memory flashes of my favourite movies, which seems so real at the time…

scarlethue said...

My husband really likes Jaws as well and puts it on his favorites list. I, however, don't like movies that. I don't like death and mayhem floating around in my head. My favorites are all "populist trash" too, probably, but they're light and fun and heartwarming. To each his own. :)

Millions Of Atoms Man said...

Big movie dork here too. Dorky enough to get annoyed when someone gives me a "full screen" dvd vs the "widescreen" equivalent. I'm done trying to explain the difference between the two to my mom.

I just bought a ton of John Williams movie score music for the iPod. Talk about inspiring. I almost swung on a rope off the roof of my house to get to my car this morning just because the Indiana Jones theme happened to be first on the random playlist.

Thanks for almost killing me, Williams.

Melissa said...

Love this post! People always look down on big blockbusters because of how popular they are... but they're usually popular for a reason ;) Fun movies are fun movies, regardless!

Kitty Moore said...

I think you should write a movie Dan - then you can play the hero! x

Demosthenes said...

American Werewolf in London - So not to be confused with American Werewolf in Paris which only had some merit based on ridiculous hilarity. And of course Indiana Jones. (Aliens??? really??? WHY) Gotta say tho. David Lynch? Yes, no? Have you ever? Please say you have. Blue Velvet. Twin Peaks. Go for it. You won't be sorry.

Linda Medrano said...

Oh Honey, you had me at Blues Brothers! My dogs Jake and Elwood agree! You rock!