Films: Northern Soul’s Comfort Viewing (Part One)
With us all cooped up inside for the foreseeable future, there’s not a great deal to do except sit tight and watch stuff. But it might as well be good stuff.
To this end, Northern Soul has canvassed an array of contributors and friends to ask for their recommendations for a ‘comfort viewing’ film. And different people define that in very different ways, as you’ll see. Among what follows, though, we hope that you find some inspiration for your viewing pleasure.
Robert Hamilton, Northern Soul contributor
Films have been a comfort to me ever since I was a wee boy going to the local cinema in Belfast from the age of five. So this period of enforced isolation gives me guilt-free time to indulge my lifelong love of the silver screen. I’m also a great fan of Talking Pictures, the Freeview channel that has so many old movies you could claim for a black and white TV licence.
It also reminds you that the North was fairly well represented in the 50s and 60s. Last night’s treat was Lindsey Anderson’s gritty Rugby League melodrama, This Sporting Life. But I always keep an eye out for Bryan Forbes’ Northern-set religious parable Whistle Down the Wind (1961). It was filmed in the landscape around Burnley and Clitheroe and stars Alan Bates in his first top-billing role. On the run for murder, he hides out in a farm barn where the resident Bostock children look after him in the mistaken belief that he is Jesus.
The story is as bleak as the landscape but there is an optimistic naivety in their faith in Bates as ‘Gentle Jesus’. The film also stars Hayley Mills, already on the cusp of stardom, as the elder Bostock child. To many, the real star of the film is Alan Barnes as Charlie Bostock. Just eight-years-old when he made the movie and only one further role before he retired, he has all the grumpy charm of a young Albert Tatlock. It is Charlie who first rumbles that Bates is not Jesus when he kills Charlie’s kitten. In the most memorable line from the film, Charlie declares “it isn’t Jesus, it’s just a fella”.
It’s an odd film, but I always take comfort in it when it’s on and as the lockdown wears on I will do so again and again. As Charlie says in another memorable line “it’s my party and I’ll play what I want”.
Esther Lisk-Carew, freelance film host
My comfort film is the aptly named Serenity (2005), written and directed by Joss Whedon. The crew of Serenity are the family you’d want in a crisis, from quippy dad Mal and badass den mother Zoe, down to Kaylee who, when she thinks she’s ready to give up, gets the motivation to keep going for highly relatable reasons.
Serenity is the perfect film to remind us to laugh, but also gives us the space to cry, and escape into a world filled with fun fights and mayhem. After all, a storyline involving a government which takes an ostrich-in-the-sand approach to a deadly virus, then tries to cover up the mess it made? That’s gotta be science fiction, right?
Garry Watson, HOME chief projectionist
There was a time when George Lucas made great films. Or at least one, anyway. And here it is: American Graffiti (1973).
Set in a Californian town in 1962, it’s a beautiful, virtually plotless evocation of a time and a place. Set over the course of one evening and cram-packed with classic pop nuggets from the period, it is without a doubt one of my favourite films of the 70s. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it, but certainly dozens since my first viewing back in 1974. And I’ve never tired of it.
And what a cast, all just beginning their careers – Richard Dreyfuss, Candy Clark, Harrison Ford, Paul Le Mat, Ron Howard…It cost peanuts to make and brought in a fortune. We all know where Lucas went after this, but that wasn’t made for me. American Graffiti was.
CP Lee, writer, musician, Mancunian legend
Me and wife Pam have agreed on Across The Universe (2007) from writer/director Julie Taymor. Spanning the ocean from Liverpool to New York in the 1960s, Beatles songs are perfectly wrapped around a love story. Featuring Selma Hayak and Salford University’s very own alumni Jim Sturgess, you’ll leave the living room singing and dancing.
Jason Wood, creative director: film & culture at HOME
My choice is Where is the House of My Friend (1987) by the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. This may sound like an arduous watch but read on.
Part of the Koker trilogy, it concerns a young boy who accidentally takes home his friend’s homework. Knowing his friend faces expulsion, he travels to his village to try and find him. It’s told with remarkable simplicity and directness and has a genuine poetry to it. More importantly it is about kindness and how the world is a better place when we extend these qualities to each other. It’s a masterclass in compassion, actually.
Michelle of 8bitnorthxstitch cross-stitch designs
My go-to comfort viewing film is Tremors (1990) every day of the week. I think it’s perfection (pun intended) and always cheers me right up. It’s funny (intentionally and unintentionally). It has a long-haired Kevin Bacon stomping around in cowboy boots. The most intelligent person in the story is a woman. It’s action-packed with a brilliantly squeamish and satisfying ending. It contains the phrase “ass-wipe”, and has Heather and Burt, the most hard-ass survivalist couple ever to appear on screen (“Broke into the wrong goddamn rec room, didn’t you, you bastard?”).
What’s not to love about an apocalyptic movie where a group of seemingly average people battle an insidious and invisible enemy? I think there’s a metaphor for our times in there somewhere…
Chris Holmes, Northern Soul’s gaming editor
When searching for a film that I class as ‘comfort viewing’ it must tick several boxes.
1) It needs to regularly invoke a broad smile or, preferably, a belly laugh.
2) It has to demonstrate an incorruptible spirit without lurching into whimsy.
3) Most importantly, the movie must have that tricky repeatability factor.
