Simon Pegg, an actor who I often identify with fun and freewheeling characters like Shaun in Shaun of the Dead or Scotty in the new Star Trek films, and now the main character in Hector and the Search For Happiness, doles out his list exactly how I would expect.
“I sort of thought I’d wing it. I find that if you start thinking about these things, you end up in a terrible mire of indecision, so I’m just going to try to go off the top of my head with it. There’s no particular order because there will be discriminatory glitches. So here they are.”
This was a mythic, elusive film because it was banned from the UK. It took me a long time to track it down, but I heard many a story about it — helicopter decapitation and the guy with the screwdriver in his ear. That stuff was just so fascinating to me as I grew up, and when I finally saw it, it did not disappoint. It obviously eventually led to me making a film with a similar title.
How did you find it?
I found it on VHS video in a shop in Bristol in the UK, and I sat in my university viewing room and put it on and it just was everything I wanted it to be. I love it as a piece of cinema — I think it’s very, very funny, and it is a great horror film. But Romero was always a maverick and had the surviving members of the team at the end of the film are a black guy and a woman. In 1978, it was years later — 10, 12 years later, Ridley Scott was being celebrated for that in Alien, when Romero had been daring enough to do that 10, 12 years before. It was always the white male who was the survivor who would take revenge for the death of his black partner or wife who would have been killed along the way — and he did that in 1968 in Night of the Living Dead as well, as a big civil rights metaphor. So I really love that movie for its sort of shlock horror and also for being a clever, smart political statement.
I remember seeing that film and having a sort of epiphany in terms of realizing that comedy didn’t have to just be about writing and performance, it could be about the way that the camera moved. I loved the way that that film is structurally really poetic and visually inventive in a wacky and delightful way. I think that Edgar Wright cites that as a favorite film of his, and I think it’s one of the films we bonded over as youngsters before we started making films together. You can see a lot of that film in our films, in the way that they rhymed scenes and they had recurring motifs and set ups and payoffs which were quite delightful to decipher. For me as a fan of the Coen brothers, even as I’m loving their more sober, serious stuff later on, I do feel that one is my favorite.
Let’s get you in a Coen bros. movie.
I’d love to work with the Coens; I think they’re extraordinary. There are certain directors that retain vision — these days there are a lot of directors that make films for studios, but there are certain directors and directing teams which maintain a kind of way of making films which mark them out. I’m thinking of like the Coens and Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson. It’s good that those people exist, because directorial vision is important, I think.
Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977; 98% Tomatometer)
I just think it’s the most perfect romantic comedy ever made. I love its honesty and its kind of slightly bleak kind of view of relationships which I think is daring and real, but at the same time it’s not cynical about relationships. It celebrates when relationships can be great, and the joy of meeting someone. It is romantic, but it’s not romanticized.
I love the scene with Christopher Walken talking about going over the cliff.
Hilarious. There’s also moments of such subtlety when you have the scene with Annie and Alvy and the lobsters, and then later he’s doing it again with someone else who just doesn’t get it like she does. It just serves to completely remind you of just what a perfect catch she was at that point, if you pardon the lobster-based metaphor. She is luminous in that movie. Diane Keaton is so great, so watchable, it’s one of the truly great female comedic performances I think ever. It’s a film that I can return to again and again. It’s really inventive — [Woody Allen] uses lots of different devices like narration and speaking to the camera and animation — it’s quite an avant garde film in some respects, but it is the template by which all romantic comedies should be measured.
In terms of performances, I still watch that film and am stunned by Robert De Niro. It’s such a carefully studied performance and he’s extraordinary in that movie. I watch it just for the glee, even though it’s quite a dark film — I watch it and I love him in that film, it’s just like watching someone do an amazing guitar solo. But I also love Scorsese’s sort of sleight of hand in that movie; the way that the story is told, every performance in the film from Peter Boyle and Cybill Shepherd, and everyone in between –Scorcese himself in that awful, cokey, monstrous revenger in the back of that car. It’s like watching a very slow car crash and there is great value in that, I think.
It’s interesting to go back and see scenes that have permeated society, like him talking in the mirror.
There’s a reason why it’s been parodied and recreated, because it’s utterly, utterly affecting and it’s unforgettable. And the brilliant ending as well, in a film which is so gloomy and yet has this strange kind of happy ending, which you don’t expect, it’s a brilliant switcharoo. And that weird moment of discombobulation in the mirror, I watched that and think “What is he saying, and is it what I think he’s saying?” I love a film which stays with you, and that film has never left me since I first saw it.
I would probably have to go with the first one because it shaped my view of cinema as a kid, and as pure entertainment has a real place in cinema. It is one of the most seismic and significant events in recent cinema history — some might say detrimental — but it certainly led to a culture of whiz-bang cinema which we see now, but it meant so much to me as a kid, and Empire is the best of the first three. It also had that slightly weird edgy bleak sheer sort of joy of the first; suddenly everything went to s*** in the most spectacular way and it was kind of cool. I remember coming away from it so thrilled that they all got really beaten up. It’s widely regarded as the best of the three and it would be too obvious to say Star Wars.
We won’t have the Empire vs. Jedi argument. And for the record, I was glad to see on your Twitter feed that you met Bill Murray.
It was awesome. I was really cool as well. I just sort of went, “Hey Bill, what’s up?” and then ran away saying, “Woo hoo!” [laughs]
Hector and the Search for Happiness opens today in limited release.
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