July 24, 2012

Appreciation vs. Obsessive Consumption

John Cusack in High Fidelity

For anyone passionate about movies, it's easy to become obsessed with seeing every possible film. New releases appear constantly across the vast spectrum of indie and big-budget offerings. There's also a giant stash of older selections from North America and abroad that deserve our attention. How can anyone find the time to catch even a small portion of the options available? I'm currently reading American Movie Critics: An Anthology from the Silents Until Now, a collection of writings from some of the most influential critics. I was struck by this pointed quote from Pauline Kael in her Band of Outsiders review, which strongly resonates with me on this particular issue:

"By now — so accelerated has cultural history become — we have those students at colleges who when asked what they're interested in say, 'I go to a lot of movies.' And some of them are so proud of how compulsively they see everything in terms of movies and how many times they've seen certain movies that there is nothing left for them to relate movies to. They have been soaked up by the screen." 

While Kael's point is obvious, it struck a chord because I've been pondering similar issues lately. Since I started this blog last year, I've watched a large number of movies and written hundreds of posts about them. I've finally caught up with films that I'd avoided for a long time. Even so, plenty of notable theatrical releases have drifted past me. I haven't chosen to see fewer new movies, but obligations like work, school, and family have changed the game. This isn't a complaint but puts me in a different sphere from a lot of movie lovers. I'm now much pickier about which films I see on the big screen. This might seem like a downside, but the restrictions have actually enhanced my appreciation for each opportunity. The pace has lessened, but it's those same limitations that add magic to the experiences.

Cinemania

What I'm getting at is the difference between appreciation and obsessive consumption. Am I watching a movie because I love the medium or because it's become an addictive habit? I read a lot of blogs, and it can have the unintended effect of pushing me to want to see everything. The hobby starts feeling like work instead of a fulfilling pursuit. I truly admire cinephiles who venture to the theaters every Friday and see hundreds of new movies each year. It takes a serious level of dedication and makes them experts in the field. It's also an excellent way to go beyond the latest blockbusters. An extreme case is presented in the documentary Cinemania, which shows people who spend their whole lives visiting theaters. They seem detached from the world and rumble across town to catch multiple films every day. While I don't worry of reaching this level, there is a small element of truth for any fan. How do we balance pursuing our passion while making sure it doesn't consume our lives?

I worked as a DJ at a college radio station back in the late '90s, and it was a wonderful experience. I still miss the feeling of digging through so much music during my three-hour shift. In more recent years, I've listened to plenty of music, but it's never reached that level of intensity. That said, my appreciation for going to shows and hearing new albums hasn't dropped. In one sense, it might be higher now within the limited scope. I'm also addicted to theme parks, tennis, and fantasy sports, and all have gone through their ebbs and flows. Movies have been a consistent pursuit since I took a few film classes in high school and college. I still have the same enjoyment despite working harder to balance the schedule.

Martin Scorsese's Hugo

Many of us face the challenge of continuing to watch and write about movies while still having a life. I envy younger fans who can consume massive amounts of material in a short period of time. This binge approach is a necessity to anyone who wants to explore the landmarks of film history. Even so, I'm thrilled with my current balance of watching interesting films and bypassing the fluff. There are so many corners of the cinema world that I've barely touched so far. I've never seen a film by Eric Rohmer, Samuel Fuller, or Bela Tarr. The back catalogs of Hitchcock, Godard, and Kurosawa still contain treasures for me to discover. Plus, there's that Dark Knight Rises movie I've heard a few things about waiting to be seen. Regardless of the order, I can't wait to take all these routes. Loving the experience is the most important thing, no matter how many films you're able to see each week. 

10 comments:

  1. Its an interesting question, Dan, especially from the viewpoint of being a blogger. Obviously, pre-blog, every movie I watched was just out of desire for some degree of personal fulfillment or another. But now that I blog, there's a lot of movies that I watch just to "feed the beast" :D

    I dont know that I dont still love it though. Even though there's times when I'm forcing movies down my own throat... I still basically love it.

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    1. Fogs, I'm glad to hear that you're still loving it. I think the main thing with doing a blog is finding the right balance and enjoying it. I'm impressed by your dedication to get out there every week, even for some movies that don't look so hot. I do miss the excitement of the opening weekend, but I'm finding plenty of enjoyment in how it's going now. That's the most important thing for me at this point.

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  2. This is a fantastic piece, really good work here Dan. I do consider myself a cinephile, but not to the point where it cripples the rest of what I do with my life (as appears to be the case with Cinemania, which I haven't seen but sounds fascinating).

    I used to see everything (literally... everything) in the movie theater, but now I just don't have enough time. That mixed with the fact that, to me, most of what is played in movie theaters isn't worthy of my two hours. But I definitely get down and out if I go a day (or god forbid, two) without watching a movie. Film is as much a part of my life as anything. I am completely synonymous with the art of cinema, so I have no qualms or hesitation about feeding my addiction daily.

    But yourself and Kael definitely bring up some good points. Things to consider for people who spend all of their time watching, but not actually reflecting.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Alex. I'm with you on feeling down if I go too long without seeing a movie. My timeframe has stretched to maybe three to four days before it really hits, but that's been a recent change. I think the main thing is keeping the enjoyment of seeing films, regardless of the pace.

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  3. I've found after getting the blog going that I overdosed on cinema, so I know where you're coming from there. After taking a very long break I feel I've got a handle on my addiction and can cope with it. Sure it's sort of channeled itself elsewhere and I have multiple platforms for consuming new films within arms reach but I'm in control. I hope.

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    1. Toby, it's great to hear that you've found the balance of watching lots of films without getting overdosed by it. I agree that having a blog makes it trickier sometimes, so it's cool that you're on track.

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  4. ALthough I wish I could see more movies on the big screen, time simply doesn't allow it (even when I have a pass which allows me an unlimited amount of movies I only seem to go about once a month). So when i go, like you I'm picky too.

    As for wanting to see everything, that's a natural urge as you want to keep up with others, but I don't give into it. I watch what seems interesting to me at that moment, enough to choose from.

    Have not seen Cinemania, but would love to. Have not been able to find it.

    Although I admit I almost see one movie each day (on average) I make sure I spend enough time on other things (like family and friends). It helps that I do most of my movie watching on and from my way to work, which allows that balance. I'm currently happy with that although I do wish I was able to visit the cinema a bit more each month.

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    1. Nostra, it sounds like we're on the same page. I also watch some movies on the train to and from work. The commute is only 35 minutes, so I end up having to chop the movies more than I'd prefer. Still, it's a nice way to start and end the work day. I've seen seven new movies in the theaters this year, so our pace is similar. I'm hoping to pick it up as the year goes on, though.

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  5. There are times that the movies I get from Netflix are ones that, while I was interested in seeing them months ago when I put them in my DVD queue, are not ones I am particuarly interested in seeing at the time I receive them. Because I want to take advantage of the turnaround on the DVDs, I sometimes find myself watching a movie I don't really feel like watching.

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    1. Chip, your situation makes sense. I don't currently have Netflix, but I found that certain titles would sit at home for a long period of time. They often ended up being really good movies, but it wasn't always easy to take the plunge.

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