Sunday, July 17, 2011

late night movie

I am staying up to try and get the dogs to sleep (I know that's pathetic... anyway it's only one dog, Charlie is not the problem, Barry is restless). There are two films on - Britannia Hospital, which I think was Lindsay Anderson's last film,* and a 2003 film called Dying on the Edge. Actually there's a third, also from 2003 (oddly), known as The King and Queen of Moonlight Bay.

Britannia Hospital was released in 1982, when I was 17, so it doesn't quite fit in with the stuff I'm generally speaking talking about, but I do recall staying up really late to watch it, and being kind of horrified, bored and disgusted all at once - it was so nihilistic and sickening. It's a satire of Britain using the metaphor of a hospital. I loved Lindsay Anderson's If... so I was dead keen to see this, but it repelled me. I tried to watch a bit of it to see if the more mature me could make more of a film that I know many find impressive, but no, it's the same still (for me).

But this did all remind me of my early teens when I would stay up all night - or to 4 am or whatever - simply to watch some film or another that I had heard of or which starred an actor I really liked. For instance, you got a lot of great Hollywood noir late at night (and not so great, of course) with actors like Humphrey Bogart or James Cagney. I had a Halliwell's and would check out the films in the book beforehand. There were times I just couldn't bear the thought of going through the subsequent day knowing I could have seen (for instance) Dark Passage but not having seen it! I would also supplement whatever I could see freely on tv in the middle of the night with trips to various revival cinemas around town eg the Valhalla (in Richmond) of course but also The Ritz (North Melbourne) and others may come back to me.

I didn't drink coffee then, so I don't recall how I'd keep awake at all other than by the sheer excitement that I would add a little piece of cinema knowledge-experience to my palette. Just as I wanted to own every canonic album, I wanted to have seen every canonic film which mainly meant every Hollywood and Australian film made, new and old. I now don't believe I will ever, or will ever want to, attain this goal.

The films were (have I told you this before?) often hosted by minor celebrities of earlier eras, such as Issi Dy and Ross D. Wylie, two men whose pop music work I have later come to appreciate but then I had no idea who they were. They were very comfortable in front of the camera and they would often pad the films out seemingly forever with quizzes and games (spinning the wheel, etc), also advertorial (Michael's Corner Store). It was infuriating at the time, I got the sense Issi Dy was high, but he was probably just pretending to be to engage what they thought of as their core audience.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, then my father got a VCR in about 1980 or 81, then my mother probably got one too, then came other ways of seeing films in your own time rather than when cinemas or tv dictated it, and that was the end of that, though also I got friends and figured out the pragmatic concept above i.e. I didn't need to see every Humphrey Bogart film just because Humphrey Bogart was in it, because most of them were terrible. That said, I am really glad I got to see Dark Passage, because it's a great film and I wish I could see it now.

PS: At first glance I appreciate this might seem like a sentimental reminiscence, with mention of old TV and things one did as a child, these are usually cast in sentimental light whatever they are, however, I have to say this was a pathetic thing for me to do - I could have spent my time far more wisely - and once ways of taping and/or watching films at home came along, it was much better.

*No, that was The Whales of August, 1987. I saw that in a cinema in Sydney, it stars Bette Davis and Lillian Gish. The beginning of the film is very quiet, and I remember a lady in the audience saying to her companion loudly, 'Is it a silent film?' the answer was no and she said 'Oh, I thought... because...' (Because what? Because Gish had been in silent films she infected any film she made with silence?)


Richard said...

I thought [& think] "Britannia hospital" was [& is] a great film.
Then again, what do I know?
My favourite film is "Head".

David said...

I like Head a lot. A lot more than BH.
Perhaps I should have given BH more time? I just wasn't in the mood then, nor am I now.