If the February blues have not quite reached you, the annual perfume-cloud of pink roses and plastic love hearts that assail the high street on Valentine’s Day might provide the final push. It’s enough to make you want to run for cover in a darkened room - just as long as you don’t run into a cinema. The BFI, among others, is running a series of Valentine’s Day screenings to mark the moment on this apparently romantic day.
Of course there is nothing new in this. It’s a commercial opportunity that’s now well-established. We see this kind of scheduling every year, but must we? The BFI, in fairness, are not the worst culprits. Their film choices are more original than most cinemas, with an offering of perfectly respectable classics: Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor’s grand love story in A Place in the Sun that is riven by class-struggle and aspiration of early 1950s America; From Here to Eternity, a pre-Pearl Harbour barrack-room saga starring Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra and Deborah Kerr; Powell and Pressburger’s ‘heaven and earth’ romantic fantasy, A Matter of Life and Death, are among them. No-one can rail against the monochrome heterosexuality of the line-up either, as the BFI has scheduled in diversity with Weekend, Andrew Haigh’s story of the ‘morning after’ a one night stand between two gay men, and A Perfect Ending, a film which encompasses lesbian love, orgasms (or lack of) and escorts. The films are alright, so to speak, but the fact that they have been deemed Valentine’s Day material takes the shine off them - their magnificence is undermined by their association with twee, chocolate-box coupledom.
It shows what scheduling can do to a film. To my mind, they come to represent a bland, uniform love, for a bland, uniform Valentine’s tradition. It would be great to see the BFI and others simply ignoring the day next year, with its corrupt intent to turn a commercial venture into a cultural one.
Other cinemas have given us a lot worse. A colleague expressed dismay at last year Valentine’s Day screenings at the Ritzy Cinema in South London (known for its quirky independent-mindedness). You had the choice between that golden oldie, Pretty Woman, or that even older golden oldie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, two very different kinds of stories about prostitutes-turned-romantic-leads, on 14 February. Do we have to have the Christmas TV equivalent of It’s a Wonderful Life? It’ll be When Harry Met Sally being shown next. Hold on a minute, Kensington Roof Gardens’s ‘Rooftop Film Club’ is showing just that this month, alongside Dirty Dancing, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Casablanca.
Can’t cinemas be a little more unpredictable in their choices? What about the race-romance between Daniel Day-Lewis and Gordon Warnecke in My Beautiful Laundrette? What about old love? One of the most painfully memorable films about the nature of love and passion is the German movie, Cloud Nine, though it might not be ‘pretty’ enough for some Valentine’s Day crowds.
Or else, what about a degree of knowing and impish humour in cinema schedules. There’s the comical gender-bending of Some Like It Hot? There is also, more darkly, the American slasher, My Bloody Valentine? Some of the best, most romantic loves stories are miserable, or violent, or comical, or have utterly miserable endings. Why can’t we see more of those on 14 February, if we have to see any ‘love stories’ at all? Some Like it Hot is in fact being screened by an initiative called Edible Cinema alongside a film-themed tasting menu. Kitsch maybe, but at least it has some originality.
Of course, part of the problem is Valentine’s Day itself – a thoroughly unromantic tradition. Which real romantic needs a given calendar day to be reminded to buy their loved-ones a meal, a bunch of flowers, a weekend away? Romantics don’t need a set date to see a date movie.