A shared film journey with my brother.
Sibling relationships can be tricky, but I’m lucky to have such a strong bond with both of my brothers. The three of us siblings are unique but united, you can tell straight away we are all related, and not just by the unfortunate family noses.
In the early 1990s I spent a fair bit of time watching films with my eldest brother Tony. He’s seven years older than me, but I’ve always thought of him as one of my best friends, not just a sibling. We are similar in nature and have always been close.
Tony was always kind to me. I was a thoughtful child, writing poetry in the middle of the night or putting my heart and soul into writing a story, and it was Tony I’d show my work to. He was the first customer to visit my pretend library, and patiently listened while I recited all the lyrics to songs on the first A-ha album that I’d written out in my best handwriting.
When he was about 16, he had his first serious girlfriend. Being the intense soul that he was, this was the love affair of the century, and I’d listen patiently as he described his feelings. Have you seen Gregory’s Girl? The scenes between Gregory and his little sister in that film are so similar. He spent all his time with his girlfriend, with evenings in the local churchyard (it was the mid to late 80s, they were goths). So we wrote notes to each other to keep in touch. I even made special postboxes for our bedroom doors. When she broke his heart, I was there for him with all the wisdom an 11 year old girl could offer.
In my early teens, Tony got a job in a record shop. Such a cool place to work and with his staff discount, an excellent source of new music and classic films to bolster my growing collection. The age gap between us meant he moved out of home when he was 21 and I was 14. Our middle brother had moved out aged just 16 so the house was suddenly quiet, but I finally moved out of the tiny box room and into the big bedroom so it wasn’t a bad result.
I’d often stay with Tony in his various scruffy rented terraced houses on a Saturday night. We’d watch endless films and eat takeaway pizza and Star Bars. It would take us forever to choose the film though, ambitiously selecting at least two titles and staying up until the early hours discussing what we’d watched. Often it was based on the random collection in whatever off license / video shop set up he had a card for. Sometimes a tense standoff in the video shop would be avoided with a conciliatory “look, this one’s got Bruno Kirby in it.”
This period in our relationship was when we really hit our film watching stride. Complete freedom. No parents upstairs asleep to worry about, nobody to tell us to stop watching and go to sleep. We watched a lot of 1970s and 80s American independents, many of them from the New Hollywood set. We feasted on films from Scorsese and Coppola, Hal Ashby, Cassavetes, Woody Allen and Altman. We threw in a few randoms, I developed my longstanding love of obscure Australian cinema after we discovered Wendy Cracked a Walnut together in one particular rental place. And Tony remains the only other person I know who has seen The Doberman Gang.
The film that sticks in my mind the most as a representation of this golden time is Scorsese’s black comedy After Hours (1985). Ironically we came across a late night TV screening of it. I think we’d just finished watching something else. Starring the often underrated Griffin Dunne and Rosanna Arquette, it’s a low key Scorsese film, a forgotten gem. It plays out over one night, with random chance encounters and an endless set of unfortunate events that unfold to set the hapless Dunne off course. It has a surreal, dreamlike aesthetic, made more enveloping due to the lateness of that viewing I’m sure. We held that film in high esteem for years afterwards, united in the shared random experience of happening upon it by chance.
When I left home for university, Tony moved south to Birmingham. Our lives went in different directions, but we still remained solid, and I enjoyed trips to see him when I could scrape the train fare together. We’d watch videos in his flat, which we rented from the highbrow video shop in Moseley where he lived. In order to join you had to tell the owner your three favourite films, and when you returned your videos you had to give a detailed verbal review and justify your reading of it.
I moved to London to seek my fortune aged 23. Tony had moved down himself just a few weeks earlier, renting a flat in Ealing. I slept on a mattress on his floor and he helped me navigate the rental accommodation pages of Loot. We returned to the familiar routine of takeaways and video evenings, of enjoying each other’s company and being the best of friends. There was Fincher’s Fight Club, Donnie Darko and one particularly ridiculous argument about The Mexican.
We even made our own film, with him roping me and a cast of friends and relatives into making a feature with him (Easy Money – a detective crime caper sadly only available on the handful of copies he made on VHS.) Happy times.
Our film taste often diverges. He has no interest in the British New Wave, despite my detailed PowerPoint presentations, and my endless lectures on French contemporary cinema largely went unheeded. I don’t think he ever agreed to see a Ken Loach film with me in the end. But there is tremendous common ground to be found, that’s the beauty of discovering cinema together. That connection forged in badly furnished flats and the lengthy discussions about auteurs as we walked the scruffy streets of the city on our way home from the local flea pit. Often now we still communicate in remembered film scenes and dialogue, shared jokes and fond memories of those precious times.
We’ve both grown up and settled down, he met and fell in love with the loveliest woman, but who happened to be Australian, and now he lives on the other side of the world. A million miles away, but still just as close. When I watch a Scorsese film I think of him, I can’t help it.