I tend to try and look for some good in the world; even if it's by losing myself in film or music whilst the world around me collapses. Years ago when we lived in Berlin, I decided to dance my way out of SAD and the "Berlin blues" by listening to nothing but club music. Till this day if it is a bit grey, I crank up the dance music and make a fool of myself to my captive audience; our cats Nadine and Boots (rechristened Bootsyfur Morningmeow by hubby as we have been binge watching Lucifer). That said, there are days when I need to lose myself in film rather than dance or music.
January is a depressing month and despite being the hot blooded Latino type, truth be told my moving patterns have generally followed a snow, rain, more snow, snowmaggedon, windy one. Basically, I have always lived in places with shitty winters. Couple that with January being a financially destitute one where your friends go "missing," it can be a long one too. I have a list of "go to" films that I love not because they are great pieces of cinema but because of the memories that are attached to them. The films not only entertain but wrap me in a protective blanket that remind me that no matter what is going on in the present, there were some wonderful moments in the past and as such there will be even better moments in the future. My fiction rarely has neatly tied happy endings but in my day to day life, I am a bit of a softie. I love a good romance story and I will always choose light over dark. In addition to singing and dancing my way out of bad moods (you should see me singing behind the wheel), laughter pays a huge part in lifting my mood.
Below are three of my go to films, part of a growing list of films that can lift the spirits of yours truly. I'll be sharing more as the year goes on so consider this the first of many trips down memory lane. Who knows, I may not be alone in some of these choices but chances are I probably am in most of them.
The Goonies: Hands down, all time favourite feel good film. Now, it's not just that this film has everything a kid like me could have asked for in a film: Pirates, treasure, adventure, friendship...did I mention Pirates. Nor is it that when it was released on VHS, a neighbour of ours had to record 3 separate tapes over the course of two years because I wore the tape through watching it repeatedly. Sometimes I would finish the finish the film, rewind it and watch it again. No, it's because it was the last film I watched in the theatre with my dad before he was hospitalised. He passed away in 1986. Okay so that doesn't sound it like it should be a reason for this film to be a feel good one but hear me out. My dad was a big kid, my mother often remarked that she didn't so much have a husband as gained another child. This quality made him a fun and loving dad but far from the ideal husband. I credit my dad with my taste for adventure and inappropriate humour. I remember sitting in the theatre with him eating popcorn, milk duds and snow caps. He knew he would get in trouble for feeding me that much sugar but he was enjoying this film with the same child like enthusiasm that I was. It was our time, kind of life when Mickey convinces the rest of the gang in the scene under the wishing well to continue the search for One Eyed Willy by telling them that down here was "our time." My dad was at his best when he was smiling. I can still see his smile in my mind to this day when I insert the disc to re watch The Goonies today. Even now if I am in a bad mood or need lifting, hubby will say "why don't you watch The Goonies." A suggestion that I take to heart and act on without a second thought. Thirty two years later it still lifts my mood no matter what. It has treasure maps, a catchy tune by Cindy Lauper and a pirate ship, not forgetting an actual pirate!!
Auntie Mame: This is one of those films that I first watched back in the mid 90's. I was in The Boiler Room with some friends one night, completely under age and way past most people's bed times, including my own. At that time in my life, I was the youngest in a group of friends and still learning all sorts of references in the gay world. The conversation shifted towards films as it so often did with this group of friends and Auntie Mame came up. I sat there silent with a cigarette and a drink that was more vodka than cranberry as friend's recited lines from the film. Given I was rarely silent particularly when drunk, a friend of mine asked me if I had seen the film. I responded no, sending gay gasps around the room, as if I had been raised in a cave with no sunlight or outside stimulation. With that, it was settled we would rectify this deficiency in my life. We stumbled out of The Boiler Room into the humid Manhattan night towards a friend's house a few blocks away to watch Auntie Mame. Now, 3am showings of films was not uncommon within my group of friends. It was the 90's, before widespread internet use. If you hadn't picked up or taken one last stroll pass the sidewalk sale and were not ready for home, the party continued elsewhere. That drunk and that energised we always chose films that allowed us to pick up one or two snappy one liners we could beat to death over the next week. Sitting in my friends tiny living room, four of us crammed into his sofa in a room surrounded by overflowing bookcases; I was introduced to the wonderful Rosalind Russell in the title role. I had yet to even see her in The Women; another 3am introduction and requiring its own paragraph in the future. For those out of the loop, Auntie Mame follows the life of Patrick Dennis after his conservative father dies and he is sent to live with his Auntie Mame, an eccentric life loving socialite. This is a film that requires you to shout out "live! live! live!" and leaves the line "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving!" etched in your brain. I left my friend's apartment about 6am, as Manhattan's pace was picking up. Walking the long road from the East Village back to the Upper East Side as I often did on summer nights I felt light on my feet. I felt like the luckiest man in the world in the greatest city on earth with life pulsing through my veins. It still remains my go to when I am really sick because nothing gets my mind off of feeling like rubbish as Auntie Mame does.
