As I mentioned in my post about podcasts I’m listening to, I enjoy Brett Goldstein’s Films To Be Buried With. It’s essentially Desert Island Discs but for movies, which is fine with me, and the answers to the questions that Goldstein asks his guests (see the list below) reveal more than would be expected from something so straightforward. So, I thought I’d answer the questions myself, seeing as I won’t be getting on the podcast itself any time soon …
What’s the first film you remember going to see?
It’s highly likely that I watched a film on TV before visiting a cinema, but I believe the answer is supposed to be the first film specifically in the cinema, which I believe is Star Wars. I recall the visit to the local cinema (a Gaumont, which no longer exists), one of those old-school single-screen theatres. Star Wars had a huge influence in my cinematic life, so I hope that this is the true answer, although our parents would have taken us four boys to the cinema earlier than that.
What’s the film that scares you?
If you’ve perused the ‘film reviews’ category on this blog, you’ll see that I do not have any reviews for scary films – they’re just not my thing. That’s fine; the church of cinema is a broad one that encompasses genres that some people don’t love (I’m a big fan of wushu, which is not a huge genre outside of China and Japan). Therefore, I don’t have a ‘proper’ answer to this. The film that scared me the most, giving me nightmares and anxiety, was an education film for children from the 1970s/1980s in the UK, which involved children playing in the countryside and then going into a train tunnel, unaware that the train was coming – I vividly remember the children being brought out of the tunnel, blood everywhere. This terrified me because of the reality of destroying childhood innocence – I wasn’t used to seeing children being hurt like this, in a documentary-style film. It was horrific, and I can still feel that sense of dread that came over me in our childhood living room, as death cruelly invaded. I’ve tried a quick search online but I couldn’t find any information, and it’s highly unlikely that I ever will. Fortunately.
What’s the film that makes you cry?
I grew up with three brothers, no sisters; I went to a boys-only Catholic comprehensive school in north London. This meant that the unofficial law was: you were not allowed to cry. I took a long time before I evolved into somebody who could express that emotion in films. The first time I came close was at university, watching Dead Poets Society in the cinema with some people I barely knew. The scene at the end where Ethan Hawke and the others stand on their desks stirred something in me that I did not recognise, but managed to suppress through years of practice. Strangely, the film that I first cried big, uncontrollable tears was a film I was watching in a screening room with professional critics when I was reviewing films for the Felix, the student newspaper at Imperial College London, where I was doing my PhD [see my review]. When Robin Williams (apparently my crying weakness) tells Matt Damon that it’s not his fault – boom: my eyes sprung the biggest leak in my life and I let them come. As I’ve matured, I have let the tears flow freely – there are several points at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the end of Inside Out caused me to erupt, and I sobbed (with happiness) throughout the end of Avengers: Endgame [see my review] – but they don’t have the same effect on repeat viewing, and I don’t watch films specifically to have a cry.
What’s the film that you love but which isn’t by popular consensus?
There are various films that get undeserving hatred for undeserving reasons. One that sticks out for me, possibly because of the backlash but also because of the vitriol that Goldstein aims at it, is John Carter – a very enjoyable adaptation of the material and I’m saddened that we won’t be getting the sequels. But the one that means the most to me is the one that was mocked by its own creator: Mallrats. For years, Kevin Smith always played down his second film, but I have always loved it (which cannot be said for his films after Clerks II) – it’s the only film where I watched it twice on the weekend I rented it from Blockbuster video (that’s how old I am). Now, don’t get me wrong: Clerks (see subsequent question), Chasing Amy, Clerks II are better Smith films, but I always enjoyed his goofy attempt at a mainstream film, and not just because it has the first ‘Stan Lee as himself in a film’.
What’s the film that you used to love but which doesn’t hold up now?
I used to have a lot of affection for A Fish Called Wanda, which was a very British film that was successful despite it, won an Academy Award for Kevin Kline and had an early appearance from Stephen Fry. But when I watched the film again a few years back, I barely laughed and found it archaic and unfunny, with a particular cruelty towards Michael Palin’s stuttering character. I gave the DVD I had purchased to a charity shop at the next opportunity.
What’s the film that means the most to you?
