Thursday, August 20, 2009

Late Night Bus Journeys and Other Reminiscences

There's been a lot in the news recently, as there always is at this time of year, about AS and A2 Levels and how they are apparently getting easier and easier year after year. It has been five years since I passed my A2 Levels and nearly five years since I started University. Understandably, passing such a milestone has got me contemplating remembrances of things past. I find myself thinking ''What happened to the guys on my corridor in first year?'' ''What happened to that girl I went out with for a bit?'' and ''Where did all the time go?''

The amount of hours clocked up on Paper Mario and Resident Evil 4 partly answers the last question, and in the age of Facebook the first two questions are no longer such an imposing proposition. In times past, it would take several phone calls, letters or e-mails to track down someone you used to know, at which point you could start a correspondence. Now, if you find them and add them as a friend, there's no such compulsion to get back in contact with them. It's so immediate that the contact becomes less meaningful.

Anyway, I'm really getting off-topic here since the merits of Facebook aren't what I want to discuss, this is just a pre-amble to establish that I am in a maudlin, decidedly Proustian mood today and, with nothing else to write about and a deadline to meet, I've decided to give writing an actual blog-style post, rather than a review, a go. I hope you will humour me in this endeavour.

Let me start from the beginning, which is, wonderfully paradoxically, the end, chronologically speaking. Yesterday was my day off and I had nothing pressing to do in the morning, so I watched Sleuth, starring Sir Laurence Olivier and (future-Sir) Michael Caine. I liked the film an awful lot, as my review will testify, but today I found myself feeling oddly dissatisfied about it. This has nothing to do with the film (or at least it does not stem directly from the film) but rather the way in which I chose to watch it; at home, on my own.

This is not my preferred way of viewing films, it's just that I tend to want to watch films that I know my housemates won't want to and we have wildly different shifts at our respective works (I work odd days and occasional nights, they can often be found working between 5 and 17 hours in a lab), so it's rare that we can all sit down and watch a film together.

My preferred way of viewing films is in a cinema or at home with friends so that we can discuss the film afterwards, and Sleuth is a film that begs to be discussed. It's an intricate film that repeatedly pulls the rug out from under the audience, and being unable to discuss it with other people is hugely frustrating to me since it's a film that you just can't discuss with people who haven't seen it without completely ruining it. That's the case with many films, obviously, but any film with the sort of jaw-dropping twists and surprises that Sleuth involves is more or less completely ruined if you discuss any part of the film other than the opening 45 minutes.

The act of watching a film then discussing it is very important to me. I feel that half of the enjoyment of film is watching it and the other half is in the discussion of it, though those respective values increase or decrease dependent on the quality of the film, i.e, a terrible film will be proportionally more fun to talk about than to actually watch. I have often found myself talking with people for hours after watching a film, which is why I generally like to walk home after seeing a film, rather than getting a taxi. It allows for a greater amount of time spent discussing the minutiae of the plot and the pluses and minuses of the film as a whole.

Now we get to the memory part.

My love of discussing film, in fact my love of film in general, stems from my teenage years, when I started going to films with my friends, rather than my family. This may not sound like much of an undertaking, but you need to understand that my formative years were largely spent in a small village in the Midlands named Market Bosworth, most famous for being situated near where Richard III offered his kingdom for a horse and lost both. The only options for seeing films were the Odeon, Vue (nee Warner Village) and the Phoenix Arts in Leicester - which, incidentally, is one of the best independent cinemas in the country. My quaint, parochial BBC sitcom adolescence and bittersweet Judd Apatow teenage years were spent with this as their backdrop.

Being fifteen and living in a small outlying village, whilst all your friends lived in similar outlying villages, and being unable to drive meant that you had to take a bus journey that lasted 50 minutes, then walk 30 minutes to get to whichever cinema you wanted to go to ("That's nothing, in my day, we had to travel four days on a bus, sitting on broken glass, then walk for a week to the cinema, which only had one seat and showed nothing but Irvin Allen movies"). This left plenty of time for talk and banter, and made the journeys home after the film rife for riffing on the films we had just seen.

We would dissect the films for over an hour at a time, poking and prodding, arguing and venting as we chose sides and debated whether the film was any good or not as we waited for our stops, then we'd say goodbye to one or two and continue until the bus reached its destination and we walked home, giddy from the evening's entertainment and intellectually drained from our verbal jousts.

In the years since these bus rides, so late at night and full of energy, I've taken to visiting internet forums and debating there, I currently work at an independent cinema and there is no shortage of lively debate there, and I have a generally quite argumentative attitude towards the discussion of film, but they've never thrilled me in quite the same way as the ones I had when I was 15, riding on an over-priced, crappy bus service with some of the best friends I've ever had. I do miss those days.