Starburst Memories: Barry Pickles Review of the Eighties


The monthly Dirk Malcolm Film Club goes something like this:

A catch up for an hour on what we have been up to – books we’ve read, people we’ve seen and of course, films we have watched;

At some point one of us will say, “we’d better watch the film then”;

While watching the film, I usually fall asleep for 20 minutes;

At least 30 minutes will be added to the running time of the film for ‘toilet breaks’,

Following the film, we try to string together a coherent critique, despite having drunk a bottle of red wine each;

The third bottle is open and we commence ‘show and tell’;

Dom-Dirk demands a sensible opinion while I have difficulty speaking;

The taxi arrives, sending Dom-Dirk away for another month.

This month’s session was no different. Dom-Dirk gave an update following his field trip to that-there-fancy-London, where he indulged in fine beers and pickles. We watched THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1982) as a potential addition to my list, but it became apparent that the film had not dated well and it was not nearly as good as I remembered it. Dom-Dirk was pessimistic from the outset and the shaky sets, the rambling portmanteau plot and unconvincing performances confirmed his recollection of the film. My memory of it was very different and I was disappointed and suspect that I may have been confused by reading THE BLOODY CHAMBER by Angela Carter, upon which the film was based, several times when I was a student in the late 80s. Carter re-writes familiar fairy-tales and subverts the archetypes to become a feminist message. Despite its best effort, THE COMPANY … fails to replicate the vitality of the fiction.

This month’s show and tell was far more successful as we watched a rerun of the BBC film programme’s review of the nineteen eighties. Barry Norman, refusing to be upstaged by a bedraggled Christmas tree looks resplendent in a dusty pink sweater. Twenty years on, it is clear what we’ve been missing since his departure, Ross and Winkleman have no chance of matching the effortless elegance of weaving a review of the year, a run down of the box office, tit bits of trivia concerning leads that could have been, a personal list of his favourite films, all wrapped together with his knowledgable sardonic wit.

What I admired about Norman’s approach was his journalistic instinct to provide a pithy context to the films and the social-economic factors that shaped them. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989) is a film that marked the hollywood coming to terms with the AIDS virus, for instance, which is a bold argument, given that it was probably too close to the event to make a judgement, but I admire the attempt to put film as an important cultural product, while at the same time acknowledging the ‘industry’.

He says, “Cinema is in a better place than it was 10 years ago,” which seems a remarkable statement considering the considerable artistic output of the 70s, but I think he is referring to the 50% increase in film audiences thanks to the multiplex and the advent of sell-through videos which was a burgeoning market of 6 million.

For the record, his favourite films of the decade, were E.T., Gregory’s Girl, Raging Bull, The Killing Fields, Fanny and Alexander (cheer from the settee from Dom-Dirk), Hannah and Her Sisters, Ran, Witness, The Dead, and The Cook the Thief His Wife and Her Lover.

I remember at the time that I felt vindicated by his Greenaway selection, as I was a fan at the time, much to the bemusement of my friends.

If you want to have a flavour of what we’ve been missing, the complete programme is on You Tube, complete with a Rolling Stones ‘over-tape’ that certainly shook me from my slumber, and indeed, why not?

4 responses to “Starburst Memories: Barry Pickles Review of the Eighties

  1. Pingback: CHRIS: Lone Star (Sayles, US, 1996) | The Dirk Malcolm Alternative·

  2. Pingback: DIRK’S FILM SCHOOL: FEATURE FILM (Part One) | The Dirk Malcolm Alternative·

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