Two months ago, I began an experiment. I turned off my satellite TV service, subscribed to Hulu and Netflix and decided to watch a lot of movies – as many as I possibly could.
In the 60-odd days since, I’ve managed to see about 102 ( and that’s not counting a few stray DVDs, some films stored in my DVR, and a couple of trips to the theater).
I suppose that seems like quite a lot of movie watching, and maybe it is excessive; although, if you break it down, it’s really an average of fewer than two a day. That’s not an absurd number considering how much TV a lot of people watch any given night.
More staggering than what I’ve watched so far, is what lies ahead. I’m still only at the base of this mountain of film. Between the two websites, I still have well over 200 films queued up and waiting. So now you may be thinking: Is this an experiment or a disorder?
I’ll try to justify this madness by noting that I’m not just watching any old crap. I’m trying to study the landmark films and great directors from the history of cinema. OK, I admit I sneak in a little mindless entertainment now and then to cleanse the palette, but for the most part, I’m sticking with the good stuff.
Hulu has a huge selection of Criterion Collection Films – movies generally considered to be classics, or at the very least, noteworthy in some way. Having always considered myself a movie buff, I was astonished and ashamed at how many landmark films I hadn’t seen.
There was a lot of celluloid ground to make up, so I dove in, and, aside from some late nights and a little eyestrain now and then, I’t’s been a blast.
I’ve gotten to know the early pioneers, innovators and stylists of cinema like D.W. Griffith, Sergei Eisenstein, F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, Carl Theodore Dreyer, Luis Bunuel, and Jean Vigo.
I’ve met masters, old and modern,from around the world, like John Ford, Howard Hawks, Jean Cocteau, Robert Bresson, Max Ophuls, Ingmar Bergman, Roberto Rossellini, Sergio Leone, Werner Herzog, Roman Polanski, Zhang Yimou, Wong Kar-Wai and Chan-wook Park.
I’ve learned that there were great Japanese directors besides Kurosawa. Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and Masaki Kobayashi, for example. And I learned that Kurosawa made some great films without a single Samurai in them. For that matter, John Ford made some great films without a single cowboy in them.
I’ve become a die hard fan of Bunuel, Bresson and Ozu in particular, and their movies alone are worth the websites’ monthly fees.
I rode the French New Wave with Claude Chabrol, Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard and loved it.
I’ve revisited the classic Universal Studios monsters I hadn’t seen since my childhood: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Wolf Man; and I’ve laughed at the Marx Brothers…well, three of them anyway. Sorry, Zeppo.
I’ve watched documentaries on film history, directors, cinematographers, screenwriters, kung fu, horror, and exploitation films, and even one about character actors with familiar faces and unknown names.
I discovered underrated geniuses like Michael Powell, Samuel Fuller, Joseph H. Lewis and Anthony Mann, and reaffirmed my love for Film Noir – some of the most creative and daring films Hollywood ever made. I’ve added The Big Combo, Gun Crazy, Raw Deal and Where the Sidewalk Ends, to my previous list of Noir favorites: The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, and Kiss Me Deadly.
I encountered visual poets like Andrei Tarkovsky, Lars Von Trier and Terrence Malick, whose films are beautiful to look at but difficult to watch.
I’ve learned to appreciate Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini and Bernardo Bertolucci, but I don’t always get what they’re trying to tell me.
I’ve discovered that, in spite of watching over 100 films in a couple of months, I’ve barely scratched the surface.
There are still a number of legendary directors I haven’t seen a single film from yet: Ernst Lubitsch, G.W. Pabst, Jean Renoir, Eric Rohmer, Josef Von Sternberg, Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti, Douglas Sirk, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, John Cassavettes and Krzsztof Kieslowski, to name a few. My work is cut out for me.
Lastly, I’ve learned that I really do love movies. I suppose I’d have to if I’m going to watch so many. I actually wish I could find the time to squeeze in a few more. For me, 100 in 60 days isn’t enough.
Results vary. Sometimes I’m mildly entertained, sometimes I’m enthralled, occasionally I’m appalled, but, in the best of times, I’m moved in a way few other things can move me.
Color, black and white, subtitled or in english, it doesn’t make a difference. Good is good.
The combination of image, sound and emotion – the writer’s words, the director’s vision, the actor’s portrayal, the cinematographer’s eye and the editor’s cut all add up to create expressions like no other. Expressions that can draw me in, make me laugh, cry or jump, even though I know it’s all make-believe. But, of course, sometimes the deepest truths are found in made up things.
Check back Friday for some observations I’ve made after watching all these movies.