As evening falls and the drinkers of the world retreat to their favourite haunts, you can be sure that amongst the tattle and the gossip, the joy and the melancholy, the gins and the tonics, one conversation will be repeated in a hundred different tongues before the night is chased away by fresh-faced dawn.
It is one that we’ve all had, one that we are all slightly nervous about and one that can vary wildly each time it draws you in. The conversation is, of course, the “so what’s your top three (five, ten, a hundred – it depends on how much wine you have to get through) films?” conversation.
And don’t tell me you’ve never thought about it or you have never been asked. And don’t tell me that you’ve never changed your answers to suit your audience. You know the pretty girl who always wore blue, the one with the glasses and the well-thumbed paperback tucked into her stripy bag? You told her that your favourite was “The Graduate”, closely followed by “Cinema Paradiso”. And that worked, didn’t it? It worked pretty sweetly. You remember when you could still smoke in pubs and you spent a couple of months seeking approval from the bearded Marxist who chained Camels and drank nothing but cognac? You told him that the film that moved you to your core was “Jules et Jim” (one that you’d looked up in an encyclopaedia that afternoon, you remember, back when the internet was to be found in books on the shelves of libraries). He called you “obvious” and you crept home, drank a shit load of shit lager and fell happily asleep in front of “Arthur 2: On the Rocks”. And then there was that dreadful blonde who worked in Threshers, the one with the great breasts who you chatted up despite all good sense and when she said she loved “Ace Ventura”, you agreed with enthusiasm and said that the first film was “like really good” and definitely in your top three films of ALL TIME. Probably number one. And despite all that, despite such a sickening, soul-crushing denial of everything you hold to be true; your taste and dignity sacrificed on the altar of lust, you only had that one crappy date at “Ask” pizza where the food was shit and she talked endlessly about her ex-boyfriend who was in the army. And then didn’t let you sleep with her.
We’ve all been there. (Well not there specifically as all the above examples are of course utterly fictitious). And I am not playing that game tonight (although if you asked I would probably mutter something about “The Godfather” – which is a bloody tedious choice in so many ways but a film that astonishes me afresh each time I see it) because tonight I am a man of moments. I think in all seriousness I remember moments from films more than I remember narratives. Sometimes it is a look, sometimes a line, sometimes it is Bill Murray dancing. Moments that delight, haunt, or bury themselves deep and then spring back into vivid life when you least expect. Moments of epiphany, Stephen Dedalus on the beach dreaming as the sea laps against the sands:
“A wild angel had appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory.”
I seem to have quoted James Joyce there. In a “film” blog. I apologise.
For me there is one moment, and I am about to contradict my point in an earlier post about my favourite of all time and in doing so revealing the nonsensical nature of the whole enterprise. but this moment is stuffed with so much joy, some much whimsy, so much that makes cinema the potent, gut-clutching, cheek-stroking force that it is, that it chokes me slightly just thinking about it. Let alone watching it.
And here it is:
It’s perfect. And not in the much abused, gradiated form of that word, but with the full force of its true meaning: it is without fault. And it makes me feel glorious when I watch it. And yes I know it is artifice, I know I am being manipulated, but I subject myself willingly with a smile on my face and an imagined Gene Kelly deftness whilst swinging around a lamp post.
Apparently it isn’t true that it was shot it one take. But it is true that they added milk to the water so it would show up on camera and it is true that Kelly had a stinking cold when they shot it. Whatever the truth of it, Kelly illuminates the song, the scene, the whole film, like a stonking great beacon, his greatness reflecting from his perfectly white smile and the sheen of his dark hair. If it sounds a little sexual then I readily admit it. Who would not want to look like that, dance like that, sing like that? And yes when the scene ends, when the film comes to a close and Kelly and Reynolds kiss in front of the billboard, you flick off the television, take the wine glasses to the sink and remember that you promised to take the bins out. But this is not bathos. Because you have been changed, subtly, imperceptibly but nonetheless irrefutable by some wonderful, wonderful art.
And that’s why I love it.
Here’s another treasure. Many, many years later Gene Kelly appeared as the “special guest star” on The Muppet Show (I show that I loved dearly and will require its own post at some point) and throughout the show, refused to sing “that song”. Well, of course you can predict the ending but it is nevertheless the joy when it happens is tinged with an almost unbearable nostalgia. And old man walking off screen for the last time. What grace.
And finally, something altogether more British. More English perhaps. And something that reminds me of my dear Grandmother with whom I remember reading these books and who had a wonderfully old-fashioned Englishness about her which only now do I realise was shared by generations but is now no more. Not that I mourn its passing. I’ve just noticed, that’s all. Here we go (I don’t really need to cue these up with phrases like “Here we go” do I? I am not a prose DJ).
And if you have watched all three of these clips then your night will be spent at peace or your day will be spent in contentment.
I sincerely hope so anyway.