Daniel Stephens had a passion for film from a very early age. He recalls old VHS tapes with scribbled out names of soap-operas and American television dramas written on their spines. His mother’s collection of course.
But she had taste. There was one video which had a film title written on its spine that wasn’t scribbled out. This was the video he would return to over and over again until the tape wore out and the eager anticipation of another TV re-run would set in. That film was Star Wars.
But ultimately, growing up in West Yorkshire during the 1980s, it was the films of the decade that left the biggest impression. “This was the era that introduced me to cinema,” he says. “These were the films I watched as a child. The 1980s might not have the auteur quality of the 1970s, but it is the era that gives me the most pleasure. Many of my favourite films were made in the decade including Aliens, The ‘Burbs, Back To The Future, and An American Werewolf In London.”
Dan lists movie trailers, the multiplex, old Hollywood actresses and, interestingly, film studio idents as some of his favourite things about cinema. He says of film trailers that “It doesn’t matter how bad the film might be. Being in the cinema when the trailers are playing gets the butterflies buzzing. Great trailers can be made for poor films and most trailers these days convey at least an element of intrigue.”
And although the multiplex is the ugly face of commercialisation in cinema he concedes the “smell, sounds, and sights of the multiplex always bring me joy. I do hate long queues and screaming children but nothing can take away the sheer pleasure of smelling roasting popcorn and seeing those huge, cardboard movie placards advertising the latest blockbuster, knowing I’m about to watch a movie on a 20 foot high screen.”
Another love of his is the classic Hollywood actresses of the studio and pre-new wave period in American cinema. “There’s something beautifully alluring about those pale faces on shimmering black and white film stock,” he says. “No actress in the modern era has got the butterflies fluttering like Veronica Lake in Sullivan’s Travels, or Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, or Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, or Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, or Grace Kelly in…well…anything!”
And it isn’t just beautiful femme fatales and the smell of the multiplex that gets the butterflies going. “In my teens I became obsessed by New Line Films’ white film cell flying into view against a black background with that iconic high-pitched orchestral introduction. I think I must have loved the films they were making at the time.
“But I do love the studio idents at the beginning of films. My favourite is probably the Universal name floating around the earth or the stars appearing over the mountain in Paramount’s films. I love how the idents have changed over time and how filmmakers use them inventively when the film in question calls for it.”
Dan has been writing about film for over a decade. He became a regular contributor to the UK’s number 1 DVD review website DVD Times (now the The Digital Fix) while studying film at Sheffield Hallam University. He wrote regularly for DVD Times until 2006 when he set up his own film and culture site Strange Conversation. The most visited post on Strange Conversation was a top 10 list of the best 1980s horror movies. The popularity of this single post inspired the creation of Top10Films.co.uk.
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Cinema Firsts… – some of my cinema firsts including my first trip to the cinema, first crush, and first experience of a horror film.
The attraction of horror cinema: Why I love scary films