On Reaching Fifty Movies

I’ve now watched fifty movies in about that many days. Most of them have been enjoyable, some were a slog, but even the duds had their fun parts and I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I think I’m learning as much about myself as I am about film, sitting here as my own companion for these past fifty days, constantly writing about my own thoughts, reading and revising those thoughts, staring at walls and chewing my pen and trying to remember random details. It’s been interesting. I was curious in the beginning about whether trying to pull this off would create a sort of lump in my life. If it’d be a constant hill to traverse. But I think it’s actually given me some much-needed structure. Wake up, come to the cafe, write about the movie I saw yesterday, and watch a new movie. Every few days I’ll print out a batch of ten reviews (of films 1-10, or 11-20, and so on), copy edit them, type them back up as a second draft and then start over.

The idea of writing as much about my personal life as I would about the movies was part of the plan from the Project’s beginning, but it’s gone in a direction I hadn’t expected. The candor. But that’s been fun too. I’ve been less chatty in my daily life, which is good. I post fewer Facebook updates. The Project is like my principal means of expression. I’m a bit worried, frankly, about having written all these essays and not even launched the site. Maybe there’s nobody listening, and it’ll all’ve been for naught.

So it goes.

Whatever this Project’s reception might be, I’m pleased with myself for having stuck with it.

hamlet gables.JPG

Earlier this week I went to the Coral Gables Art Cinema where they were showing a 70 mm print of Kenneth Branagh’s four-hour Hamlet from 1996. I bought my ticket and then went to a bar across the alley, John Martin’s, and sat with a beer and thought, “If I make it to the thousandth movie, that’ll be great. If not, no harm done.” I thought about Dr. Mabuse (4.5 hrs) and Les Vampires (7 hrs) and The Wheel (4.5 hrs) and Greed (4.5 hrs), all of these long-ass movies I’ve seen over the past two months, and I kinda lamented that I never had the stamina to finish even one of them in just a single sitting. Wondered if I was getting an honest experience of the movie if I had to stretch it out over two or three days.

Reading about these titles I’ve watched, about their directors and styles and stars, has made me aware of the other titles all around them, films that haven’t made the List. So as comprehensive as the Project often feels, given everything I’ve learned so far, I guess it’s just a staple of any good education that what you really come to understand is how little you’ll ever know.

I finished my beer and went ahead to the theater where there were only eight or nine other people, most of them grayhaired and thin, and right away when the lights went down the projector had some trouble, went dark, and so the projectionist (himself quite gray) called out his apologies (Spanglish) and then shouted his progress throughout the ten-minute repair (charming guy) and when finally everything was righted, and the lights dimmed again, the movie ran like a dream, crackly nostalgia, and when we hit the film’s second hour, and the projectionist announced a ten-minute intermission, I got up and crossed the alley again to John Martin’s for a bit of Jameson and sat there rigid. The bar’s pretty quiet on a Tuesday night. I was alone with my drink and the bar tender was somewhere else and I thought, about Hamlet, “Holy shit. I get it.” Because I’d read the play for class when I was seventeen and liked it – but I also had a hard time enjoying it because, having an idea of the miles of criticism that’ve been written about it, I took in every line with an understanding (maybe sometimes I was wrong) that there were ten things going over my head at once. References and wordplay, things like that. I had a therapist at the time who kept a copy of Hamlet in a bookshelf by his knee at all times and when I asked if he liked it he rolled his eyes, almost hopeless-looking, and said he was enchanted by it, obsessed, in love. So I had an idea that no matter how comprehensively I studied the text itself, or the miles of supplementary material, I was too young to really get it. And maybe I still don’t get it. Probably I don’t. But here’s the difference: when I first read Hamlet at seventeen, convinced of the great success that surely awaited me just at the end of college, the text was just an interesting artifact, I was thrilled that I could even follow the plot; but now, as an aimless twenty-five-year-old with two part-time jobs, none of the success I foresaw as a teen, and hearty pastures of mommy and daddy issues, Hamlet means something completely different. It was shocking. Riveting. I sat there with my Jameson and my notebook, a bit glum to think that this is the kind of tedious epiphany I’d have to keep to myself (which of my friends wants to hear a spiel about how I finally understand Hamlet?), when I realized suddenly, euphoric, “I don’t have to keep this to myself. I have a platform, a Project. I can talk about it – if only with myself.”

And sweet Jesus, I was glad.

Favorite Movies from the List so Far

  • Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler (1922; dir. Fritz Lang)
  • Blackmail (1929; dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
  • Little Caesar (1931; dir. Mervyn LeRoy)

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