Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Quality vs. quantity

As you may know if you've been reading my blog, I'm taking a little break from the steady grind of adding new notches to my movie-watching belt. I usually do this each year for about a week after finalizing my year-end rankings, exhausted from that arduous final sprint. Deadline day just came and went on Thursday. Just to prove to myself my own seriousness, I used my last two free rentals on TV series: Californication and The Wire, season 1 disc 1 for both. Haven't watched an episode of either yet, but the intention is there.

But I have also watched a couple movies since Thursday. They've just been movies I've already seen. And this is something I don't do nearly often enough.

You know I keep lists, so it's probably no surprise to learn that I know how many movies I've seen multiple times. In many cases, I've seen these movies exactly two times, but in the case of a smattering of really great films (and a few really guilty pleasures), I might have seen them anywhere from five to 15 times. (I don't think there's any movie I've seen as many as 20 times, though I could be wrong).

As of this writing, I've seen 335 movies more than once. I don't know if that seems like a lot to you, but it's only a fraction of the 2680 movies I've seen in total. Some simple math, then, and I've only revisited 12.5 percent of the movies I've seen. Granted, some of them simply should not ever be revisited. Let's say I like 65 percent of the movies I see, which would be 1742 of 2680 movies. Three hundred thirty-five is only 19 percent of 1742, meaning I've revisited less than 20 percent of the movies that might be worth revisiting. Which doesn't seem high enough, does it?

It raises an interesting question about how a person becomes a better film fan. Is it by seeing more films, or by achieving a greater intimacy with the ones worth seeing?

It's not as simple as that weighted question makes it sound. No matter how many movies you see, there are always going to be very good movies you aren't seeing. So even if you never watched a movie twice, you still couldn't see all the good movies there are to see. Therefore, it's not like re-watching good movies necessarily increases the overall quality of the movies you watch.

So the question still remains: Is it ultimately the breadth of your knowledge that makes you a better film fan, or the depth?

For me, it's never going to be possible to see only films I'm pretty sure are good. In order to keep writing reviews, I've got to see the shitty ones as well -- the ones no one else wants to review. But there's something more to this quest for me, something that tends to de-emphasize the absolute value of a film. Some people collect coins, some people collect stamps, some people collect rare action figures still in their packages. Me? I collect films. I want to expand my collection whenever possible, sometimes for no loftier purpose than that itself.

But then I have those moments like this past weekend. I rented Risky Business because my wife said she hadn't seen it in ages. I realized I hadn't either. In fact, according to my own records, I'd seen Risky Business only once. Yeah, I've probably caught five minutes of it here and there over the years, and I've definitely seen the image of Tom Cruise sliding into the living room in his skivvies more times than I can count. (And by the way, Kobe Bryant does an hilarious spoof of that in a recent ad for Guitar Hero 4). But only once in my lifetime did I actually sit down with the express intention of watching Risky Business, an indisputable classic of the 1980s, from start to finish.

As we watched it Saturday night, I was overcome by the little details that make Risky Business great -- details that I shouldn't have forgotten, but did. I won't enumerate them here. You've probably been better about your repeat viewings, and watched it more recently than I have, so you know what I'm talking about. Yeah, there's definitely something a little dated about it, especially if you focus on things that are inescapably married to the time period, like the design of the opening credits. However, there are also things you'd think would seem dated -- like Tangerine Dream's soundtrack -- that actually still have the moody effect they had in 1983. I always considered Risky Business to be more moody than funny, perhaps because at the time I saw it, I thought the idea of prostitutes was very scandalous and dangerous. (Unlike now, when I hang out with prostitutes all the time). However, the movie is also pretty damn funny.

I think this blog will help force me to become more committed to revisiting the films I love, thereby increasing my ability to reference them extemporaneously in conversations with other film geeks. Because isn't that our currency as film geeks, our ability to instantly call to mind our impressions of films and speak intelligently about them?

So how will the blog help? Because, as you may have noticed, I have a little feature off to the right -- blogger.com refers to them as "gadgets" -- that tells you which film I've revisted most recently. I don't want this gadget to go stale, as it did recently when Bee Movie occupied that spot for a good three weeks. I had a legitimate reason for re-watching Bee Movie, as I was preparing to review it -- and I'm sure glad I did, as I liked it a lot less the second time around. I should be revisiting movies a lot more consequential than Bee Movie, and hope to do that a lot more in 2009.

