The top ten films of our relationship – Part 5

9) The Lego Batman Film
The first Lego Movie came out in 2014, and received generally positive reviews, even if yes, it was basically a vector for selling merchandise. One of the best things about it was Will Arnett’s Dark Knight skewering performance as the self-important brooding caped crusader, so we had high hopes for the sequel putting him centre-stage. I can’t remember the last film we both sat through giggling quite so consistently.
This just about merits a spot in the list as Lego has been another cultural touchstone throughout our relationship. In 2009 Terry wrote a blog post about our love of collaborative video games. It started when we had a couple of PCs hooked up to each other over a LAN. When we got our first console, we started on the Lego Star Wars games with their fabulous drop in/drop out multiplayer mechanic. (Actually, those first three Travellers Tales titles, based on the infamous Star Wars prequels, did a lot to redeem the franchise.) As part of our screw-tradition approach to the wedding, we made an early decision not to have any flowers, and instead opted to have Star Wars Lego sets on the tables so our guests could build their own centrepieces.
Lego is about building things, and doing that together with a friend makes it even better. On a basic level, that seems like a pretty good simile for a happy marriage.

10) Hunt for the Wilderpeople

In September 2016 my parents moved to New Zealand. Helping them pack, sell their house, and move was a significant undertaking. This culminated in a three week period with my parents living with us, before they jetted off. When you marry someone, you are also marrying into their family. I will forever be grateful to my beautiful husband for his gracious support both helping me adjust, and helping my parents with this significant undertaking.

Knowing our 10th wedding anniversary would be in January 2018, we had started to think about going somewhere exotic to celebrate (my vote was for St Lucia). But we quickly realised that if we were going to make a trip out to NZ to see how they were settling in, then December 2017 would be the most sensible time to do that.

As cultural preparation, and on the advice of many friends (who now that I think about it were doing a similar thing to our recommendation of The Story of the Weeping Camel) we watched this independent film directed by Kiwi auteur de jour Taika Waititi. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is about identity, family, and belonging. By a happy coincidence, the film enjoyed its NZ TV premiere while we were out there, so we got to watch it again.

Although we do occasionally still sit down to watch a movie together, films don’t occupy our attention in the same way, hence the top weighting of this list to the early days. I don’t know if that says more about us, or the films.

Here’s to the next ten years!

The top ten films of our relationship – Part 4

6) The Story of the Weeping Camel.

Bridget Jones frequently laments the existence of the ‘smug marrieds’ who dominate dinner party conversation with unsolicited tales of their holidays, home improvement plans, experience with mortgage brokers and so on. I like to think we were never that boorish (which means we almost certainly were) but I do confess to a period of us evangelising about this film wherever we went. Our desperation to be seen as mature, sophisticated adults by watching subtitled foreign films like the aforementioned Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon might just about have come across as charming in 2001 when we were barely out of adolescence and didn’t know any better. In 2009 we were in our mid-late twenties, and really had no excuse. But, no, seriously, this is a gorgeous, uplifting film about a remote community living in Mongolia, and well worth seeking out.

7) The Cabin in the Woods

This list gets harder to compile as we progress through married life. Partly because we stopped going to the cinema as much, as box set binge watching at home became a preferred activity. Also as we’ve got older its become more obvious that we really have quite different tastes. I enjoy action films and TV shows, with well choreographed fight sequences and big explosions. Terry prefers comedies, and, sometimes, documentaries about fonts. Neither of us are particularly big on horror. But this meta commentary on the tropes and cliches of slasher fiction is so damn clever we found ourselves watching it more than once.

Part of the appeal was the casting of multiple actors more commonly found in the aforementioned box sets, including Whedon regular Amy Acker, West Wing alumnus Bradley Whitford, and Dollhouse architect Fran Kranz. Thanks to the assorted recent output of the likes of HBO & Netflix, TV is no longer the poor relation to the world of film.

