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15 Parallel Facts About Sliding Doors

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In both of the parallel universes of Sliding Doors (1998), Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a Londoner who loses her job and finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her. In one universe, Helen makes her subway train just in time and comes home to catch her boyfriend in the act. In the other, she misses that train. Watching both versions of the story develop made it a notably more interesting effort in the rom-com genre, and more impressively made the group Aqua a two-hit wonder.

1. WRITER/DIRECTOR PETER HOWITT GOT THE IDEA FOR THE MOVIE AFTER ALMOST BEING HIT BY A CAR.

Peter Howitt (a British actor best known for playing Joey Boswell on BBC's Bread) was late in meeting a friend, and innocently walking along London's Charing Cross Road. "I couldn't decide if I should run for the train or first call my mate at a public phone," Howitt recalled. "I impulsively dashed across the street, and was nearly hit by a car, and that brush with death got me thinking. Something inside my head thought, 'That's interesting. What if he had hit me then?' What are the knock-on effects, the domino effects."

2. HOWITT HAD A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN WHILE WRITING THE MOVIE.

Seven years separated that fateful near-death experience and the finished product. In between, there were 20 script rewrites, thousands of pounds of debt, and one nervous breakdown. "All I could do was stay in my flat in Fulham and cry and write the script for Sliding Doors," Howitt revealed. "The worst lasted about three months. Then I slowly began to get better. Now I'm really glad it happened." He also stopped getting his hair cut until he was done with the movie.

3. THE FUNDING FELL THROUGH. THEN SYDNEY POLLACK SAVED IT IN A CHANCE MEETING.

John Hannah (best known then as Matthew from Four Weddings and a Funeral) committed to the film early, then the financing disappeared. Separately, Hannah was meeting with Oscar-winning director/producer Sydney Pollack and mentioned how disappointed he was that Sliding Doors wasn't going to get made. Within seven days, Pollack read the script, found it "really lovely" and "funny," and got the money to get the film made. When producer Philippa Braithwaite called Howitt to give him the good news, he was at a pub, still upset over losing the initial financing.

4. MINNIE DRIVER WAS ORIGINALLY GOING TO PLAY HELEN.

According to Pollack, when Hannah first told him about Sliding Doors, it was set to be made with a $3 million budget and Minnie Driver would be playing the lead. (Pollack ended up doubling the production budget).

5. GILLIAN ANDERSON WANTED TO PLAY HELEN.

In an interview with Movieline, Gillian Anderson said there was one movie role she felt bad about missing out on: Sliding Doors, which she called "a wonderful, very metaphysically oriented concept that just sends chills down my spine."

6. IT WAS SHOT ON LOCATION IN THE LONDON UNDERGROUND.

The subway scenes were shot at Waterloo station on the Waterloo & City Line and at the Fulham Broadway station on the District Line. Filming on location there costs £500 ($719.50 in today's dollars) per hour, unless you have a crew of fewer than five.

7. JOHN HANNAH HAD A HARD TIME PLAYING A HAPPY PERSON.

In a 1998 interview, Hannah claimed that playing James Hammerton in Sliding Doors "was the hardest thing I've ever done. Like in life, it's much easier to be depressed than to be happy. Being happy and smiling naturally on take 18 is really tough. Give me bawling my eyes out any time."

8. THE "SUSPICIOUS GIRL" IS JOHN HANNAH'S WIFE.

Joanna Roth (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein) was cast by Peter Howitt. "Peter Howitt held a party before we started filming, so everyone could get to know each other," Hannah said. "Pete, being Pete, said 'There's a wee part in this film for you, Joanna. Do you want it?' It was like everyone in the room was an old mate of Pete and he was making a home movie, saying: 'Do you want to be in it? And you'll get paid for it, too.'"

9. HOWITT GAVE HIMSELF A CAMEO.

He was the long-haired diner who ordered from Helen on her first night as a waitress.

10. THE ROWERS WERE ACTUALLY DRUNK.

Rowers from the Cygnet Rowing Club portrayed James' crewmates. Alan Cox, one of said rowers, recounted Cygnet's final day of filming online prior to the film's release.

And so to the post-race celebration, which was held in the bar of the Blue Anchor at Hammersmith. Here, the hero mounts a table and leads the bibulous multitude in dancing "Father Abraham." It was at this stage that the director made his first big miscalculation. He must have known the old adage about never working with children or animals, but clearly did not understand how oarsmen can share the worst characteristics of both. Having rehearsed the crews in the dance, he departed saying "have a drink to get warmed up" and deposited £30 with the landlord. It took little guile to persuade the bemused bar staff that an open-ended tab was running and, about five rounds later, when the crews were asked to behave as a drunken rabble, no acting skill was required. A precious moment occurred later as an assistant director enquiring after change from the bar bung learned that the bill had run to over £90. To their credit, the management learnt fast; during further work on the bar scene on the third day, only alcohol-free beer was offered.

11. BRIAN MAY OF QUEEN WROTE "ANOTHER WORLD" JUST FOR THE MOVIE.

Howitt asked his "old friend," the guitarist from Queen, to write a song for Sliding Doors. With the script in hand, May wrote his song "kind of overnight." Howitt loved it and said it was "perfect" for the movie. Unfortunately, a record company—not May's—ended up co-financing the production, so the song was dropped from the film's soundtrack. Instead, May used it as the title track for his next solo album.

