Freeview films on TV 31/7/21 to 6/8/21

Thanks for joining our newsletter. It’s like the old CFS newsletter but better. Not yet, perhaps, because I haven’t had time to do it properly, but it will be. 


I’ve just watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) for the first time. It’s brilliant. 

I ignored it at the time of release. I thought I was too old for a teenage rebellion film (as were most of the cast) and besides, I’d seen The 400 Blows (1959). What a snob. What’s more, I’d heard it was a comic celebration of capitalist excess, and my friends were angry journalists and alternative comedians. To us, Thatcher/Reagan neo-liberalism was no laughing matter, though that didn’t stop us trying. As Ben Elton used to say, ‘Not very funny, but I thought it needed saying.’

Probably the first thing the average British teenager of the day would have noticed was the extraordinary selection of consumer durables 17-year-old Ferris (played by Matthew Broderick, then 24) has in the bedroom where he fakes illness to avoid school. But he wants more. He doesn’t want his computer, and his baseball gear, and his surround sound stereo with graphic equaliser, and his sampling keyboard, and his guitar and all the rest of it: he wants a car. Of his own. He just has to get Mom, a slightly oedipal real estate agent, to buy him one. 

Weirdly, Ferris is depicted as underprivileged. He measures himself against his depressed, hypochondriac schoolmate Cameron (Alan Ruck, then 29), who lives in an architect-designed house with a Dad who has a priceless Ferrari and a wife (Cameron’s Mom) whom he hates. Ferris, meanwhile, has a gorgeous 17-year-old girlfriend, named Sloane (Mia Sara, then only 18, model daughter of a Brooklyn Italian photographer). She is up for mischief, like Ferris, but unlike Cameron. 

John Hughes, who wrote the film in a week to beat an impending strike by the Screenwriters’ Guild, of which he was a member, had been a gag-machine on National Lampoon magazine. He was also a Reagan Republican and a proud Chicagoan. The film is largely shot outside (just like Truffaut’s film) and celebrates the city’s relentless commercial energy. Chicago was built on meat, and the adulteration of food. See Upton Sinclair for details. The teenagers take themselves to a snooty ‘French’ restaurant, with Ferris posing as the City’s ‘Sausage King’, where they eat pancreas. Hughes, who directed and shot a film lasting 165 rambling minutes, taking funny ideas from everybody, eventually deleted the scene in the edit. But he left in a one-line reference to it in Ferris’s closing round-up. That’s screenwriting. 

The Hollywood establishment and the right-wing press loved the film, because it celebrated consumption (the economic practice, not the disease, although Ferris helpfully explains how he fakes clammy hands and palour). Liberals hated it, for the same reason (‘A nauseating distillation of the slack, greedy side of Reaganism,’ wrote David Denby of New York magazine’). 

It’s tremendous, and more intelligent than it knows. I don’t care what Hughes and his buddies, people like P.J. O’Rourke, professed to think about political economy. They knew their business: making people laugh. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is all about the pleasure principle. The adults in the picture (or menacingly off-screen, like Cameron’s Dad) know the price of everything: work, duty, school, obedience and nominal adherence to a grisly authoritarian parody of Christianity. The teenage trio (plus Jennifer Grey, as Ferris’s sister, who paired up with Broderick during the filming) know the value of everything: at least to them, on this one, unexpected jour de fête. (There’s a parade, celebrating Chicago’s German sausage-eating roots, which Ferris takes over with a wild rendition of ‘Twist and Shout’: accompanied by a brass band, to Paul McCartney’s horror. Hughes apologised, sort of. He was a fan: all the music is tremendous.) 

The boys – and girls – just wanna have fun. Even a trip to the art gallery (Hopper! Picasso! Seurat! Matisse! The horror!) is fun: Chagall’s America Windows – made for the Bicentennial, to celebrate religious freedom, is the setting for the big love scene between Ferris and Sloane. He wants to marry her, but they are ‘So Young’, in the words of the quintessential teen lament. (The Students, 1961.)

As a director, Hughes is as inventive as any European auteur: the fourth wall is gleefully smashed. But he was also steeped in movie economics (more a matter of Eastern European superstition than MBA calculation). So he made a happy film in which everybody learns something: even Ferris’s Dean of Students, the controlling, obsessive Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones, then 40, now more prominent on the US’s sex offender database than he is on IMDB) seems to benefit from being humilated. 