Sixteen Candles: I refuse to be alone on this one! John Hughes defined a generation and then some. I have friends now who pass his films down to their kids and it makes me happy that his legacy is secured. If I had kids, I would do the same. In case anyone hasn't seen it, Sixteen Candles follows the day of Sam Baker whose family is preoccupied with her sister's weddings so forget her 16th birthday completely. We learn that she is hopelessly in love with the dreamy Jake Ryan who doesn't know she exists, or does he? Okay that is simplifying it but even if you have not seen the film, you have most definitely come across the references. I have had the same best friend since I was 13 and we have spent an incredible amount of time watching films together. Sixteen Candles rates as one of our go to films even now when we get the chance to spend some time together. She lives in NYC and I am here in the UK so it doesn't happen as often as we would like. I don't often praise the modern world but thanks to email and texts, we can send each other random lines and YouTube to say "thinking about ya!" When we dance, we still do the Joan Cusack dance together, click here for video. I can call her up and say the words "VD," and she bursts out laughing. Out of the many films we have re-watched, Sixteen Candles still holds up. It still makes us laugh and there is no shortage of lines to quote from the film. Also, at some point, (straight women and gay men, help me out on this one) we have all imagined being a part of the closing scene. We have all imagined or at least wondered what it would be like to leaning into Jake Ryan in the closing scene over a lit birthday cake and whisper, "it already came true."
What about your favourites?
2016 was a shit year, there is a clear consensus amongst likeminded individuals on that assessment. This isn't a post about the details of Brexit or the impending Trump presidency (I threw up a little in my mouth as I typed that) or any other disastrous event of 2016. No, this is about a song, no, a musical, based on a book, set in a time that could be today but was over eight five years ago. A time that would alter the course of humanity, warfare and challenge right and wrong. Yes, its Cabaret.
Cabaret needs no real introduction. But in case you have never seen or heard it, it stars Joel Grey (Master of Ceremonies,) Michael York (Brian Roberts) and Liza Minnelli (Sally Bowles). It was loosely based on Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin part of his well known Berlin Novels and I Am A Camera, a 1951 also based on Isherwood. It was made into a musical in 1966 and into a film in 1972 (not debating its quality either). The story is set in the final days of Weimar Berlin and juxtaposes the excesses of the time with the upheaval of political violence. Caught in between, are star crossed lovers and "everyday" people whose allegiances change from one end of the political spectrum to the other. Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin formed a part of my MA dissertation and yes I could go into the academic arguments, but frankly I left academia behind years ago and we're discussing Cabaret, not Goodbye to Berlin.
This past December, hubby and I found ourselves in London at a drag show off Trafalgar Square in which Cabaret was sung by the hostess; the crowd sung along loud and drunk, legs kicking Broadway style (as you do). Let's face it, it's a song that never fails to get the crowd going. A few weeks later we were in Plymouth and found ourselves at drag karaoke, where again "Cabaret" was sung by the hostess, as well as a cringe worthy take of Mein Herr by yours truly. I need to brush up on my German, seriously. A week later, Cabaret makes an appearance at drag karaoke again. Hubby had never seen the film all the way through so Christmas night after a lovely and relaxing meal with a dear friend, we decided to rectify that. I hadn't seen it in at least three years, the last time being on an afternoon when we lived in Berlin and I felt like I was on death's door. Hubby enjoyed it a lot more than he thought and was struck by the parallels to today's events.
There are two scenes in the film that stood out and made the hair on our arms stand up. The scene in which Brian confronts his fellow boarders in the flat about their growing sympathy for the Nazis. Their response being that as it is in the papers, it must be true. Well of course that doesn't resonate at all in the modern world, now does it? The second, and to me the most haunting scene in that film is the biergarten scene in which the Hitler Youth sing Tomorrow Belongs to Me. Throughout the film you see the excesses and fun pinned against political flyers, deaths in the background but when this scene passes, you know that the end has finally come. It is a feeling that is too close to home these days. That said, I'm not ready to throw in the towel and call this the end just yet.
Before the end though, we return to the song in question and the namesake of the musical and film, Cabaret. I couldn't help but wonder why this song kept following us? Why now? I am by no means suggesting that the song is a call to arms. I do though have a major belief in synchronicity and it is something that as I get older, I find it harder to ignore. I wonder if the gay community is becoming aware of the urgency of the political situation around us. I wonder if that feeling is growing even amongst the less political members of the gay community. I wonder if subconsciously this is a musical call to solidarity. I wonder if we are remembering that once these numbers were sung too and performed in illegal spaces when living our very lives was illegal. Most of all though, I wonder if it is time to look back on our struggles and take strength from that journey, that fight to protect ourselves going forward.
What I don't doubt is that we should heed the call of the song and remember that there is no good being alone in your room, not in 2017. This is a year we need to lock arms and kick our heels up; together.
John Lugo-Trebble considers this more of a space to engage personal reflections and memories with connections to music and film.