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.