King Kong, Gremlins and Lars von Trier: A Journey into Film
From the Clash website:
Film is important. It can take you to faraway lands and touch upon cultures that even the most ardent traveller can’t experience. It can educate you about society’s ills and provide an escape into the most unimaginable alternate universes. It can place you in the most terrifying of predications or provide a smile in hard times. And like most interests, it’s life-affirming in its ability to spark new ideas and to offer a huge immersive culture.
Throughout the course of a year, I sit through perhaps 150 films; new and old, inspiring and stultifying, magically surreal or grimly realistic. Yet by my late teens, I possessed an almost total disinterest in the entire medium.
By this time, the amount of films that influenced amounted to less than a dozen. My Dad loves to recount the story of my tears at the end of King Kong (hey, I maintain that I was upset that I slept through the whole thing), but my first memory of the cinema was seeing Return of the Jedi. Charlie Brown once philosophised, as a metaphor for the innocent magic that dissipates with growing up, that a cinema gets narrower as you get older. The venue, probably the size of the smallest screen at your local multiplex, was cavernous; the screen and the volume almost ludicrously overwhelming. My most abiding memory is watching Luke and Leia attempt to outrun the pursuing Stormtroopers on Endor’s surface. As the other kids yelped and cheered, my outlook was vastly different: “Daaaad… make them be quiet!”
But little else made an impact. I recall being engrossed in the 1979 remake of The Champ with my grandparents and laughing until I cried at A Fish Called Wanda and Gremlins. I begged my parents for months to be allowed to watch Aliens, simply because Aliens, to a kid sounds awesomely gnarly. Little did I realise that it was a defining film of the era and I often sport a t-shirt of the film’s poster to this very day.
Then film lost me, or I lost film. Kids at school mocked me because I hadn’t seen Robocop, but I didn’t care – I had a hunch it wasn’t going to be as good as Aliens anyhow. With four TV channels, one local cinema and no siblings to guide me into films, there was no obvious route. I’d catch bits of foreign films – including snippets of mini classics like the Three Colours series, The Vanishing and A Short Film About Love – late at night while flicking from Match of the Day, but it was inaccessible in my mind, as relevant to my life as ballet is now.
Things eventually changed at university. Under the guidance of my altogether wiser flatmate, I was slowly introduced to a savvier range of films, albeit, initially, mostly student staples including a Flemish subtitled copy of the then banned A Clockwork Orange. Slowly my tastes developed and we’d spend lots of time hunting Blockbuster for new titles to discover – even if he must’ve found my preference for gory eighties horror and anything with the distinctive Tartan Video packaging tiring at times.
Much like a music fan who uses a mainstream band as a gateway to more underground sounds, one thing lead to another; those films that I dismissed years before became favourites and encouraged me to investigate more. From A Clockwork Orange, I could finally appreciate The Vanishing; when The Vanishing proved that subtitles shouldn’t be a hindrance, I was mesmerised by Night Watch; when Night Watch suggested that Scandinavian films could be worth my time I got into Lars von Trier. My love for laughing boy Lars sparked a chain so enormous that it remains influential to this very day. While most film fans were interested in the big gala films at this year’s London Film Festival, my first thought was, “Wow! A new Thomas Vinterberg film! I’m there.”
But, as a film fan, where do I go now? The only way to immerse myself further than I am now would be to work in film full-time, which isn’t the easiest of goals to achieve. When my time with Clash comes to an end, it seems unlikely that I’ll ever have the same level of access to films and film-related talent that I do now. Maybe the next time I rush from the office to Soho to see to see a mediocre overlong film that means I’ll arrive home after 9pm without any dinner, I’ll remember to enjoy the journey while it lasts.