Thursday, 27 December 2018

on childhood films


I often think about the strange character films loved in childhood possess when re-encountered later in life. Watching them again, as a self vastly different from the self that loved them years ago, it is as if we are watching memories of the past play out on the screen alongside, behind and through the narrative of the film itself.

The strange character emanating from this childhood romance is difficult to extract, difficult to put into words. Film and memory of the film become inextricable. We remember our feelings associated with encountering something we feel an affinity with so that the story of the film itself bears the imprints of these moments of love. I suppose this strange character is a feeling then, rather than a quality. Art and feeling melt into one force, so that films are bound up with our selfhood, unable to be detached from the fundamental structure of our being formed in childhood.

Films then, those things we reel off effortlessly in lists, as likes and dislikes shoved into Tinder bios, are not empty commodities but appendages of our being. I've written elsewhere about my love affair with Wes Anderson films and the close link with memory they have in my mind - my love for them upon first encountering them settling itself in my memory as temporal events complete with setting and feeling of the moment they took part in - and I think the same goes for childhood films. Things loved in childhood are an altogether different kind of romance than things loved later in life. These things are what you grow with, in your formative years, accompanying you as identity is shaped. They never leave you.

It seems a little reductionist to just say these films are a part of you, but I think it captures the feeling quite accurately. The essence of the film lingers in the crevices of your identity and you carry it with you. The point is that the memory of the first encounter and the subsequent relationship is always there, coalescing with the existence of the film itself, we are unable to untether it from the relationship and structures we build up around it. I cannot watch Matilda without thinking about lying sprawled on the old yellow and green rug at the house I grew up in. A rug which housed at-least 10 years of crumbs within its fibres and displayed a fair few stains of which the origins were disputable.  I think about how awestruck I felt as a child watching a character who, like me, devoured book after book. On that rug, I was surrounded by the comforts of my world, but transported through story into another, into possibility.

Then there's the other layer which comes into play: the memory of the object itself, something loved being something we held, something clutched onto, something we owned. I can picture now my Matilda DVD watched on a daily basis. A garish yellow spine looking out at me from our small selection of DVDs shoved between books and VHS' on the shelf. I watched it so much the thing was most likely worn down, perpetually on its last legs. I can similarly picture my VHS' of the 90s sitcom 2Point4Children. A niche reference, I'm sure, but a show I continued to watch year after year as I grew up, each rewatching rewarding me with jokes I was too young to understand the last time round.

I could go on: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (the nostalgia I feel upon watching this is so strong I constantly want to cry); Mary Poppins; a whole string of Nickelodeon television shows; the lesser known corners of CBBC; Mean Girls; The Princess Diaries, and so on. These are not just things I reel off thoughtlessly but encompass feeling and memory within themselves. They've shaped me, and so I understand them in this sense, as shaping forces as opposed to mere stories I watch and then forget. Films are presences in our lives, ineffably bound up with memories and feelings and objects, caught in romance and becoming pieces of identity.

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Maira Gall