The few Mass Movement readers who know me from Adam will more probably recognise me as part of a hellishly poor two-piece punk rock act from Bristol called Hacksaw. By night I make a terrible racket, and by day I’m a music and showbiz journalist, but when I was rolling up to fifty I fancied a midlife crisis. I’ve never much like motorbikes, and haven’t got the legs for leather trousers or teenage girls, so I decided to get some learning and went back to uni to study for a Masters in documentary film making. I only did it as an old man’s vanity, but it turns out that I’m half decent at it – much to my own surprise – and my graduation film, The Bard’s Wife, is getting nominated for all kinds of awards. But despite my recent filmic epiphany, I’ve always been a big fan of the movies, so here’s the ten cinematic gems that have had the biggest influence on my life.
The Third Man (1949) I’ve loved this film for as long as I can remember. Even as a kid who didn’t understand the nuances of post war politics and sexual tension I loved the look of it, as well as the rattly zither music of Anton Karas on the soundtrack. It’s so incredibly atmospheric you can also smell it – which indeed I pretty much did when I took the Third Man tour down the sewers of Vienna a couple of years back to witness some of the film’s location. I was, quite literally, like a pig in shit. It’s the one film I could truly claim to be a nerd about.
Duck Soup (1933) More black and white fineness sees the Marx Brothers at the peak of their powers as they dissect the totalitarian politics fomenting across the planet in the mid 30s. But on top of the arch satire on the state of world diplomacy, they still manage to cram in all their signature horseplay, delicate harp solos and verbal gymnastics. And the striking thing is that it still holds up today as a cautionary tale to those who turn a blind eye to the excesses of the ego-puffed leaders of the globe. Cracking stuff that was well ahead of its time. Hail to Freedonia!
The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle (1980) Okay, so we can all agree that it’s a frequently terrible and disjointed film from start to finish. But to the 15-year-old me it was like somebody had tapped into my hectic ants nest brain and got (some of) the Pistols to do the soundtrack to it. Julien Temple’s later companion piece The Filth And The Fury may be a much more accurate document of the times, but it’s not half as much fun.
Jaws (1975) Like any kid of my age in the mid-seventies, I was shark crazy. So when this big nibbler finally came out in the UK around the Christmas time of 1975 I was almost fit to burst. Thankfully it didn’t let me down. Obviously at the time I didn’t fully get the allusions to Watergate and the parallels with contemporary American politics, and all I wanted to know about was the feck off great rubber shark and loads of incredible jumpscares. Another film that hasn’t dated a minute in all these years, but still remains a cracking document of its times.
Grizzly/Tentacles (1976/1977) I was ridiculously lucky to grow up in an obscure working class area of Berkshire that had the last village cinema in the country. It was sat right opposite my primary school, so every Monday morning I used to rush up to see what was on over the next seven days. It wasn’t quite like Cinema Paradiso though, as the projectionist had a constantly grubby raincoat that always made me wary of him. I’d get down the old Flea Pit to watch pretty much anything and everything that they’d let me in to. I was pretty tall for a pre-teen, and once I’d twigged that they’d been charging me full price at the age of eleven, I started sneaking into the odd AA rated flick and kept my head down at the back in case I got found out. And this grindhouse horror double bill was the very first time I’d risked it. You may not have heard of either of these films, but check them out, as they definitely have their rustic, slightly wonky charms.
Carry On Screaming! (1966) Pretty much anyone of my vintage will plug a Carry On into their top ten, but I’d argue that this is possibly one of our nation’s finest ever comedy horrors regardless of the baggage the title brings with it. Harry H Corbett is perfectly cast as the hapless romantic hero who uncovers Kenneth Williams’ fiendish plot to turn the local ladies into shop window mannequins, and the whole thing bristles with an anarchic charm and closely considered wit that was sorely lacking in many of the rest of the series.
The Moon And The Sledgehammer (1971) One of the greatest British documentaries ever made, this tells the tale of an eccentric family of outsiders living in the woods of Sussex who never managed to drag themselves out of the steam age. Filmed in 1971, it captures an older, more innocent word on the very brink of extinction, and makes us ask ourselves the question: Do we really have it better these days? The father of this riotous mob is worthy of a ten part series on his own!
Escape to Victory (1981) It’s easy to forget what a damn strange film this is. Directed by Hollywood legend John Huston as part of a push to get those Americans excited by proper football, it rolls out every prison camp and sports movie cliché in the book, but still manages to be uplifting, entertaining and frequently very funny. Yes we know that the combined ranks of Ipswich Town and New York Cosmos can’t act their way out of a muddy goalmouth. And yes, most of the crowd in the pitch invasion scene at the end are wearing eighties trackies and trainers, but you still end up jumping on your sofa as the boys make their escape, cheering as if your own team had scored a last minute winner in the cup.
Dark Days (2000) The film that made me realise that perhaps I could make these movie things after all. Marc Singer had heard stories of a subterranean city of the homeless near Penn Station in New York, so decided to borrow some camera stuff, climb down a terrifyingly dark hole in the ground, and go down and chronicle it all himself. As a first time filmmaker with no training he had no idea what he was doing and took years to polish off the edit. But through pure stubborn-mindedness he managed to craft out an emotive and utterly engaging documentary.
The Act Of Killing (2012) An original, disturbing, and utterly nerve-jangling documentary about the Indonesian government’s deaths squads of the mid-sixties. But rather than going for the traditional documentary approach, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer asks the now-elderly gang members to act out their past crimes in the style of their favourite movies, to see if it will engender any remorse in the men. At times the scenes are so surreal and disarming that you can scarcely believe what you’re seeing, but by the end you’ll be utterly emotionally spent. If you only see one film on this list, make sure that it’s this one.
Roy Delaney’s short film The Bard’s Wife is in competition at various film festivals. Hacksaw, however, are still on their never-ending 30th anniversary tour. They’re sure to be stinking up some town near you before very long, so make sure that you’re out of town that night.