12. POLLACK SPENT A LOT OF TIME IN THE EDITING ROOM .

"I got very involved in the editing because it was a picture that required precise editing to know where you were all the time and for the audience to be able to find the movement between the A and B stories," Pollack explained. "I felt that Peter needed some help, so I worked pretty hard on that part of it and was able to make a contribution to it just because it was complicated for a director the first time around."

13. UNLIKE MOST OF HER MOVIES, GWYNETH PALTROW LIKED THIS ONE.

"I've always hated my films," Paltrow said at the film's premiere—after appearing in, among other movies, Se7en (1995) and Emma (1996). "But I'm really proud of this one." She said she "couldn't believe how clever" the script was.

14. IT'S SIMILAR TO KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI'S BLIND CHANCE.

Krzysztof Kieslowski's 1981 film was censored and withheld by Polish authorities until 1987. In Blind Chance, a med school dropout named Witek manages to catch a train and becomes a Communist, misses the train and ends up a radical agitator anti-Communist, and misses the train and becomes an apolitical medical student. 

15. HANNAH STOPPED WORRYING ABOUT CATCHING TRAINS AFTER THE MOVIE.

"I don't run for trains any more. If I'm meant to get the train, I'll get it," he claimed. "If I don't, there'll be another one along in a few minutes."

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18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
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Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

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Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

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2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

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Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

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3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

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Why It’s Cool: You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a brag-worthy garden this summer. Besides producing snackable mid-season berries, these open-growing bushes can be planted immediately for easy set-up to make you look like a botanical pro.

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4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

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Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

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5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

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Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

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6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

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7. UNA GRILL; $139

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Why It’s Cool: This portable charcoal-heated grill is as efficient as it is stylish. The compact size lets you cook at the park, after hitting up MoMA, or anywhere in between.

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8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


Why It’s Cool: Made of steel and finished with a non-stick coating, this grilling tool flips four burgers at once and maintains perfect burger proportions to guarantee nobody stays hungry for long.

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9. COPPER FIRE PIT; $121

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Why It’s Cool: The grill isn’t the only place for a roaring fire this summer. This 100 percent solid copper fire pit makes for the perfect gathering spot at your next BBQ, or just to warm up after a cool summer evening.

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10. BENDY STRAW POOL NOODLE FLOAT; $10

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Why It’s Cool: Inflatable pool floats shouldn’t be boring, and this bendy straw float definitely does not suck. This unique spin on traditional pool noodles is sure to make for some cheesy jokes, but at least you’ll be comfortable floating in the pool or at the beach.

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11. GRIDDLER DELUXE; $111

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Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for some serious panini power, this griddler offers up a versatile lineup of six cooking options in one. And with dual-zone functions you can sling burgers while searing filets and sautéeing vegetables all at the same time.

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12. VINTAGE SNOW CONE MAKER; $30

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Why It’s Cool: With its old-timey design, dual cone shelf, and endless flavor options, this snow cone maker is guaranteed create a cool treat.

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13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

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Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

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14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH MAKER; $16

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Why It’s Cool: Four sandwiches are better than one, especially when they're of the ice cream variety. Make four ice cream sandwiches at once with this homemade spin on a classic cold treat.

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15. UE WONDERBOOM; $68

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Why It’s Cool: Besides delicious food and great company, some memorable tunes are required for the quintessential barbeque. This portable bluetooth speaker offers up some booming sound in a small package, and with a battery power of 10 hours on a single charge you can keep the party going all night.

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16. ROLLORS GAME; $38

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Why It’s Cool: When you’re sick of bocce, hate horseshoes, and you’re over cornhole, you might want to take up “rollors,” a family-friendly game that combines your favorite traditional backyard festivities into one game for people of all ages.

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17. HAMMOCK; $174

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Why It’s Cool: Rest easy knowing that this 100 percent hand-woven and hand-dyed cotton hammock contributes to artisan job-creation in Thailand.

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18. VSSL SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS; $59

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Why It’s Cool: Compact, convenient, and durable, the VSSL Shelter can come in handy when things don’t go quite as planned. The device—which features a lightweight emergency shelter all within the handle of a compact, weather-resistant aluminum LED flashlight—is designed to keep you safe under the worst conditions.

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11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. PEOPLE DISAGREE ABOUT WHEN TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTHDAY.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. HE WAS THE CENTER OF A MUSICAL DYNASTY.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. BACH TOOK A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE THAT PUTS EVERY ROAD TRIP TO WOODSTOCK TO SHAME.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. HE BRAWLED WITH HIS STUDENTS.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. BACH SPENT 30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR QUITTING HIS JOB.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS WERE A FAILED JOB APPLICATION.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. HE WROTE ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST COFFEE JINGLES.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. IF BACH CHALLENGED YOU TO A KEYBOARD DUEL, YOU WERE GUARANTEED TO BE EMBARRASSED.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. SOME OF HIS MUSIC MAY HAVE BEEN COMPOSED TO HELP INSOMNIA.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. HE WAS BLINDED BY BOTCHED EYE SURGERY.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. NOBODY IS 100 PERCENT CONFIDENT THAT BACH IS BURIED IN HIS GRAVE.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

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