It’s an outrageous wish-fulfilment fantasy, and absolutely irresistible. To me – and you don’t have to believe me – Ferris is a kind of Christ figure. Not ‘the only Christ corporate American deserves’ (to adapt Albert Camus) but perhaps the Christ it needs. As St Paul wrote to his friend Timothy: “The love of money is the root of all evil.” The love, not the money: money is useful. 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is showing on Sunday (1/8) at 14:50 and also on Friday at 18:50, on Great Movies, which used to be the UK television distribution channel for Sony Pictures but now seems to belong to an investment vehicle called Narrative Capital Partners, fronted by a sometime novelist and screenwriter, which ‘provides financing solutions across the entire life cycle and global distribution of intellectual property within the entertainment, media, and information sectors. Our specialized “delayed gratification” investment thesis combines a long-term horizon for our industry partners with an owner’s mentality for our investors.’  Caveat emptor

World Cinema

On Tuesday (3/8) at 01:25, Film4 has A Bigger Splash (2015). At 22:00, BBC4 has Naples ’44: A Wartime Diary (2016).    

On Wednesday (4/8) at 02:10, Film4 has Ida (2013). At 15:00, Film4 has Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2017).

On Thursday (5/8) at 01:15, Film4 has Rams (2015).

Stephen Ilott’s picks

On Sunday (1/8), at 19:10, Talking Pictures has Genevieve (1953). At 22:00, Talking Pictures has Jigsaw (1961).

On Monday (2/8) at 02:55, Sky Arts has Lambert & Stamp (2014).  

Other modern films of interest

Tomorrow (31/7) at 22:50, BBC4 has The Eagle Huntress (2016). At 22:55, 5 Star has About a Boy (2002) (Also Wednesday 22:55).  

On Monday (2/8) at 21:00, Paramount has We Were Soldiers (2002).

On Tuesday (3/8) at 22:00, Sky Arts has Studio 54: The Documentary (2018).


On Saturday (31/7) at 14:35, ITV4 has Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988). At 21:00, Sky Arts has The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (1968). (Also on Friday at 23:30.)

On Sunday (1/8) at 12:10, Talking Pictures has Lease of Life (1954). At 16:50, Paramount has Broken Arrow (1950). At 18:50, Paramount has Rooster Cogburn (1975).

On Monday (2/8) at 01:25, Film4 has Red Monarch (1983).

On Wednesday (4/8) at 16:25, Talking Pictures has The Yellow Balloon (1953).

Laurel and Hardy on Talking Pictures by Stephen Ilott

Tomorrow (31/7) at 16:00, Towed in a Hole (1932). At 16:25, Block-Heads (1938). At 17:35, The Finishing Touch (1929).      

On Sunday (1/8) at 16:00, A Chump at Oxford (1940). At 17:15, The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case (1930) .

On Tuesday (3/8) at 18:40, Pack Up Your Troubles (1932).

On Thursday (5/8) at 18:30, Sons of the Desert (1933).

No Laurel and Hardy in the Saturday Morning Pictures slot, but not to worry as otherwise this is the best selection of their films that Talking Pictures have come up with for their celebration of 100 years of the team. In Towed in the Hole (1932) they play fish salesmen. It is one of their best shorts and showing at 16:00 on Saturday. It is followed by Block-Heads (1938) at 16:25. Soldier Stan is discovered loyally still guarding his trench 20 years after The Great War. Reunited with Ollie, he says ‘You remember how dumb I used to be? … Well, I’m better now’. Not very likely. This is one of their best features. Then The Finishing Touch (1929) at 17:35. They are house builders in this, one of their best silent shorts.

On Sunday, Teatime with Laurel and Hardy starts with A Chump at Oxford (1940) at 16:00. While not one of their top classics, there is still plenty to enjoy, and this was the last of their really good films. Despite the title, this was filmed in Hollywood. A young Peter Cushing plays a fellow student. The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case (1930) follows at 17:15. Again, not one of their top classics, but they are superb in it, and there is plenty to enjoy. 

Pack Up Your Troubles (1932) is repeated on Tuesday at 18:40. Sons of the Desert (1933) is repeated on Thursday at 18:30. This is one of their best features and Laurel and Hardy fan organisations throughout the world have adopted its name. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *