The Mai 68s fit so perfectly with our 40th-anniversary-of-May-68 issue that some of you may think we made them up. But they’re real, honest, and they describe themselves rather brilliantly as ‘the sound of Dinosaur Jr if fronted by Ulrike Meinhof, the Ramones if they sniffed C86 comps rather than glue, and the band Phil Spector would have loved if he hadn’t gone the whole Starsailor/gunningpeopledownthang route (allegedly)’. Their single ‘Frothing the Daydream’ is due out soon on Cloudberry Records. They’re playing gigs in Leicester throughout May and June and you can also see them at the Indie Tracks Festival on July 26. For more details visit their myspace. Below, they pick their ten favourite films.
1- The Rebel (1961)
Tony Hancock, my lifestyle guru (at least in his kind-of-fictional, 23 Railway Cuttings guise) plays an enthusiastic but talentless artist, who abandons England and his suffocating office job for Paris, where he intends to pursue his vision of artistic greatness. Hancock’s childlike daubings and nonsensical explanations are seized upon by the local pseudo-intellectuals, who laud Hancock as a genius. The ignored, genuinely gifted artist with whom Hancock shares a studio, becomes disillusioned and abandons his work, leaving behind his paintings which, despite Hancock’s protests, are taken to be his, thus fuelling Hancock’s undeserved reputation for brilliance. Hancock’s innocence and bewilderment at his acclaim represent the main part of the film’s appeal, along with his proto-Reggie Perrin despair at the stifling nature of his daily life. His enforced conformity is epitomised when his boss, observing the row of identical bowler hats and umbrellas on the pegs by Hancock’s desk, notices that one umbrella is hung at an opposing angle to the others. The look of disapproval that he sends Hancock is unmistakable in its message: Individuality is not welcome. Both of my film choices feature a struggle between the expectations conferred by the collar and tie, and the need for a fantasy world; this concept is not entirely removed from my own life.
2- What’s Good For The Goose (1969)
Norman Wisdom was the most family of the family entertainers, whose films could be watched by all generations without any fear of embarrassment. No one was prepared, therefore, for his seedy, on-screen descent into the 1960s dream/nightmare of free love, loud clothes and loud, long-haired rock music. Driving to a banking conference with bowler hat and umbrella, the married character played by Wisdom is beckoned by two young women, who proceed to show him a lifestyle that he could never have known existed. His early declaration of love for one of the women reveals that he has not grasped the ephemeral nature of the pleasures on offer, and his consequent disappointment leads him to reconcile himself to his marriage, determined to show his wife the fun that he has just experienced. In the film’s most erotic scene, one of the women eats Wisdom’s sandwich while he is driving, and the way that his bearing conveys the possibilities that seem to be dawning upon him, during these silent moments, show what a fine actor he could be. With an underground club at which The Pretty Things were the resident band, and with Wisdom wearing clothes that could have graced Donovan, I still, as a Wisdom fan, marvel at the fact that this film was made.
3- The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
This is a Woody Allen film (which he doesn’t appear in) set in Depression-era America. It tells of Cecilia, a downtrodden waitress married to an uncaring abusive husband. The only escape for her is going to the cinema and she becomes so besotted with the dashing hero of a film that he notices her and steps out of the film to speak to her, leaving the rest of the characters in the lurch. Being fictional, he is, of course, flawless; he tells Cecilia ‘I love you – I’m honest, dependable, courageous, romantic and a great kisser’ because ‘it’s written into the character’. The pastiche of 1930s glamour in the film Cecilia watches is perfectly done. Of course the two-dimensional character has trouble adjusting to the real world and eventually has to return to the fictional realm, leaving Cecilia back where she started. This film is so funny and so poignant too (I always think I’d have stayed with the fictional guy – but I suppose that isn’t very realistic!) and it gets better every time you watch it.
