My life in movies – 1983-1997
The films aren’t necessarily the best of the year. Sometimes they’re on the list for memory reasons or because they say something about me.
At the age of 43, I have way too many years to cover to squeeze them all into one blog post.
In the first part of the series I took a stroll through the years 1967-1982, starting with The Jungle book, ending with Blade Runner with a lot of science fiction and music in between.
Let’s get on the road again!
1983 The Day After / The Meaning of Life
The year is 1983 and I’m 15 years old, struggling to figure out what life is about – if we’ll have any at all. Like other children of my generation I was dead certain the world would blow up in a nuclear war including US and Soviet. The Day After was mandatory to watch at school and for us it was more of a documentary than speculation. But I was wrong. TheBerlinwall fell and the world became more complicated – shaded instead of black and white – and I actually stopped worrying about a third world war.
The question about the meaning of life is still hanging in the air after all those years. I still don’t know what it is and I’m not convinced the answer is 42. But I figure Monty Python came pretty close in The Meaning of Life:
“Well, it’s nothing very special. Uh, try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”
1984 Karate Kid
Thinking of Karate Kid still makes me smile. Mr Miyagi, teaching karate with painting and washing assignments. Not to speak of his habit to kill flies with chopsticks and that peculiar balance act on the beach. I still nourish a dream of learning some martial art one day. They say it’s never too late to start.
1985 Out of Africa / The Purple Rose of Cairo
A few years ago I went with my family to Tanzania. It was the journey of my life, a homecoming. They say this is the origin, where we all came from, and it was as if every cell of my body agreed. Or as another fan of Africa said to me: “Africa isn’t a place. It’s a disease”.
Once you’ve gotten the African bug you can’t get rid of it and a part of me will always long to go back. It’s been a while since I watched Out of Africa. But I can still remember Meryl Streep’s soothing voice-over:
“I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you had got high up; near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold.”
The Purple Rose of Cairo is a pretty obvious choice, isn’t it? If you go as far as to blog about movies, you’re deeply into it. It’s a delightful movie about movies, teaming with romance and nostalgia. It’s also signed Woody Allen, who probably is my favourite director or at least the one I’ve watched most over all those years.
1986 The Name of the Rose
The Umberto Eco novel with the same name made me feel clever. At the core it’s a crime fiction, but it’s disguised in philosophy and a wonderful, historical setting which makes it to something more. The movie adaptation starred Sean Connery. Like a good wine he only gets better the older he gets.
1987 84 Charing Cross Road
There were books everywhere in my childhood home. Even in the bathroom. And yet it wasn’t enough to satisfy my hunger for literature; I used to fetch huge stacks of books from the library, reading them at a rate of one a day. Nowadays the books have to compete with movies and other distractions, and I don’t read quite as much. But deep down I still consider myself a bibliophile. But as much as it’s a movie about the love of books, it’s also a movie about long distance friendship, which is the one I probably understand best. I’ll get back to this further on.
It probably wasn’t a coincidence that Hollywood came out with three movies the same year, which all were about people swapping bodies with each other. Big is the only one I still remember. Maybe it was because it starred Tom Hanks, who was perfect for the role as the boy who suddenly finds himself trapped in the body of a grown-up. Thinking closer about it – aren’t we all?
1989 Dead Poets Society / Le Grand Bleu
Dead Poets Society. There’s something strange about my relationship to this movie. As far as I can remember I liked it when it came out. I liked it a lot. But over the years I’ve started to grow a strange antipathy against it and I can’t quite pinpoint why. Maybe I’ve just been overexposed to it. But if you ask me now for a movie about a charismatic teacher challenging a rigorous school system, breaking the policies, I’d rather recommend the French movie Les choristes from 2004. Its feels fresher and it also contains some gorgeous choir music. However, I decided to put Dead Poets Society on the list because of the referrals to Thoreau, whose book Walden has had an influence on some of my life choices – and I’m not just thinking of “carpe diem”.
Le Grand Bleu (The big blue) is a beautiful movie about free diving. I’m quite a bad swimmer myself – I never learned how to crawl properly and failed as I tried to take a dive certificate many years ago. The underwater world may have rejected me, but I still admire it from the sideline.