Also, as we get older and more cynical about the fate of the world, we fully embraced the unapologetic nihilsm of the ending.

8) Star Wars VII – The Force Awakens

Once in a while, if you are lucky, something awesome happens. Something that will stay with you for the rest of your life which will bring a smile to your lips whenever you think of it. And if you are even luckier, you get to share that experience with your best friend.

There was a problem with the intermediate Star Wars films, which is to say the prequels released between 1999 & 2005. They are basically a bit crap. Not wholly crap by all means; there’s a lot of good work in there done by some very engaging actors. But quite a lot of people have written quite a lot of quite angry stuff about the sense of betrayal they felt at the plundering of their childhood memories for profit.

This attitude has become increasingly problematic, as a certain faction of individuals have allowed their disappointment to morph into an entitled sense that they want things to be like they were when they were twelve. Any attempt to refresh material to engage with a new audience, to bring a different perspective, and seek to bring diversity and inclusivity to what were sometimes very homogenous creations, is met with revulsion and fury.

But in the case of The Phantom Menace, the lacklustre response is in my opinion justified. Terry felt differently, which is nice for him. But that didn’t stop either of us feeling some trepidation about the new films. What if they are rubbish? What if they leave us feeling cold? What if we have already grown too old to recapture the giddy excitement of our youth, and we end up spewing bile on Reddit because we want to blame something external for the inexorable march of time?

It’s December 2015, and we have our tickets booked to go and see the new film in Threeeeee Deeeeeee at a cinema in Oxford. We have mostly avoided spoilers, and we are painfully excited. Ok, Terry is painfully excited. I am simply really looking forward to it. Star Wars has become part of the fabric of our relationship. Star Wars fever has gripped the nation, and every time I see a reference to the upcoming cinematic event (which is constantly) I think about our silly, glorious wedding.

The day before we are due to go, I get a text while I am at work. Through his employer at the time, O2, Terry has managed to nab a couple of tickets to the premiere. He really is strong with The Force.

Terry’s own review of the film is worth a read if you didn’t see it at the time.

The top ten films of our relationship – Part 3

5) Star Wars IV-VI

In 2005 I started a 3 year part-time Master’s degree through the Open University. This ran over the calendar year, so my long break between years was from Christmas to the start of February. Just before I started the 3rd and final year, Terry whisked me off to New York for a romantic break away. This coincided with our 6th anniversary, in January 2007.

New York in January is absolutely bloody freezing, so we wrapped up warm and went for a walk in Central Park. Terry proposed, I accepted. Our faces ached from the combination of smiling and minus 11 degree weather.

Having been together for 6 years already, and having lived together for about 4 and half years of that, we didn’t really want a long engagement. We briefly considered hopping over to Las Vegas while we were already in the US, and getting it done and dusted on the spot. (I don’t know if you can still do this, but you used to be able to get married at the Star Trek Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton and someone dressed as a Klingon could be your best man. I still contend this would have been pretty awesome). But we though there was a significant chance Terry’s Mum would actually kill us, so we decided it was best to have a proper wedding in the UK.
Then I remembered I was going to be spending most of my free time in 2007 writing my thesis. Even simple weddings take a substantial amount of organisation, and I really didn’t want to be distracted from my studies. (In the context of the similar situation as described above, I now realise that I perhaps over-prioritise academic merit).

As a pair of feminists, we were determined to avoid many of the patriarchal trappings of wedding lore. As a pair of geeks we wanted to put our own creative spin on the proceedings. As a pair of cheapskates we quite liked the idea of doing this as economically as possible. And as a pair of cool, irreverent, non-traditionalists we really fancied sticking two fingers up at as many wedding cliches as we could. Starting with the whole concept of arranging a wedding.
“Tell you what,” I said, through chattering teeth as we strolled through a frozen Manhattan, “how about you sort it all out, and I will show up on the day and say the right name?”

