Sali Hughes on the films that shaped her life
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.