Written and directed by the often overlooked and immensely talented Jared Hess, this cult classic is an eccentric study of growing up in small-town America through the slightly bonkers eyes of the title character (I recommend googling Napoleon if you’re not familiar). While providing laughs in pretty much every scene, it also hits the quote-ability factor necessary for comfort viewing, with a gentle lunacy at the film’s heart.
Ultimately the humour and warmth are created by character rather than situation, and it’s that side of Hess’s writing and direction which makes this hugely entertaining comedy bear scrutiny on repeat viewing, with so many subtle touches initially going unnoticed. The film’s hilarious narrative recognises the good in human nature while never veering towards twee. Given the current crisis and the need to maintain social distancing, that makes this Napoleon Dynamite worth an hour and a half of anybody’s time on the sofa.
Rachel Hayward, head of film at HOME
This is a visual and musical treat, with just enough plot (a prince, banished by his vain father who is himself threatened by his son’s youth and beauty, falls in forbidden love with the Princess Raccoon) and plenty of songs in a range of styles including Kabuki, soft rock and operetta. The film trades on its entertaining artifice and we are worlds away from the realism of my usual film recommendations.
Seijun Suzuki’s exaggerated style is fun, colourful and perfect for jolting us out of a social distancing slump. It also warns us that people are a plague, a horrible, horrible disease, so maybe we’re not that far away from my usual favourites after all.
Danny Moran, Northern Soul contributor
It’s difficult to think of a film which has more positive associations for me than Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), the story of an apprentice witch who leaves home to learn what it is to grow up.
Studio Ghibli’s fourth feature is the sort of film whose virtues inspire unrealistic aspirations when watching it with a child – there’s so much that soars above the level of standard fare. The way the colour palette is reminiscent of the great Japanese printmakers. The way the detail extends to the margins of the frame. The way the setting is imagined as a European old town if World War Two had never happened. The way the scenes unfold at the pace of serious drama.
Winningly, it borrows the Disney device of a wisecracking sidekick (the little black cat, Jiji) but slots him into a tale of unusual subtlety. In fact, it’s about as far from a conventional narrative as you could get. What’s astonishing is that Kiki does not, at any stage, encounter an adversary, only her own inexperience, lack of confidence in flying her broom and obstacles to her interior growth. It’s not only ravishing to behold, and entrancing to follow, it’s a character study more than a tale.
My own affection for the film is bound up with memories of my stepdaughter Pip seeing it for the first time, when she was six. I’ve never seen a child so completely possessed by something for an hour and a half. At the climax, an airship accident which sees Kiki’s friend, Tombo, clinging for life, Pip sat rigid, wide-eyed, fingers in her mouth, scarcely breathing. She’d never seen a proper cliffhanger before. She didn’t know, as she would come to recognise, that it would be okay.
Greg Walker, founder/director of Pilot Light TV Festival
The Fall (2006) has been my go-to soul refresher since I saw it a decade or so ago. It’s one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen (shot over four years in otherworldly locations in 18 countries) and it’s about an injured 1920s stuntman in a hospital, telling stories to a young Spanish girl (that we see through her eyes). It’s a feast for the eyes and heart, a proper cosy tale of friendship and storytelling.
At present The Fall is hard to get a hold of outside of physical versions, so here’s an alternative suggestion: Hot Rod (2007) is one of those films that I vividly remember how much of a painfully laugh-out-loud comedy it was upon first viewing, and it has never failed to do the same on my millions of re-watches. Made by modern SNL legends The Lonely Island, the film follows Rod (Andy Samberg) trying to live up to the legacy of his deceased stuntman father and prove his masculinity to his new stepdad (Ian McShane) by beating him in a fight. A proper under-seen gem.
Nicola Mostyn, author of The Gods of Love and The Love Delusion
I’ve chosen Jesus Christ Superstar (1973). The crucifixion story might not seem the most obvious comfort viewing, but I’ve adored this film since I was a kid (blame my Catholic school upbringing) and it never loses its charm. An innovative rock opera with a magnificent score, trippy 70s setting, a gloriously bonkers set piece by King Herod, and the mesmerising scene-stealing Judas, I’ve seen JCS onstage several times but it’s to this film I’ll always return, belting out all those songs I know by heart. Well, they do say singing is good for the immune system.
Michelle Nicholson, Northern Soul contributor
A relatively recent film, but one I’ve watched two or three times a year since its release, is Moonlight (2016). A lesser-known director, a black queer story, a relatively low budget, a memorable and eventually Oscar-winning film, Moonlight is heartbreaking in parts, uplifting in others but, above all, is wonderful storytelling.
My other choice would be Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). I watch that at least every other month, I love the development of the characters and the fantastic lift (elevator) scene. It’s one of the middle films from the 20+ saga and the romance between Bucky and Steve is just lovely.
Right, well, that little lot should keep you busy for a while. It’s been striking that at no point did any two contributors suggest the same film. That’s a positive thing, too: it’s testament to the fact that the world of film is massive, stretching off in every direction, with something to delight, nourish, soothe and engage everyone. It’s an almighty human achievement, something we should all cherish.
We’ll be back tomorrow with a few more suggestions. So, stay indoors, stay safe, keep well and we’ll see you on the other side in the queue for the pictures.
By Andy Murray, Film Editor
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