Desert Island (Digital Versatile) Discs

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Right, which palm tree do I hang the plasma on?

My wife has been responsible for many of the most positive changes in my life, including wearing posh aftershave rather than Lynx, eating Thai and Japanese food and owning a cat (and here was me thinking I was only a dog person). She’s also the person who introduced me to Radio 4, dragging me kicking and screaming from my working class roots to what looks likely to be a much more middle class old age. One of our hymn choices at our wedding was even a tribute to the “One Song To The Tune Of Another” round from I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. Could I BE any more middle England?

If you read this blog often enough, you’ll know that I have a particularly bad version of the male compulsion to make lists. From 25 Things I Want From A 24 Movie to 88 Reasons Why I Love Back To The Future, readers of this blog are never knowingly underlisted, and there’s one show on Radio 4 that understands that passion more than most – Desert Island Discs. I’ve often wondered what my list would be if I were to be asked on the show, and frankly I only need to become (a) famous, (b) popular and (c) interesting to actually make it on, so I’m just a whisker away. A couple of weeks ago, I felt I had finally settled on my selection of eight, and because this blog would be almost nothing without its lists, here’s mine:

  1. Messiah – And he shall purify the sons of Levi (G. F. Handel)
  2. Symphony No. 9 in D minor (Choral) – 4th movement (Ludwig van Beethoven)
  3. Finlandia (Jean Sibelius)
  4. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace Official Soundtrack – Duel Of The Fates (John Williams)
  5. Solsbury Hill (Peter Gabriel)
  6. Meet James Ensor (They Might Be Giants)
  7. You Stole The Sun From My Heart (Manic Street Preachers)
  8. Bones (The Killers)

For the true obsessive compulsive, you can now search the online archives of previous panellists to see who’s picked your selections before. Only three of my list actually have actually been picked by famous types: the Beethoven symphony is the most popular, having been chosen by the likes of 97 luminaries of the likes of Jeffrey Archer and Enoch Powell; Finlandia was a favourite of  20, including Robert Maxwell, and the only person who’s ever picked Solsbury Hill is Jeremy Clarkson. Additionally, it wasn’t the same song, but David Cameron did include a track by Brandon Flowers and his cohort in his list. Not entirely sure what my musical choices say about me now…

You might well be wondering what this has to do with movies, or if indeed this blog is about to be renamed The List Evangelist. (Now there’s an idea.) But actually, as soon as I’d settled on my final list a couple of weeks ago, two things then happened. Firstly, I was reminded of how much movies actually influence my daily life now. Within the past few weeks, we’ve not only had announcements about the re-release of Phantom Menace in 3D, but also about a new Die Hard movie. The eagle-eyed and keen-eared among you will spot connections immediately to my music list, the most obvious being the Phantom Menace connection.

It’s cool to knock it now, but the Phantom Menace holds a place on another movie list of mine, and it’s a somewhat less distinguished one. When at university, and heavily into my movies but with only six screens to choose from, and also blissfully unaware of the delights of art house cinema at the time, I often saw movies more than once; two or three trips to see a film were not uncommon. But there’s a small list of films which I ended up seeing four times at the cinema, often with different groups of friends, sometimes on my own, but looking back at this list, I’m almost a little embarrassed. Here are the films I’ve seen a record four times in the cinema:

  1. Goldeneye
  2. Mission: Impossible
  3. Star Trek: Generations
  4. Titanic
  5. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
  6. Er, that’s it.

Let’s correct that – I’m a lot embarrassed. I feel almost as if I should head to my nearest Picturehouse and watch something, anything, with artistic merit on a constant loop to atone for the failings of my youth. In my defence, I do favour both quality and quantity these days, so the time to watch any film so many times at the cinema rarely exists for me now. In fact, in my Third Age of cinema going, since 2007, the most I’ve seen any film in the cinema is two and a half times, a distinction held by both Star Trek and Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer. But explaining all of that is a story for another day, mainly because my credibility is tarnished enough for one day.

