Films: Northern Soul’s Comfort Viewing (Part Two)
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. Here’s Part Two.
Andy Willis, senior visiting curator: film at HOME
It’s rare that we have a chance to revisit films that have had a major impact on the way we think about cinema. So, with some time on my hands, over the next few weeks that is one of the things that I intend to do. I’ll begin by firing up by DVD player and dusting down my copy of the Hong Kong gangster classic A Better Tomorrow (1986). Directed by John Woo, produced by Tsui Hark and starring the heroic trio of Chow Yun-fat, Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung, A Better Tomorrow is for me one of the most influential Hong Kong films of all time.
One of the things I love most about the film is the way its casting manages to bridge generations of Hong Kong stardom. Ti Lung had been a major player at the Shaw Brothers studio in the 1970s, starring alongside the likes of David Chiang in all-time classics such as The Duel (1971), Blood Brothers (1973) and Five Shaolin Masters (1974). Chow Yun-fat, after a long career that started in the mid-70s, was beginning to establish himself as a lead in films such as Love in a Fallen City (1984) and Hong Kong 1941 (1984), and would go on become one of the most important Hong Kong film stars internationally in the 21st century. Meanwhile, Leslie Cheung was already a major star of the Canto-pop world and A Better Tomorrow would help consolidate his position as one of the most important multi-media stars of the 1990s and early 2000s. Together they make a peerless triumvirate at the core of the film, offering almost note-perfect lessons in how to act in mainstream genre productions.
For many, A Better Tomorrow redefined the Hong Kong gangster film for a new era. Alongside the effortless cool of the film’s stars, Woo’s stylish visuals would catch the imagination of a generation of film goers and film-makers. The image of the gangster in East Asian cinema would never be the same again. As we all hope for a better tomorrow, now is the perfect time to revisit a stone-cold cinema classic.
Emma Yates-Badley, Northern Soul deputy editor
When the world feels overwhelming and I need to escape its grasp, I often turn to a film for solace. I’ve got an eclectic bunch of favourites (including Toy Story and Pretty in Pink) but I’ll always turn to Benny & Joon (1993) if I’m in serious need of a joy topper-upper.
It’s a romantic comedy (which isn’t usually my cup of tea) about two peculiar people, Sam (Johnny Depp) and Juniper ‘Joon’ (Mary Stuart Masterson) who find each other and fall in love. While it’s smooth sailing when they keep their romance a secret, it becomes difficult when Joon’s older brother, Benjamin ‘Benny’ (Aidan Quinn), finds out. Responsible for the care of his younger sister (who has a mental illness) following the death of their parents, he struggles with her need for independence.
It’s a warm, colourful, gentle film with fascinating lead characters and it portrays difference so tenderly. It’s funny too, with Depp often dipping into physical comedy routines based on the silent film comics Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, and Masterson using an iron to make grilled cheese sandwiches. It also features the song I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) and what’s more uplifting than that?
Helen Nugent, Northern Soul editor
I’m no stranger to the sofa, slipper socks and a takeaway menu so it was tricky to narrow down my go-to comfort viewing movies to just one. Could I really erase Back to the Future (1985) from this list? And what about Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) with Hugh Grant before his face went west? (west is slang for weird – I am proper down with the kids). And would 80s classic Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986) not make the cut?
When it really came down it though, there was just one winner: Star Wars (1977). I mean come on! Admittedly this is one I usually save for Christmas, even if the digitally remastered version lacks Granada’s Christmas Care Line advert sliding across the bottom of the screen. And I’ll just draw a veil over what came later (Jar Jar Binks, I’m looking at you). It doesn’t matter that I can quote this film verbatim. Nor do I care that, rather than bothering to turn on the tele, I could just replay the whole thing in my head. I don’t even mind the inevitable inner dialogue of “my god, they all look so young”.
Star Wars is Star Wars. It’s a galaxy far, far away but it’s also present day and every day – love, loyalty, despair, bravery, grief, guilt, humour, perseverance, desire, frustration, fear, and family. In these strange days where the future is scary and unknown, there’s a lot to be said for A New Hope.
We’ve got double trouble at home; not only are we isolated with two teenagers (fight!), but I’m also recovering from major surgery with drains and catheters galore. First thing we did was to instigate a film club. Someone gets to choose a film each night. Along with the amazing Jodie Foster film Contact, we’ve had Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2 and my choice, The Wild Geese (1978).
My dad took me to see it when it came out. Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Roger Moore, Hardy Krüger and every British character actor who ever drew breath. I love the climax. Now my kids know why, in times of stress, I like to say: “Allen! Kill me!”
Drew Savage, Northern Soul contributor
It’s probably not cool, but I don’t care: I love road movies and in its own way it’s a classic of the genre. I ended up watching Smokey and the Bandit (1977) all the way through for the first time about 15 years ago, by accident. I was feeling a bit under the weather, took refuge on my sofa, and couldn’t be bothered to change the channel when it came on. I was charmed. I’d never been a massive fan of Burt Reynolds and, as I realised afterwards, the legacy of the original film had been seriously tainted by two distinctly under-par sequels.
