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March 9, 2005

Comfort Film

In his entry on Marco Tullio Giordana's six-hour epic film, The Best of Youth (which sounds truly amazing by the way), George of A Girl and A Gun writes,

I think of his result as a movie counterpart to comfort food. I grew up on meat loaf and mashed potatoes (my mother was from rural Illinois), and while I have for many years eaten a vastly different diet, I still regard that fare as the culinary equivalent of the prenatal position.
I've been thinking about this metaphor a lot lately, primarily because I'm still staring into that abyss Collin so eloquently described a few weeks back. In fact, I thought about titling this entry, "Exhausted in Academe," and may write that entry soon. But what I'm really interested in knowing are your "comfort films," what movies you seek out when you want to curl up on the sofa and hide from the world.

Last night for me, it was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I also rented Before Sunset, but was too sleepy to watch both, but Eternal Sunshine did the trick. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed the film the first time, especially Kate Winslet's performance in the lead role. I even contemplated bringing out Dazed and Confused, but I've used it as a comfort film several times already and don't want to risk that film losing its power to calm my frazzled nerves. So what are your comfort films? As an added bonus, do these comfort films have food equivalents, the meat loaf and mashed potatoes that George describes?

Posted by chuck at March 9, 2005 12:58 PM

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I don't own that many films, so don't use them quite for comfort in the sense that you mean, but just the other nice I PPVed _Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban_ as a nice kind of comfort movie. I think the Lord of the Rings films would do the same thing. (Clearly for me escapism is an important part of a comfort movie!) I think curling up with a pint of Ben & Jerry's would accomplish something similar. :-)

Posted by: New Kid on the Hallway at March 9, 2005 2:07 PM

Now, I neglected to mention that I complemented "Eternal Sunshine" with a pint of Ben & Jerry's. And, yes, the Ben & Jerry's helped a lot. For a film scholar, I actually own very few movies (maybe 20-30), so I had to rent my comfort movies, and that may have been part of the process here (taking the time to choose something extraordinary that I'd enjoy).

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 9, 2005 2:14 PM

i heart huckabees is my new comfort film. cable guy is a perennial comfort film though. as is groundhog day. and, strangely, 'the fugitive.'

Posted by: cynthia at March 9, 2005 2:22 PM

All of the copies of "Huckabees" were checked out from my video store or that would have been my first choice (maybe I'll buy a copy soon because I think it would work really well as a comfort film). I also like "Groundhog Day," but since I've written about it, watching it always feels like work.

Oddly enough, I used to find "Point Break" incredibly comforting, but only as a kind of kitsch masterpiece. Thankfully that moment has passed.

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 9, 2005 3:33 PM

Some friends and I were having a similar conversation the other day, but its context was more of a "What films, when you find them on, do you have to sit through and watch until the end?"

The ones that came to mind off the top were "Beautiful Girls," "Broadcast News," "All the President's Men," and more recently "Boogie Nights," and "Napoleon Dynomite."

The interesting thing for me is, there are several of those movies that I've almost refused to purchase, despite my almost obsessive need to buy DVD's. I tend to enjoy the random chance of running into them more than having them available for on demand viewing.

Posted by: Dylan at March 9, 2005 3:49 PM

The only DVD I own is "This is Spinal Tap" and I bought it because it's a comfort film. I want to get "The life of Bryan" on DVD for the same purpose. I tend to type-A nowadays, though, so I feel like I'm never going to make the time to watch the same movie twice. At least not until retirement.

Posted by: Chris Martin at March 9, 2005 5:06 PM

My favorite comfort movies are:

The Princess Bride, which we own on VHS but not DVD yet. I will never get tired of this film.

Four Weddings and a Funeral, which is on TV all the time. I used to hate this movie, but it has grown on me.

Being There, which we also own on VHS but not DVD yet.

Another movie with Being in the title => Being John Malkovich, one of the few comfort movies we have on DVD.

And my most recent discovery, Garden State. I love everything about this movie.

Great topic. Thanks to Dylan for pointing me here.

Posted by: ms.q at March 9, 2005 5:28 PM

Well, probably movies from my childhood are the best comfort films. WarGames (1983) for example. I also loved Princess Bride. My favorite movies, though, are ones that are more disturbing than comforting. The Vanishing, anything by David Lynch or Quentin Tarantino. I recently saw Smoke Signals for the first time and thought that was an absolutely beautiful movie.

Posted by: barb at March 9, 2005 7:17 PM

Very interesting question, Chuck. Mine's not film, but TV. For me, there's nothing like hunkering down on the sofa with some macaroni and cheese and a box of Buffy.

Though lately it's been Angel.

The various HBO series are also good for this purpose.

Posted by: KF [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 9, 2005 8:20 PM

High Fidelity works like a charm for me every time.

Posted by: Andy at March 9, 2005 9:29 PM

What a great list so far....

KF, Buffy seasons 1-2 on DVD got me through my dissertation. I don't think it would have been as pleasurable watching them on TV for me (there was something wonderfully self-indulgent about watching 3 or so episodes back to back), but, yeah, I need to watch more Buffy.

Oh, and ms. q, I came very close to renting Garden State (it was in my top three). I honestly didn't think I liked the movie very much the first time I saw it, but I've been wanting to see it again for a while. I can see how High Fidelity would work, too. The soundtrack alone makes me very happy.

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 9, 2005 11:02 PM

I can't believe I've didn't think of High Fidelity, but that is a perfect one.

Posted by: Dylan at March 9, 2005 11:59 PM

#1 comfort movie for me is Breakfast at Tiffany's. I saw it for the first time as a teenager who was already suffering from terrible insomnia that would plague me into my thirties (so far). I was up late, watching TV very quietly so my parents wouldn't wake up. I loved it then, and I've loved the probably 20 times since then that I've seen it.