1990 Cyrano de Bergerac
My making of this list has been a two-step process. The first was to pick the movies. The second was to write about them. It’s been a while between the two steps, and to my embarrassment I don’t remember clearly what I had in mind when I picked Cyrano de Bergerac for my 1990 movie.
Was I thinking of the fact that the guy has a big nose? OK, I don’t have the most beautiful nose in the world; a plastic surgeon would probably think I could benefit from a “nose job”, but do I really care that much? I don’t even use make-up!
Perhaps it was something about Cyrano de Bergerac’s self consciousness. I have a tendency to question and pick on myself a lot. Or maybe I wanted to give a nudge to my love for anything French, including Gérard Depardieu, who had his international breakthrough in this movie. Anyway – Cyrano made his way to this list and I’ll let him stay there.
1991 The Commitments
I played bass guitar in a punk rock band for a little while. This career took an abrupt end after less than a year, after someone broke into our repetition room and stole all the instruments. To be honest I think we would have dissolved anyway and my playing and singing is of the quality that I’d better keep it to myself. The Commitments on the other hand were awesome.
1992 Scent of a woman
I love rhetoric. Just love it. Al Pacino’s final speech is brilliant and makes my eyes a bit dusty.
1993 Groundhog Day / Shadowlands
Groundhog Day because I wanted to share my love for it. It’s one of those movies I can watch over and over again, never growing tired of it. How appropriate considering its plot!
Shadowlands – a love story based on the life of the writer C S Lewis – because I love everything bittersweet and because Anthony Hopkins is awesome. It also is a marker for my lifelong love for the Narnia series – far less wordy than the modern fantasy and yet so rich.
1994 Four Weddings and a Funeral
I’m not particularly good at socializing. While I don’t lack friends completely (especially not online ones, I’ve never had the close, family like circle of buddies as pictured in Four Weddings and a Funeral and in TV series like Friends and How I Met Your Mother. On the other hand: hanging out with yourself isn’t as bad as you may think. This is how you do it.
1995 Apollo 13 / Braveheart
Apollo 13 because it’s about astronauts. I could as well have picked Capricorn One or The Right Stuff. They all represent my life-long fascination for space travel. My first dream job, at the age of four, was “queen”. But it didn’t take me too long to realize it probably was out of my reach, and strictly speaking not a “job”. And that’s when I decided to become an astronaut. I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’ve given up about it by now.
I don’t know if Braveheart is a great movie. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t; I can’t tell. I never finished it. For the one and only time in my movie watching life I left the cinema half way through. This was in 1995, when we had one toddler at 1 year and another at 2,5. Life was hectic to say the least, with little room for activities on your own. One night we had managed to get a babysitter, going to see a movie for the first time in ages. The poster informed us about the length and we made our arrangements accordingly. But as we watched the movie, we got increasingly worried about the laid-back pace. It wasn’t going anywhere and when we reached the time when it was supposed to be finished, it was evident that we were far, far away from the actual end. Our stress level increased with every minute and we stretched it for a while before we acknowledged the defeat. That poster had been far off in the time estimation. As far as we knew Bravehart could go on all night and we had an agreement with the babysitter. So we left. After complaining to the theatre we were compensated with new movie tickets. But we used them for some other movie, so I’m still left hanging about the whereabouts of Braveheart.
1996 Secrets & Lies
Show me the family that hasn’t got their share of secrets and lies. I’ve had my share, a heritage going through generations until someone finally puts an end to it. Mike Leigh unfolds layer after layer until the characters are naked and we realize that all those protecting covers of lies and secrets and silence actually hurt more than they do any good.
1997 Life is beautiful
Over the years I’ve watched a lot of Holocaust movies and read many concentration camp novels, but two works stand out among the rest, hitting me harder than anything else. One is Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus I and II. The other is Life is beautiful, the story of the father who makes his son believe that the death camp is an entertaining competition, as a way to protect him from the horrors. For its dark theme it’s strangely uplifting.
A few words to wrap it up
Life is beautiful. And even if it isn’t we might as well pretend it is, because it makes us feel better.
It’s time for a break and this seems like a good point. So let’s have a cup of coffee, put on a nice movie and wrap ourselves into a blanket of Friday night cosiness.