Monday, 22 September 2014

Things I miss

The other day our family's fav movie, Jaws, was on TV and for the millionth time I reminded my son,  that back when I was 8, just how excited I had been to see it at the cinema. He's heard the story a million times, but he bless him, sweetly he let me tell it again: How Jaws had done the rounds the year before - and patiently I had waited until the Curzon advertised it would be on again. I explained how terrified I had been, and how I pretended I was losing hair grips and just had to crawl along the floor to find them at precisely the scary bits...

That is what you did back then - not crawl for hair grips - but you waited for the movie to come back on screen again. Previously, every Xmas, Disney had re-released Snow White and my Mum had taken me to see it. I'd fallen in love with the whole movie going experience - the dark lighting, the whispers, the ginormity of the dazzling screen. I don't think I have ever loved an experience (that doesn't involve another human) more than when the lights dim and a movie begins...

Years later when my Dad got a VHS machine - I was beyond thrilled to go to his local video store and peruse all the videos on offer. SO MANY films, all in one room! My tiny mind boggled at the choice so I plumped for Jaws 2 (obvs) and Fame. Every Friday my Dad would let me pick a movie and it was by far my favourite event of the week. The summer of '86 I remember we chewed our nails and patiently waited for the video store to call us to say that that "Witness' had been dropped back in; we were so desperate to see it (and it remains one of my favourite films to this day). Every week brought new releases - and old films finally available on VHS.

Near my Mum the video store was above a newsagents and I would cycle most evenings there - at least twice a week, to chat to Lonsdale, the guy behind the counter. My buddy and I named him so on account of his Lonsdale sweater (clearly we weren't very inventive). We were obsessed with horrors and would persuade him to lend us 18 certificates even though he could have lost his job for doing so. We devoured all the Elm streets, the Hammer Horror back catalogue and rubbish like Fright Night and Amityville.

Much later in London I befriended a video store boy around the corner for me who only spoke, or indeed acknowledged me - on occasion. No matter how much I tried to charm him or win him over, he wouldn't play the game. In the town I now live in, my first real buddies were The Video Store Boys - in fact I wrote a blog about them.

I miss this whole experience - the interaction with some film studies student, who wants to chew the fat about some obscure black and white movie, whilst secretly loving The Matrix... The whole joy of staring along the aisles, taking a punt on a foreign film that the Guardian gave 4 stars to; sticking your head into the 'classics' section to unearth films you should have watched but never got around to.

All of this has gone - to be replaced by the mind numbing i tunes that has nothing decent anyone ever wants to watch. No-one to give you a recommendation, or to remind you that a new Fincher film will be out in 3 weeks... (but was the book better? Discuss...) Where's the personal touch, the joy of finding a gem you missed, the banter about what you thought of it? Now everyone is some gawdawful armchair critic - tweeting their praise or venting their wrath, full of bluster and spelling mistakes.

I miss Video stores. I miss VHS tapes - where you had something tangible, real, durable, in your hands. When you slaved over 'mix video tapes' of clips of your favourite artist on TOTP, No Limits, Saturday morning telly or that weird video chart show on Channel 4 on a Friday. Where you watched carefully taped series of The Young Ones or BlackAdder 2 and 3 and knew every single word...

Now everything is downloaded and discarded.

The year I travelled (95-96) there was no email. No Facebook. No i tunes. I took an old walkman and a diary. I wrote down everything and took endless reels of film. I wrote letters home and loved when I got them back. I journeyed from Hong Kong to NZ, Sydney, Perth, Melbourne to Thailand and India - lost amongst the masses. No Facebook pics to record every step - pissing off your 300 'friends'. No lengthy blogs on the whole experience. No tweets and face times and all that jazz, so people are really thinking that it feels like YOU NEVER WENT AWAY. I disappeared - not quite The Beach, but in my own way. I called home every other week. Scrawled drunken postcards now and then, when I remembered. Now? CCTV records every step you take - there's no staggering down Koh San road, after too much Sang tip whiskey. Koh Chang - so deserted that it didn't have a single cash point, no electricity bar a strip of bulbs in the bar, and your shower was a cold spray tap, a bucket to 'flush' your loo. Now, email cafes and glam hotels... Gone the simple pleasures, the connections - we're all too busy recording life to actually live it. You never actually escape, disappear. Your footprint in the sand is now an image on a CCTV/dreadful Facebook update to horrify your future boss...

I miss life without phones. Over a coffee with a good friend last week she received 5 emails re work. She couldn't switch off -  just step away. She was CONTACTABLE. The days where you were out, so therefore NOT contactable - are gone... No one would dream of calling you at your home at 10pm to talk shop - but nowadays they'll send an email. And bet that you'll read it as well. You are never off the clock.

What do I miss most? Connection - plain and simple. We think we've achieved it with all our apps and websites and snapchats and the like. Yet we're more remote in many ways than ever. A movie missed? Pah, it'll be on tv in 6 months. A text sent - why haven't they replied in 5 minutes? We've lost patience. We've lost perspective. If we can't have it immediately then why bother? Life is only to be lived for the purpose of inspiring envy in others or to play out some charade of a life we think we are living... But it's only our camera life.

Back in the good old days, we just stopped for chat. Rang a home phone. Waited for the engaged tone to cease. Read about a movie in a paper, queued round the block on it's opening day. Borrowed a book from a library. Browsed the aisles of a supermarket, rather than an online list. We gave more time - we seemed to have more when we weren't gazing at our screens.

In many ways that is why I love Jaws. Before CGI would have fucking ruined it - by creating some tinpot shark instead of the Hitchcockian genius of giving us it's POV. Before movie marketing talked up a film for years before it's release only to be all the more disappointing when it premiered. Before the blockbuster (of bullshit) was created. When story mattered. Sometimes I feel that for all that we have got, there is so much we have lost.

*With that, she shut down her laptop and went and did some less boring instead*

(5 points if you know what show that is from... and I miss it too.) 


Mary McGrane said...

Why don't you !

Yes I was one of those film students who worked in a video shop who loved to chat to people about the latest releases. Keeping a copy for a fave customer. Letting some off the fines.
Recommend a film and taking home another world cinema film.
Ah video shops rocked.

Charlie said...

Yes - why don't you!

Great retro post