Turning 40 with a challenge

Growing up the great thing about my birthday was that it was always in the summer holiday. Even as a solicitor I would try to take the day off, or on one occasion I did an adoption hearing which was an entirely happy occasion and then went out for lunch with some of my friends who happened to be in court on the same day.

My 30th birthday was spent in Devon with friends and on the evening of my 30th, we put our respective children to bed and then we had a dinner party and murder mystery. It was fun and very different held in an old vicarage that had been lovingly turned into a Bed and Breakfast and because one of the owners played in the orchestra that Martin played in, they provided a superbly cooked dinner which, if memory serves included dessert of butterscotch Angel Delight. I think it has been included as a menu idea from the providers of the murder mystery. But as my favourite instant dessert it was great as a birthday treat. The B&B also had a connection to PG Wodehouse and the bedrooms were named after his characters. PG Wodehouse also was a Dulwich Old Boy, an Alleynian. Connections interweave through life.

Now that we are in international education, the term starts early and now more often than not we are either in induction or we have students back. Last year, we were due to have students but an edict not to have students return to school was issued and therefore the boarding house was silent and it allowed me to enjoy my birthday with no students. There has to be a positive side to online learning!!!

However, there were also instructions to avoid large gatherings. So 15 of us gathered at the back of Il Milione, an Italian restaurant in the Suzhou Centre shopping mall and had great company, food and wine.

During the course of the evening the conversation turned to what I could do during my 40th year. People I know have done 40 afternoon teas for example. Sharing a table with friends who have a love of films soon highlighted, not for the first time in my life, my poor film knowledge. And so hatched the idea of viewing 40 films before I turn 41.

14 people, children included, started bombarding me with film titles that I had either watched (those didn’t make the list), fallen asleep to (The Matrix), had heard the name- but never watched (Dogma) or had never come across them – at all (12 Angry Men). I soon realised that I needed to write these films down- so the notes function of my phone came in handy. In hindsight I should have written down who had recommended them and now as I am watching these films I wonder who suggested it. There are a few arty, surreal ones that I attribute to one particular guest.

Other films followed a thread, once one film in a genre had been shouted out, then others followed like the Ipcress file and Bullitt from the same era.

The other day I hit film 43. If I had been doing this properly, I would have filled out a spreadsheet, with my thoughts on each of the films and scored it out of 10 and indeed one of my friends even provided that template for me and downloaded all the films for me! But the nearest I get is ticking it off and putting the date down as to when I watched it!

A few films like True Grit have been remade. I watched the original with John Wayne (1969) about a month ago. There is no doubt in my mind that that film I would have watched with my dad as John Wayne films were a favourite growing up but I sat down and watched it again. And then the next day I put on the Coen brothers version (2010). The original version is 2 hours 8 mins. The Coen version is 1 hour 50. They skipped the start of the film that put the journey of the girl in context i.e why she was leaving her family and going off with two older men to bring justice to the man who had killed her father – but the dialogue of the new version was exactly the same as the old version. I only watched the Coen brother version for 10 minutes and so beyond this I can only assume the similarities and I don’t know what else they cut beyond the first opening scenes.

I have now also watched Silence of the Lambs starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. A film that gripped me and was not as bad as I thought. But still unwatched is The Shining. I have no idea whether they are similar but in my mind they should be grouped together. Films on the list also included Porco Rosso, my first Japanese animated film and Dogma which was a film that was released in 1999 during my A-Levels. I always remember that one of my General Studies cohort was always talking about it to our teacher. I doubt she had watched it either!

I didn’t start at the top of the list. That would have been far too sensible. Nor have I tackled the trilogies of movies or the chain of films like Star Wars – I am quite happy at the moment saying I haven’t watched any Star Wars films but I can tell that this is a list that will continue to be added to and when I just need some downtime I will delve into the list for ideas of what to watch.

The first film I watched was Django Unchained, a 2012 Quentin Tarantino film and not a remake of the Django films of the 1960s. It was violent with nothing left to the imagination about the slave trade before the civil war. Will Django who has escaped slavery and teamed up with a bounty hunter find his enslaved wife? Maybe if I had read the synopsis of the film I wouldn’t have watched it, but it was gripping even in the scene that was a bit too free with the killing and fake blood. In order to come to the films with an open mind, I haven’t read any of the synopses so really have no idea what they are about – especially if they are in the category of never knowing their existence.

After Django I had to watch something lighthearted which was Spaceballs. Recommended by our friend’s 8 year old son and his father who in our shared office is always quipping from films. I figured that it wouldn’t be gory and violent if recommended by an 8 year old. And sure enough the film made when I was 6 by Mel Brooks was a hit and possibly the closest I will get to watching Star Wars as it is a parody of the Star Wars films. Martin did say I should watch Star Wars after it to get all the references… needless to say I haven’t… yet.

I have been up for this challenge in that I have deliberately sat down, put my phone down and been awake for these films. – All except one – Momento. A 2001 film with Guy Pearce (I watched him in Neighbours). Pearce’s character has short term memory loss and tries to piece together was has happened to his wife who has been murdered. From what I saw of the film it was cleverly done as there are two story lines one telling the story moving forward in time and one going backwards revealing more of what happened in the past. This film I put on on 28 May 2022, less than two weeks from the end of term. No wonder really that I fell asleep. I saw the beginning and the end and Martin filled in the middle for me.

The only film on the list that is from the year of my birth was Chariots of Fire famed for its opening music by Vangelis and scenes of running on the beach at St Andrew’s (to represent a beach on the Kent coast). While it came from the year of my birth it tells the story from 6 decades earlier. This was a film that after it ended I was intrigued to look at Eric Liddell’s story. Eric Liddell, a Scotsman born in North Eastern China to missionary parents was a staunch Christian and wouldn’t run on the Sabbeth. He switched events so that he didn’t run a heat for the 100m race. Despite being the underdog in the 400m he won the event at the 1924 Paris Olympics. After the Olympics he could have had a glittering athletic career but he left it all behind to enter into service as a missionary. He came back to China and initially taught in Tianjin (a city just south of Beijing). Sadly at the outbreak of the Second World War, he had his family leave China but he remained and eventually was interned. He died in the internment camp 5 months before liberation.

I am never going to get to the heady heights of quoting from films. I am just not wired that way. But I have enjoyed/am enjoying watching these films. Below is the list. When I initially shared it, people were generally in agreement that this list was a good starter for 40 (or indeed 101) and whenever I share what film I have just seen, generally it sparks conversation of favourite parts or memories of scenes.

The BBC used to do a film critic review programme, hosted by multiple presenters over 46 years but Barry Norman was at the helm for 25 of those years. I won’t be submitting my critical reviews of my list but I am pleased to see that in Barry Norman’s 50 best British films of all time (published in 2013) I have seen at least 10 of them! Norman helpfully has criteria for his list: “In most cases the criteria I used was whether these films were going to last; whether new generations of cinema goers would want to watch them in 20 years time […] Most are quite old films, but they all appeal to this generation of film-goers as much as they did when they were first made.”

I am not so certain there were criteria for my film lists -except had I seen it or not and whether they thought it was a good enough film to recommend to a rookie. (Rookie – film from 2021 and The Rookie 1990 – neither of which seen – but came across when I googled rooky v rookie)

Me on my 40th. Wearing a “made in China” necklace designed by my three besties in the UK incorporating the Irish triquetra with a heart for love and friendship.

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