Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Getting acquainted

Remember when I used to have a feature where I'd watch old movies, three per month according to a certain theme, to broaden the number of films I've seen from other decades?

You should -- I did it as recently as December.

Actually, from July through December, I watched three movies per month from a different decade, choosing randomly between the decades from the 1920s through the 1970s until I'd hit each one. It was a good system to force me to expand beyond the new release section at the video store. Not that I'm otherwise disinclined to watch older movies, it's just it's easy to procrastinate in favor of a comedy that was in theaters in the past six months.

And though I enjoyed the Decades series, there was something a bit too broad about it. Any film from the decade? Ten years is a long time in the ever-changing world of cinema. A movie released in 1930 would not look very much like a movie released in 1939. In 1930, we were barely into the talkie era, but by 1939, films were being released in color. That's a rather extreme example, but you get what I'm talking about.

So after Decades ended, I wanted to continue the project in a slightly more focused way -- a way that would better allow me to relate the three movies I see each month to each other. Having taken January off to concentrate on 2010 films, I'm now refreshed and ready to do that.

At first I thought of taking the essential idea of Decades and turning it into Years. Like, each month I'd choose a year -- say, 1967 -- and watch three movies I hadn't previously seen from that year. I might even tell you what was going on in the U.S., or in the world, during that time, and see how the films either reflected the times or served as counter-programming to what was occupying us on a larger scale.

But there was something about having no endgame for the project that kind of bothered me. There would be no way to complete it, like I'd done with Decades. Or at least, if I did complete it, it could take the better part of an actual decade, depending on the parameters I set for myself -- depending on what years made up the range of years eligible to be selected. And since I'd already decided that I could venture into the 1980s or even the 1990s with this project, it really would be the better part of a decade. Who knows if we'll even be writing blogs in 2021?

So I've chosen a different way to focus things, one that will not have a clear endgame either -- but at least will be open-ended enough that it won't seem to demand a particular endgame.

I've decided that I'm going to choose a personality in cinema -- be it an actor, a director, perhaps even a screenwriter or producer -- that I'm not familiar with, or not as familiar with as I'd like to be. That personality will drive what movies I see, will appear either in front of or behind the camera of all three movies I see that month.

This will be a more systematic way to govern my viewing, one that will not be so subject to randomness. Whereas before, the only criterion was "Did this movie come out sometime in the years 1950 to 1959?", now I will be making specific choices for specific reasons. And when I write a piece at the end of each month to summarize what I've observed, it'll have a certain internal integrity, and may be a much more interesting read. I'll call this series Getting Acquainted, and each month's post will be titled something like "Getting acquainted with ... Carrot Top." Only, it'll probably be someone with a bit more of a reputation and body of work than Mr. Top.

Now, I'm not going to pretend this will be easy. I've got a busy life, and even with the relatively loose standards of the Decades series, there were still months when I was scrambling to make sure I got a movie that fit that month's theme before the end of the month. There'll be no more swinging by the library with the likely expectation that I'll come away with a title that suits my needs. It's going to take pretty tight management of my Netflix queue, possibly at the exclusion of other movies I want to see. And I've started it in the shortest month of the year, when there are only 28 days in which to watch these movies.

But I think I can do it. Or at least, I'm going to try my damnedest. Besides, my Netflix streaming should help. Even if I fail to manage my queue as well as I'd like, the artists I choose will be prominent enough that some of their stuff should be available on streaming. There'll just be no leaving it to the last minute -- no procrastinating in favor of a recent comedy. And we can probably agree that's a good thing.

To whet your appetite -- such as it is -- I thought I'd let you know the first guy who's up to bat. (Whether I'll reveal the upcoming month's artist at the end of each piece, I don't know -- let me think about it. It may help not to commit myself to a particular person, if it doesn't end up working out to see their stuff that month.)

So in February I am going to get acquainted with ... Mr. James Cagney. He's the perfect example for this project, and in fact is the actor who kind of inspired me to choose Getting Acquainted as my next recurring blog feature. See, Cagney has 69 titles listed on IMDB -- that includes TV, but I'm not going to parse the list to see how many are actual movies -- and I haven't seen a single thing in which he's appeared. Actually, that's not true -- he was an uncredited extra in Mutiny on the Bounty, which I saw during 1930s month of the Decades project. (And that's funny that he would have appeared as an extra, because he already had a busy career going by 1935.) But I haven't seen a single film in which Jimmy Cagney was actually credited, and I think that's something I need to correct.

Starting ... pretty damn soon. My first Cagney title is already on its way to me from Netflix.

See you here on the flip side of February to discuss.


Don Handsome said...

A very cool idea. I'm looking forward to the Cagney piece.

And it got me thinking that I have no real familiarity with Cagney either, and thus your Getting Acquainted piece might have more value to your readers (or to me, in particular) if you let us know what films you were watching - not up front, but maybe somehow as you go...that way we can participate in these little monthly film festivals on our own and read your blog entry with some of our own opinions starting to form.

I guess the educated reader could follow your "most recently seen" section and get this information ourselves.

Vancetastic said...


I guess I'm going to have to suggest the approach you mention in your last paragraph, following my Most Recently Seen section. And that may not have as much to do with trying to "surprise" my readers (which I do like to do) as with the reality that I may not know exactly what films I'm going to watch until I see them. I'm sure there will be months where it will be the 27th or the 28th, and I'll realize that the third film I had lined up is not going to arrive in time from Netflix, so I'll have to scramble and figure out some other way to fulfill my commitment (like Netflix streaming). However, I do appreciate the interactivity you're speaking about here -- let's hope you can keep pace, if that interests you, from a few days behind. Like I said, I'm going to try to get watching these movies early in the month so I don't fall behind, instead of putting off the first viewing until the 11th or the 12th like I did with Decades.

Theis said...

I can recommend the James Cagney movie "One, Two, Three", directed by Billy Wilder. A very fast paced screwball comedy with Cagney playing great in the lead role.