Raven Smith on classic movie marathons as autumnal self-care

An illustration of a person sleeping on a sofa with the Hollywood sign on it.

Our resident columnist welcomes the forthcoming season of pumpkins, chunky knits and travelling the world through old Hollywood movies – all from the comfort of his sofa

By Raven Smith

Autumn is coming, a season of pumpkin spice and big knits. The leaves will turn, as they always do, but this year the inevitable trudge forward of time is creaking its knees. As we hokey-cokey in and out of lockdown, the future is more uncertain than ever. We’re all both exhausted and expectant. Ready to run. Ready to hide. Fighting and fighting our way through to the end of the year. We long for change, we’re ready to get out of this rut. But changes must be for the better: less ambiguous, less tentative; bolder and fearless. But, of course, there are no guarantees for a brighter tomorrow, no road map. We’re reactive right now, rather than strident. The thing with change is that we all love it, as long as we’re in complete control of it, and COVID-19 has dissolved our authority.

As the forward path seems uncertain, I find myself looking back. Not to the actual follies of my youth – I was way too chaotic – but to the films that shaped me and comforted me. Nothing eases anxiety like a familiar tale. I used to hate the idea of re-watching films, aware of how much untapped culture there is to be harvested with the right google. New shows. New podcasts. New TikTok stars to research as if I’ve already heard of them. All these are colliding in this new normal. But the escapism of a decent film can’t be underestimated. I can relive epiphanies. Re-reveal the murderer. Re-cry at unrequited love. Re-Jack and re-Rose. Above all, I want to be re-entertained, rather than merely distracted. And nobody does entertainment like Hollywood.

'These days there’s always a new Star Wars film coming down the galactic chute, but the original ones are just as watchable. I lose myself to light sabres, and nothing says never mind the pandemic quite like an Ewok'

Adventure is escape, and I disappear into the Hollywood hills, digitally transported to Middle Earth or Kong Island. I visit Blade Runner’s dystopian metropolis, the Gladiator colosseum, the beach in The Beach. I bust ghosts. I die hard. I pretty woman. I’m a reservoir dog, or the weird cats from Cats. There’s something apt and deeply ironic about sitting at home in lockdown and screening The Temple Of Doom. I watch Ursula Andress with a conch and think a second wave is fine if everyone has a proper wetsuit. I watch Groundhog Day and just nod. I thought apocalyptic films would trigger me, or push me over the edge, but on second inspection Contagion is a little limp, a little unscary (they find a vaccine in 90 minutes and the credits roll). These days there’s always a new film coming down the galactic chute, but the original ones are just as watchable. I lose myself to light sabres, and nothing says never mind the pandemic quite like an Ewok. On that thought, most films set in space are about people triumphing over intergalactic adversity, which is a great metaphor for now, although we don’t have any aliens. 
Hollywood films have Hollywood endings, with narrative strands that neatly tie up like a black sack on bin day. The world is saved. The guy gets the girl. Gwyneth’s head turns up in a box. But this is the hit I’ve been searching for in the stack of DVDs. I need a happy ending. The ease at which I can lose myself in each narrative the second or third time around is truly sublime, as known scene diligently follows known scene, begging nothing from me. The noise of real life quietens down when I don’t have to follow the chess game of Inception. I don’t have to guess whodunit. But an ending with its lack of loose ends is the hot spot. We all like to know the final scene. There’s pure comfort in the predictable, the tidily wrapped up. So, thank you to Hollywood, the vaccine to the existential dread. Before I worry about what’s ahead, Hollywood can take me back.
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