For all the weird chauvinistic overtones of traditional Western marriages, from the giving away of the bride to her husband as through she were property, to the hymnal cutting of the cake with a massive sword, the wedding industry focuses on the woman. It’s your special day, we are told. Your chance to be a princess. Everything is about you. Your dress, your flowers. The groom is relegated to a supporting part, and countless hours of film and TV have normalised this sidelining. Let her have what she wants if you want any peace and quiet. She’ll turn into a Bridezilla, and this is normal. Just let her get on with it. Your job as the man is to show up and say the right name.

(This is of course hugely hetero-normative. Sadly equal marriage would still be 5 years in the future. I speak from the perspective of a straight, cis, woman, and don’t intend this commentary to ignore all other forms of partnership, only to recount my own experience).

So, sod all that we decided. Terry can initially have creative control and as and when we come to the big decisions, we’ll discuss them together. As it turned out, there were only a few small details where I had practical concerns. And so it was on 26 January 2008, we got married in Newbury, Berkshire, in a Sci-Fi and Fantasy themed wedding with the happy couple and guests in fancy dress. Taking pride of place, Terry wore a full replica Darth Vader costume, injection moulded from the on-screen original. We walked down the aisle together to the Emperor’s theme. The tables were named after various Star Wars locales, and in place of centrepiece flowers, we had individual Star Wars Lego sets for the guests to build. Various guests dressed in other Star Wars themed outfits, and following the ceremony we engaged in a mock light sabre fight outside.

If that wasn’t surreal enough, it turned out one of the guests had called the local newspaper and gleefully informed them that a couple of nutters were having a Star Wars themed wedding at the nice hotel in Donnington. In a single concession to tradition, we decided that getting a package deal from a hotel who could provide the venue, food, rooms etc. was the easiest and sanest way to do things, saving us the brain-ache of coordinating the logistics ourselves. So the duty manager (who must have thought we were all quite mad), discreetly approached us during the reception, and to his credit, with an entirely straight face informed us that a couple of journalists were outside asking for an interview, and I did we want him to tell them to get lost? Instead, on an adrenaline and bubbly high, we garrulously invited them in. We chatted away happily on camera about our inspiration for the event, and a few other guests got interviewed as well. We didn’t think anything much would come of this, until a week later when Terry’s phone rang with offers to sell our story. Over the next six months we successfully made back about 10% of the cost of the wedding in royalties, our wonderful wedding was featured in diverse publications across Europe, and we got a free wedding video out of it.

The wedding industry feeds off telling anxious and impressionable couples that they are in competition with other couples to have the biggest, most glamorous yet unique day ever. If you manage to show up and say the right names, then achievement unlocked. Anything else is just gravy.

If anyone reading this is getting married; I hope you enjoy your day as much as we enjoyed ours. You don’t owe anybody anything else.

The top ten films of our relationship – Part 2

3) My Little Eye

In comparison to some of the more lurid torture-porn offerings from the past couple of decades, this low budget claustrophobic horror probably seems pretty tame. However to my rather cosseted sensibilities, watching it was a grim and distressing experience. It didn’t help that we thought we were actually going to see a different film entirely (The Eye – a Japanese thriller about a woman whose organ transplant has unexpected consequences. To date I’ve still never got around to seeing it). I think we both wanted to show a bit of bravado, but the truth was that the film really got under our skin, and neither of us handled it well. On the way back from the cinema we had our first really proper fight and said some very unpleasant things to each other. We were both far more rattled than we wanted to admit, and lashed out at each other as way of trying to deal with it. As horrible as that was, we learned two very important lessons from this. First, fear looks an awful lot like anger. In most subsequent arguments over the years, we have realised the importance of distinguishing between the two. Anxiety often manifests as irritation, and remembering that (as difficult as it may be sometimes) has helped us to diffuse tensions before things get really fraught. The other lesson was learning that having a fight wasn’t the end of the world. We said things we didn’t mean in the heat of the moment and afterwards we apologised and talked it through. As people, we sometimes regress to dumb, panicky animals. But we don’t have to define our relationship through our worst selves. We aren’t perfect, and it’s inevitable that we will screw up from time to time. But we also have the capacity to learn from our mistakes, and to forgive others and ourselves. My Little Eye is a nasty, crappy, little film, and I will always hate it for sparking such a painful occurrence. However I am forever grateful for what we learned as a couple as a result.

