Last week the world lost a true icon. It was announced on 16th August that Aretha Franklin had died due to pancreatic cancer. Franklin was an undeniably sensational singer but she was so much more than that. She was the true Queen of Soul and defined soul in the Sixties. She was also an influential and powerful figure in history. Her songs became anthems for social change as women and African-Americans adopted them for their own. Just look at what she did to Otis Redding’s ‘Respect”: she made that song her own and gave women a rousing call for themselves. She was incredible. And I could easily go on and on talking about the massive impact that the singer made upon the world. I won’t, however, as there are bound to be better people out there doing just that right now. All I really know is, I loved Aretha Franklin. I think the first song I heard her sing was ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ and I adored it. She made it seem so effortless but, no matter how hard I tried (and believe me I tried) I could never replicate her skills. I just couldn’t believe how fantastic and powerful a singer she was. Everything else I heard just got better. But, no matter how much I love listening to her sing, there is one part of her career that sticks with me more than anything: her performances in the two Blues Brothers films.
I first saw this film during the peak of my Dan Aykroyd obsession. I’d been slowly making my way through his greatest hits and I stumbled across this on TV late one night. I sat down to watch it for a few minutes and almost made my way through the entire thing. As in love with Aykroyd as I was at the time, I decided to hunt down the DVD and get the whole experience. I can’t say it landed anywhere near my top 5 of his performances. So much so that I got rid of the DVD a few years ago and thought nothing of it. In fact, so little had I thought about this film since then that I didn’t even put it as an option for TBT film jar. I hadn’t bothered to suggest it as a film that also celebrates its 30th birthday this year. Perhaps this say something about my underlying thoughts on the film but I don’t remember hating it. And why would I? Aykroyd aside, I adore Walter Matthau. I hope someday to be Max from Grumpy Old Men but, you know, not a man. So I decided it was time to revisit the film. Just to make sure. And to appease that soft spot I have for late 80s Dan Aykroyd’s face… and talent I guess.
I’ve got one more day of work before I head off on my holiday and I can’t wait. I’ve almost go ahead with next week’s posts. I just need to quickly write up next week’s TBT post tomorrow before I start packing. God, I hate packing. It’s days like this that make me wish I was still a kid. Remember how great it was when you went away and your mother packed all of your clothes for you? All you had to do was pack books and stuff. That was the bit I always looked forward to the most, obviously. Picking which books you take away is serious business. You want to take enough incase you get through them all but you can’t use up all of your space by taking too many. It’s such a difficult decision. And one that deserves more time than I’m going to be able to give it. Thanks to my bloody packing nightmare. God, being an adult is the worst… cut to shameless link to today’s TBT film. A film about a man who has a hard time dealing with growing up. Throughout his films John Hughes has explored the life of Chicago teenagers and She’s Having a Baby feels like the logical next step. We’ve seen them work their way through high school and now we get a picture of them trying to settle down. Starring Kevin Bacon. The darling of the 80s… as I’ve just dubbed him.
I’m starting to get to the point with my TBT film jar where the fun films are getting fewer and the more serious ones are piling up. It will mean that I will finally get to see some of the classics of the 80s that I’ve always put off but it also means I’ll have to be in the right frame of mind when I watch them. Today I don’t think I could have handled anything other than this light-hearted crime caper. It’s been my day off and I’ve been super lazy all day. So lazy, in fact, that I fell asleep during my initial viewing of this film and missed a good chunk of the story. Once I’d been revitalised by my nap I went back and finished it properly. I don’t think my inability to stay awake was caused by the film itself. More the fact that my bastard body clock refuses to let me sleep in when I’m not working. The problem with working 7am shifts during the week means I’ve not had a proper lie in for years. I miss my uni days when I could genuinely sleep in all morning and not give a shit. Also, back in those days, because I had so little contact time, I could watch at least 3 films in one day.
