Friday, February 4, 2011

Outwit, outplay, OUTLAST

Sometimes I envy my friends whose wives go to bed at 9:30 every night.

Mine does not. In fact, she is a genuine night owl. Even when she does talk about going to bed early, 9:30 is the absolute earliest it would be. And even then, she'll usually potter around until at least 10.

This is no dig at her -- every person is entitled to their particular ways of doing things. And in fact, I kind of love that my wife burns the midnight oil. It's the best indicator we have that we're not over the hill, the fact that we we like to still stay up late and have fun together.

And it would not be a problem, except that she has also lost her interest in watching movies.

Not totally, of course -- she watched plenty of movies with me down the stretch, as I was wrapping up my 2010 rankings. But in general, she would rather consume a number of short units of entertainment, half-hour or hour-long shows on our DVR, than commit to a whole movie.

My problem is, I try to watch at least five or six movies a week, and a lot of times, they're movies she wouldn't be interested in watching anyway. Merely mentioning the quantity of movies I have on the docket, to see if she'd be interested in watching them, can put her off her game. It can provide her an unpleasant reminder of my obsessive focus on consuming cinema -- an obsessive focus she endorses in the best of times, but greets with some wariness when things aren't running on all cylinders. (Like, when the baby has deprived her of precious sleep six nights in a row.)

Which means if I want to keep up with my own pace, I need to outlast her. I need to stay up past when she plans to stay up, and start my movie then.

As I said, this can be hard, even when she says she's turning in early.

Take this past Tuesday night. Tuesday night is usually project night, when we don't turn on the TV at all, in deference to accomplishing some task that seems impossible while our son is awake. But this past Tuesday, we were both tired, so we decided to cancel project night.

She started to make noises about going to bed as early as 9 o'clock. I knew this meant I'd probably be able to watch a movie after she turned in. In fact, I had Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy all lined up. I'd borrowed it from my boss, and he'd already asked a couple times if I'd had the chance to watch it. I knew that chance would be even harder once her sister comes to town for a week, starting tomorrow. So when I promised I'd watch it within the next week, my ability to keep my word seemed contingent on taking advantage of any opening I could find. And since it was Hitchock, I wanted to give it the respect of watching it on a big screen, at night, rather than on my portable DVD player, a snippet here and there throughout the day.

But we had lasagna for dinner, and Italian food invariably activates my craving for red wine. I'd had two glasses by the time my wife started truly winding down. So I was really stacking the deck against myself to watch a 116-minute movie starting after 10 p.m.

I might have been able to start earlier, because she actually did start clearing out of the living room by about 9:40. But outlasting the other person who has claims on the TV is a somewhat delicate process. If you jam your movie into the DVD player the moment they get up from the couch, it becomes clear that you've just been waiting them out, that they have essentially been serving as an obstruction to your desires, that you would have been happier if they went to bed hours ago. This can lead to sadness.

So it really was 10 p.m. before I ventured to put in Frenzy. I was heavy with sleep and my vision was somewhat blurry.

I actually did pretty well, considering the factors -- like my son waking up around 10:30, and again around 11:30. After about 13 minutes of the movie, I made myself a bowl of ice cream, hoping the sugar rush would help. (I didn't actually "make" it -- I scooped it out of the container.) Then later I had a can of Fresca, relying on the carbonation once I realized it was sugar free. I also ate a whole sleeve of Saltines, not because I was hungry, but because I thought the repeated activity of eating would prevent me from dozing off. Unfortunately, repeatedly eating Saltines means you go through a sleeve in about eight minutes.

I succumbed with about 15 minutes to go in the movie, just after midnight. I finished at about 2:30. And just to make sure I had gotten everything there was to get from Frenzy, I fast-forwarded through it a second time, to make sure I remembered what had happened in every scene, hadn't missed any subtle details when I was hovering in purgatory between consciousness and unconsciousness. A pretty useful thing to do, I decided. (And to comment briefly on Frenzy -- it's Hitchcock's second-to-last film, made in 1972, which in itself is a strange thing to see. He's past his prime, sure, but there's enough classic Hitchcock in there to be worth watching.)

The "outlast" strategy is flawed at best. In trying to maintain my regular quantity of movie watching, I'm probably sacrificing quality. So I guess it's best to watch things that you don't think you're going to like, when you're getting a late start with a belly full of wine. And I guess some amount of viewing quality is going to be sacrificed whenever you watch movies at a fast clip. Every cinephile has to make peace with the details of lesser movies fading into oblivion. Hey, that's why they're the lesser ones.

I've been trying to keep up my same movie-watching pace in the baby era, and so far, I've mostly succeeded. But it's hard when you're literally taking every single moment your partner isn't home, or isn't awake, to squeeze one in, even if you are also trying to keep a baby entertained at the same time. It's almost like watching movies has become a shameful habit, one I must keep hidden, as though it were pornography. When really, it's just wanting to watch an Alfred Hitchcock movie at a speed that my boss considers timely. It's especially difficult because the more I write this blog, and the more I engage with others on the film blogosphere, the more movies I realize I want to see, or want to see again.

Maybe the real key is that in addition to project night, we also need movie night. Maybe it's Wednesday, maybe it's Thursday. One night each week that definitely involves a movie. The danger is, of course, that this could cut into other impromptu viewings. I don't want the existence of a movie night to mean that movies don't get watched on other nights.

Well, one thing's for sure: Outlasting is for the birds.

Since we're talking about Hitchcock.

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