A year ago on August 27, with about $60 in my checking account and still three weeks out from a paycheck, I ordered, on impulse, Steven Jay Schneider’s book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die for $5 and, after seeing its first few pages online, started watching the movies in chronological order. I watched A Trip to the Moon and The Great Train Robbery on day one. The following night, a Sunday, I watched The Birth of a Nation. I spent the next four days watching Les Vampires and then, on Friday, I watched Intolerance in two sittings. The next weekend came and I was down to about $25 and I drank my espresso (very) slowly while watching ancient movies for free via YouTube, writing essays in a sketchbook, part of me thinking I might be starting a huge and sustainable project while another part figured I was just keeping myself occupied with something free until payday.
I was about 20 movies through the List when payday finally came. I was just starting to find a rhythm and voice for the essays, getting ideas for the website, mapping out a timetable. The first paycheck of the semester is only half the normal amount, don’t ask me why, so I was still on the prowl for free entertainment and the List gave me a tasksheet of free things to enjoy, research, write about.
This is self-congratulating and probably extra ridiculous when you consider that I’ll be doing something similar in November to celebrate the website’s first birthday. This is like celebrating the four sweaty minutes of conception. But I’m OK with that. The reason I’m taking some time here to pat myself on the back is because almost nobody thought that Thousand Movie Project was a good use of my time. A lot still don’t. Understandably. But I felt from the beginning that it was worthwhile for me. I was having fun, learning a lot, and saw it as a cool way to get my name out there, my writing, and figured too that, apart from the (then forthcoming) cost of rentals, I wouldn’t be putting much money into it. (The last part turned out not to be the case.)
Now, a year later, the Project’s been written up in the Miami New Times and I’ve been interviewed on Radio Caracol and I’ve hosted three public screenings and, on the basis of this Project, gotten the opportunity to write a movie review for a legit literary journal (along with a dream essay about Stephen King that’ll be published soon). I’ve made a deal with Magic Hat that’ll hopefully take an interesting shape, and I’m in talks with a local art theater and pub to start hosting screenings in the Gables.
This is still far from being an estimable success in anybody’s eyes. It isn’t earning me money yet and the screenings have yet to attract a crowd of 50+. But nobody’s really deriding it to my face anymore, which is a step in the right direction. People at the usual screening venue, Tea & Poets, ask what number movie I’m on, where and when and what the next public show is gonna be, and the people who vie for my time in daily life have begun slowly to respect when I say that I’m busy watching a movie, or writing an essay.
I’m still super insecure about the fact that I take this whole writing thing so seriously when it doesn’t earn me money, when efforts to publish are met with so much rejection — there’s just an overall dearth of external validation. As a result, I have to tap into some murky well of self-assuredness in order to go forward; naturally, when most of your motivation comes from discourse with yourself, you start wondering if that voice is trustworthy. After all, he’s no smarter than I am.
But today is a good occasion to look back on where this Project started a year ago, sipping on espresso I could barely afford while watching silent movies at Starbucks over a long line of stormy afternoons. Money is still tight, especially in August, but what I guess I’m trying to celebrate is that I launched this silly Project, which only two or three very close friends took seriously, into something that, at the very least, has established a presence in the community, and spread a little joy, and earned some respect. Much as I’m doing this chiefly for my own gratification and betterment there’s no denying how much I care about being read, acknowledged, appreciated and talked to about these things that I’ve made and the movies I’m watching. I really appreciate anyone’s effort to sift through this. execrablefrippery and ghahaj. Bob and Lynda. Good company.
Thanks for coming around. We’ll pick this up again next year.