Thousand Movie Project Turns Two

Two years ago today I posted the essay for A Trip to the Moon, which went through probably eight drafts before I was willing to let anybody glance at it. It was preceded on the site by a post about Leonard Cohen’s then-recent death, and how it galvanized me into launching the Project earlier than planned, but it was the Trip essay, about moviepicture #1, that I first shared the site with friends on Facebook and let people know what I was up to. 

Now it’s been two years, and in a week or so I’ll be posting the essay for moviepicture #200. I’ve watched about 350 movies offa the List and it’s moving along at a quicker clip than ever. If I can hold this momentum, the Project should be done in 2020.

Today seems like a good occasion to reflect on how it’s all gone and the progress I’ve made, and to try determining whether my performance is where it should be, but now that I’m here at a pub with my pen, tryna do it, there’s this vibe of, like, when you’re looking back on a trauma and there’s that visceral cognitive impulse trying to keep the door shut. Like, no no, don’t look there.

The idea of thinking too hard about the Project — its motives and progress, all that’s behind me and all that’s ahead — just scares me. Partly that’s cuz there’s so much left to do, and cuz it’s freaky to consider that all of the work I’ve done up to now doesn’t signify even half of what the Project demands. But there’s also this weird feeling, looking back to November 2016, like I’m still there, like I’ve only just started the Project, in near-total secret, and I’m looking so enthusiastically at all of the opportunities up ahead of me in embarking on this project that was literally too huge to fathom. I was telling Pavel recently that, as I’m closing in on #350, I don’t feel even half the sense of accomplishment I got in reaching moviepicture #50 (and, honestly, it was only in scribbling that sentence that I remembered I actually wrote an essay to commemorate the achievement, as though it was a huge deal to’ve completed 5% of the Project).

I’m still as sure as I was back then that I’ll see this thing through to the end, which is promising because it’s only now that I have a solid idea of exactly what that might entail, but I’m also bothered by this dread — which is more poignant than ever — that I’ll reach the end, I’ll start sending around book proposals for a synthesized account of what the whole experience was like and what I learned, and that nobody’ll be interested. There’ll be no book deal. And that book deal, incidentally, is something I always cringe to mention cuz I’m afraid it’ll sound like I’m only in the Project because it’s a gateway to something bigger. But the truth is that if, at the end of all this, i could have ea premise that grants me access to the world of publishing, well, that’d be pretty fine for Alex.

After just two years working on the Project I feel like a different person, more adult, and I think it’s because I’ve never done anything that commanded so much discipline. Nor have I ever written so much, nor so consistently, and I’ve probably taught myself more about the craft and history of filmmaking than I’ve ever taught myself about anything (my newfound appreciation for autodidacts is talked about in the TMP “Declaration of Principles”). So the benefits have dramatically outweighed the cons.

And even the cons are interesting. Stressing about meeting my self-imposed deadlines or slogging on occasion through something particularly tedious (I’m lookin’ at you, Great White Silence and Limite). Seen from a certain angle, they’re two little arenas for working at discipline. I’m constantly falling short, constantly having to correct myself. It’s good.

Another issue, I guess, as I embark on the third year is the recent breakup from R-, with whom I was involved in a semi-relationship (we never made it official cuz I’m terrified and dodgy when it comes to commitment (i.e. cuzza cowardice)) ever since a couple months before starting the Project. She was the first person in whom I confided about it and she was the most supportive all along. She attended every screening I hosted, and when I got my own apartment back in may she kinda joined me night after night in this lifestyle I’d built around the Project: enduring the occasional old movie with me, asking about my progress, encouraging risks and complimenting stuff — just a constant beacon of encouragement and goodwill.

