THE INTRO BIT (Skip if you’ve been here before): We here at TheLastWordOnEath have asked noted film critic & film historian Bob McCabe to take part in our latest feature. The notion is to have someone write about the film that means the most to them for every year they’ve been alive. Not the films they saw in that year necessarily, but the ones that have come to have meaning for them in the years that followed – but were made in that year. After all, even we thought it was asking too much to get Bob to recall his cinematic experiences from 1965, the year he was born. Odds are, he wasn’t focusing on all things cinematic yet at that point.
We chose Bob because not only is he a New York Times Top 10 Best-Selling Author (Harry Potter Page To Screen), an award winning screenwriter (Out On A Limb), a noted and long-standing film critic (from Empire to the BBC via Melody Maker, Vox, Q, The Times, The Face, The Daily Mirror and anyone who would have him) and celebrated author (The Pythons Autobiography By The Pythons, Dark Knights and Holy Fools, Dreams & Nightmares, Ronnie Barker The Authorised Biography, Pinewood The Story Of An Iconic Studio, etc. – that’s the contractual obligation out of the way!) he’s also been a contributor to this site since its early days.
As a rule we have asked our writers to remain anonymous – one of the reasons this site was originally launched was because we were fed up with so-called “critics” writing about themselves rather than the films they were discussing. (Please see our “About Us” section on the tool bar above.) But in this case we’re outing Bob – and he seems OK about it.
“I thank LastWord for the challenge of doing this. It presents what seems to me to be a unique way to look back on your life and evaluate it from the movies that were made during the years you have lived through. Obviously, some of it will be retrospective – don’t really recall what I was watching the year I was born. And I told LastWord it will often be more anecdotal than analytical. I intend to write about the movies that meant something to me in all of these years I’ve been around. They won’t necessarily be the best of that year, they won’t always be Oscar winners (although some might – or some should’ve been.) But they will be the ones that do something to me. And I don’t think this goes against the ethos of this fine site, because even though this is personal, I firmly believe there is universality in the specific experience. These are my choices – but you all have yours. After all, everyone has their own Life In Movies. Yes, even you…sitting at the back there…afraid to raise your hand…”
1968 - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
This one’s going to be largely about my brother. My older brother – there’s a picture of the two of us on the front page of this (I’m the really good looking one by the way, in case there’s any confusion. He might be the one in the middle – been awhile!) There’s a beautiful Loudon Wainwright song (a lot of his are) called The Picture, which features the line “And whoever took that picture, captured our own world.” There’s a picture of me and brother (not this one) that does just that. It’s a very early Polaroid – the one you had to wait a least a minute for and then peel back the chemical heavy paper from and then wave around in the wind until it dried. But what this picture captures more than anything is me and him and our “stuff.” Back in those days, when we was young (bad grammar intentional) you didn’t have much “stuff.” And what you did have was solid – you could physically hold it, and you always made sure it was on your side of the room (until your brother nicked it! Or vice versa.). I distinctly remember my mum making us pose for this Polaroid with some of our “stuff” – he’s holding a record that was a recoding of Jules Verne’s Journey To The Centre of the Earth – an early example of an audio book I guess, with a cool green dinosaur on the sleeve. And me – I’m holding on to the soundtrack of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This was not mine per se. My brother very clearly owned Journey To… (knowing him, he probably still has it – which is fine.) Chitty however, was a family record. We all owned it. (Which was also fine.) Back in those days it wasn’t that unusual to buy and listen to the soundtrack before you ever saw the film (I refer you once again to The Sound Of Music, as previously discussed.) But before we get back to the wonders of Dick Van Dyke and his amazing flying car – there are a couple of other things to get into.
Now by 1968, I’m starting to come into my own (I even turn 3 at one point!) and am beginning to have a couple of memories. If I want to go for the best film of ’68 I’d probably opt for Planet Of The Apes (what an ending!) – but we’ll get to that come 1971.
And then of course, there’s 2001 (what an ending!) – Kubrick’s masterpiece? (Possibly.) I have, over the years, had something of a love-hate relationship with this Space Odyssey. Literally – I see it one time and love it. See it again a couple of years later – hate it. Never worked out why. But it may have something to do with my brother. I have a very early memory of being taken to the cinema – the local ABC in Harrow, with my dad (which was rare for him to take us on his own - maybe my mum just needed a break?) and my brother - to see this. Not sure if it was on first release, but my inability to look over the top of the seat in front of me suggests it might have been. And, during the first half hour Dawn of Man-apes bit – I really needed a pee. Now, as I’m sure many of you know, if one of you has to pee in such a situation – the whole family has to uproot itself and go pee. And so the three of us did. It wasn’t epic, it wasn’t drastic, it was just a pee. But it was a pee that made my brother miss a couple of minutes of a film he had been talking about for weeks. He missed his monkeys, and having seen it many times over the years since, that was some pretty great stuff to miss. And after that, we were never really close again.
I could be wrong – obviously! – but my filmic memory tells me that that was the moment me and my older brother grew apart. Damn my bladder! Anyway, while me and him remain somewhat distant, the last two times I’ve watched 2001 – including a 70mm screening earlier this very year – it fucking rocked. As I suspect he might too, in his own way.
But we’re not here to talk about 2001. Or Planet of the Apes – cut to the chase, Bob. It’s all about the Chitty Chitty. And, indeed, the Bang Bang. I have a distinct memory of getting ready to go to the cinema to see this. Now, to be honest, I’m not sure what my actual first trip to the cinema was – possibly the aforementioned 2001, possibly Dumbo (on re-release) – for which I remember sitting next to my mum in the dark, sobbing uncontrollably during the Baby Mine bit, when they locked Dumbo’s mother up, somehow extrapolating that my own mum would one day be taken away in a circus prison wagon (you know, like they did to Irish Catholics who’d moved to London back then.) She told me it would be alright – but hey, parents lie! (I’m a parent – I know this!)
So anyway, it was a Sunday morning, (or possibly a Bank Holiday Monday), and we were playing the Chitty record (knew all the words before we saw it) on what was probably a cheaper version of the generally perceived Dansette, and someone – either my mum or my dad, possibly my brother – mentioned it was on at “the pictures” right now. Still love the phrase “the pictures” – it’s right up there with Billy Connolly’s dad describing his son as being “away to the flickers.” Love both and will continue to use them instead of the word “multiplex” to the day I die.
Again, anyway – occasionally I digress. So a copy of the paper was retrieved from the bin – most likely The Harrow Observer, and times were checked. I remember looking at the advert in the paper for the ABC – but not reading it. That was my parents’ job. And picking up the record sleeve to look at the wonders about to unfold…and that’s it. I have absolutely no recollection about going to see it. (I presume we did.) I just remember the build up (typical male – I know!) But I loved it.
Recently I got to spend some time with Barbara Broccoli, whose father brought it to the screen. We both admitted it not quite a perfect film. But there are moments – and there are many of them – when it feels like it is.
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