4) Moulin Rouge

Before I even left school, a trip had been arranged for me to spend the summer between my first and second year of university in Australia with family. Terry and I had been dating for less than 6 months and we were still in the first bloom of love. So much so that I was seriously trepidatory about going away for 10 long weeks. What if we lost interest in each other? What if we met someone else? Or what if the pain of separation was too much to bear? But I also remember feeling that on a non-romantic level, this was probably a very good thing. When you are 19 and in love, and to paraphrase from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all you can see of tomorrow is your paramour, it is easy to lose perspective. I’d seen enough rom coms by this point to understand the value of knowing yourself before you commit to a long term relationship. A bit of distance, (well a lot of distance in this case) would be healthy. If we survived this enforced break then all well and good. If we didn’t, it probably wasn’t going to last anyway. So I convinced myself it was all for the best, and I hopped on the plane.
And it was a bit heartbreaking. I missed Terry like a limb. I longed to be back in his arms. I ached for his lips. I pined for him like some kind of gothic heroine. My aunt, quite reasonably, was somewhat amused by my teen anguish and did gently point out on more than one occasion that I was very young to be so sure that this was The One.
However having spent a significant amount of money on what was supposed to be an enriching and valuable experience, I wasn’t actually going to spend the whole time crying into the red, fluffy heart-shaped pillow Terry got me as a leaving present (he’s all class that one!) So I went to the movies with my cousins.
5 years previously at the even more tender age of 14, Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet plunged me into the depths of despair as I longed for a boyfriend. (This would take a further two years – late bloomer). But despite it’s effect on my emotional well-being, I bloody adored that film. So I was delighted to see his new movie, Moulin Rouge, which came out in Australia a few weeks before the UK release. I was entranced by the riotous, energetic chaos and the doomed affair between Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor was a tonic to my bruised heart. I enthusiastically rang Terry that night, telling his how awesome this film was, and how much I was looking forward to seeing it again with him when I came back home.
Terry was one year ahead of me, so when I did return at the end of that summer he was embarking on his final year. My husband is a very intelligent man, but in academic terms was a little bit on the lazy side, and rather prone to distraction. After a few days of happy and tearful reunion following my trip, I reminded him that he needed to focus on his studies, and I also needed to focus on mine. We could still see each other but we needed to make sure we were sensible about the amount of time we spent together.

Some weeks later I went back to my parents one weekend so he could concentrate on an upcoming deadline. So I was slightly exasperated when I got back to Norwich on the Sunday evening to be presented with a CD he had made for me of the Elephant Medley from Moulin Rouge. Early on in the film, Ewan McGregor woos Nicole Kidman with a series of snippets of classic love songs. Terry had found each original song, and cut them together to recreate the finished piece as it appears in the film. This being before editing software was readily available for PC’s, it represented hours of work. Hours he was meant to be spending on his essay. It was such a lovely, romantic gesture, and I was so touched, but also infuriated that he had allowed our relationship to distract him. I thanked him for the gift and told him that it was very thoughtful. Then we had one of the least romantic conversations we have ever had. I explained that he was a smart guy, and if he applied himself (I think I may have actually used that phrase) he was capable of achieving a 2:1. And a 2:1 would open doors that a 2:2 wouldn’t. I told him I loved him, and I very much hoped that our relationship would last. But if he could pull the stops out and get a good degree he would have that for the rest of his life. Whereas statistically, there was every chance that we would fizzle out. So it really didn’t make any sense for him to prioritise this relationship over his whole potential future.

