Generally speaking I too get excited when I see the Starbucks sign heralding the arrival of the red cups. I’m a sucker for Pret’s mince pies and will traditionally get heavily involved in the pie scene for a good couple of months prior to the big day, and it’s not unheard of to find me still eating them in March. There are bits of Christmas I like but for the most part I’m not overly big on it. I have only recently formulated a theory as to why this might be.
As a teenager I reasoned the only way I was ever going to become a proper adult, you know, the kind you invite to dinner parties, was to become knowledgeable about all the things that came before me. Films, books, television shows. I went to my Dad and asked him what films I needed to watch and scribbled down a list. I borrowed about two feet of videos from one of his friends including both seasons of Twin Peaks and various Dennis Potters. I inherited teetering towers of Red Dwarf, Sandman comics, videos and JG Ballard books from another when he upgraded to DVD or got married. I was terrified, like Zelig, of being the only one at a party not having read Moby Dick. I did everything in my power to avoid an awkward moment at a party that I imagined would happen at some point in the vague future. Where do you see yourself in five years?
While I was doing this I assumed everyone else was doing it too so that we’d all be educated, pop-culturally speaking, and dinner-party-ready. I emerged, blinking, from my bedroom at about eighteen, full to the brim with Buster Keaton, H.P. Lovecraft, Hammer Horror, and Jimmy Cagney. And nobody else knew what I was on about.
I had, in essence, totally fucked myself: no longer would I be able to cavort with civilians; I was doomed to a life of comicbook shops and the fauna therein. Finding myself alone in a darkened movie theatre to see Murnau’s Sunrise with the projector light bouncing off the heads of three scattered solo bald dudes is not a one-off experience. But as Jack Lemmon said in that cracking film The Apartment, “That’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.”
Recently I became friends with one of the other kind of people who spent their teenage years doing sport. In my profession (if I can call it that) (I work in a comicbook shop) you don’t tend to meet many of these. I’m not saying it’s the correct way of doing it but I’ve probably based my own worldview on stuff I’ve watched, so I found him interesting in a sort of Petri dish way: where on Earth did he learn the rules? I was all for letting him be as he was, which he said was essentially ignorant of every film before the year 2000. He seemed to be a fairly solid human being so I saw no reason to ruin him by sticking a speedbump in his otherwise successful trajectory. But then the fool showed an interest in my interests. Christ, he’s even downloaded a fucking Wikipedia app so he knows what I’m talking about half the time.
In the last week I have made him watch the following three films which I consider to be among my favourites: It’s a Wonderful Life, The Hudsucker Proxy and, of course, The Apartment. And what, dear reader, is the common plot point among them?
I had never noticed I have a thing for people topping themselves in late December.
Take It’s a Wonderful Life, my all time favourite movie, my number one with a bullet. If you don’t count those two times in June, I had waited all year to watch it at the seasonally appropriate time. From the very first couple of lines we know that our hero George Bailey has decided to jump off a bridge on Christmas Eve having got it into his head that he’d be worth more to his family dead than alive. Wrongly thought to be a sappy, schmaltzy film it’s actually one of the darkest ones around, and nothing in the world makes my cry on cue like this does. George Bailey, I will continue to watch this film in very dark rooms until the day I die.
Next came The Hudsucker Proxy. While not the best of the Coen Brothers’ films, it was the one our civilian was yet to see. It begins on New Year’s Eve with a distraught Norville Barnes perched atop a ledge of an impossibly tall skyscraper. As the film goes on we learn how the naïve business school graduate got to standing on that ledge, in his mailroom uniform, full of juice from a beatnik bar. He had become the proxy to Hudsucker after Hudsucker himself plowed headlong out a window at the peak of his powers. In his will there was some business to do with company shares and basically our Norville was put on top where the board of directors hoped he would fall (fail) swiftly, thus causing the share prices to plummet so that they could buy them back for a pittance. And fail (fall), he does, eventually, but not before reaching the heady heights of success with the unexpected hit, the Hula Hoop (you know, for kids!). In fact, now that I think about it the whole ledge thing is probably a metaphor or something.
And then, last night, The Apartment, which I had totally forgotten was set at Christmas time. Already by this point our civilian thinks I have a thing for suicidin’ in the snow, and now this happens. As Ms Kubelik takes the sleeping pills on Christmas Eve I already know what’s coming, comment-wise.