4- It Happened One Night (1934)
This screwball comedy directed by Frank Capra stars Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert as a runaway heiress and a hard-bitten newspaper reporter (who thinks he can make some money if he gets an exclusive on her story) who meet on a night bus. Of course after many adventures they fall in love and after the almost inevitable misunderstanding, which always happens in these films, are happily reunited at the end. This film makes you realise why Clark Gable was such a big star in the 1930s. I love lots of Capra’s other films, such as It’s a Wonderful Life, Arsenic and Old Lace and You Can’t Take it With You, and am a big fan of other fast-moving comedies of that era such as The Thin Man and the Marx Brothers, so it’s quite hard to choose my favourites…
5- Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)
The first foray by the Chiodo Brothers into the world of socio-realism and political theatre?? Well actually no, instead from a simple plot….. Alien clowns turn up intent on turning the inhabitants of a small town into candy floss, they manage to create an insane world filled with bad jokes, even worse visual gags and some of the funniest shadow puppet exploits ever set to celluloid… Like all good films/marmite Killer Klowns splits opinion down the middle… You come away thinking either it’s the best or worst film ever made and truth be told it’s bits of both. Instantly watchable and awesomely funny, comic horror genuinely does not get any better.
6- Ladies and Gentlemen: The Fabulous Stains (1981)
Lou Adler’s ‘follow up’ to the hit Cheech and Chong movie was a pseudo-documentary about an all-girl LA punk band – the Fabulous Stains – starring Diane Lane, Paul Simonon and various members of the Sex Pistols. Disappearing off the face of the earth, it has resurfaced a few times, mainly in badly cut versions shown on late night cable TV… The film is inspiring to watch (to see its influence you only have to look at bands like Hole, Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland) and has an amazing soundtrack including the should-have-been ‘punk classic’ ‘(So you wanna be) a professional’. Essential watching for the riot grrrl in all of you…
7- Breaking the Waves (1996)
The first time I saw this film I was utterly blown away. Like most of von Trier’s stuff this isn’t very pleasant to watch, I always think of Lukas Moodysson’s Lilya Forever too, when I watch it, although this has a happier ending of sorts. The shaky handheld camera techniques also used in his previous films almost give it a documentary feel, although the way it is split into chapters and the sepia effects used give it a fairy tale feel too. It’s a love story that simply batters you into exhaustion. It has been called the most moving movie ever made, and I would kind of agree with that. Emily Watson’s Calvinist, almost childlike Bess is completely mesmerising.
8- The Tin Drum (1979)
Refusing to grow up to join the world of adult perversity is something I have long agreed with! Although the central character is no Peter Pan. I don’t really go for war films as such, but this sets itself apart in so many different ways. The film is set in World War II Poland, in a town called Danzig, a free city invaded by the Nazis. A town with billowing smoke and towering spiral steeples. In other words, another fairy tale. The magical realism is captured brilliantly. It is about a boy living through the period who uses a tin drum to soundtrack the world around him. Most of the time Nazism is mocked; sarcasm is prevalent everywhere. The film gives a view on the mentality of the middle-class people in Germany and their racism and anti-Semitism before and during World War II. Next to that it also shows how little people did to prevent it, even though it was clear long before the war started, that what was happening would end in nightmares. I think it carries such a powerful message, which has a tremendous impact because it is seen through the eyes of a little boy.
9- Poor Little Rich Girl (1965)
Generally Andy Warhol’s films are either difficult to watch, art for art’s sake or just generally too long (24hrs??). Poor Little Rich Girl stands out by being both art and drama at the same time. The film itself is little more than two reels of Edie Sedgwick talking at the camera (one in focus, one horribly out of focus) yet it manages to draw you in and make you part of a world that even its inhabitants didn’t really occupy. The film gives the feeling that Warhol was trying to be both mocking and mould Edie into his Monroe, yet she comes across more of a tragic heroine; this makes the film uncomfortable to watch on occasion, yet it also celebrates a natural star who did not realise the talent she had.
10- Billy Liar (1963)
Based on the Keith Waterhouse book, this true to the story adaptation starring Tom Courtenay and Julie Christie is both beautifully shot and life-affirming. Anyone who has lived in a small town can empathise with the desire to escape from drudgery into fantasy. Like the majority of this list it (that awful word) stars people with a natural talent for reminding you that it is OK to escape from normal life and to dream of doing something different. Even if that dream is to be Head of the Federal Republic of Ambrosia. Sometimes people need to be reminded of that.