Back in the day, I recall an extensive bookcase of betamax films my family had carefully taped off the telly, sometimes even remembering to pause it during the ads (which meant you occasionally forgot to unpause it and missed crucial minutes of film time). It was a kick arse array of films because before cable, the only place old films got an airing was late night TV.
Our favourites got worn out enough to scream like pigs being turned to sausage every time you wound them back. Eventually, no amount of fwd-rwd-fwd would defuzz the picture, no head-cleaning tape could disguise the fact that the things were just worn out. And then VHS became all you could get at the video store and my dad sat and painstakingly set up the hulking betamax tank against the new, slimmer-but-still-quite-Dalek VHS player and “taped to tape” to transfer those films we could not do without. We kept watching them through the snow such generational taping causes.
But here’s the thing. We’re not talking about Bergman and Scorsese here – these family movies that became part of the fabric of our very lives, where one could quote lines and reduce the entire car to hysterical laughter, or sigh and slip down into the couch on a rainy day with tomato soup, or “bakea-da-bean” on toast, or whatever it was that managed to be cooked when Mum got a break – these movies were pure cheese.
Without saying a word, everyone would just end up watching them. As a teenager, I kept watching, nursing secret hangovers. If those outside the family happened to be there when one went on the telly, it was embarrassing, inexplicable.
The worst of our family movies were a terrible melodrama with Jack Palance as Attila the Hun called Sign of the Pagan. I may have to track that one down again and review it, because it was awful in a kind of transcendant way.
There was also Ben Hur (possibly the campest straight movie ever made) and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Not the classy b&w Scarlet Pimpernel from 1934 with Leslie Howard, oh no. The Eighties one –with Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour in a range of alarming wigs as Marguerite, and Ian McKellan as the villain, before he got famous. It is utter bilge, but I still feel quite hormonal when I think about Anthony and his dashing disguises, his turns as fop Sir Percy, his close escapes. Don’t laugh, particularly if you thought Colin Firth in the wet shirt in Pride and Prejudice was crumpet – it’s in the same bag.
I was privileged to attend a showing of A’s Family Movie some years ago, and it ticks all the same boxes as ours. His is Ladyhawke, and he won’t hear a word against it. Terrible synth soundtrack, Matthew Broderick batting his eyelashes at the audience and breaking the fourth wall constantly, and Rutger Hauer being Rutger Hauer. Evil Bishop chewing scenery, a curse, Michelle Pfeiffer in blue eyeliner. Aaaah, has anyone got a cuppa and a Monte Carlo? I could settle in right now…
So what makes the Family Movie?
- Cheesy music
- A love story
- Sentimentality in all its forms – cute animals, lovers reunited, villains routed and given their just desserts
- Period costume – the Eighties count (Working Girl is definitely a Family Movie)
- Hot leading lady/man – but not too much sex or it’s just icky to watch it with your parents
- Fruity cult dialogue/secondary characters
- Nothing too nihilist. This is why The Princess Bride is a Family Movie, and Withnail & I definitely is not.
If you can think of any other criteria, or can ‘fess up and share your own Family Movie, that would be lovely.
I am making a NEW list for my family. So far it has Enchanted April on it. Utter chick flick.