I don't often drift off topic. It was always my aim to keep this as a literary blog but when I read Ken Armstrong's recent post about movies I found myself compelled to compile my own list. Movies have always been an enormous influence on me as a writer and I don't think this is a bad thing. I could list the writers who have influenced my own work but I could also list the directors. Woody Allen has affected me every bit as much a Keith Waterhouse.
The first thing I found was that it's next to impossible was to pick one of anything. There are exceptions, I've never changed my favourite film of all time in years and there are films that never disappear from my top ten although their rankings vary from week to week.
The thing I hate about lists like this is that we tend to pick from what we have seen most recently and forget about some of the truly great films we've seen in the past. So I decided not to rush at answering any of the questions.
Oh, and I'm not passing this on either.
1) Name one movie that made you laugh:
The one I remember clearest was actually a documentary strangely enough. I saw it in the smallest cinema I've ever been in which was in Wishaw. There were about four rows of seats and they went up at about a 60° angle. Steep! The film was Big Banana Feet, a documentary about Billy Connolly released in 1976. I laughed myself silly. So bad I brought on a severe asthma attack. Connolly is just one of those guys like Eric Morecambe and Tommy Cooper who could read the phone book and it would be funny.
Here's a clip from the film (I had to get my inhaler after watching this):
As far as "real" films go, I'd probably have to give the title of funniest film to Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) – it's certainly entertains me every time I catch it and I never get tired of seeing it. I watch it with a very childish delight: "Do it again! Do it again!"
2) Name one movie that made you cry:
There really is only one contender in this category: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). I watched it on my own. I was underage but I've always looked older than I really am. The ending when the Chief discovers McMuphy has been lobotomised was what got me, that followed by his heroic escape. It was on TV a wee while back and I still found myself tearing up and I must have seen it a good half-dozen times. This is also one of those book adaptations which actually works. It's different to the book but it still works.
3) Name one movie you loved when you were a child:
I was going to say The Aristocats (1970) because I assumed it would have to be a Disney film – but the fact is I saw Planet of the Apes in 1968 and there is no comparison. I had no clue it was going to end the way it did. I think that was the first time the power of the cinema really hit me. The end of Burton's "reimagining" certainly was a contender for the biggest disappointment I've had watching a film I can tell you.
4) Name one movie you've seen more than once:
There are so many. Blade Runner (1982) certainly is the top of the science fiction films though I've yet to get the latest release but I bet I've seen Woody Allen's Play it Again Sam (1972) more times. I probably know the dialogue to both films by heart.
5) One movie you loved, but were embarrassed to admit it:
I was going to offer up Love Actually (2003) actually. I've even seen all the DVD extras and everything. But then I remembered E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) which I saw in a huge cinema in Edinburgh. You could probably have fitted a couple of hundred wee Wishaw cinemas in it. I went on my own and didn't cry. It wasn't something I went into work the next day and wanted to get all enthusiastic about over the water cooler mind.
6) One movie you hated:
I couldn't think of a film I've walked out of. My sister walked out of one and I followed (I think it might have been The Hitcher (1986)) but if I've paid good money then I'm mean enough to want my money's worth. I did turn off The Blair Witch Project (1999) when it was on TV purely because of the camerawork but when it comes to hating a film, I'd like to nominate the Coen brothers' diabolical remake of The Ladykillers (2004). I'm not overly fond of any of their work but my wife loves them.
7) Name one movie that scared you:
I saw two films in 1978, Dawn of the Dead (1978) and The Sentinel (1977) within about a week of each other and have never been able to separate them in my head. Both of these films gave me nightmares – literally – for months and I stayed clear of horror movies for a very long time afterwards. I've been startled by movies. I jumped out of my seat during a showing of Jaws (1975) but I wasn't scared … I wasn't … I really wasn't.