It did the trick. We saw a bit less of each other over the next few months. Terry wrote a brilliant dissertation and graduated with a 2:1. He got some work experience the following year while I finished my degree, and was then accepted onto the Vodafone graduate training programme, which shaped his career, and by extension, our lives together.

The top ten films of our relationship – Part 1

One of my primary pleasures in life is making lists, so over the next five days,to celebrate our upcoming 10th wedding anniversary I decided to write about the 10 most significant films in mine and Terry’s relationship.

1) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

I can remember the very first conversation I had with Terry very clearly. It’s October 2000, and I have just started as an undergraduate at UEA. Following a perfunctory look around the Fresher’s Fair, I joined Drama Soc since acting was my favourite hobby at the time. A few of us gathered at the bar one evening in preparation for a bowling night, which is where I first set eyes on a strikingly handsome chap with long black hair.
It was around this time that key casting information was starting to come out about the first Harry Potter film, and Julie Walters had just been announced in the role of Molly Weasley. I used to joke that I only really went to University to have something to do while I waited for the 5th Harry Potter book to come out. This isn’t exactly true, but is significantly less offensive than Boris Johnson’s assertion that women only went to University to find husband’s, which in fact did turn out to be slightly more accurate in my case. At the tender age of 18 I lived and breathed all things Potter, and would happily chat for hours with anyone who shared this passion. After just a few short minutes of small talk, Terry and I were enthusiastically discussing the latest developments with the film and who should get the remaining roles. Terry was quite insistent that Alec Guinness should play Dumbledore. I gently reminded him that the Alec Guinness was no longer on this mortal coil. Terry felt this was a mere detail, and that since marvellous things were being done with green screen, all that was needed was to pull out the relevant lines which that most prolific of actors must have uttered at some point in his illustrious career. I countered that he probably hadn’t used the word Quidditch in his back catalogue…
And so the conversation went on. Terry was charming, clever, and funny without his humour being at anyone’s expense (the slight irreverence of Sir Guinness’ demise notwithstanding) and if I were more romantically inclined I would say I fell a little bit in love with him that evening discussing this film which did not yet even exist.
As it is however I was actually seeing someone else at the time, so really was just out to meet new people in a friendly capacity, and in no way on the prowl for a sexual partner. To his credit, my lack of availability didn’t cause him to turn his attention elsewhere at the mention of my boyfriend, and we stayed as good friends throughout my first term.
About 18 months down the line I had a poster of this film on my wall. Again, if I were a romantic I would say it was in honour of that shared cultural interest that first sparked our relationship. More pragmatically, the poster had the release date of film on it 16.11.2002, which was two days before his birthday, and served as a handy reminder.

2) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

It’s February 2001, and we are sexy young things who are utterly convinced of our own worldliness. Not for us those stuffy conventions of chaste courtship. We are still enjoying how Austin Powers describes the 90’s as “freedom and responsibility – very groovy times baby!” As such our first proper date happens some time after the point that we hooked up. But some traditions are worth observing for practical reasons. Go see a movie and then have dinner. If you realise during dinner you have nothing else, you can at least talk about the film before you can get out of there.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a bit of a shibboleth for the sophisticated wannabee film connoisseur at the time. Watching it connoted an appreciation for the finer points of film making; the cinematography, the choreography, the heartbreaking romance between Michelle Yeoh and Ang Lee. And, obviously it was a Foreign Language Film, and watching anything with subtitles automatically elevates the activity to a higher plane of intellect. We are high brow culture aficionados but like, totally, in a post-modern, ironic, self aware way. God we must have been insufferable.

All that said, it is a brilliant, beautiful film. Amongst other things, it’s a coming of age tale as Zhiang Zhi begins to understand the humanity and fragility of the adults in her life. It seems appropriate therefore that this film marks the nascent relationship between two proto-grown ups who for all their youthful bluster are still learning who they are as people.