Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The wrong time to impose structure

I can't imagine ever giving up the DVD-through-the-mail option from Netflix.

Oh, I know there will come a time when technological advances render this delivery method obsolete. But under the circumstances I know now, I can't imagine willfully forfeiting that option. It's the only way we have to choose exactly the movies we want to see, since all other methods have a relatively limited selection of titles.

But this doesn't mean I always know what to promote to the top of my queue. In fact, I rarely do. Because one thing that's definitely changed is that collectively, we are no longer an audience that consumes movies by watching a series of targeted choices. We have gradually transitioned into watching the best of a bunch of available choices, targeting our next choice relatively infrequently. Or when we do target our next choice, we go for an immediate gratification method like Redbox, where there's no chance the movie will be stuck in a "Short Wait" or "Long Wait" purgatory.

And so it is that I like to have some kind of structure that governs what I pick as my next DVD rental.

In the past, this was always easy. Up until November, I was reviewing movies for All Movie Guide, and I was working from a regularly replenished list of older titles. It was easy to promote something to #1 in my queue because I was financially incentivized to keep watching and reviewing these particular titles.

Since that ended, I've had my Getting Acquainted series to fall back on. You know, the series where I watch three movies per month by a cinematic luminary who is generally unfamiliar to me. Sometimes one of these movies is available for streaming, but more often I have to get at least two of them from Netflix.

But this month I'm taking a month off from that as we prepare to move.

Now what?

In a way, the timing was perfect for me to follow my first marathon on the Filmspotting podcast. Filmspotting is a terrific film podcast hosted by Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen, and one of their recurring segments is to watch five or six movies over a period of roughly eight weeks, all by the same director or all following a similar theme. In the year that I've been listening to this podcast, I've not followed marathons devoted to Krzysztof Kieslowski and Robert Bresson, but I decided it was time to jump on board -- if only so I didn't have to entirely space out during the ten minutes of each podcast they discuss that week's marathon movie. Plus, the lastest marathon topic -- contemporary Iranian cinema -- interested me greatly, especially after I crowned A Separation as my favorite film of 2011. What's more, my wife is on record with her love of Iranian cinema, so she had sort of agreed to come on the journey with me. With the caveat that she may have actually already seen some of the titles. (Yep, I married the right woman.)

So I got Close-Up, directed by Abbas Kiarostami (Certified Copy), in the mail last week. And quickly realized that I was crazy.

With each of the next three weekends likely being chaotic due to moving logistics, and with my Celtics in the playoffs, and with TVs soon likely to be in various states of connection or disconnection, how the hell am I supposed to watch a bunch of Iranian movies that will require my complete concentration?

Given how much of our minds are devoted to other things right now, it's a miracle we can even give an hour-long TV show our full attention. The half-hour shows are much better in that respect. However, the entire TV season is wrapping up in the next week, which at least allows the possibility that movies could re-assert their claim to dominance. Even then, though, an 85-minute English language comedy will seem a lot more realistic as a way to relax from everything that's going on.

I would have loved to follow along with this marathon. Not only would it have satisfied my hunger to learn more about the cinema of Iran, but as I mentioned, it would have given me more investment in the discussion portion of each podcast. Plus, I'd always have something at the top of my DVD queue.

At least watching the first movie worked out well. In between packing and one of our last bike/rollerblade rides down to the beach from our house, we watched Close-Up during our son's nap. Indeed, my wife had already seen it, but when she heard the title, her face lit up. Her ravings turned out to be true -- it was wonderful. If you were a fan of Certified Copy and the themes of identity and copies that it addresses, you should see this film. It's also a unique formal mix of documentary and fiction film, with people playing themselves in fictionalized recreations of things that actually happened. I won't divulge any more, but its themes will speak to the A Separation fans out there as well. Speaking of not imposing structure, Kiarostami is a filmmaker who seems immune to traditional narrative structure -- which is most assuredly a good thing.

And because my wife and I also saw Dark Shadows on a date night Saturday night, that meant that I was fresh off a viewing of both movies they discussed at length on the podcast I listened to the next morning on my walk with my son. It was a week old, but by delaying listening to it, I got a lot out of both discussions (even if I did not get a lot out of Dark Shadows).

At the end of their discussion of Close-Up, Adam and Josh revealed the marathon's next title, but said it wasn't available from Netflix. In fact, they got their copy from a local Chicago DVD-through-the-mail service. Also, they wouldn't even be discussing it for two weeks, meaning not until this coming Friday. Which means I have until at least a week after that to see the next movie in their Iran-a-thon. And longer if I can wait a week before listening to the podcast.

Maybe I can impose this structure after all?

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