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Ralph Mellon
Ralph Mellon

By Ralph Mellon

I’m in a brand new film club.

In fact, if I remember correctly, I helped co-found it.

We had our inaugural monthly screening the weekend before last, with, I’m proud to report, a full turnout of members (total – four).

Its origins were fairly unexpected – I was at a New Year party in Buckhaven, hosted by a couple who we’ll call D and S for narrative purposes.

A lot of the young people present (our sons included) had taken their first faltering steps into the worlds of work, college and university after leaving school in the summer, so they were keen to catch up and compare experiences.

Myself and D got talking about various things, including movies, and we discovered we shared a mutual idolisation for, among others, ‘Zulu’ and ‘Doctor Zhivago’.

D began recalling with fondness his film club days as a student, in which he and his friends would mix up huge vats of spaghetti and view the films of Charles Bronson.

One he remembered particularly was a curious symphony of violence and watermelons – that would be ‘Mr Majestyk’, just one of a string of movies Bronson made during the 1970s and ‘80s in which the violent lead characters he played, like his performances, were almost indistinguishable, even when they were cops.

That was enough for us to decide immediately that we’d make monthly visits to each others’ houses, with our offspring in tow, to watch a film chosen by the host.

And so, to the first big night, staged chez Mellon, with delicious moussaka and Pavlova to precede the night’s viewing.

I chose another of the movies recalled warmly by D at his Hogmanay bash – ‘Catch-22’, Mike Nichols’ worthy but not altogether successful attempt to bring Joseph Heller’s memorable 1961 satirical anti-war novel to the screen.

Soaked in a surreal and semi-absurdist style, like many black comedies of its time, it tells of Yossarian (Alan Arkin), a bombardier at a US Army Air Force base on a Mediterranean island in 1943.

He’s seen loads of friends die on flying missions and wants to be grounded for the reason that he’s crazy. But there’s a catch ...

Meanwhile, Colonel Cathcart (Martin Balsam) keeps raising the number of missions required before pilots can complete a tour of duty, and Lt Milo Minderbinder (Jon Voight) is involved in sinister black market dealing.

It’s a bit erratic but has many great sequences, including those with Orson Welles as General Dreedle, and a standout scene with Bob Newhart as Captain Major, the laundry officer, who’s suddenly promoted to squadron commander because of his name. So he becomes Major Major.

I can’t think why the idea of a film club never occcurred to me before. But it suits me perfectly – almost every time I watch a programme about any film-maker I admire, I have to pull out a selection of their films and reappraise them.

Similarly, if lines of dialogue or scenes from particular movies pop back into my head for no discernible reason, I have to pull out a selection of these films and reappraise them.

When he wasn’t carrying out excavations in my mouth, my previous dentist and I used to have lengthy debates on the movies of Clint Eastwood and the aforementioned Charles Bronson, and compare which ones we thought were the worst made by both.

I can’t remember what we decided was Bronson’s worst outing, although I made a very convincing case for ‘The White Buffalo’. With Eastwood, we differed, although ‘The Eiger Sanction’, ‘Heartbreak Ridge’ and ‘Honky Tonk Man’ were prime candidates.

Book clubs always struck me as fun, but much as I love reading, I doubt if I could finish even one novel between gatherings – I don’t tend to devour books quickly.

So, next month, we’re due back in Buckhaven at a mutually convenient date to eat some home-made lasagne and watch a movie selected by D. What, I wonder, will it be?