So there’s something about the Project now, in the wake of her, that — while the hugeness of the task does serve as a distraction from the grief — does feel kinda…haunted. Literally everything about it, from watching the movies on my couch to writing about them at Starbucks. Her absence is the most commanding presence in the room. I’m sure it’ll fade, but it sucks — although, frankly, there’s something beautiful and textured and warm about the loss as well. the Project now feels a bit like one of those ancient sand-weathered statues in Egypt. After thousands of years of sandstorms, when the dust eventually settles, it’s the thing that’s still Standing. Dusty and pock-marked but forever intact.

Finally I think TMP has given me a real-world idea of what it means to be a working writer. The reality of deadlines and resignation tot he fact that not everything can be brilliant and lyrical and funny. The fact that you sometimes have to resign yourself to just being competent. What also feels instructive is the way that, no matter how much work I do, there’s an entire ocean of it ahead of me for tomorrow.

But anyways. It’s a lesson in patience and discipline and commitment and, whaddaya know, I’m learning a lot about movies too. A lot about the moviepictures. I’m not quite sure yet of how to encapsulate it, but if I plan on writing a book I figure it’s about time I start thinking about it.

And I do kinda have an idea.

It’s something to do with conversation.

A movie presents a thesis to the viewer about love or crime or war — whatever. And you watch it. And after you’ve seen the movie you consider its thesis and then say, “Well, my understanding of that subject leads me to a different conclusion, which is this.” You present your Y to the film’s X. Then you revisit the movie. Why not? And see if there’s something in there to rebut your newly-considered perspective. And so on. The greatest movies are the ones that mean something different in every stage of life. The ones that keep evolving the conversation alongside you. 

Anyway. I’ll wrap this up. What I know about the Project conclusively at this point, now that I’m deep in the trenches, is that, next to Horny Nuns, it’s the best, most rewarding, most challenging creative venture I’ve ever embarked on.

I’m looking forward to the next two years. 

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6 comments

    • Fellow traveler indeed! How are you feeling stamina-wise? It’s obvious from your posts that you’ve found it rewarding. But now, over a hundred titles in, do you feel like the rest’ll be a cinch or are you more apprehensive than in the beginning?

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      • I’m having fun, and that generates its own stamina. I first started doing this just out of a flailing desire to get back into a writing habit, and this just ended up being enjoyable too. I’m even making it more difficult for myself – don’t know if I mentioned this, but I’m reviewing all the movies that have ever been in ANY edition of the 1001 MOVIES book; so my list is actually 1210 movies long now, since they’ve released the 2018 edition recently.

        …Although that also may be causing something of a push itself right there, because one of the movies they added in 2018 was CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, and I saw that in the theater and loved it so much that I have started making notes on my review already – even though I probably won’t hit it for about 3 years at this rate.

        This is also correcting a lifelong deficit in filmgoing; we didn’t have as much of an access to classic movies where I grew up (late night TV was kind of the only option, and they did a lot of B-movie cheese mostly), and throughout much of the 90s-into-the-00’s I was doing theater, and so after work I was stuck in a rehearsal room or backstage most of the time, and missed out on a lot. So now I’m catching up on all of these films everyone else has been talking about for years.

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      • I know what you mean — one of the things I’ve been thinking about with the Project we’re on is that it could probably ONLY have been done in the past fifteen years or so. Even Mark Cousins, the guy who did that dozen-hour documentary about the history of cinema, he talks about how, in the early 2000s, some of those movies were so obscure he’d have to wait two weeks to have them shipped in through the New York Public Library.

        There’s a dude who did this before us, although he didn’t write any essays, but he did an insightful and helpful AMA on reddit and he said that, now that he’s done, he understands literally every movie reference somebody makes. So I think you’ll end up a beast on that front, haha.

        I’m impressed that you’re going, straight out the door, for every single movie that’s ever been on the List. I might follow in your footsteps once I finish this.

        Have you been using FilmStruck?

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      • So far I’ve been doing okay with Netflix and Amazon, actually. I may check out a service connected to my library as well (Kanopy – ever hear of it?)

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  • I am proud of the way you have handled adversity. Additionally , I look forward to the next 600+ essays, to be written with a now, expected uncanny flair.

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