Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Finishing what I started

It's very rare for me to start a movie and not finish it.

A book, yes. I seem to be doing that all the time. Although I have a personal philosophy of finishing even the books I find to be quite a chore, it seems I don't actually live up to that personal philosophy as often as I'd like.

But movies? They are a much shorter commitment. There's not really a good excuse for leaving one unfinished. (Actually, there are a couple, which I'll get to later.)

This weekend, though, was a weekend that reminded me of the idea of not finishing movies -- because I didn't finish two of them this weekend alone, and heard discussion of a third I hadn't finished.

Let's get to the third first. It's Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth, starring David Bowie. It's a movie I'd wanted to see for quite some time, and it finally made its way into my DVD player sometime last year. Then made it out of the DVD player before I got a chance to finish it, because I started it too late on a Sunday night, and it was due back at the library the next day. Apparently, I wasn't enjoying it enough to pay the $1 late fee it would cost to keep it another day. Then again, the late fee really would have been more like $3, because I had two other movies that needed to be returned as well, and it seemed silly to make a trip to the library to return two of them, but not the third.

The Man Who Fell to Earth was discussed at length in a podcast I listened to this weekend. That's strange, considering that the movie came out in 1976. But this podcast, calling Filmspotting SVU (Streaming Video Unit), focuses on movies available on streaming, which takes new releases out of the equation in most cases. Each episode, the co-hosts submit one long-form review of a film that their listeners have selected out of three choices. When they listed the choices on the previous podcast, I was hoping and praying the audience would select Richard Kelly's Southland Tales, in part because I'd already seen it and would therefore get a lot more out of a discussion of it. (And would love to hear the hosts poke fun at that ambitious mess of a movie, which is intermittently successful.) Not only would The Man Who Fell to Earth be a movie I hadn't seen, thereby opening me up to having parts of the plot spoiled, but a review of it would remind me of my failure to finish watching it. Of course, that's what happened.

I listened to that podcast on Sunday morning, but only the night before, I started two different movies and finished watching neither of them. At least both were movies I had already seen. My wife had gone out to dinner with a friend, and I like to use occasions like this as a golden opportunity to watch whatever movie I might like. I started the Watchowski brothers' Bound, a movie I absolutely adore, and had finally broken down and bought within the past six months. But I paused at about the 35-minute mark, and never resumed. I decided there was a good chance I wouldn't finish it before my wife got home, and I suddenly got paranoid that she would think I had saved a crime thriller with some hot lesbian action for a time when she was out of the house. My more above-board reason for not resuming is that I actually thought it would be fun to watch this with her, since she's big on crime thrillers. (I think she's seen it, but it would have been years ago.) If I watched it through to the end now, I wouldn't want to watch it again for at least a year or two. And besides, as discussed, I probably wouldn't be able to watch it through to the end anyway.

At this point there was very little chance I'd finish a new movie, but I popped in Napoleon Dynamite anyway. I'd been in a bit of a funk all day (I won't get into why, but nothing having to do with my family), so I decided I should watch something light that might raise my spirits. (And something where there would be no suspicion of watching it for prurient reasons, when my wife inevitably returned home before I finished it.) My sister bought me Napoleon Dynamite for a birthday or Christmas, at least five years ago. I'd never taken the DVD out of its package, which is no commentary on the movie itself -- I'd already seen it twice, so obviously I like the movie a lot. A third opportunity to watch it just hasn't arisen. But I'd been up since 5:30 (when my son could no longer sleep anymore) and I got myself too comfortable on the couch, so I fell asleep about 20 minutes in, having the presence of mind to pause first. I awoke only when my wife came home, around 10:20 -- which actually would have given me enough time to finish either movie, if I'd stuck to the first or hadn't fallen asleep during the second.

In addition to those three movies, here are a couple others I started but never finished, and the reasons:

Sophie's Choice (1982, Alan J. Pakula)
Sophie's Choice fell victim to the same scenario as The Man Who Fell to Earth. I started it too close to the time it was due back at the library, but falling asleep was not the issue here -- I had to abandon it because I knew I'd be running up against some other social conflict in the evening, and some quick math told me I would not be able to get in its full 157 minutes. So I watched about 45 minutes of it, and made the Sophie's Choice of not finishing Sophie's Choice in favor of my social obligation.

Withnail and I (1987, Bruce Robinson)
With this one, there's no good excuse. Well, except that I wasn't really enjoying the movie. We were watching it on Netflix streaming at my wife's urging, but the movie's weird and unconventional rhythms just weren't working for me at that time of night, with the level of stamina I was bringing to the table that evening. You'd think we would have just finished it the next day, but it's been a good six months and it has not been resumed.

When I started this post, I imagined that I was guilty of this sin with more than three movies I've never seen before -- and I guess there could be a couple more titles out there I'm just not thinking of right now. And there are definitely some titles where I watched less than ten minutes before aborting, which I don't really count -- Akira Kurosawa's Dreams and Before the Devil Knows Your Dead are two that come to mind. But with those, I never stood a chance -- I put them on late at night and was literally asleep three minutes later. They don't count.

But with The Man Who Fell to Earth, Sophie's Choice and Withnail and I, I think I have a real duty to go back and finish those. They are like open, festering wounds. If they weren't, I doubt I would have devoted a whole post to them.

Now that I have, perhaps this will provide me the motivation to go back and finally finish what I started.


Nick Prigge said...

"The Saddest Music In The World" was a movie I started and never finished. I just couldn't do it. I couldn't.

And I will admit that a few months ago I started "The Arbor" and didn't finish it. But I was really under the weather and I quickly came to realize that was not a movie I should have been watching under the weather. So it's back in my queue and I'll return to it eventually.

On another note, on your recommendation I recently started listening to the mentioned Filmspotting podcast. Really good stuff there. That breakdown of "Pulp Fiction" they did was just fantastic.

Vancetastic said...

Oh, finish The Arbor. It was one of my favorites of last year. Then again, the "gimmick" needs to work for you. I know it does not for some people.

Glad the Filmspotting recommendation is working out for you. I figured especially since they're Chicago guys and they're always talking about local theaters, it would be right up your alley. Filmspotting SVU is actually a spinoff hosted by a couple people who used to guest host the regular Filmspotting. They're no Adam and Josh (sorry you missed the Adam and Matty days), but they do have their moments.

Anonymous said...

Dan Zukovic's "DARK ARC", a suureal modern noir dark comedy called "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different..." in Film Threat, was recently released on DVD and Netflix through Vanguard Cinema (, and is currently
debuting on Cable Video On Demand. The film had it's World Premiere at the Montreal Festival, and it's US Premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival. Featuring Sarah Strange ("White Noise"), Kurt Max Runte ("X-Men", "Battlestar Gallactica",) and Dan Zukovic (director and star of the cult comedy "The Last Big Thing"). Featuring the glam/punk tunes "Dark Fruition", "Ire and Angst" and "F.ByronFitzBaudelaire", and a dark orchestral score by Neil Burnett.


***** (Five stars) "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different...something you've never tasted
before..." Film Threat
"A black comedy about a very strange love triangle" Seattle Times
"Consistently stunning images...a bizarre blend of art, sex, and opium, "Dark Arc" plays like a candy-coloured
version of David Lynch. " IFC News
"Sarah Strange is as decadent as Angelina Jolie thinks she is...Don't see this movie sober!" Metroactive Movies
"Equal parts film noir intrigue, pop culture send-up, brain teaser and visual feast. " American Cinematheque