“I'm afraid of people who claim their experience of themselves & the world isn't fractured & fragmentary, when it clearly is; but I'm even more afraid of people who genuinely don't experience things that way.” M John Harrison
April to November was lost to depression, an accompanying anxiety and some middling (for me) self-destructive behaviours. I call it depression but more accurately it has been about grief and despair. It felt like all my usual safety valves were missing and I was unable to look away. Some of this was about myself – approaching middle age and unable to imagine a way forward, a way to live and thrive - and some to do with my family – I’ll let you off that part.
But the personal stuff is intimately connected to the much larger grief of the social and political – homeless people everywhere, refugees treated like criminals, the people of Syria and Yemen left to die, the hourly violence directed at people of colour and women, the daily inequality and injustice, the rise of the right and of fascism, the extraordinary stupidity and venality of politicians and of course, more than anything, the accelerating environmental crisis. I have been unable to shut it out. Often the horror of a present and a future I can clearly see has eclipsed any sense of daily pleasure, wonder or satisfaction.
I suspect I am not alone in this.
I have largely been unable to read – the readers amongst you will know how painful that is. Fiction has felt pointless. I hate that I’ve felt that way. Movies, a constant source of emotional stability, sustenance and inspiration since I was young, have felt pointless too, though I have, almost on muscle memory, still managed to visit the cinema occasionally.
The current mini project of posting images on Facebook – I’ve posted an image a day for 10 days of movies that had an impact on me aged 6 to 11 – has thus been a small way to reengage with myself and with memory and what is important. A bit of therapy perhaps. Though I need to go back to the £60 a week variety!
The movies I choose, in the order I saw them, were:
· Watership Down (1978)
· West Side Story (1961)
· North by Northwest (1959)
· Singing in the Rain (1952)
· Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
· The Magnificent Seven (1960)
· Planet of the Apes (1968)
· Some Like it Hot (1959)
· Elmer Gantry (1960)
· All the Presidents Men (1976)
Already you start to see the main influences. Westerns, musicals and SF were part of the family geography that remain lifelong loves – little islands of stability and meaning in a household that was becoming increasingly dysfunctional (or maybe I was just becoming more aware of the disfunction). More than that I was already watching lots of films by myself – hundreds of westerns certainly, but also Hollywood films of all kinds from the 40s, 50s and 60s that were a constant on the nation’s 3 channels back then and increasingly the political cinema of the 70s. My love of movie stars, of glamour and beauty, of romance, of melancholy, of screen violence are all there too. All have remained, and for a socialist and critical thinker, it is hard to admit that some of those superficial elements are still central to my dreams and desires. I am still beguiled by beautiful charismatic men and women. If they can sing and dance too…
My memory is terrible but I can remember the feeling of watching all those films for the first time – the wonder and the weirdness, the joy and excitement and, more than anything, a huge and complicated world being revealed to me. The yearning to connect and to escape my loneliness is ever present but on most days of my 47 years if you’d offered me the choice of a good film or the chance to go out and meet people there would have only been one answer.
There are 5 films that didn’t make it though they were probably just as influential:
· Star Wars – obviously perhaps. Growing up in the late 70s the new blockbusters would have a huge impact on many of us.
· Superman 1 and 2 – Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder!!! Duh!?
· True Grit – I watched all the John Wayne films again and again. This is still a brilliant, beautiful film. And it has Glen Campbell!
· The Jazz Singer – what can I say? Neil Diamond was big in our house.
· Grease - a rare trip to the cinema with the women of my family: my mum, sister, auntie and cousin.
I’m going to continue with the project and hope that I can start writing a little. I have started lists for my teen years and for my adult years. Already I don’t how I can cut numbers down and how I will avoid editorializing. What have I forgotten? What don’t I want to admit? What has changed? How can I place things in order when my memory is so hazy? How do I separate out the moments that formed me from the ones that didn’t? How does one avoid it becoming an exercise in nostalgia? Luckily, more than ever I don’t care what people might think. Woody Allen, Sam Peckinpah, Clint Eastwood and various other divisive figures will all feature. Better the truth – as near as I can get to it – than a definite lie.
For anyone out there going through a difficult time I hope you get through it. I’m 6 weeks without hitting self-destruct and 2 weeks back at the gym. Baby steps. And just about able to engage with some of the things I love. People? They are still a way off.