Friday, October 22, 2004

City Lights

The London Film Festival began on Wednesday.

I LOVE the London Film Festival. Two of my favourite things, London and Film, rubbing shoulders, ripping each other’s clothes off and violently bringing each other off in a fortnight of frenzied, hungry rutting, with blood, sweat and celluloid sprayed in all four corners of Leicester Square.

This is the first time in four years that I haven’t had press accreditation for the festival. I couldn’t really justify it with the new job and new baby. But I used to love the whole thing. In the lead up, there’s two weeks of back-to-back press screenings, three movies a day, starting at around 9.30am, leaving you on the verge of deep vein thrombosis by the late afternoon, squinting into the icy winter sky over the South Bank.

And then when the festival begins, there are more screenings. And interviews. And far too much coffee. And parties. And free beer. And you end up starting the day at 9am, and finishing at 3am in an after-hours dive in W1, arguing about movies with your peers, in slurred, nonsensical, fractured sentences. And sometimes, there’s a bit of journalism thrown in there too.

I’m going to miss it.

But to mark this occasion in my own special way, I’ve been reflecting on great London movies. And I’m struggling. It’s much easier to think of the London movies that suck.

Notting Hill is a bad, bad London movie. So is Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch. None of those films are any kind of London that I know. It’s dishonest fakery, a counterfeit London for an international audience who don’t know any better, and don’t care either.

And the Carry On films and the Ealing comedies and Brief Encounter are all interesting in an historical sense, or as entertainments, but it’s a London that predates me, and it doesn’t matter how much I like Sid James or Terry Thomas or Trevor Howard, these aren’t people I recognise from my London life.

So, here are the top three London films that I can think of at the moment:

An American Werewolf in London – It took the objective eye of the great and underrated (American) John Landis to conjure up this perfect confluence of horror and comedy. The gore and laughs are piled high to dizzying levels amidst some of the great London-on-film moments, like the werewolf’s-eye-view of a rampage around the London Underground, or the porn cinema showing “See You Next Tuesday”, where David is confronted by all his victims (in reality the now-closed ABC cinema on Piccadilly which is currently a ticket booth that I never, ever see anyone using), or the decapitated head bouncing down Piccadilly.

28 Days Later – Not strictly a London film, but this is up there for the startling opening shots of Cillian Murphy wandering around the abandoned zombie-ravaged capital, all shot on the fly, guerrilla-style, in the early hours of daybreak by Danny Boyle. Burning cars, littered streets, and toppled-over double-deckers. Just like the real London after the Poll Tax riots.

Dirty Pretty Things – “We are the people you do not see. We are the ones who drive your cabs. We clean your rooms. And suck your cocks.” My favourite London film ever. Superficially, it’s a thriller. But it resonates because it's really about how we live our London lives today. Stephen Frears has a meticulous eye for detail, and every scene rings true. This film opened the London Film Festival a couple of years back. And I do believe that is where I came in...

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