what they don't tell you about LOVE in the movies

By Claire Watts

Young adult, Romance, Women's fiction

Paperback, eBook

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8 mins

The Princess Bride

It’s silver, the dress. Pale grey really, I suppose, but with a sort of glow like silver. I ease it from the musty tangle of the dressing-up box, stand and lift it so that the fabric falls like liquid from its diamanté shoulder straps. You wouldn’t think something so insubstantial-looking would feel so heavy. I lay it across my body, one hand still on one of the straps, the other holding it to my chest. The skirt forms a pool at my feet because, of course, this is a dress to wear with heels.
When we were little, Amy and me were obsessed with dressing up, pretty much never left the house without some sort of costume on, Victorian orphans or princesses, something like that. This dress was the one we always fought over, the treasure in the dressing-up box. It must have been Mum’s once, but I don’t remember ever seeing her wear it. I can’t imagine her going out to the sort of thing where you would wear such a dress, not back then, not with Dad. I’m amazed it’s not ruined. I suppose it was too cumbersome for us to wear out of the house. It was definitely too long; we used to strut around in it, skirt hoicked up in one hand, the other hand holding up the slipping shoulder straps and tugging at the drooping bodice.
I can’t resist: I whip off my clothes and drop the dress over my head. The cold silk swishes to the ground. The bodice drapes in elegant folds across my chest, low-cut but not too low, flowing, seamless, into the long sweep of the skirt. Liquid silver.
What I need is a pair of heels. And a mirror. Both of which I’ll find in Amy’s room. The pile of unopened books on my desk tut-tut at me as I pass, holding up the hem of the skirt. They can wait. It’s not even the start of term yet.
I feel transformed by the dress. My walk becomes a sort of elegant glide. The person looking back at me from the mirror is some parallel-universe me. I would never wear anything like this. It’s not a dress for a seventeen-year-old. Maybe one of those fabulously rich girls you see in magazines, or an actress, but not someone ordinary like me.
What’s in my head is Princess Buttercup in The Princess Bride. Not that it’s a Princess Buttercup kind of dress, more that it gives me a Princess Buttercup feeling. Have you seen The Princess Bride? It’s one of my favourite movies of all time, a sort of fairy tale, but not the kind with fairies, enclosed in an outer story about someone reading the story, which makes you think about the inner story. I love the way it’s sort of knowing about the whole fairy tale and adventure thing. Amy and me used to play The Princess Bride all the time. It was the one game when we didn’t mind not being the one wearing the silver dress because whoever didn’t get to wear it got to do all the other more exciting parts. Inigo Montoya was our favourite. We’d brandish imaginary swords, lay on the over-the-top Spanish accent, and quote: “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father – prepare to die!”
So picture me, silver dress, head somewhere slightly outside reality, and the doorbell rings. It can only be Simon. Not that I’m actually expecting him, but it pretty much always is Simon at the door. I sweep down the stairs as best as I can. Which is not quite as elegantly as walking on the level because I’m not the greatest at walking in heels and stairs are really hard. On the other side of the frosted glass in the front door there’s a blurry outline of someone. I fling open the door with a flourish worthy of The Princess Bride, and I’m opening my mouth to go “Ta-dah!”, but instead of Simon standing there, it’s a boy I’ve never seen before. I look at him just long enough to register the surprise on his face turning to amusement. Oh! The slinky evening dress and the door-flinging! What must I look like? Before the boy can say a word, I push the door almost closed and cower behind it with only my head visible.
“Hello?” I say.
“Hello,” he replies.
I have to credit him, he doesn’t actually sound like someone who has been greeted at all oddly.
“Would it be OK with you if I film the outside of your garage?” he goes on. “I’m making a film and I need to use a red garage door for part of it.”
“Yes, that’s fine,” I reply, shutting the door abruptly and leaning against the wall out of sight.
The letterbox flaps open. “Thank you!” he calls. The letterbox remains open. He’s waiting for me to say something but I have no idea what to say so I stay silent, and after a moment, the letterbox flaps closed.
I stay there, leaning against the wall. I’m afraid to move in case the boy’s still there and can see me through the door’s glass panes. I think I can hear him moving around outside. But maybe I can’t. Maybe he’s still standing there on the other side of the glass.
I take off the shoes. I slide across to the stairs and creep up them, dress pulled up around my knees. It’s not easy to keep hold of all the heavy, slippery fabric. I’m heading for Dad’s room. His window’s right above the garage.
I can’t see the boy. He can’t have gone though, because there’s a bike leaning against the hedge. He must be right next to the garage. I could see down there if I opened the window and leaned out, but there’s no way I’m doing that.
The boy appears, walking backwards away from the garage, video camera in his hand, as far as the pavement, into the road (how did he know nothing was coming?), across the road to the far pavement. There he stops, studies the camera, and then repeats his filming, this time walking towards the garage. He’s so intent on what he’s doing, I don’t think he’d notice me even if I did open the window. He disappears below me again, stays out of sight for a few moments, then walks over to his bike and packs the camera into a bag. He hesitates, pushing his floppy hair from his face and looking at the house. I duck back behind the curtains. He’s coming back. Should I go down? Should I pretend I don’t hear him? What am I going to say?
There’s no ring, no knock. When I peer out again, he’s on his bike, heading off down the hill away from town.
I plod back to my room, shedding the dress as I go. Was there ever anyone in the world as stupid as me? Why didn’t I just talk to him, like a normal person would have done? I’ve got all these questions that are never going to get answered now. Why did he want to film the garage? Why our garage? What sort of film is he making? It’s so weird … and interesting.