My ultimate conclusion is that to be the best film fan you can be, you have to have a healthy balance between your quantity and your quality. But that's difficult when you're trying to keep up a healthy balance in your actual life. I mean, there's also plenty of TV to watch. Not to mention life's pleasures that -- gasp -- don't involve staring passively at a screen full of moving images.


Don Handsome said...

Are the prostitutes that you hang out with all the time the same prostitutes that are constantly having sex with teenagers on the El? Its a little much at rush hour.

I think that many films can be well served and enhanced by additional viewings. I used to be a big multiple-view type of guy, just as I used to be a big DVD buyer, but like you time constraints (different time constraints, but time constraints just the same) have made it so multiple viewings have to be saved for very special occasions and for specific types of movies.

Here's my run down of why I might rewatch movies:
1) White Noise - I find a lot of pleasure in multiple viewings (sometimes constant viewings) of certain movies. When the house is quiet and I don't feel like listening to music, I'll often put on something like Batman Begins (or now the Dark Knight) and do errands around the house while I "watch" it. I just like these movies and its fun to catch random scenes as I walk in and out of the TV room. I know that this isn't active viewing, but I catch much of the movie throughout several viewings in this manner;
2) The Annual Geek Loop - I'll admit to a good amount of geeking out about certain directors, series, or films. My geek list currently includes things like The Sopranos, Twin Peaks, David Lynch in General, Linklater, Riding Giants, etc etc. I will generally watch all of these (yes, the entire series) interspersed with my normal film watching throughout the calendar year. These artifacts have become my constants and they keep me grounded.
3) Conditions and Conditioning. Sometimes the situation calls for something like the Big Lebowski...what are you going to do? You must succumb.
4) Classics. I don't need to explain why its valid that we may watch movies like Star Wars and Empire and Raiders and Superman 2 over and over again.
5) Cable. Tell me who will turn off Goodfellas when its on cable. Nobody, that's who.
6) Owing it to the Film. The first time I saw Donnie Darko it was on DVD. I loved it, but felt like I owed the film something more than a couch viewing...I sought it out and finally got to see it at a theater. This happens frequently, when you just don't feel like the conditions were quite right the first time you saw something, or when you just didn't fully digest the movie the first time, so you have to go back repeatedly to see it. Movies that I feel that I owe something to often become my favorite movies (and often eventually make their way on to the Annual Geek Loop).

Vancetastic said...


Love the comment and thanks for going into better specifics than I went into, even if for a moment I thought you were going to say that the Michael Keaton movie White Noise was one of your favorite movies to revisit.

Risky Business is hardly the best example of a film I think I should revisit -- it just happened to be timely. Since I've been keeping my yearly rankings, there are six -- count 'em, six -- movies that I ranked #1 that I have yet to watch again, if you include The Wrestler this year. That's bad. That's very, very bad.

The only reason I no longer like to catch parts of films the way I used to -- I did it a lot when I first moved in by myself in 2004 -- is that I don't want to prevent myself from a potential future full viewing with a partial viewing now, which might reduce my interest in that full viewing. Also, I like to get "credit" for a full viewing as a "most recently revisited film" (which I was keeping track of even before I started this blog).

Post forthcoming about the tipping point that makes a person decide whether to buy a movie ...

Vancetastic said...

Oh, and I just recounted -- it's actually seven #1 films since 1996 that I have not revisited. That's more than half of them. It's either a testament to my extremely poor rate of re-watching, or to the way our impressions of a film change over time. I know you and I have discussed that we never would have guessed which films we might have sloughed off initially, yet revisited several times, and which films we thought we loved but have never had a desire to see again.

Daddy Geek Boy said...

To answer your weighted question, I think you need both quality and quantity.

If you love movies, then you love to talk about movies and dissect movies. You need to study them and figure out how they're put together--both the good ones and the bad ones. This sometimes takes multiple viewings.

The first time you see a movie, you're looking at the whole. You don't have time to study the details because you need to get the bigger picture. Upon the second viewing, those details become clear. Sometimes you find that the movie doesn't hang together (BEE MOVIE) and sometimes you discover a whole other movie within those details (BIG LEBOWSKI).

However, as movie fans we must not limit ourselves to repeated viewings of a small smattering of films. We need to constantly expand our reach by watching more.

Sadly, time prevents me from re-watching a lot of movies, but when I do, I always find something worthwhile in them.