Gentle reader: Where does your favourite film take you? Wherever you go, you’re always there.
Film is a truly transportive medium. Dream-like.
Hotels are inbetween places. Hotels are transient, dream-like locations. Hotels are a temporary home away from home. A place
where people step out of their everyday lives in a way that can reveal their true self, their essence.
I’ve come to realise that my favourite film genre probably doesn’t have a name. But if it did, it would be something like “immersive films set in hotels with small casts, sumptuous photography, little in the way of action, but much in the way of character exploration.” Or, to be succinct, we can go for #hotelfilms.
These are my five favourite #hotelfilms (with a little help from my friend Neil Morrison*).
The Hours and Times
The Hours and Times is my favourite film. It is a quite beautiful, brief and minimalist black-and-white film about longing. That it is about John Lennon and Brian Epstein is almost incidental. The film speculates about what might or might not have happened on Lennon and Epstein’s weekend escape to Barcelona in 1963. The eyes of David Angus, who plays Epstein, are depthlessly expressive, heartbreaking.
Lennon, played by Ian Hart, toys mercilessly with Epstein’s affections, taunting, teasing and emotionally torturing
him. Leading him on then swiping away the metaphorical rug. Epstein longs throughout for kindness**, acceptance and love. So – under his acerbic, contradictory ways – does Lennon. This film is an obscurity. I only learned of it from a review on Barry Norman’s Film 91 (I will leave the more astute and incisive reader to puzzle out what year that might have been broadcast). To my awareness it’s only ever been on UK TV once, in a dead-of-night double-bill on Channel 4 in the late 1990s, coupled with Backbeat, in which Hart again played Lennon, but with nothing like the emotional depth of The Hours and Times. Deeply obscure, but so worth seeking out.
The male psyche is not always a lovely thing to behold. The male psyche in midlife crisis still less so. Force Majeure is about a picture-perfect Swedish family holidaying in an alpine ski lodge. Something happens that brings to the surface the deep faultlines in the father’s relationship to his family and to his place in life. I sought out Force Majeure
via Joe Cornish’s immaculate selection of his favourite films from 2015, as shared on Adam Buxton’s podcast. It so impressed me that I recommended it to my friend Neil Morrison*, thinking it would be just his cup of tea. Neil, it transpired, was well ahead of me on this one, already having fallen under the spell of Force Majeure. Neil has kindly agreed to share a few words about
“Does intent matter? Is action everything? Is inaction a conscious choice? Are you as other people see you or how you believe you are? These themes have challenged my thinking for years. A film covering these topics in a mixture of Swedish, Norwegian, English and French sounds like the sort of trial only a first year philosophy student would endure.
“Force Majeure is simply majestic in its almost silent exploration of these questions through the observation of a relationship. Rather than building to a crescendo as most films do, this instead starts with a bang and then subsides. Leaving the viewer clinging on in both hope and despair.
“But painful it is not. There is an absolute beauty in the fragility that reminds us of our own choices, our own relationships and the seemingly inconsequential actions that determine our destiny.”
The luxury hotel as endlessly still, lifelessly decadent, antiseptic afterlife. Youth is a sumptuously beautiful and very funny film about ageing, loss, creativity and crowd-pleasing. Michael Caine gives a warm, complex and arguably career-best performance as an elderly composer. It would be easy to reel off thousands of words about the greatness of this film. It is better simply to recommend that you immerse yourself in it, lose yourself in its dream.
Lost in Translation.
Lost in Translation is a quite gorgeous waking dream of a film. A crumpled Bill Murray. A quietly lost Scarlett Johansson. A hotel offering our sleepless, jet-lagged pair panoramic views of an unfathomably foreign Tokyo. A romantic film almost without a romance, and which deliberately denies the viewer its key line.*** Cinematic perfection.
The Hateful Eight.
The exception to my above rule that hotel films offer little in the way of action. I went into The Hateful Eight with low expectations. From the trailers and advance publicity, I assumed Tarantino had exhausted his well of inspiration and was running on fumes, retreading familiar themes for the nth time to diminished returns. I let the cinema release roll by. I’m still not sure why I purchased the DVD (yup, I still consume films on silver drinks coasters). I was dubious about how excitable the teenage Morrisons check-out boy was when he sold me the DVD, raving about the greatness of
The Hateful Eight
(his dad having snuck him into a cinema screening). And I felt frankly ancient when said check-out boy hadn’t even heard of Pulp Fiction. But Mr Morrisons check-out boy: You were spot on, sir. Far from tired self-parody,
The Hateful Eight
is Tarantino in excelsis. This is by furlongs his funniest film. It is also in some ways his weirdest, swerving in and out of a bizarre Agatha Christie/Poirot homage/parody as it unfolds. Taking place in a snowbound roadside inn named Minnie’s Haberdashery, I would argue that this is very much a hotel film. It is extremely dialogue-heavy. But it doesn’t exactly provide deep insights into human nature. As in all Tarantino films, all the characters speak purely in Tarantino-ese. You already know how appealing or unappealing that sounds to you. If it does appeal,
The Hateful Eight is a soaring – and really rather bloody, if not outright hateful – delight.
#Hotelfilms: Time for you to check in
There are a million more #hotelfilms out there. When I mentioned the idea for this post to David D’Souza a few weeks back, he immediately reeled off a very long list of great hotel-based films… and then found a much longer IMDB list of further #hotelfilms on his phone! So please, if there is a hotel-set film that speaks to you, I would love to know what it is. Please get in touch!
* You can follow Neil on Twitter and should seriously consider reading his superb Change-Effect blog.
** This search for kindness is the reason I used a still from this film at the top of my recent post Be kind while there is still time. Congratulations to Sarah Miller and Andrew Jacobs for successfully cracking the challenge of identifying this film!
*** If you google “bill murray lost in translation whisper,” you can find a video that purports to tell you just what he says. But I will not link to it here, as I fully respect the right of those who would sooner leave it an unsolved romantic mystery.
Disclaimer: I make no claim to the copyright for any of the above movie images, and will remove them immediately if required.