“Watch it, Alex! You’re dripping ketchup.”
I snatch my sketchbook from under his hand, flip it shut.
“God, sorry!” he says. “There’s some kitchen roll in the bag, pass it over, will you.”
I dig around in Alex’s rucksack.
“Kitchen roll? How do you remember this stuff? What else have you got?”
Bear in mind, he’s turned up at the pond with not just a throwaway barbecue, sausages and rolls, but also matches (essential, but I have been known to forget), ketchup and a fork to turn the sausages with. And I’m telling you from experience, don’t ever attempt to barbecue without a fork.
I pull out a slightly squashed box of strawberries. “Nice, bit of vegetable matter to balance the sausages. What’s this? Chocolate? Not very healthy?”
“That’s for pudding,” Alex says, shoving the last enormous chunk of roll and sausage into his mouth.
“Pudding? Alex, I have to tell you, sometimes I’m tempted to call you Mum.”
He chews a couple of times, swallows hard, and says, “I take it you taking the piss is just your way of saying, ‘I’m eternally grateful to you for being such a reliable and organised friend.’”
“Something like that.”
It’s turned out to be one of those perfect end of summer days, clear sky and hot, with a hint of cooling wind and dulled leaf colour to remind you that autumn’s on the way. When I got here, the strip of sandy beach on one side of the pond was mobbed with families making the most of the last of the summer sun. Now though, the kiosk that sells chips and drinks has closed, the beach is clearing, and the car park is almost empty. Soon it’ll just be me and Alex and the trees and the pond. I say ‘pond’, that’s what they call it, a pond, but it’s huge, big enough so people can learn to sail in these one- or two-man boats. That must make it more of a lake, mustn’t it?
Alex wipes his hands very thoroughly, screws up the paper and adds it to the bag of rubbish. “Can I see now?” he says.
“The sketchbook you’re being so cagey about.”
“I’m not being cagey. I just don’t think ketchup’s going to add anything.”
I pass him the sketchbook. He flips through to the last page I’ve drawn on. It’s a storyboard: first the closed front door of a suburban house, then the door flung wide and a girl standing there in a long evening dress, arms thrown out wide, then finally the door almost closed, with the girl’s face peeking around.
“This is the girl, the one you were talking about?” Alex says.
“I don’t get it. What’s this got to do with your movie?”
I shake my head. “Nothing. That’s not the book I’m using for location sketches, it’s the one I use for random ideas.”
“So seeing this girl gave you an idea for something new you might do?”
“No … not exactly … I don’t know,” I say. “Pass me another sausage … thanks.”
“Nah. It’s just … well, it was funny, I suppose, and strange. It was like a little snippet of something. The sort of thing that could begin a movie.”
I flip the sketchbook closed and get the camera out of my bag.
“It only happened, the thing with the girl, because of the garage door. Remember how I was trying to find a red door somewhere? Look. Here it is, the perfect shade of red – just a shade or two bluer than postbox, not what you would call blood red, but it does remind you of blood, doesn’t it? And it looked like it hasn’t been painted for years, a bit chipped and fairly matt.”
“Where was this?”
“I told you. Up that hill, the way you go out of town without crossing the bypass, you know, the hill with the church at the bottom and that weird wooden bus shelter when you come down the other side.”
“Manor Hill?”
“I think so, yeah. I’ve cycled up that hill hundreds of times, and never noticed this red door before. Wasn’t looking, I suppose. Right at the top of the hill, before the road bends and drops down.”
Alex scrolls through the rest of the stuff on the camera, stills of locations around the pond. The common around the pond goes on for miles, and there’s all sorts of different terrain I could use – woods and scrubby open land, and a marshy bit near the smaller pond. I found two or three good locations this afternoon, which feels like progress, but it’s time I got started on the filming proper. The outdoor stuff needs to be shot pretty quickly before the trees start losing their leaves, maybe next week or the week after.
