Archive for Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines

Video Generation

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 13, 2009 by babydylan

The strongest relationship I have had in my life has been with my babysitter. Not in a ‘Kristy’s-best-idea’ Babysitters club type of wholesome setting, nor in the disturbing mind-fuck world of Robert Coover. It was much more innocent and ultimately boring. Like countless other 20-and-30-somethings I was babysat by the television and VCR for most of my childhood.

Watching me

Watching me

Those familar video tapes were my closest friends. The comforting sound they made as they slotted easily into the VCR, the tape making a satisfying crunch as it connected to the device and the play button was pressed. The writting scrawled over the label, the first words I ever learnt. I knew how to fast-forward and rewind before I knew how to speak or spell. 

Following here are two of the films that shaped and moulded me as a child. Films that I will never be able to look at objectively as they own permanent space in my brain as “best childhood memories”. They are friends who I can always turn to and have completely influenced my tastes in films to this day. More films will join this list as I re-watch and re-asses.

Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines (Dir. Ken Annakin, 1965)

I sent him to the company of a nice young girl to keep him occupied. Your daughter!

'I sent him to the company of a nice young girl to keep him occupied. Your daughter!'

For me, no other film has had such a lasting impression or such a subconscious one. Not the average film viewed by four year olds, but due to my grandfathers aeronautical past and my families desire to keeping me otherwise occupied, it was a staple of my kindergarten viewing.

The story of the first unassisted flight from London to Paris in 1910 is largely fictional, yet nevertheless intensely hilarious. Stereotypes and complete lack of political correctness abound throughout the film making for most of the comedic moments. There is the pompous Lord Rawsley (Robert Morely) who is organiser, financier and general arse kicker throughout the race, along with his uppity daughter Patricia (Sarah Miles) who comes off in a more or less positive light (not quite surprisingly as the director and writer was fiercely patriotic). Her two love interests are the dashing Richard Mays, British Air-force with exceptional good prospects and his nemesis, country hick, Orvil Newton (Stuart Whitman) whose knee-slappin’, tabacoo chewing offensive Americaness is too much for Patricia to resist.

However the film really shines with its supporting characters. French, German and Italian competitors are forced to share neighbouring hangers and all forms of sabotage and backstabbing ensue. The fact that the airfield is conveniently placed next to a sewerage farm coupled with pilots who have little to no control over their aircraft makes for some wonderful Benny Hill inspired slapstick scenes with less naked ladies and more deep chuckles. Who wins the race is ultimately less important than how they get there, what kind of plane they are flying and is their enough champagne to go round?

The imagery of this film has stuck with me since I was a wee lass. Never questioning that all Germans are bumbling military idiots, while the French are less inclined to work if I good time can be had (or is this perhaps a keener observation than I’m giving the filmmakers credit for?). I was delighted by the different air-crafts, the constant bickering by the competitors and of course, that damn catchy, if not a little camp, theme song.

The Sound Of Music (dir. Robert Wise, 1965)

They don't have a television...?

If there is a woman who is more whole-heartily lovable than Julie Andrews, I don’t want to hear it. Christopher Plumber is quoted as saying  ‘working with her is like being hit over the head with a Valentine’s Day card every day’ but even the soppy-sweetness she exudes will never diminish my love. And this is all due to the Sound of Music.

I have vivid memories of watching the Sound of Music VCR taped from the television on high rotation, to such a point I can tell you when the advertisement breaks should be. I know of several people who have had similar experiences, where a lazy parents or relative taping the film forgets to record the first ten minutes or re-record as the ad break finishes. Thus until recently I had never seen the impressive helicopter shots of Austria, nor the iconic image of Julie Andrews flinging her arms out and twirling into the helicopter tail-wind. Not to mention one or two missing scenes that now appear pivotal to the overall cohesion of the story. Yet as a child, I wasn’t so interested in the exposition, it was all about the songs.

Oscar and Hammerstein’s feel-good, wholesome music may appear cheesy and outdated but gosh-darn they sure do get stuck in your head. And isn’t that the aim of any good show-tune? The believability of the plot (which is stretched a little thin at times – Was the Revered Mother playing matchmaker? I’m sure Jesus wouldn’t approve) rests entirely upon Maria’s (Julie Andrews) shoulders. As a child, she makes you want her as your parent/guardian/cool hippie aunt/random clingy stranger. The children never go to school, constantly running around in stylish vintage fashions, being taught how to sing in perfect harmony and putting on yodeling puppet shows. All of which would appear exceedingly trite if you didn’t want to be joining in so badly. She is the antithesis of the ugly step-mother archetype, children literally begging their father to hurry up and marry the woman.

Watching it now, the lyrics and the music make me want to sing along while Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) used to look quite old to my pre-teen eyes, he looks exceedingly handsome now. Even though the film has flaws, I find myself unable to care. I will never be able to see the film as anything else other than a family I want to join and a place I want to stay

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