Sali Hughes on the films that shaped her life

Empire (UK) - - RE.VIEW -

THE YEAR WAS 1986, the lo­ca­tion was Black­wood High Street Maxime, the film was

Short Cir­cuit. The pro­tag­o­nist, a fugi­tive mil­i­tary ro­bot who de­vel­oped hu­man emotions and con­se­quently had to hide from the evil au­thor­i­ties; his saviour, Steve Gut­ten­berg, rid­ing on the mas­sive suc­cess of the Po­lice Acad­emy movies. The love in­ter­est was orig­i­nal manic pixie dream girl, Ally Sheedy. Not that any of this re­ally mat­tered. Be­cause I merely pre­tended to watch

Short Cir­cuit while wait­ing ag­o­nis­ingly, achingly, for Jonathan Mor­gan to reach over and so much as skim the shoul­der of my Kappa trackie, so the main per­for­mance could fi­nally be­gin.

There are many good rea­sons why see­ing a film re­mains a fail-safe date op­tion at any age, but there’s some­thing about a ro­man­tic cinema trip that so per­fectly in­dulges the ado­les­cent psy­che. The ad­ja­cent seat­ing (like a class­room) rather than face-to-face (like the head­mas­ter’s of­fice) means there’s no cause for awk­ward eye con­tact, and pro­vides ef­fort­less op­por­tu­nity for em­brace, as well as easy ac­cess to the soft-cup train­ing bra. The dark, for­giv­ing au­di­to­rium hides blushes, spots, leaky pits and shaky legs. The need for si­lence means no grap­pling for com­mon ground over chart mu­sic, comics, the most an­noy­ing reg­u­lar on Grange Hill; no re­quire­ment to be funny or charm­ing, no pres­sure to en­ter­tain with as-yet un­de­vel­oped small-talk skills, not even any real obli­ga­tion to show an in­ter­est in one another be­yond the as­sur­ance of a mu­tual will­ing­ness to suck face. There’s a sense of con­spir­acy, of hav­ing found a se­cret en­clo­sure where pu­berty hor­mones can run wild with im­punity.

The teenage date film must be cho­sen with care. It should be watch­able but not so grip­ping as to de­tract from the pur­pose of the visit. There must be no sex scenes that cause each dater to sink deep into his or her own chair, mor­ti­fied at the thought of mov­ing past se­cond base, while he si­mul­ta­ne­ously con­ceals his in­vol­un­tary phys­i­cal re­ac­tion with a Slush Puppy. Mil­i­tary ro­bots in Short Cir­cuit, Stay Puft marsh­mal­low men in Ghost­busters, re­gress­ing pen­sion­ers in Co­coon — these are re­as­sur­ingly sex­less and con­se­quently ideal. Du­ra­tion is also key. A too-long epic runs the risk of too much build-up, bore­dom, or a scorch­ing case of snog­ging rash. Ninety min­utes is the op­ti­mum date-movie length (it’s ar­guably the op­ti­mum any-movie length, let’s be hon­est) be­cause it pro­vides the ideal frame­work for a neat, three-act drama. Act I: Will He Put His Arm Around Me? Act II: OMG He’s Put His Arm Around Me, Just Act Nat­u­ral. Then Act III: The Ex­plo­sive Fi­nale. The at­mos­phere, so tense and electric, means that a mere shift in one’s seat, or a ten­ta­tive reach for the shared pop­corn, causes the meet­ing of mouths and a good half-hour of wet, fe­ro­cious, ur­gent kiss­ing and grop­ing, be­fore the lights come up and the magic makes way for six Mc­nuggets and the awk­ward dis­sec­tion of a film nei­ther of you re­mem­bers watch­ing.

But now I do. I re­mem­ber Short Cir­cuit not as a ser­vice­able fam­ily com­edy star­ring a re­lent­lessly talk­a­tive lump of tin, but as the sex­i­est film of all time. Be­cause no movie since has made me feel quite so ex­cited, so tense, and ul­ti­mately, so com­pletely alive. I heard re­cently that the 1938 Maxime cinema had been re­stored and re­opened af­ter decades of dere­lic­tion. I envy the new gen­er­a­tion of kids who’ll get to walk through its doors and see their hor­mones short cir­cuit.

Ally Sheedy’s Stephanie with AI pal Num­ber, later Johnny, 5.


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