So, why did this seemingly innocuous little film do so well? Because it had amazing performances? No silly, it starred Gwyneth Paltrow, for goodness sakes. Did it have a riveting plot line? No, it was about a girl in a bad relationship with a cheating boyfriend- ask any girl and you’ll get a similar real life story. Did it employ amazing new technology? No, it makes no attempt to use anything other than the cut, fade and blur motion tools in an editing programme- it may as well have been put together with Sellotape. Did it star Michael J Fox? No, sadly no, you can't have everything... So why did your common and garden cinema going bod like it so much? Reason: because it tapped into a key question in life: “What if?”
Just about everyone can look back on their life and find the key “What if?” moment. I know I can. You don’t know it at the time, but looking back you can pin point a happening that shaped your life forever. Mine was a phonecall to my Mum from a cafe in Zarautz, Spain.
I was working in Zarautz in the Basque Country teaching English. It was a little bit on the ropey side. The guy that owned the language academy was a nice enough American bloke from Boulder, Colorado, who loved collecting obscure languages, and whilst on a trip to the Basque Country to collect another one met his wife and stayed to teach. Unfortunately two weeks after he employed me he got involved in a partnership with another bloke from Cork, who looked as if he’d been on a beach holiday, got too pissed, lost his passport and couldn’t find the airport, so he decided to stay and set up an English school because it looked like a piece of piss. He made his money by withholding the wages of those who worked for him.
I won’t go into the details but I was fed up with this job but still keen to stay in Spain and find another one. I made enquiries to that effect. Unfortunately a long weekend loomed where the only people I knew in Zarautz, my flatmate Martin and a couple of other teachers, all went travelling for the weekend. I spent four days reading Agatha Christie novels from the school’s library and walking along the beachfront alone, speaking to myself because I could only speak Spanish, not Basque, and the Basques don’t like you speaking Spanish to them. They get a bit upset about it, in fact. By Sunday I was pretty low and fed up of wily Belgian detectives and languages that have three X's in each word. I did something you should normally never do when you are at a low ebb; I phoned home.
Two minutes into the phonecall from a payphone in a cafe my Mum said these immortal words, “Just come home, Pet”. That Tuesday when work opened I handed in my notice and booked a flight home. I gave no notice because I’d only just managed to prise my last month’s wages out of the Irishman and didn't see the point in earning any more for him to keep in his pocket for three months. That week, back home, I met a bloke in Ma Camerons pub in Aberdeen who’ll you’ll all know as Meeester M. One month later my post got forwarded onto me from Zarautz. In amongst it all was a letter from my friend Ann who was teaching in Bilbao telling me she could easily get me a job at her school and I could rent a room in her flat. When could I get there? Hmmm, don’t really feel so much like teaching anymore.....funny that. I stayed put.
And that my friends is why Sliding Doors got bums on seats. The “What If?” question is the basis for all good stories. In German they call it the "Wendepunkt" which is a great name for a band if your looking for one. What’s your “What If?” moment. Go and tell us in that there comments box. Or better still, link to one of your own posts in your own blog about your “What If?” moment.