Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mistakes were made

Remember how I planned out my viewing schedule to watch something special as my landmark 4,000th movie, even going so far as to have a guy I've never met loan me some of the movies from his collection to enable this special viewing?

Yeah, that was all for naught.

Due to the inherently fallible process of keeping lists, F.W. Murnau's Sunrise was not actually the 4,000th movie I'd ever seen. I now realize it was actually the 4,007th.

I'll explain.

Among the many movie lists I keep, which include year-by-year breakdowns in their own Word documents and a movie order document I've been keeping since 2002, are two master lists. One of these is the original Word document I have been updating for nearly 25 years, which is just a flat list of all the movies I've ever seen. The other is an Excel document that I introduced within the past 15 years, which is essentially an exact duplicate of the Word document, but with a bunch of supplemental information (director, year, whether I liked it or didn't) included to take advantage of the greater database-type capabilities of Excel. Because the Excel document is a duplicate and it's a more useful document overall, there's no real need for me to keep updating the Word document. But I continue to do it out of habit, and because I find it funny that this same document has followed me around for well over half my life.

Rather, it's supposed to be an exact duplicate -- and herein lies the problem.

In the lead-up to our move to Australia last summer, I got out of the habit of updating the Excel spreadsheet. Some of the numbers were off -- the total I'd seen in the theater vs. on video did not match the total of good movies vs. bad movies, and the total breakdown of movies by the first letter in their title did not match either of those. Instead of stopping to figure out which numbers were wrong and get it all sorted out, I backburnered the whole thing. In the meantime, I continued updating my other lists, including the master list on Microsoft Word. A simple list involving no formulas is much easier to stay on top of.

However, it also makes it a lot more difficult to tell when you're making mistakes. Like, forgetting to add certain movies to the master list.

I didn't realize this was happening at the time, of course, and therefore used the running total that I manually update at the bottom of this list as my indicator of how close I was to 4,000. But a running total updated manually is highly fallible, especially since you can't just consult the row number on the left side of the document like you can in Excel. If you think you've seen 3,999 movies and there are 3,999 rows in your spreadsheet, that's a nice a quick check of your math.

So how did I eventually realize I was off? Well, I've gotten some free cycles at work during school holidays, and don't mind telling you that I've been spending the time to finally get the Excel document caught up -- which means adding more than a year's worth of movies. I've had my Letterboxd diary up on one monitor and the spreadsheet up on the other, and have steadily caught up.

The problem arose when I noticed myself approaching 4,000 on the spreadsheet, but not approaching what I knew was my 4,000th movie on Letterboxd.


So once I did fully catch up on the Excel spreadsheet, I copied the list from the Word document and pasted it next to the list from Excel. Scanning down the list, I was able to find seven titles that I had failed to include on the Word document but had added correctly on Excel, thanks to my pretty infallible Letterboxd diary.

Seven? How could I be off by that much?

Well, each time I see a movie, I update either four or five lists, depending on whether the movie is from the current year or not. Forget any one of these lists -- like the master list -- and something has slipped through the cracks that may not be detected for months, or even years.

But seven? Really? That much?

So -- if you are still reading this -- you are probably now curious: What was my 4,000th movie, after all?

It was:

That's right, the second film I saw for the Melbourne International Film Festival, a Chinese modern-day noir called Black Coal, Thin Ice. Which I gave a middling 2.5 stars out of 5.

Oh well.

Here's the thing, though -- it doesn't really matter.

In updating this list over the decades -- funny how I can say that now -- I have found various movies here and there that were simply not on my list. This is so obviously the case that I probably not need even say it. In fact, if I'm really being frank, I'd say that even the list I have now probably has 15 to 20 movies that are not on it. They'd be mostly movies I saw when I was a kid, and could not be sure I actually saw, or may not even remember seeing. Then there are also movies I do include on the list that I'm not sure I've seen start to finish. This is an inexact process at best.

Within the past two years alone I realized that Showgirls was not on my list. I definitely saw Showgirls, no doubt about it. But for whatever reason, it never made it on to the list. And since I saw Showgirls at the time it was released, it would have been among the first thousand movies I ever saw. Go back and retroactively add it, and it throws off not only the 1,000th movie I saw, but also the 2,000th and the 3,000th.

That's why it's best to see milestones as symbolic. Even when I thought Sunrise was my 4,000th movie, I knew in my heart of hearts that it was almost certainly not exactly the 4,000th. The most it could have ever been was an approximation of my 4,000th movie, a ceremonial viewing designed to celebrate the fact that I am reaching 4,000 movies sometime between the months of June and October in 2014.

And as such, it will remain, "officially," #4,000.

If Black Coal, Thin Ice has a problem with that, it can lodge a complaint with the front office.


Jandy Hardesty said...

I went through a couple of years ago and matched up my Flickchart to my Excel spreadsheet I've kept since 1996. Then the next year I went through and did the same for Letterboxd. Now my Letterboxd and Flickchart don't match up, neither of them matches my Excel (though I don't update that anymore), and as I'm going through and making Letterboxd lists for each year (favorites and want-to-sees), I'm still finding films I've seen that aren't marked as seen on there. Argh.

tl;dr, I feel your pain.

Derek Armstrong said...

Hard being a perfectionist, isn't it?

The biggest obstacle I'm facing now is that I can't bring myself to extract certain "movies" that I never would have added if I'd started the list today, such as a couple TV miniseries I'm including on there as well as a couple Charlie Brown specials. Removing them detracts from my "official" total, so they are just exceptions that are grandfathered in.

Why do we do this to ourselves?