Other comfort movies:
-Princess Bride (so many of my best lines are from that movie)
-Garden State/The Graduate
-A Christmas Story ("you'll shoot your eye out!!!")
-Beautiful Girls

Posted by: Lori at March 10, 2005 12:25 AM

Raising Arizona, Soul Food, Rock'n'Roll High School, Earth Girls Are Easy, The Bourne Identity, Sunset Boulevard, Office Space (or any other mockumentary -- they help immensely in the struggle not to take myself too seriously; you can look at your own life through the lens of the mockumentary filmmaker), Best in Show, Clueless. There are more, but that's a good list for now.

Posted by: Clancy at March 10, 2005 12:29 AM

Office Space and Raising Arzona were comfort films for me for several years, but now I've seen them too many times. Interesting that Garden State seems to be coming up a lot.

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 10, 2005 1:35 PM

garden state is more of an irritant-film for me. but princess bride is definitely a great comfort film.

Posted by: cynthia at March 10, 2005 4:03 PM

Oh! How could I forget Rushmore, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Back to School?

(Comfort film is probably my favorite genre of film.) :-)

Posted by: Clancy at March 10, 2005 7:47 PM

Duh -- the mockumentary remark was supposed to come after Best in Show, not Office Space. Other good mockumentaries include On Edge and the already-mentioned This Is Spinal Tap.

Posted by: Clancy at March 10, 2005 7:49 PM

I was wondering about the referent for "mockumentary." I tend to burn through comfort films pretty quickly (every few years), so I'm happy that I'll be able to add a few to the list (especially Huckabees).

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 10, 2005 8:03 PM

Hi Chuck, great meeting you at MLA, been reading the blog and had to comment on this one. Along with all the movies listed (especially Huckabees, Rushmore, and Office Space), I have to add The Royal Tennenbaums, The Big Lebowski and Almost Famous as three comfort movies that always make me feel better after a long day of writing/reading/proofing/etc.

Posted by: Paul at March 11, 2005 10:29 AM

Paul, it was nice meeting you, too. Glad you're reading. Tennebaums and Lebowski have been comfort movies in the past. Unfortunately I tend to burn out on comfort movies, so I've been watching them less frequently. I'd like to see Almost Famous again (someone outside the blog world recently suggested watching it alongside the Goldie Hawn groupie movie, The Banger Sisters).

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 11, 2005 12:09 PM

What about John Hughes films like Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, etc? For me, they're guilty pleasures. Makes me want to get out the hairspray again. Well, not really :)

Perhaps that could be another category: the guilty pleasure film (too close to comfort film?).

Though I know this is all subjective, I have to ask what's the fascination with Garden State?

Posted by: Jennifer at March 11, 2005 7:25 PM

Jennifer, I think you may have the next blog topic du jour.... I grew up on the Hughes films, and if they're on TBS or something, I certainly wouldn't change the channel.

I'm not sure I get the fascination with Garden State, either, even though I came very close to renting it again.

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 11, 2005 7:57 PM

the iron giant...back to the futures 1-3...pee wee's big adventure...real genius...the mummy (anything with brendan frasier, as a matter of fact(he's cornered the market on endearing cheese))...and #1: singing in the rain...

the other morning i nursed a hangover with land before time (on the disney channel, for chrissakes).... really.... my capacity for schlock unnerves me sometimes (not that all of the movies i just listed are schlock).

Posted by: derek at March 15, 2005 11:46 AM

I feel so unoriginal... I just used Eternal Sunshine as a comfort film not long ago, and Breakfast at Tiffany's and the Graduate are my all-time favorite comfort films... but I'm glad to know I'm not alone.

Posted by: meg at March 16, 2005 10:53 PM

You know, I think The Mummy would work really well as a comfort film....

I need to see Tifany's again--I just realized I haven't seen it in at least five years.

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 16, 2005 11:43 PM

Sorry to weigh in so late, and at such length. I don't think I have a "comfort film" in the sense first proposed at A Girl and Gun: a solid, nourishing, well-told, maybe plainly told story, the cinematic equivalent of meat loaf. My repeat viewing films tend to be more like dessert. (I think of the narrator of James Purdy's I Am Elijah Thrush, describing the job of 'memoirist': "My work was painful, as eating eclairs and Napoleons seven hours a day might be...")

I can't think of what my comfort films are now. These are the old standbys of a few years back.

Happy Together. I fall into this movie so easily. I love the melancholy, the long scenes without little or no dialogue. The dreamy long shots of the waterfall, with Astor Piazolla's tango music in the background. Tony Leung's character crying into a tape recorder. (Though I don't think I've actually watched it since news of Leslie Cheung's suicide, more than a year ago. That would be a different order of melancholy.) "In the Mood" is good, too, but restrained.

German Autumn (Deutscher Herbst.) An omnibus film of a lot of German directors, about the repression following RAF terrorism. It's only on VHS, so I haven't seen it in a while. I love the parts that bear Alexander Kluge's stamp, which I take to be the documentation of the elaborate funeral for Hans Schleyer, kidnapped and murdered by the RAF. And Fassbinder's scenes, where he drinks and rages at his boyfriend and has a crying jag, are some of his best acting in any of his films.

Nicholas Nickleby, the one with Nathan Lane. The truly guilty pleasure in this bunch. There's a tender, mawkish friendship between Nicholas and an impoverished, hunchbacked orphan boy. The orphan boy--little Smike--adores Nicholas abjectly. The film ends for me when that story ends.

I guess Irma Vep, too, and Late Autumn, Early September.

Posted by: Diana at March 17, 2005 11:11 AM

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