Gilbey on Film: the young ones

Which movies sum up your youth?

I've been trying to get my hands on the 1968 British comedy Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush for some time now. Twice a year for the past, ooh, six or seven years, I've been googling or eBaying to see if there are any decent copies floating around. This diligence in the pursuit of a film was, for once, entirely selfless: I was after a copy for my father, who has long cited that movie as being especially evocative of his adolescence and early twenties.

I suppose I could've made a pilgrimage to the home of my NS colleague Hunter Davies and asked to borrow his copy. Why him? Well, he wrote the thing -- the original novel and the screenplay. Except that whenever you read Hunter's column, he's usually writing about being snuggled in his armchair watching the footie, refreshments close at hand, and I would undoubtedly have rung the doorbell just as, er, London United were scoring against the Galapagos Islands or something. (Sorry, Hunter. Never watch the game.)

Now the BFI is releasing the film on DVD and Blu-ray on 13 September as part of its excellent Flipside strand, which highlights exotic British treasures off the beaten track, so I can finally be a good son and reunite my dad with one of his youthful enthusiasms. Mulberry Bush follows teenage Jamie (Barry Evans) in his efforts to discard his virginity but a few elements in particular make it more noteworthy than the average losing-your-cherry romp.

For a start, Evans is delightful almost to the point of tweeness -- the beaming grin, which never drops, makes him look like God's milkman. In this context, his every leering "Phwoar!" at the "birds" he meets feels less like the catchphrase of a lecherous caveman and more like the mark of a little boy playing in the dressing-up box. The story of Evans's own subsequent career (he turned up later in the deplorable sitcom Mind Your Language) and his eventual death, all outlined in the film's excellent accompanying essay by Vic Pratt, makes for sobering reading and can't help but lend Mulberry Bush a downbeat tinge.

The film's rambling structure is also interesting. Hunter claims in the DVD booklet to have been influenced by J D Salinger: "Bloody hell, I exclaimed when I'd finished [The Catcher in the Rye], it hasn't got a plot. It just wanders off and about, enjoys itself, follows where it likes."

Of course, the film looks dated now (sorry again, Hunter, and sorry, Dad). That sounds like stating the bleedin' obvious until you watch it alongside another new Flipside release, Bronco Bullfrog, which feels positively revolutionary despite being shot in east London in 1969. But whereas Bronco's director, Barney Platts-Mills, took his visual cues from Italian neo-realism, Clive Donner resorts to every psychedelic camera trick in the book for Mulberry Bush. Claims have been made that the picture sends up rather than exploits the Swinging Sixties grooviness. I'd say the jury's out.

Paradoxically, this visual ripeness only underlines the film's strongest element: its location. The novel was set in Carlisle but the movie shifted the action south -- not to Carnaby Street or Chelsea but to plain old Stevenage. The town was chosen, says Hunter, "partly because it was just 30 miles from London. There was some union agreement at the time that cast and crews should be paid overnight allowance for any film shot more than 30 miles from London. So Stevenage saved them a lot of money."

That setting will really breathe life into Mulberry Bush for viewers today. The concrete plazas that epitomised the excitement of modernity and all those underpasses and wide, wide streets that Jamie cycles through as he delivers his libidinous monologues like an Alfie Mini-Me: there's a sociological power in these things that's beyond the reach of any production designer or wardrobe department. I think that's what my dad was responding to when he first saw the film and what has enabled his affection for it to endure; while he adored Hollywood product like Bullitt, it was Mulberry Bush and The Knack...and How to Get It that spoke to him about his life.

We've all had those moments when a piece of art articulates our own experience so keenly that we feel a sense of ownership toward it; I couldn't discern any shape or texture to my twenties, for instance, until I saw Jamie Thraves's The Low Down. It wasn't merely a film -- it seemed to explain emotions that I had never quite grasped. That truth transcends era. Anyone who watches Bronco Bullfrog will look at the shambolic characters (an apprentice welder and sometime petty criminal, his sad and dainty girlfriend, a local chancer fresh out of borstal) and think: I know them. Or: I am them.

In an article that accompanied the film's brief theatrical re-release back in June, the Guardian's Xan Brooks interviewed the former actor Sam Shepherd, who played the title character and now works as a porter at Spitalfields. "I remember at the time, this film critic, Alexander Walker, he said, 'This is a film that will be talked about in years to come.' And I thought: 'You're mad.' What do people get out of it today? They're mad. I mean . . . does it say anything to you at all?" Over to you.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

Kyle Seeley
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For emotional value, Emily is Away – a nostalgic instant messaging game – is this year’s best release

If you want to express your lingering teenage angst, there’s no better option.

Every now and then, a game is released that goes beyond what it may look or sound like. It goes straight to the pit of your insides where you thought you had no soul left, and jolts you back to life. Or at least it attempts to. This year, it's Emily is Away.

Firstly, anyone and everyone can virtually play this thing as it’s a crude Windows XP simulator displaying an AIM/MSN messenger client and can run on the PC equivalent of a potato. And it's free. It’s a short game, taking about 30 minutes, in which you play a person chatting away to your friend called Emily (who could be more), choosing from a set list of pre-selected instant messages.

Each chapter takes place in a different year, starting in 2002 and ending in 2006.

You’re instantly smacked with nostalgia thanks to the user screen of Windows XP and a fuzzed out background of Bliss, which was the default wallpaper in the operating system, and probably the most widely seen photo in the world. And your ears aren’t abandoned either, with the upbeat pinging sounds reminiscent of how you used to natter away with your personal favourite into the early hours.

The first chapter starts with you and Emily reaching the end of your last year in high school, talking about plans for the evening, but also the future, such as what you’ll be studying at university. From this early point, the seeds of the future are already being sewn.

For example, Emily mentions how Brad is annoying her in another window on her computer, but you’re both too occupied about agreeing to go to a party that night. The following year, you learn that Brad is now in fact her boyfriend, because he decided to share how he felt about Emily while you were too shy and keeping your feelings hidden.

What’s so excellent about the game is that it can be whatever you wish. Retro games used the lack of visual detail to their advantage, allowing the players to fill in the blanks. The yearly gaps in this game do exactly the same job, making you long to go back in time, even if you haven't yet reached the age of 20 in the game.

Or it lets you forget about it entirely and move on, not knowing exactly what had happened with you and Emily as your brain starts to create the familiar fog of a faded memory.

Despite having the choice to respond to Emily’s IMs in three different ways each time, your digital self tries to sweeten the messages with emoticons, but they’re always automatically deleted, the same way bad spelling is corrected in the game too. We all know that to truly to take the risk and try and move a friendship to another level, emoticons are the digital equivalent to cheesy real-life gestures, and essential to trying to win someone’s heart.

Before you know it, your emotions are heavily invested in the game and you’re always left wondering what Emily wanted to say when the game shows that she’s deleting as well as typing in the messenger. You end up not even caring that she likes Coldplay and Muse – passions reflected in her profile picture and use of their lyrics. She also likes Snow Patrol. How much can you tolerate Chasing Cars, really?

The user reviews on Steam are very positive, despite many complaining you end up being “friend-zoned” by Emily, and one review simply calling it “Rejection Simulator 2015”.

I tried so hard from all of the options to create the perfect Em & Em. But whatever you decide, Emily will always give you the #feels, and you’ll constantly end up thinking about what else you could have done.