I’ve had a huge thing for Kiefer Sutherland for as long as I can remember. I think he’s beautiful. Even when he’s torturing people on 24. So today’s TBT films made me feel a little weird. To think that the year I was born Kiefer Sutherland was riding around with Emilio Estevez (another 80s crush I should add) pretending to be a cowboy. It certainly does highlight the massive age difference. She says as if it’s the only thing getting in the way of our love. But it does highlight some things. Some things I’d probably prefer not to think about. Still, I’m never one to miss the chance to watch 80s Kiefer so Young Guns was a decent choice. After all, Kiefer Sutherland is super hot so Kiefer Sutherland as gunslinger? Jesus Christ. I do love a cowboy. There’s a reason Back to the Future 3 is my second favourite in the trilogy and it’s certainly not because it’s better than the second. I just love anything set in the Wild West. Heck, I even kind of liked the film Wild Wild West even though it was utter shit. Of course, the song Wild Wild West certainly helps a lot with that one.
At work today, a friend and I were trying to come up with our fantasy dinner party guest list. You know, where you pick 5 people living or dead to attend your perfect party. Looking for inspiration I did the only thing someone in this day and age can: I Googled it. I was shocked to find one person picking Tom Hanks for her top 5. Tom Hanks? Out of all of the people of the past or present they’d pick Tom Hanks. But, I guess, he’s Hollywood’s Mr Nice Guy. He’s for sure one of the most charming actors around. And I don’t think I can imagine a more charming pairing than Tom Hanks and Sally Field. Sally Field is so fucking adorable that together I guess you’re just gonna be constantly smacked around the face with charm. It’s like that Black Books episode about the travel writer. One of the quotes suggesting the reader was “swept away on a wave of charm”. And, knowing very little about Punchline, that’s exactly how I felt going in to today’s TBT film. I couldn’t imagine this film being so bad that I ended up not still loving the two leads.
I was absolutely sure that I’d seen all of Cocktail before. It’s one of those infamous Tom Cruise films that I guess I just know so much about that I believe I’ve watched it. I’ve seen the beginning, I’m sure. I know that somewhere along the line I’ve sat and watched Tom Cruise chuck bottles of booze around. But, when rewatching this week, I realised that there is a whole lot more to this film than I’d remembered. I guess I just never finished it. It’s like The Sound of Music. Throughout my childhood, I don’t think I’d ever got beyond the Edelweiss scene. That means for a large part of my life I’d never seen the Von Trapp family hike over the mountain to freedom. It does leave me wondering how many other films I claim to have seen despite never making it to the end credits. Have I ever actually watched any film? Is my memory just playing tricks on me? Well, whatever the case is, I can now happily say that I watched an entire film about Tom Cruise pretending to be a sexy barman who can mix drinks with style. It’s not like it’s made my life better but it’s a fact.
I’ve had a really difficult week at work and I really wanted to relax by watching an old favourite film. Unfortunately, most of the 1988 films that I know and love have already been used as topics of my weekly Throwback Thirty review. So, when I put my hand into my TBT jar or film titles it was highly unlikely that I was going to get one I really wanted. I have to admit that, in my down state, I took several attempts to pick a film that I was in the mood for. I know I should want to watch Cinema Paradiso because it’s so celebrated but I really don’t think I could have handled it. Eventually I settled on this cult film that is not only one of Julia Roberts’ first roles but also Matt Damon’s first appearance in a film. It’s weird to think of a time before Julia Roberts was a massive star. It was 1990’s Pretty Woman that really pushed her into the limelight and showed that she was someone to pay attention to. Two years before that she was given second billing behind Annabeth Gish in this tale of three young women working at a small pizza restaurant. It was believed that Gish would go on to be the biggest name from this film. Bet whoever made that assumption feels stupid now.
Dear John Donne,
What happened to you, man? You used to be the man. I mean you once tried to convince a woman to sleep with you using a fucking flea. You were one of the original players, dude. Legendary. The fact that, whilst we studied you at the age of 16, my elderly English teacher had to explain the “sucking on country pleasures” pun to one of my clueless and naive classmates just makes me love you more. There’s nothing funnier than a woman nearing, if not having surpassed, retirement age trying so hard not to say the word “cunt” to her A Level class but being unable to explain it in any other way. It’s one of my favourite school memories. I kind of adored her anyway but that really settled it.
So, yeah. I had a lot of fun reading your poetry at 16. It was hilarious. Also, it’s not as if they’re bad poems. I actually really like them. I’d started to get more into poetry by that point anyway (it was after my first day with the Ancient Mariner) but you were accessible and different. Pretty clever stuff. But, it was your way with the ladies that really captivated my friends and I. We thought you were great. I mean talk about using your powers for evil, John. I know poetry has always been used in the pursuit of romance but you skipped the love hearts and got straight into the bedroom. You were the ultimate bro. You were a legend.