“So how’s it going, your film?”
I pick up a stick and poke at the grey charcoal that’s left in the barbecue. “There’s still such a lot to do, and it’s complicated. You know I’m not the most organized person in the world.”
Alex grunts. He offers me the last sausage, but I let him have it. He’s been working with a kitchen fitter all holiday and spends his days lugging fridges and cookers about and smashing up old cabinets. He’s always starving. I reach for the box of strawberries instead and open another beer.
“The trouble is,” I say, “I can’t tell if the stuff I’m working on is good or not. Up to now all the actual film-making on my course has been done together as a group, different people writing, filming, editing. It can be infuriating, with everyone arguing and analysing everything all the time, but mostly you end up with something that seems way better than it did when you were actually doing it. This is the first unit when you have to make the whole thing by yourself, start to finish. Apart from actors, of course.”
“Which is me.”
“Which is you. If that’s still OK with you?”
“If you want me, but you know, I’m no actor.”
“Doesn’t matter. The whole point of the thing is that it’s about the character’s vision of what’s going on, so I’m mostly shooting from behind your head or from your point of view. You’ll hardly be in it, just your hands sometimes, or your feet, maybe the side of your face. It shouldn’t matter how good you are.”
Alex kicks earth over the remains of the charcoal. He stares at it, pauses as if he’s choosing his words carefully.
“Look, are you sure about this?” he says. “I don’t want to ruin it or anything. Can’t you find someone better?”
I shake my head. “Not really. Most of the other people on my course are too involved with their own films. You’ll be fine, honest. There’s nothing to it.”
Alex snaps a row of chocolate off and tosses the bar to me. “So what happened today? I thought we were coming up here together to do your location search when I’d finished work.”
“Yeah, but you know what it’s like. I got up, looked out the window and thought to hell with laundry and loan forms and internship applications. Seems like I’ve spent the entire summer holiday inside, working, watching movies, working some more, apart from that week when I went back to Mum and Dad’s. No, actually, come to think of it, even then, I spent most of the time in my room watching movies …”
We sit there for a bit, silent, staring across the pond, drinking beer in the still evening.
“Shit!” Alex says, leaping up. “What’s the time? I was going to go round to the sailing place, ask them about that teaching job they advertised … it’ll be perfect for me next term …”
He sprints off along the beach. There’s no way there’s anyone still there. If there even was anyone today. I don’t remember seeing any boats out.
The trees behind the beach are casting shadows that stretch across the sand and onto the pond. I open the sketchbook again, look down at the storyboard. My drawing isn’t that good, I haven’t got the girl’s expression right. I root around at the bottom of my bag for a stubby bit of soft pencil and around the pictures I write:
Mysterious greeting: why the enthusiasm?
Expecting someone else? Acting some sort of part?
Contrast between dress and setting.
Why’s she wearing the dress?
Shock: realising what she’s doing/where she is.
Embarrassed and desperately wants to get rid of me.
Why not curious about what I’m doing? I would be.

The Princess Bride

Released 1987
Country USA
Director Rob Reiner
Screenplay William Goldman
Cinematography Adrian Biddle
Music Mark Knopfler
Cast Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, André the Giant, Peter Falk, Fred Savage, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane

The Princess Bride is a fabulous, entertaining fairy-tale fantasy action movie which lays on the camp comedy like top-quality pantomime. The actual drama and romance of the tale is a bit feeble and the two main characters are pretty lame but the comedy and action carry you along anyway (much as described by the grandfather telling the story in the framing device).



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