In search of family viewing, and after a false start, we watch “Breaking Away” (the 1979 film directed by Peter Yates) in memory of my father.
Last week’s ITV drama “Quiz” was a real treat. It was based on events related to the quiz show “Who wants to be a millionaire?” nearly 20 years ago which resulted in three people being convicted of trying to cheat the show out of a million pounds. As a family we watched the three episodes (each just one hour long), while they were broadcast live on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night. There aren’t many dramas with a 9pm start time that are suitable for our 13 year old daughter and 15 year old son but this was perfect: no sex, murder or torture, no swearing, no convoluted plot, and it was based on a TV show that they are familiar with. On Thursday and Friday night we watched the two final episodes of this year’s regular “Masterchef” series, so there was family viewing which engaged all four of us for five nights in a row. This doesn’t happen very often.
On the look-out for something equally engaging at the start of this week I dug out the DVD of “Slumdog Millionaire”, which I saw on its initial release. My wife hadn’t seen it and neither had the children. It’s rated 15 but I couldn’t recall any scenes that I would feel like editing out, and it would continue the “Who wants to be a millionaire?” theme of our previous week’s viewing. The cover of the DVD quotes the News of the World’s 5-star review: “The feel-good film of the decade”. How wrong. I had forgotten that in the first 20 minutes we see the main character beaten up and tortured (his face submerged in a bucket of water at one point, electric shocks administered while he’s hung up by his wrists a few screen minutes later), flashbacks of his younger self immersed in a pool of excrement, and his mother being murdered in a riot scene that also features a man set on fire. We started watching the film on Monday evening before dinner, and didn’t return to it afterwards. I know it has a happy ending, of sorts, but we’ll return to this one another time.
Instead of continuing with “Slumdog Millionaire”, on Tuesday evening we watched the 1979 film “Breaking Away” in memory of my father who died last weekend. He talked to me about it in January, remembering the times we watched it back in the 1980s. I had seen it at the old Arts Cinema in Cambridge around 1983 and loved it. A few years later I recorded a late-night ITV screening on VHS (on timer – it was broadcast at something like 2am). I was watching it later that week, around 10.30pm. My parents had gone to bed but my Dad got up and came into the living-room a few minutes into the film. I rewound it and we watched from the beginning. He loved it too. We saw it another two or three times, when there was nothing on TV that we wanted to watch.
The film is set in Bloomington Indiana and features a quartet of friends who have finished high school and are, essentially, bumming around wondering what to do next. One of them, the film’s main character, is a keen cyclist who is such a fan of Italian teams that he pretends to be Italian. All four boys are sons of stonecutters, men who cut the stones that built parts of the University of Indiana. Locals are known as “Cutters”, especially by the college students. Tensions between college students and locals are a theme throughout, building up to a cycling tournament in which the Cutters are allowed to field a team for the first time. There’s a happy ending. The film was nominated for multiple Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director (Peter Yates) and won for Best Original Screenplay (Steve Tesich)
Over the last 15 years I have got rid of most of my old VHS cassettes. For a while our local waste disposal centre was able to recycle them, but the last few hundred ended up in landfill. I have kept my original mid-80s tape of “Breaking Away” and transferred its contents to DVD some years ago, including the introduction by an unnamed late-night presenter, the old Thames Television logo that precedes the action, and the ad-breaks. The adverts contain “before they were famous” appearances by, among others, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Harry Enfield and John Sessions. Over the years I made a few DVD copies of cherished recordings for my Dad, including some episodes of the Channel 4 show “Irish Angle” which were aired back in the 1980s. One of them features a barrel-maker in Cavan. Another deals with making hurleys in Kilkenny (my father’s home county), back when Brian Cody was captain of their All-Ireland winning team. (Since 1998 he has been the team manager, the longest-serving and most successful in the county’s history.) In January, prompted by my Dad’s discussion of the film, I made a copy of the “Breaking Away” DVD for him, so he was able to see it again recently for the first time in 30 years. Unfortunately his hearing was poor, and he refused to wear his hearing aid, so it wasn’t quite the same experience as before.
While we watched it as a family the other night, I pointed out, and repeated, all the lines that my father enjoyed back in the 1980s and, I hope, a few weeks before he died. I toasted his memory with a couple of bottles of Guinness Export, which he was also rather partial to. The film is available on Amazon Prime (£3.49 to rent, £7.99 to buy), minus the nostalgia-inducing Thames Television logo and adverts featuring now-famous comedians. Check it out some time. It’s a delight. Unlike “Slumdog Millionaire” it might even be “the feel-good film of the decade”.