The whole thing is, of course, slightly ridiculous. But take it with a pinch of salt and you’ll be rewarded. Country music star Jerry Reed brings a beautifully battered humanity to his role as the Bandit’s sidekick, the Snowman, as well as providing a cracking soundtrack to the movie. Many of the other performances are way over the top, particularly Jackie Gleason as Sheriff Buford T. Justice. But once you realise it’s *supposed* to be that way, and simply enjoy the film for what it is, there’s something somehow brilliantly heartwarmingly Sunday Afternoon about the whole thing. Can the Bandit really do something that they said couldn’t be done, and stick it to The Man in the process? Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.
Kevin Bourke, Northern Soul contributor
Pretentious, moi? I know, but my comfort film is Eric Rohmer’s The Green Ray (Le rayon vert, 1986). It could have been almost any of the late French director’s films – and I know there are detractors who argue that he just made the same film over and over – but the fifth film in his ‘Comedies and Proverbs’ is an irresistibly charming, delicate and tender piece.
Unpromisingly, it’s based around a sulky Parisian secretary whose life, loves and holiday keep going wrong one Summer, but it’s a lovely evocation of real French life and there’s an optimistic magic to its ending. Plus, it always reminds me of special times in France with my wife Shelagh.
Jim Laycock, Bigger than Life co-curator
“In a world of the instant, byNWR takes its time on a tangential line towards the undiscovered…where we share, enjoy and look to the future—with hope, prosperity, and the idea that culture is for everyone.”
For the past few years, Nicolas Winding Refn, the Danish director of Drive and The Neon Demon, has been slowly amassing a library of lost/hidden treasures of such staggering variety that I couldn’t think of a more perfect place to get lost in right now. And it’s all completely free to watch on the byNWR website.
But where to begin? The site is broken into guest-curated volumes and subdivided by film/short collection into ‘chapters’. I would start with Curtis Harrington’s haunting romance/horror Night Tide (1961, starring a young Dennis Hopper in his first lead role) and Joseph L. Anderson’s gorgeous, transgressive drama Spring Night, Summer Night (1967), both in stunning new 4K restorations here. They deserve to be spoken about in the same breath as influential low-budget iconoclastic works of 1960s American cinema like Night of the Living Dead and Carnival of Souls.
Damon Fairclough, Northern Soul‘s Liverpool correspondent
In these dislocated times, there’s nothing I want more than to spend a couple of hours in the company of someone who feels even more confused than I do. That’s why this evening – and every evening for the foreseeable future, family permitting – I’ll curl up with a copy of After Hours, the Martin Scorsese film everyone forgets about.
After Hours (1985) is a nightmarish farce in which a staid New York computer operator flings himself willingly into a night of art, sex and delicious spontaneity deep inside the city’s unhinged Soho subculture. He dreams of artistic abandon, of hanging out with authentic New Yorkian freaks, only to discover that eight hours immersed in this vortex of what-the-fuckery is more than enough for one lifetime.
It’s hardly a spoiler to let on that, eventually, the terrifying night-time spits him back out into morning’s chilly embrace – and glorious mundanity returns. I suppose that’s the comforting bit right at the end, when we realise that normal life wasn’t so bad after all.
Rachael Richards, Northern Soul contributor
I nominate the 80s teen classic, Heathers (1988). Never more so than now has there been a time to don a mini kilt and learn how to play croquet. Apart from the amazing vintage fashion, the script is hilarious. This black comedy tips the typical school-based comedy on its head. Recommended.
Paul Hanley, writer and erstwhile drummer with The Fall
I choose The Likely Lads (1976). There was a curious trend for spinning off successful TV comedies into films in the late 60s and early 70s – Are You Being Served?, Rising Damp and Dad’s Army, for instance. In fact, in 1971 the dreadful On The Buses movie took more at the box office than the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. However, unlike most of these tawdry knock-offs, The Likely Lads has heart, soul, pathos and absolutely hilarious dialogue. It’s Clement and La Frenais at their most brilliant and easily a match for any Stoppard, Ayckbourn or Pinter you care to mention.
Andy Murray, Northern Soul‘s film editor
After some prolonged consideration – Bedazzled, perhaps? Maybe This is Spinal Tap? – I’ve concluded that my choice for first-class cockle-warmer can only really be Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero (1983).
Partly, yes, because I got the Blu-ray for Christmas so it’s sitting there ready to be watched, all handy. More to the point, though, it’s brilliant, and exactly the tonic I need. Like all of Forsyth’s films, it’s unassuming, languid and hugely funny. It’s genuinely insightful about how people think, feel and behave and it views them warmly without falling into being soppy or naïve.
If you don’t know already, it’s the story of an American oil company lackey, Mac (Peter Riegert), who is dispatched to buy up the tiny village of Ferness on Scotland’s west coast. Essentially, it’s The Wicker Man but with more jokes and less human sacrifice. It’s also the only time that Peter Capaldi, Burt Lancaster and Fulton Mackay shared a cast list and if that doesn’t hook you, I don’t know what will.
It’s a slight (albeit predictable) spoiler, but when the chips are down Local Hero is all about an outsider being utterly charmed by the wayward spirit of a community and the victory of people over industry. Frankly, we could all do with being on Ferness just now. I’ll meet you by the phone box.
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.
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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