Friday 21 June 2013

Mixtape Movies Blogathon: Childhood Portraits

Following the A Life in Movies and Desert Island DVDs Blogathons, the inventive Andy at Fandango Groovers has come up with another idea. This time, the challenge is for bloggers to compile a list of five or six movies (plus one wildcard) that serve as a cinematic equivalent of a Mixtape by complementing each other or fitting together in some thematic way. Since a recent conversation revealed just how many of my childhood memories are actually cinema-going memories, and since I eagerly await the appearance of Mark Cousins’s latest doc A Story of Children and Film (which sounds like a Mixtape Movie itself, if ever there was one), I’ve picked childhood as the theme for my selections. Kids coming to terms with absence, with their own gifts and abilities, and confronting beasts and burglars are the heroes and heroines of the films  below. 

Home Alone (Columbus, 1990)

“This is my house, I have to defend it,” intones Master Culkin. Vigilantism, self-sufficiency and family values, Hughes-style. Given its message, is it any wonder that Home Alone wowed children pretty much the world over? A kid may miss his family eventually, this movie says. But in the meantime he’s entirely capable of surviving perfectly well without them.

Paradise (Donoghue, 1991)

Encompassing grief, friendship, empowerment and resolve, Donoghue’s movie - about the summer spent by a sadsack city boy (Elijah Wood) with his mother’s friends in the country – looks at its adult and child protagonists with equal affection and tenderness, slowly revealing the connections between their emotional experience of the world.

The Long Day Closes (Davies, 1992)

“Mam, can I go to the pictures?” Movie love. The rituals of home, church and school. A first scary stirring of homosexual desire. Davies makes the intimate experience of his 1950s Liverpool childhood something universal, far-reaching, embracing and profound here. If there’s just one sequence to demonstrate the rapturous, melancholic uniqueness of The Long Day Closes it’s this one.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Zeitlin, 2011)

 A child’s eye view of the bayou, this could be a Maurice Sendak book brought to the screen by Terrence Malick. And in Quvenzhane Wallis’s enterprising Hushpuppy, Zeitlin creates one of the most memorable heroines of the recent American screen. I find the shot of the kids returning to the Bathtub following their dreamy night on the boat to be overwhelmingly powerful.

The Sixth Sense (Shyamalan, 1999)

Forget the ghosts, forget the twist. What makes The Sixth Sense such an enduring, deeply affecting childhood portrait, for me, is that it's about a kid coming to terms with an ability that it takes him the whole movie to recognise as a gift rather than a curse.


The Kid With A Bike (Dardennes, 2011)

With characteristic Dardennes doggedness, Cyril (Thomas Doret) sets about seeking out his errant father. The renunciation of the pursuit is the point of the story. And the humanity of the movie is cemented by its heart-wrenching final shot.


Michael (Schleinzer, 2011)

An icily enigmatic coda to the (mostly) affirmative films listed above is provided by Marcus Schleinzer’s deeply subversive drama, which presents a middle-class office worker holding a young boy captive in his basement. And shows this predicament to have more in common with a traditional parent/child dynamic than we might care to admit.


  1. Nice picks, both older and newer. The mother-son relationship in The Sixth Sense was well done.
    Beasts wasn't liked by all, the voice-overs maybe a bit unrealistic for a 6-year-old, and some claimed was an overly romanticized view of poverty from perspective of a person who's never been hungry. But I found it easy to connect with emotionally, and was won over by the unique atmosphere.

  2. Toni Colette was amazing in te 6 th sense

  3. Thanks, Chris. It was fun to do (are you doing one?), though I keep thinking of supplements: CRIA CUERVOS, WHERE IS THE FRIEND’S HOUSE?, THE SECRET GARDEN… Totally agree about the mother/son relationship in THE SIXTH SENSE, and yep, John, Toni Colette is indeed amazing there.

    As for BEASTS… I fully expected to dislike it, but, like you, was totally won over. I can understand people’s objections on the grounds that you outline, but I feel that these responses are literal-minded. For me the film works as a fable – with all the boldness and poetry that implies.