The weekend of Speed’s home release (on VHS and Laserdisc concurrently, nostalgia fans!) my best friend and I watched it 12 times. We alternated that and lying on her bottom bunk, gazing up at the life sized Keanu Reeves poster she’d blu-tacked to the slats of her sister’s top bunk. I guess you could call it a sexual awakening. We’ve all had them. It’s just that, for some, puberty coincided with the release of a more critically acclaimed blockbuster. That said, even if you’re not invested in marrying the protagonist, Speed is a superb film. We didn’t just watch it to stare at Keanu’s face. We used to rewind and watch the bit where Dennis Hopper’s head gets knocked off by the subway sign on slow motion, cheering all the way.
I stand by Speed’s merits as a film, but it’s no doubt the circumstances through which I discovered it that will lead me to defend it to the end. We were on holiday in Florida around the time of The Lion King’s theatrical release. We didn’t get a chance to see it out there, being somewhat preoccupied by the International House of Pancakes, and a mild case of sun stroke. However my brother and I, obsessed with Aladdin and massively anticipating the next Disney animation, came home with a suitcase full of merchandise. Including a cassette tape of the soundtrack. When the film finally hit Leicester Odeon several months later, we queued around the block to attend the first showing, and proceeded to be the weird kids on the back row who somehow already knew all the words to every song in the film.
Circumstances and surroundings surely have some influence on your opinion of a film. It’s not everything, granted. The first time I saw Amelie was at Glastonbury 2002 in the ill-fated Cinema Field. After three failed attempts to start the film, the inflatable screen collapsed and they gave up. But the five minutes I saw (three times) were enough to send me home from the festival with the overwhelming urge to see the entire film. (That and a commitment to make it through the rest of my life without ever having to watch The Charlatans perform live again.) Nonetheless, it must have some bearing. The Natalie Portman stripathon Closer was bad, no doubt. But the fact that my friend and I & drifted into the cinema lobby afterwards half asleep and thoroughly depressed, only to find our husbands clutching each other and crying with joy having just seen Team America: World Police for the first time didn’t help its cause. Best Picture Oscars have probably been won and lost over less.
Here’s the thing: as I sat down to watch Star Wars for the first time, aged 31, after a long day and a couple of beers, I was expecting to be blown away. In reality I found the beginning kind of slow. I didn’t immediately warm to the R2-D2 / C-3PO double act the way I knew I was supposed to. (Frankly he just annoyed me, wheeling around making his indecipherable beeps, dragging his big plate hands along behind him.) Yes, Alec Guinness kicked ass. And Harrison Ford was suitably dreamy. But I wanted an action movie and I didn’t feel I was getting one. My biggest disappointment was Darth Vader. I thought he was supposed to be scary? Stood in the Situation Room doing his heavy breathing routine? Come on! He wouldn’t last five minutes under Jed Bartlet. And don’t even get me started on the fact that he’s voiced by Mufasa from The Lion King. The kindest, noblest lion that ever lived. If you want menacing, try getting Jeremy Irons to voice Vader. Perhaps I should have watched it that summer we went to Florida. The Star Wars ride was far and away the highlight of Universal Studios. If I’d watched it then, off the back of that excitement, aged 13, less cynical, my Star Wars story would probably be different.
I understand the cultural significance of Star Wars. The fact that, if it wasn’t for this film, I wouldn’t know and love the likes of Clerks, Se7en, or even Toy Story. I get that, and I’m grateful. I love the fact that it’s created a generation of passionate, geeky, often obsessive film fans. That my husband has to deliver a 20 minute diatribe on the original theatrical versus newer versions before he can even open the dvd case. But, just as you don’t get butterflies in your stomach as the title hits the screen on the last note of ‘Circle of Life’, or a ridiculous grin on your face when Jack Traven shouts ‘It’s cans! It’s ok, it’s cans!’, I don’t love Star Wars. Sorry.