8) Name one movie that bored you:
This was the hardest category for me. I guess I don't bore easily. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) wasn't so much boring as just not funny. We turned it off after about thirty minutes. Eraserhead (1977) was simply bitterly disappointing. I had waited years to see it and it was awful. I've never made it through The Blues Brothers (1980) and I've tried three times. I think though I'll plump for Zardoz (1974) which truly dragged. So much navel gazing! And Sean Connery, wearing a red Borat-style mankini, knee-high leather boots, pony tail and Zapata moustache did nothing for me I'm happy to report.
9) Name one movie that made you happy:
I'm not really a very happy person. Not effusive. So, I had to think for a while what to put here. There are plenty of films I've enjoyed. I discovered Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989) before all our friends and had film nights introducing them to this wonderful little film. But I wouldn't say it made me happy. The one that comes at the top of my list is one I saw only a couple of weeks ago, a film I doubt any of you will have heard of, Quiet City (2007). It's the simplest of films, obviously made on a tiny budget ($2000) and it's just lovely. A boy and a girl run into each other in New York, strike up a friendship and wander around the city for a couple for days. That's it. There's no real story, just a slice of life, but it's not often I sit watching a film with a fixed smile on my face. A similar, but far more polished, film would be Lost in Translation (2003) which I also thought was beautiful in its understatement.
Here's the trailer to Quiet City:
10) Name one movie that made you miserable:
There have been plenty of films that have left me wondering what the hell it was all about but there haven’t been many that have left me feeling miserable at the end. Tuesdays with Morrie (1999) is way up there but In the Bedroom (2001) was probably one of the unhappiest films I've ever seen, watching a father and mother fall to pieces after the death of their son.
I pretty much loathed Man Thing (2005) because I loved the comic so much and, although the realisation of the creature was decent enough (when it finally arrived), the rest of the film was simply appalling. Marvel should be ashamed of themselves. Even the horrendous Swamp Thing (1982) was better. At least it had Adrienne Barbeau in it.
11) Name one movie you thought would be great, but it wasn’t:
There were so many choices here. I had read every scrap of information that was available years before Tim Burton's Batman (1989) hit the screen so there was no way I wasn't going to be disappointed – I'd built myself up for it. Eyes Wide Shut (1999) was an awful let down but I think the award has to go to Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983). I know the TV series was variable, anything between pure dribble and comic genius, but, considering the time they had to prepare the film script, I'm sure they could've done better.
12) Name one movie you weren't brave enough to see:
Top of the list: The Exorcist (1973). I've never seen it. I have no desire to see it. I read the book at school – God alone knows who leant me a copy – but there was such a cloud that followed the film that I could never bring myself to get it out on video. I had no problems with A Clockwork Orange (1971) when it became available but not The Exorcist. One other springs to mind, though for different reasons, The Cable Guy (1996) – the premise of the film just creeps me out.
13) Name one movie character you've fallen in love with:
There are a number of actresses who I've been smitten by. In the sixties, Debbie Reynolds; Jodie Foster in the seventies; Sigourney Weaver in the eighties and Christina Ricci in the noughties but I find myself hard pushed to name a character in a movie. If pushed, I think I'd opt for 'Rebecca' in Ghost World (2001) played by Scarlett Johansson although 'Charlotte' in Lost in Translation (2003) (coincidentally also Ms. Johansson) would be a fair trade. You have no idea how many people think that's a boring movie.
14) Name one pointless remake:
This was not on the original list but I added it. There are so many choices and they just keep coming. Where do I start? Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)? Fun With Dick And Jane (2005)? Halloween (2007)? I feel sorry for all the scriptwriters out their trying to pitch something new. I've already listed The Ladykillers but I think the worst examples I can think of are: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Body Snatchers (1993) and The Invasion (2007). What was so wrong with Walter Wanger's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) that it needed to be remade? And why do they keep getting it so wrong?
15) Name your favourite movie of all time:
Also not on the original list. This really follows on from the last question. For years my favourite film has been François Truffaut's L'Homme qui aimait les femmes (1977). I haven't seen the remake but I could just imagine what damage Blake Edwards and Burt Reynolds could do. I've never seen their version of The Man Who Loved Women (1983) and I never will. Never. Not ever. No way, Pedro.