Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Edge of (cinematic) obsession

No, not Mel Gibson for once, that bigoted, misogynistic asshole.

He may play an obsessed guy in all his films -- in fact, he surprised me by underplaying that role in Edge of Darkness -- but it's my own obsession I'm a bit worried about this morning.

You see, with last night's viewing of Edge of Darkness, I have now reached my record number of previously unseen films seen in a calendar year for the second year in a row. And for the second year in a row, it happened on November 22nd, with 39 days still remaining on the calendar.

The thing is, 211 was the total of new movies I reached on November 22nd last year. This year, it's 242.

Some of you may already think I'm too obsessed because I know the exact number of movies I see in a given year. You have a valid point. I'm a list-keeper, what can I say.

Knowing that I ended up beating my previous personal record by 31 movies last year, and that I might do it again this year, in a year when my first child was born ... well, that'll clinch the obsessive label for the rest of you.

The thing is, it's not just movies I'd never seen before that I've watched. I've also revisited 72 movies that I'd previously seen, almost twice as many as this time last year. That's far and away a record for a given year, made possible by three different projects: 1) Re-watching movies in order to rank my best of the last decade, which constituted nearly 20 revisited movies in January alone; 2) My Second Chances series, in which I re-watched a movie per week that I hadn't liked as much as most people, for ten weeks; and 3) My Double Jeopardy series, in which I re-watched a movie per week that I'd liked more than most people, also for ten weeks.

Some quick math ... that's 314 movies watched on the 326th day of the year. Yikes. Almost one per day.

Last year, I was proud of this milestone, as discussed here.

This year? I worry.

I'm starting to wonder: Do I do anything other than watch movies?

Yes, yes I do. I swear I do. I just can't think of what they are right now.

Actually, I really do. I play basketball and go rollerblading and see friends and listen to music. I attend the occasional museum. I go on the occasional hike. I love making mixes for people, even at age 37, especially now that I've got new high-tech equipment to create seamless transitions between the songs.

But one major thing that has suffered has been reading. After finishing off a book in the first days of January, I started another and read it until June. I've still only read 30 pages of the next book I started. That's probably because I'm having trouble getting into it (but refuse to abandon it), and because I'm a slow reader.

But you can always find excuses if you want to. The fact of the matter is, I've exchanged movie watching for reading almost totally. If I've got 20 minutes of downtime, I won't pick up a book and read a couple chapters. I'll put in a DVD and watch a couple chapters. Never mind the fact that I can't finish it right now. I'll watch this DVD like I'd read a book, in multiple sittings.

For many people, starting a movie with no definite endgame would be sacrilege. It would be a disservice to the filmmaker to break up his or her story by starting and stopping. Is feeding the obsession worth going to these lengths?

The thing is, this movie obsession is a bit like an eating disorder. The thinner anorexic people get, the fatter they think they look. For me, the more movies I see, the more movies I'm reminded I haven't seen. Which just feeds the obsession to seek out more eras, more genres, more directors, more stars.

I guess the real question is, how is this affecting the quality of my life? That's the real measure of the strength of an obsession.

So far, not measurably at all. I'm a good husband and dad, and I see friends as often as those two roles will allow me to. Back in that January in which I was revisiting films to rank the best of the 2000s, I did get into an argument or two with my wife about how much time I was spending watching movies. But that was a finite period of intense project-oriented tunnel vision, and she was in the hormonal early stages of pregnancy. Since then, my movie-watching has factored its way into our mutual schedules in a mostly amicable way. And I can probably trace back my highly productive 2010 in part to the fact that my wife was going to bed by 9 o'clock for most of the spring and summer, leaving me a great opportunity to watch a whole movie after she went to bed.

But it's the covert effects of this obsession that I sometimes worry about. Maybe all these hours glued to the television (we also have a huge number of TV shows we keep up with) are steadily degrading my vision. Maybe I'm getting less healthy as I eat more and drink more soda in order to stay up late enough to finish the movie. Maybe I'm becoming a less interesting person as I find myself more and more inclined toward discussing movies, and less and less inclined toward discussing other things.

I guess all film lovers have moments in their lives when they come to Jesus about things like this. It's the moment you realize that there are sacrifices you're making in order to watch as many movies as you do. It's the moment you realize that your friends who only watch 50 movies a year, rather than 250, are doing other things with those extra hours, things that you might benefit from doing -- reading, making things with their hands, learning career-related skills that will help them advance. Of course, even in this realization, there's the opportunity to make excuses. For example, I like to think those friends fill up the extra time with video games, which does not happen to be a passion of mine, and which I can comfortably say feels objectively less useful than watching movies.

Then again, I am who I am. I'm a person who loves movies, and I've committed myself to that like never before in recent years. One big change from 2009 to 2010 is that I'm making a much bigger effort to read other people's movie blogs, as well as to listen to some podcasts. But reading other blogs just fuels my desire to watch more movies.

The best thing I can do is say that this is not a bad thing. If a materialist's life goals can be summarized as "He who ends up with the most toys, wins," then maybe mine would be "He who sees the most movies, wins." And the thing is, I still won't be a contender. There are others out there far more obsessed than I am, who may average two movies a day rather than "only" one.

So I accept my life for what it is and for what role movies have in it. After all, I am a critic who gets paid for some percentage of the total movies I watch.

But there I go again with excuses and justifications. Why not just say that I love movies, and that I love loving movies? It's who I am: An obsessive guy.

Unlike Mel Gibson, though, I like Jews, blacks and women.


Nicholas Prigge said...

As someone who has diagnosed himself with OCD, I love this post.

Vancetastic said...

Thanks Nicholas. For that I owe you another viewing of Last of the Mohicans, stat. (For the record, I like it, as proven by the comment thread on Four of Them.)