During the coronavirus lockdown, I'm sure I was not the only Gen-Xer to torture their children by making them sit through the movies of their youth. We were trapped together during a global pandemic and we may as well look back at a time that seemed infinitely sweeter and simpler.
And it was an education for me, as well as them.
First up was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, released in 1968, three years before I was born, based on a book by 007 creator Ian Fleming, with a script by Roald Dahl and produced by the man who also made the James Bond movies, Albert "Cubby" Broccoli. It is a wild fantasy about a flying car and a father and his children on an adventure to rescue their grandfather from the far-off land of Vulgaria, where children are, in fact, banished. The movie is significant to me because I was forever scarred by the character of the Child Catcher.
Played, I now realised, by Robert Helpmann, prancing around with a creepy, ballet dancer's grace, rounding up children from the streets of Vulgaria, the Child Catcher was, to me, pure evil. Of course, to my children, he was completely lame. Not. Scary. At. All. What was the fuss all about? (My adult self also chuckled over realising Benny Hill played the character of the kindly toy maker, not really up with British slap and tickle when I first watched it.) And while my kids weren't impressed, and it was a bit of a chore to watch, Chitty Chitty is still worth it for Dick Van Dyke's beautiful, physical comedy. And the infectious theme song.
Next was Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the 1986 classic, directed by the master of teen comedies from the '80s, John Hughes. Ferris is carpe diem writ large. He wags school, coming up with series of ingenious ruses to get away with it. He takes along his girlfriend Sloane and depressed best friend Cameron for the best day ever, culminating in one of the most joyous scenes in movieland, Ferris lip-syncing The Beatles' Twist and Shout on a float in a parade. So far, so good. Except while Ferris was a hero to me in high school, to my now (kind-of) middle-aged self he was an annoying twerp. Much preferred the perennially cranky sister. Then friends told me about the online theory that the whole movie had taken place in Cameron's head as he tried to gain a sense of self-worth. Mind. Blown.
Needless to say, this also went over my kids' head. They liked Ferris and thought it was good of him to try to take the blame for Cameron driving his father's prized Ferrari into a ravine. Okay, I'll give him that.
I also watched Stand By Me, another classic from 1986, with my son who was a little young for it but loved the sense of unsupervised adventure it engendered, with four friends in the 1950s on a hike to find the body of a missing boy. In high school, my friends would quote the silly lines ("I don't shut up, I grow up and when I look at you, I throw up.""Chopper, sic balls.")
All these decades later, I wept at rediscovering this beautiful tale of pure friendship between boys who had been abandoned, abused or ignored by the adults in their life. Boys who went on to become good, responsible adults.
I revisit all this nostalgia because, this weekend, many of us will be back at the movies for the first time in months since the coronavirus shutdown. Perhaps unwilling to yet gamble too much with new Hollywood content before it's confirmed the cinemas will stay open, Hoyts is showing some gems from the 1980s such as Ghostbusters and The Goonies. That's a good enough reason to hide in the dark, go back a few decades and suspend reality for a couple of hours. Your kids might even enjoy it.