The trouble with being a film fan who loves so many films is that it’s hard to pin down a single film that means the most. Star Wars, Enter The Dragon, Clerks, The Matrix, the best of the MCU films; seeing Reservoir Dogs for the first time; seeing Goodfellas at a midnight screening in Manhattan; Good Will Hunting making me cry; the list goes on and on, and I don’t think it’s possible to pick one. If forced, I would probably go for a film that has a lot of sentimental attachment: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. It’s not my favourite Wes Anderson film (that would be The Royal Tennenbaums) but I saw it early on a Sunday morning at a free preview with my partner in the early days of us living together, and we both enjoyed it. We’ve also ended up naming one of our cats after it (Zissou), after hearing Helen O’Hara mention it as an idea in an Empire podcast, so it’s certainly a good choice.
What’s the sexiest film?
This is a tough question because it’s ambiguous – I don’t think of entire films as sexy (and seemingly neither do the guests on the podcast, based on their answers), rather there are specific scenes in films that are sexy. A lot of the films usually revolve around a film that the guest saw at the most impressionable age, so make of that what you will. For me, the answer is Bound, the directorial debut of the Wachowskis. Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon sizzle with chemistry throughout this small but perfectly formed mob film, and the sex scene is a perfect match of sexiness and emotional reality, helped by getting advisers in to ensure that the scene was filmed with authenticity.
What’s the film you most relate to?
I have never worked at a convenience store, I don’t smoke pot and I don’t have a best mate who works in a video store, but Clerks spoke to me in a way that no other film had before. It’s a film about people who are obsessed with pop culture, specifically films and comic books, talking about them in passionate detail and unable to have normal conversations without referencing other things. That’s me, and was even more like me when I first saw it – Smith is the same age as me, has the same obsessions and was also raised Catholic, so he’s basically a creative version of me who grew up in New Jersey; I became a Smith devotee, which was possible due to his early adoption of another thing I got into: the internet. I don’t connect with him as much these days – I haven’t seen Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, for example – but Clerks is in my DNA forever.
What’s objectively the best film?
This is always a tough call, but I’d probably go with a film that is mentioned quite often on the podcast: The Godfather. I could be a poseur and choose Citizen Kane, which I genuinely think is a brilliant film from a technical and story perspective, but The Godfather is a masterpiece that not only could I watch repeatedly, but also a film that changed cinema and to an extent the very thing that it is based in, namely organised crime, which is impressive. Elevating pulp material to art with so many great things throughout, The Godfather is cinema in pure form, even if The Godfather Part II is technically a better film.
What’s the film you have watched the most or could watch the most?
So many to choose from, because I do like a good rewatch. The earliest items on the list include the first Star Wars trilogy and Enter The Dragon, moving through Kevin Smith and John Woo films, then the quality animations (Pixar’s best, Kung Fu Panda, How To Train Your Dragon), and finally into the blockbuster franchise, the Harry Potter series and the best of the MCU films, it’s hard to pick out one from the list because I enjoy so many things.
What’s the worst film you’ve watched?
Two entries here, in a category which should be called ‘What’s the film that is technically competent and tells a story but which annoys you so much that you think it’s the worst?’ The first is Highlander II: The Quickening, a film so horrible and misjudged that I have done my best to obliterate the memory from my brain. Highlander is a film that I love more than it warrants but it’s a very enjoyable film that tells a good story in a visually engaging fashion. The sequel completely misses the entire point of the original, brings back Sean Connery and turns the immortals into aliens. It’s the reason why I have never watched any of the subsequent Highlander franchises. The second film is in the universally acknowledged bad films: Batman & Robin. This is a truly dreadful film that misses the appeal of what audiences were enjoying about the Tim Burton version, destroying Batman as a viable Hollywood property for nearly a decade and ruining all the goodwill towards superheroes as a film genre in general. I saw this in the cinema, using film vouchers I had won in a contest, and I was so appalled that I wanted my money back (a line I used at the time in the only letter I had published in a film magazine). A special mention should be made for the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man, which is the only film that has made me want to leave the cinema while watching it because I found it so incredibly annoying, and I’m a fan of the Coens.
What’s the film that makes you laugh the most?
I’m a big fan of a funny film, although I am hampered by a good memory for the jokes so that repeat viewing is limited. I’m not a fan of the film that most guests on the podcast choose – This is Spinal Tap – so that might mean that I’m an outlier. I think Clerks is hilarious, the Marx brothers’ films were fantastic, the early funny films of Woody Allen (are we still allowed to like them?), the early funny Steve Martin films, the Monty Python films, the Coens’ comedies, South Park and Team America, and I cried laughing at Borat. But if it comes down to the film that made me laugh the most, it would probably be a tie between Blazing Saddles and Airplane! The campfire scene with all the cowboys farting made me laugh uncontrollably for the longest time and still does, while Airplane! has more gags in a film that should be humanly possible.