Menu Close

Thinking pop culture

Making movies memorable

Quoted in one of the many tributes following his recent death was film critic Roger Ebert’s remark: “I have seen untold numbers of movies and forgotten most of them…”

I haven’t seen untold numbers of films, but I’ve seen my fair share. And like Ebert, I’ve forgotten most. Of the dozens I’ve seen just this year, I remember virtually nothing of Gangster Squad, Alex Cross or The Impossible. Hell, it’s only been days since I saw Cheerful Weather for the Wedding and it’s already wiped from memory. Completely.

Dubbing a film forgettable is quite possibly the worst indictment I could give. And yet sadly, most are. Forgettable and completely and utterly forgotten.

And it was this idea of forgettability that I was thinking about when I attended a screening of The Neverending Story (1984) at Melbourne’s Astor recently.

Generally speaking I don’t see films twice. My rationale for this is twofold:

  1. I will never live long enough to see every film I want to so justifying a repeat viewing is tough.

  2. Seeing an adored film a second time inevitably destroys some of that virgin magic.

My main reason for a Neverending Story repeat was that I’d never been to the Astor. That, and I hadn’t seen the film since primary school so assumed I only remembered the gigantic flying “labrador” and the Limahl song.

And yet, from the very first scene the film was as familiar as any James Patterson novel. I knew every _scene. _Inside out. I knew every one of Barret Oliver’s (Bastian) over-delivered lines. I was awaiting every single hokey special effect.


There’s good, solid - if OCD - reason why I can recite nearly all the dialogue from The Wizard of Oz (1939), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) and Grease (1978). I had VHS tapes of each and every day after school would put one on and play with my Barbies.

And yet I’d only seen The Neverending Story once and it was scene-for-scene familiar. Nearly two decades on.

Which got me thinking about why. Why did I remember The Neverending Story when I can barely remember anything beyond paying $18 to see The Company You Keep last weekend?

And no, dementia isn’t the answer.

If there were something cinematic that could make an average film memorable, the studios would have long exploited it.

Instead, I’m convinced that films that should, in all good sense, be forgotten can be salvaged through the happenings around them. That they get remembered because of the experience of seeing them.

My parents alternate between claiming that ET (1982) was the first film I ever saw at the cinema to suggesting it was Fantasia (1940).

I doubt I’ve seen either.

The first film I remember seeing at the cinema was Dirty Dancing (1987). And even at 7 I knew that it wasn’t appropriate fare for a 7-year-old. Which, of course, is _precisely _why I loved it. Not a good film in the way I’d judge one today, but seeing it clandestinely with an aunty who I thought was cool, made it momentous.

I don’t remember, for example, whether I liked Ladyhawke (1985). I doubt I did. I do however, remember the Year 8 school excursion to see it at the Valhalla on a very tinny bus with a driver that looked like Michael Jackson. I remember my friend, sitting next to me, reminding me that Navarre (Rutger Hauer) _also _starred in perhaps the shonkiest film of all time, Blind Fury (1989).

A blind Vietnam vet, trained as a swordfighter, comes to America and helps to rescue the son of a fellow soldier.

My laughter, as it often did, got me a swift reprimand.

I don’t think I liked Inglourious Basterds (2009). It’s memorable though, because I saw it with a man who had heard me on the radio before meeting me and thought he liked me. And who I, during that screening, thought I liked too. (cue foreboding music).

The Killer Inside Me (2010) would normally have been forgotten. Forgotten except for the fact that the guy with me held my hand throughout. Lovely normally, but he kept holding it throughout a very violent rape and murder scene. Which confused me completely.

Seeing Malèna (2000) with my grandmother who apparently decided it was perfectly okay to yell things out at the screen. (Not as embarrassing as when she did this at a live Fiddler on the Roof peformance.).

Seeing 24 Hour Party People (2002) in Manchester, in the bed of a man much more memorable than the film.

Seeing L'ultimo bacio (2001) and becoming a first-time shusher when the elderly couple behind me unwrapped their 43rd package of brown-papered deli meat.

That I remembered The Neverending Story centred simply on the protracted lead up. My teacher spent what felt like a year reading the book to our class. Every scene was already underpinned by my imagination and a good dose of anticipation.

Not every film can be great - most, in fact, aren’t even good. But my love of a story - a quality anecdote - can make a flick memorable in spite of the shoddiness.

Want to write?

Write an article and join a growing community of more than 187,300 academics and researchers from 5,000 institutions.

Register now