The other items on the list which relate to recent film news are, of course, connected to Die Hard, and the imminent A Good Day To Die Hard. (Really?) For somehow, I’ve managed to pick not one but two of the pieces of classical music that Michael Kamen used in putting the series together: you might well remember Ode To Joy, the main theme of the Choral Symphony, from Die Hard, but Finlandia was put to the same use in Die Hard 2: Die Harderer. By Die Hard With A Vengeance, Kamen had lost the plot, and used the civil war song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”. As I can’t help but think of “The Animals Went In Two By Two” when I hear it, somehow both the film and the soundtrack don’t quite have the same place in my heart.

But I was also set thinking by someone on Twitter, the delightful Miss Sue Flay, who asked me what my DVD choices would be for the desert island. Indeed, for the past week or so I’ve become slightly obsessed with the notion. Reducing all of classical and popular music into eight simple choices? A doddle. Attempting to select only eight films with which to stave off months or years of boredom marooned on an island? Impossible, I tell you.

There’s a couple of obvious ones: my two favourite movies of all time, Back To The Future and The Usual Suspects, would be instant choices. For the benefit of listening to the end credits, and so as to have a Christmas movie in my list, Die Hard would have to make it in. Since I’m not willing to be marooned indefinitely with Jar-Jar for company, I’d have to defer to my second choice on the Star Wars list, and take The Imperial March in the form of The Empire Strikes Back. Then I’d need something in black and white for balance, maybe The Third Man or 12 Angry Men. I couldn’t live without some Christopher Nolan in my life, so The Prestige, or possibly Memento, The Dark Knight Or Inception. My first ever 18-rated movie, David Cronenberg’s The Fly, to see if I could ever sit through it without covering my eyes for the monkey teleportation. I’ve not included any animation, and so much to choose from: could be a classic Disney like Dumbo or The Jungle Book, or an epic Pixar, maybe Toy Story 2 or Ratatouille. I’d need a classic Eighties movie from my childhood that I actually saw in the cinema, possibly Ghostbusters. Actually, I’ve not included any comedy in there, so either Airplane! or Monty Python And The Holy Grail, possibly for the latter for its existential desperation, no doubt useful on a desert island. And…

And that’s already ten. Two over the threshold of eight. And on that list I’ve nothing by Scorcese or Spielberg, I’ve missed out the Sixties completely, I’d need a Bond film of some sort and I’d be totally lost without my all time favourite director. North By Northwest, Rear Window and Vertigo could be in contention for any top ten list I’d care to make. And that’s now fourteen, and I’ve not even gotten close to Francis Ford Coppola or David Fincher, Frank Capra or Akira Kurosawa, David Lean or The Coens, Michael Haneke or Ridley Scott. And I’ve got a whole draw of DVDs of classic films at home, from Duck Soup to Mullholland Dr,, which I’ve not even managed to see all the way through yet! I’m too young to be stuck on an island! I still have too much to do! To live!

So yes, you’ve read all the way through this post, only to discover I’ve comprehensively bottled it, and I don’t mean one of those little green things you’d lob off the island in a faint hope of rescue 20 years later. I don’t know if I could ever reduce my love of film into just eight simple choices. Could you?

One thought on “Desert Island (Digital Versatile) Discs

    […] The one constant throughout the six Star Wars films has been the music of John Williams. The finest composer of film scores of his generation has been consistently outstanding throughout the twenty-eight years of Star Wars films, but The Phantom Menace actually saw him at the peak of his powers. Duel Of The Fates takes the huge orchestral sound of the original trilogy, adds in a choir (singing a Welsh poem in Sanskrit, fact fans) and embodies everything that’s been so outstanding about his scores: it has the drama of themes such as Luke and Leia, the bombast of the original Star Wars theme and the ominous threat of the Imperial March, all rolled into one. It’s also one of the few tunes that you can do air timpani to. It’s so good I actually put it on my imaginary Desert Island list. […]

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