A little exchange on Facebook the other day got me thinking about films. I had commented on reading of the demise of Philip Seymour Hoffman that I had no idea who he was and in the exchange that followed I mentioned that I had not been to the cinema for around 30 years. Maybe this is a good place to explain that statement.
The first film I saw at the cinema I don’t know the title of, but my father took me to the pictures in High Wycombe when I was about four. Apparently I asked to go home not long into the film much to my dad’s disappointment, some of which was probably because we could ill afford to have wasted the admission. Not having TV at home I did begin to enjoy the pictures though, and in the second half of the fifties was taken to see a number of films, a few favourites I recall include The Dambusters (Richard Todd was a neighbour), Samson & Delilah and Ice Cold in Alex and then Spartacus, seen on a wet holiday afternoon in Ventnor in 1960.
Through the sixties we finally acquired a TV and there were always old films to watch there, but the advent of teenage and paper round wages saw the chance to explore a new found freedom and the cinema was one of few places available year round. I saw every new Carry On through into the seventies, caught up on most of the 1950s musicals I knew the songs to as they got re-shown, plus all of the pop films from Elvis, Cliff Richard, The Beatles and the DC5 as they passed across the screen and I probably went to the cinema about three times a month with enthusiasm. My tastes were broad, and I would see all sorts, but light comedy probably gave me most pleasure and that was where I began to settle in my choice of films (I had a preference for light comedy in opera too).
It is maybe ironic that two of my favourite films I saw first under an element of protest. Blazing Saddles I thought was a straight Western and so did the girlfriend of that time who wanted to see it: I ended up loving it and she was disappointed that it was a comedy. A few years later, and now married to someone else, I took that lady to see Airplane as she was quite keen on disaster movies (and anything with Roger Moore in). As with Blazing Saddles I had no idea that Airplane was a comedy until a few minutes into it, but it is another film that I adore. Not only do very good straight actors send themselves up throughout it has a series of aural and visual gags as well as delightful word play. I was still spotting new things well into double figures of having watched it.
During the eighties I travelled a lot and my last memory of being at the cinema was in Albert Road, Southsea (where I had seen Raquel Welch in Fathom in the sixties). This time I was working in Portsmouth and staying down there all week, so to provide some light relief I went with a colleague to see Firefox.
I may have seen Top Gun in Edinburgh, but can’t remember if I did or not, nor do I have any memory of seeing anything at the cinema in Regent Street after we moved to Swindon in 1984. We might well have done, but we had a VHS player at home and regularly hired films by then.
Into the nineties and I was with the Berkshire Belle, but we have not do far been to the movies together. Stage shows, concerts and plays yes, but not the cinema. We have considered going whilst on our regular jaunts to the US just for the experience, but there hasn’t been anything on that we have felt the urge to watch.
We have watched films released during our time together regularly on TV or DVD, mostly light or romantic comedy. I have many of my old favourites on DVD, but most of them are old films from the fifties and sixties for I do not care for a lot of the CGI stuff that most modern action films seem to demand. To me it is so obviously faked that it spoils it.
I have an aversion to films with a message too, and unless I can just relax and enjoy the story they quickly bore me. I love the irony of Jonathan Swift’s great satire becoming a favourite children’s book because we kids just liked the story. And as for some of the dramatised versions of history that purport to be realistic portrayals; just don’t get me started. And then remakes! I have been silly enough to try one or two and I have learned my lesson.
Modern films may not create the magic for me that many of those from my younger days did, but I am happy that the originals still do, so I can fire up a DVD and have a pleasurable hour and a half without some ignorant sod talking through it, kicking the back of my seat or playing with their ‘phone (there is a tiny part of me that just slightly empathises with the Florida man who shot dead the guy in front when he would not stop texting during a film. If they start making you check your guns at the cinema or theatre the same should apply to phones and other portable electronics – you’re there to watch the show).
Watching good actors work a good script is a delight regardless of whether they are on stage, large or small screen. That will always stay with me, but only if the subject matter attracts me and, having looked at the late Mr Hoffman’s back catalogue there is nothing there that I could fancy spending an hour and a half of my life on. I probably don’t have that many hour and a halves left, so I will use them wisely. It’s a matter of personal taste after all, so I wish cinema goers well and really do hope that they have a great time. The Wokingham Wonder and I will enjoy our viewing from the comfort of our sofa, and most of that will be revisiting the films of our collective youth.
Mr Hoffman’s loss is being mourned by those who knew him or of him and that is fair enough. My original Facebook comment was that I had not heard of him prior to his demise being reported. We have lost a number of talented people in recent weeks, and from my world Andy Granatelli, Brian Hart, John Button and Pete Seeger count far more. Three of those four were exceptionally talented in their own spheres and brought benefit to the world around them. The fourth had talent too; that is how I came to meet him, and he was regarded universally as a really good man, and what better epitaph could anyone ask for? I hope that fans of Mr Hoffman will have heard of at least one of my quartet, but it doesn’t matter if you haven’t; enough of the rest of us had.