Ever wondered where you’d go to if you could go back in time? Would you check out the Battle of Hastings? Take in the 1966 World Cup Final? Drop in on a stable in Bethlehem with some frankincense or myrrh? (Let’s be honest, if you’re going to take one of the gifts, cheap and practical’s always best. What’s a carpenter going to do with gold?) Maybe you’d take the Marty McFly route and check out a pivotal moment in your own life. If I was considering a trip back, it would come down to one of three moments.
There’s the time I attempted to overcome my fear of heights by attempting to drink half a pint of whisky and sliding down the death slide at the children’s playground behind my student house. If I timed it right I could give myself a big enough push to get me sliding and overcome my fear, rather than what I actually did, which was freak out, run two miles away, and then have to walk home very, very drunk. Maybe I’d go back to when I sent a girl I had a crush on a blank Valentine’s card and actually own up to sending it, rather than deny all knowledge then end up practically stalking her for a week. Or maybe just to reassure myself that she wasn’t The One, and not to panic, my soul mate was waiting just a bit further down life’s troubled road. Or possibly, I’d find myself on a Tube station platform on a Sunday morning, about two years ago, to try to get my past self not to ask a man about his shopping.
Cast your mind back a couple of years, then. I’d been writing this blog about three months when the annual Empire Magazine event Movie-Con rolled around, and the three day celebration of all things movie-related felt like an ideal way at the time to take it to the next level. It all seemed to be going so well at the time: I blogged ahead of the event about my struggle to get tickets, my sartorial choices, my expectations for the event, and in detail about the Friday and Saturday of the BFI-hosted event. I’d also managed to get my reviews of the films I’d seen posted, in record time, having written them on the Tube journey back to my car journey home. Friday was The Expendables, which initially led me to doubt my own critical faculties, enjoying it more than pretty much everyone else put together; Saturday was The Hole in 3D, a Joe Dante helmed disappointment which most others seemed to love, but not me. And then came Sunday. That fateful Sunday, where the advanced screening was announced as Scott Pilgrim vs The World, which had created that stampede for tickets in the first place. But looking back, one thing is conspicuous by its absence; I didn’t write up my Sunday experience.
If you weren’t at the event, you’d have no idea about the particular occasion that drove my shame to such an extent, a peculiar paralysis that somehow outstrips a fear of heights or even of asking a girl out. Empire’s website features detailed write-ups of the Q & A sessions that took place that day, and buried in the middle of one with Edgar Wright is this brief exchange:
What you wouldn’t know is the ten hours leading up to that particular point. Ten hours starting on an Underground platform, leading to the event where I sat on the back row and got increasingly hyped up. Two days of commuting to London and minimal sleep, coupled with the regular injections of caffeine needed to keep me going and the excitement of what had gone before had already gotten me to a state of wide-eyed euphoria by 10 a.m. Further Q & A sessions with the likes of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost on their upcoming road movie Paul, and some impressive footage from Tron: Legacy (which turned out to be the only impressive footage from Tron: Legacy) had elevated me to an almost frantic level of expectation. By the time the lights went down for Scott Pilgrim seven hours later, I couldn’t have been more excited.
Oh wait, no, I could be even more excited exactly 112 minutes later. Scott Pilgrim finished, stamped its place as my favourite film of the year – a position it still held at the end of the year – and by now I was practically exploding in my seat. Not only a film which seemed to understand the true nature of love and relationships, but had overlaid with such a glorious sheen and continued Wright’s run of films built on geek references and in-jokes. And it had struck me during the closing credits that there was a question that must be asked during the following Q & A with him and comic book creator Bryan Lee O’Malley, a question befitting this director and his film but also the Empire hosts and which would charm them all and the audience. But how to give it the right context? And how to make sure, sat in a tiny corner on the back row, that the question got asked?
So I sat, waving my arm in the air frantically until I was finally given the microphone, at which point I blurted out something along the lines of:
“I’m sorry I don’t have a better question for you Mr O’Malley but Edgar, you’re about the same age as me and seem to have achieved so much, I feel I’ve kind of wasted my life and the only thing that will leave me something to hang on to is the thought that you no longer remain grounded in reality. So please answer me this one question: how much is a pint of milk?”
Ouch. Three days of caffiene, no sleep and excitement burbled into one almost incomprehensible question, but one at the end which got a knowing laugh from the rest of the audience. (If for any reason you’re reading this and don’t know the context, then How Much Is A Pint Of Milk? is one of Empire’s longest standing features, asking pointless questions of far from pointless film celebrities. Of course, the joke is never as good if you have to explain it.) And if I’d just left it there, that would probably have been it. But after giving the answer above, and fielding host Christ Hewitt’s follow-up question, the mic had left me and started its journey round the audience to the next participant. This didn’t stop me shouting out the answer to my own question. Yes, seemingly unsatisfied with Edgar’s own, perfectly reasonable answer to my question, I attempted to give the “correct” answer. Two years later, I can’t even remember what it was. It was something about the nature of love and how that relates to mammalian lactation retailing. I do know it got booed by an audience of geeks, many of whom probably thought it was a personal attack on their own love lives.
I was gutted. I’d ruined my own moment, hyped up to the point where I couldn’t stop my own stupidity. I slunk away from the Con at the end of the day, privately devastated that someone who had now become a film-making hero to me would now, for ever, think I was an idiot. (Not that he could probably even see me sat that far back, of course.) But what was the legacy of this moment of ineptitude? Pushed on by this, I felt driven to ask better questions at Q & A sessions, driven to ensure that at least the person asking the question didn’t think I was mad. I’ve learned that it’s not about the person asking the question, but the one answering it, and I’ve learned when not to ask the question if it’s just not worth it. I’ve actually hosted Q & A sessions myself at my local Picturehouse, the glorious Abbeygate in Bury St. Edmunds (and thanks to the team at the cinema, it’s always been a complete and utter pleasure) and I’ve even gotten my first actual director interview up on the blog earlier this year. And I also made a fantastic group of new friends, a group that talked the same language and loved movies at least as much as I did, and many of whom now get together regularly throughout the year for other screenings and general socialising. Not only that, two years later few if anyone remembers my question, thanks mainly to someone asking a much more inadvertently offensive question of Chloe Moretz the day before.
But still something felt wrong. Unfinished business. The Edgar Wright question still burned me at the back of my head, an irritating reminder of not only my own weakness, but also of his. 99p? Hewitt was right, I’m not even sure Hollywood cows are charging that much these days. Had he really lost touch with reality that much? Had the West Country lad who’d become a geek idol gone so far from his roots? Was it all worth it if that was the case, was fame, fortune and an enviable abundance of talent too much of a price to pay for losing track of the simple things in life? Then yesterday, on Twitter: