I love films, not as much as I love reading, but for a while, it was a serious rival. There’s plenty of favourites – films I’d watch again and again – but then there’s those which had an impact.
Sophie’s Choice – the film a friend took me to see when my daughter was just months old. A film I’ve since heard described as “the one to see if you want to make sure you never have more than one child”. I left the cinema literally unable to speak, until my friend put a large whisky into my hand. Yet see this publicity shot – how innocent does it look? You’d certainly never think you’ll be dealing with a mother being made to choose which of her children to save from a concentration camp … and then losing the saved child to a childhood illness. It was a long while before I could watch it again, but I did just that, for it’s an excellent film whose actors put in superb performances.
Hotel Rwanda, the true story of Paul Rusesabagina, isn’t a film I can say I went into blind, for I’d previously read A Sunday by the pool in Kigali. It made entirely clear the type of horrors I could encounter in this tale of the Hutu genocide of the Tutsis. I’ve been brought up at times and in places experiencing civil unrest and civil war and, whilst enormously grateful not to have gotten this close, nevertheless it felt wrong to turn my head away and not become educated. There are many reasons to love the continent and people of Africa; this film displays how it also tears out your heart. The most powerful scene wasn’t bloody or gory, it depicts Paul driving down the road in the hotel’s minibus while we become aware that he is going over bumps … too many to be speed bumps … until realisation hits you just how many dead bodies lie across the road.
Philadelphia was the first big film to tackle the subject of AIDS. One hell of a cast, with two anthems written for it by Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young, it pulled no punches. Denzel Washington excels as a lawyer frankly horrified by the illness and the lifestyle, Tom Hanks as the lawyer losing not just his career but his life. That Hanks and Antonio Banderas (who plays Hanks’ significant other) felt able to take on these roles at the time, spoke volumes. I’d been a twenty-something living in London during the 80s. I loved to dance and went to gay clubs with gay friends – but I have no idea who, if any, survived this era. This is a film where tears will flow, and the scene where Banderas and Hanks listen to Callas singing “La mamma morta” is where that unashamedly starts.
A Clockwork Orange ensured that I avoided violent films (and books) for decades. I have never sought to read the novel, fearing that my imagination would provide me with even worse images, for the film itself left me shaken, distressed and terrified. I have never seen it again, nor do I ever wish to; after seeing it, I never again doubted whether there was evil in this world.
Psycho was a film I never intended to watch, as I’ve always had a total lack of interest in horror. Then one night my mother begged me to watch it with her and, reluctantly, I agreed. To be honest, I was probably reading at the same time, although the tension building-up music did ensure that I watched the stabbing in the shower. It was immediately after that scene my mother started ruminating on whether she’d locked the car. Eventually, she sent me – fresh from having passed my driving test and therefore usually keen to handle all car matters – out to check. And yes, it was the middle of the night. Nothing bad happened, but I still avoid horror films.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon left me blown away. I’d never seen anything like it before, and everything similar I saw after it, seemed a pale imitation. The score was simply sublime, the action sequences ethereally gorgeous and as for the pathos of the storyline …
To Kill A Mockingbird – as an avid reader who espouses the book-before-film mantra, I’m ashamed to admit that it’s a film I saw decades before I got round to reading the book. I guess I worried that the book would be too different, or take something away from this powerful and much loved film. Having been brought up in Africa and India, the plight of the American black wasn’t known to me at all. This film – which I saw whilst attending an English boarding school – started the growing realisation as the sleepy genteelness of small town southern America is placed in such stark contrast to the hatred and inequality. Is there a person alive who doesn’t get a lump in their throat when Scout and Jem are told in that courtroom scene “Stand up … your father’s passing”
Saving Private Ryan, a film whose greatest impact is made during the opening sequence – around 20 minutes, rumuored to have cost $12m to shoot. Veterens of the D-Day landings say it’s the closest they’ve even seen to the experience they had. Perhaps this is because Spielberg refused to storyboard it, shooting it they way he believed a combat cameraman would do. The remainder of the film is the relatively ordinary tale of a group of rangers, sent to find the one remaining son of Mr & Mrs Ryan, and bring him home safe. And it’s a good story. But the impact – that comes from the first 20-ish minutes. It’s sobering, shocking and reminds us of the huge cost of war.
Good Will Hunting – this makes it onto my list for an entirely different reason. I was idly watching Oprah one day when she interviewed two young men who’d written a script and were going on to star in the film. They were attractive – both in looks and personality – and their friendship appeared genuine. Intrigued, I watched as it progressed from pre-release publicity, via Damon’s public “dumping” of his co-star Minnie Driver, to their winning the Oscar for the screenplay – as well as Oscars for best supporting actress (Minnie Driver), best supporting actor (Robin Williams) and best actor Matt Damon. What I loved was the fact that two unknown writers could have their writing dream come true, before going on to become massive stars in the acting world.
Gandhi‘s impact is totally unique. India was where I was born and (largely) grew up. My mother’s father was Indian, and my father’s parents were very rooted in India; indeed, at one point in my life, every single member of my family was living somewhere in India. As a country, it played a huge part in forming the person I am today. But I am not blind to it’s troubles – not then, not now. In my early 20s, as a ‘temp’ in London, I was sent to a small company located on the top floor of an American Merchant Bank. That company was John D Eberts Limited, trading name – Goldcrest Films. At that time, Goldcrest were solely in the business of providing development funding to those hoping to make a film, and one of those projects was Sir Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. I was invited to read the script because of my background and it was for this sole reason that I accepted a job working there. I wasn’t in any way suited to the work, but the chance to be on the fringes of this film … why wouldn’t I? As time went on, Goldcrest became more and more involved in funding the production of Gandhi and telecommunications being scarce and flaky between the two countries, I frequently sat at a telex machine with Jake Eberts – Goldcrest’s funding guru by my side – whilst he discussed a myriad of matters with Attenborough. The film was a true labour of love – it had been one for Attenborough for 20+ years and was now the same for Eberts. Indeed, during his acceptance speech, Dickie stated that the film would not have been made without Jake Eberts. Once filming ended, I left for a more suitable job, but the pleasure I had from seeing it’s success at the Oscars was palpable. Thinking about it – even today – brings a lump to my throat and a certain moistness to the eyes. The memory I hold dear is of Jake talking to film producer David Puttnam (of Chariots of Fire fame) in his role as Goldcrest member of the board – “the thing people forget when they’re negotiating with Dickie is that he’s first and foremost a really good actor.”
That’s my ten. What’s films feature in yours?
© Debra Carey, 2019