Well, until my further education introduced me to the yawn fest that is your later work. And I get it. You always struggled with your religion but don’t worry about it. Don’t turn your back on the man you once were. I’m sure God would have appreciated your resourcefulness. Using your talents. Your God-given talents. Of course, I have nothing against these poems from a literary point of view. They’re good. They’re just not fun. And I always associated you with fun. It’s like watching comic actors/comedians doing serious acting roles. It’s not necessarily bad but it’s always a little bit disappointing.
You’re like Eddie Izzard. I love Eddie Izzard and think he’s one of the funniest people ever. His comedy is bizarre but so hilarious. Nowadays, you only ever see Eddie popping up talking about politics. In theory I have no problem with this and think he talks a lot of sense. However, I still kind of wish he was still talking about cake or death. Or like Michael Sheen. I have huge love for Michael Sheen and think he’s one of the greatest actors ever. So, it’s always a bit of upsetting to see him on TV talking about how Port Talbot and not pretending to be Tony Blair. Not bad but upsetting.
You see what I’m saying? No? Here’s one more stupid, pop culture analogy for you. You’re like Kings of Leon. I think Youth and Young Manhood, they’re very first album, is one of the greatest all-round albums I’ve ever heard and I, personally, don’t think any of their subsequent stuff has ever lived up. I’ve enjoyed a few songs here and there but have never been able to listen to full albums in one sitting. So I, basically, just listen to their early stuff. Just as I, basically, just enjoy your early poems. You see? Simple.
I’m glad I’ve finally taken the time to explain it to you. I feel like this letter will only bring us closer together.
More than kisses, letters mingle souls,
Dear William Shakespeare,
I think the first time I can remember studying you in any depth was in year 8. So I would have been about 12/13 years old if my maths is any good. We were focusing on Macbeth and, in particular, the witches speech. We had to come up with our own version or something. I’m not entirely sure what the point of studying you at that time was but I was definitely drawn in by the whole witch and magic vibe that you were giving off. So, you could say, I’ve loved you from the beginning. And it’s a love that has continued with every new play I have discovered and with every play that I have revisited. With every sonnet I’ve analysed. With every play I’ve watched or film adaptation I’ve seen. I wouldn’t go so far as to compare it to Romeo and Juliet’s because we all know how stupid that whole relationship was but I’d happily compare it to Nerissa and Gratiano (one of the most underappreciated but most adorable romances in your plays).
And I could go on and on about why I loved you and what you mean to me. I could tell you which my favourite plays are. Question why I still find myself having to reassure people who you aren’t too difficult or the language is too hard to understand. I could thank you for the many ways in which you’ve changed our language or our culture. How you’ve remained relevant for such a long time and remain one of the key figures in English literature. I could revisit some of the times I’ve watched you on stage. Name drop Michael Sheen again and talk about how great an experience it was to watch him play Hamlet on stage. How watching Tom Hiddleston play Coriolanus whilst sitting next to a non-Shakespearean friend was both an uplifting and totally anxiety-filled experience. I could go on and on about how wonderful you are. But I won’t.
Instead, because I might not get this chance again, I want to ask you a question. What’s with all the cross-dressing, dude? I mean, was it really that funny to have so many of your characters dress up in someone else’s clothes and be mistaken for someone else? Was it really worth the cheap laughs to have The Merchant of Venice end on a pointless case of women dressing as men again? It undervalues the rest of the narrative to have that scene at the end where the two women trick their new husbands into giving them their rings. I was with you when Portia was using the disguise to school a bunch of men even if it does raise some questions. It was still a power move. But then the thing about the rings? Unnecessary. Portia is one of the most irritating women in you plays and it’s because she plays that stupid game. And don’t even get me started on Rosalind.
Was the taste in humour so unsophisticated in your day that all it took was one women to dress up as a man to create the best comedy of all time? Imagine what your audiences would have though of Mrs Brown’s Boys. They’d bloody love it. But I’m happy that you found something that worked for you. And, maybe, you were making some bold statement about gender and women. Maybe you were allowing these women to take a significant part in their stories that they would have been unable to do dressed as a man. Maybe. Or maybe it was simply to give the poor young man pretending to be Portia a chance to play a boy for once? Either way. I’m worried about you, man.
Exit, pursued by a bear.