Bob McCabe's Life In Movies - 1969 - Ring Of Bright Water
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…”
1969 Ring Of Bright Water
The death of Mij the otter by spade (hey, we never said there wouldn’t be spoilers!) is not just one of the most traumatic experiences of my childhood. But of my life in general! How do you teach a child about death? Easy - take him to a movie at the age of four in which a beautiful, lovable pet otter gets his fucking head cut off – that’s how.
Of course had I been a more sophisticated viewer by this point – which I wasn’t – I should have recognised from the opening doom-laden tones of the late, great Val Doonican that this was not going to end well. (What was it with Doonican and doomed animals? Paddy McGinty’s Goat exploded. And Delaney’s Donkey was threatened with dynamite, before all the bookies committed mass suicide! Despite his cosy cardigans and approachable Saturday evening persona, Doonican was not an animal friendly man. In this day and age, PETA would practically live on his doorstep.)
“Mij gets right into a man’s hair – and straight into a girl’s heart” as the trailer proclaimed, selling this as a sort of illegitimate cousin of Born Free, another animal-saving movie starring the real-life romantic teaming of Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna.
The movie starts with a naked Lady Godiva (what else would she be?) – something that I guess was there to reflect the times, i.e. the late ‘60s. But beyond that, it is a curiously chaste movie – McKenna and Travers never get as far as a kiss, and I can only hope that Bill having the otter in his bed was a platonic thing. Indeed, the only one “getting any” (as they used to say back in ’69 – check On The Buses if you don’t believe me) was Mij . I remember being confused by this at the age of 4, and my mum whispering to me in the dark to explain “He’s found a girl otter.” No idea what she meant. (Would like to say I still don’t – but have to own up to the fact that time has moved on.)
Amongst the many things this film taught me was the – apparently true – fact that the Catholic church, of which we were supposedly a part growing up, allows you to eat otters on Fridays. Which is just odd.
The other thing this movie taught me, even then at the tender age of 4,was the fact that, at the beginning, Travers lived the dull life of an office drone and I was never going to end up like that. No, I was going to grow up and become a film critic and live with an otter!
(Got some of the way there. Could still use that otter.)
Follow us on Twitter @lastwordonearth