Wednesday, October 20, 2004

So Many Movies...

My friend Rob, who is a film critic for Paste magazine, has bravely pointed out something that we movie-lovers are usually too self-conscious or embarrassed to admit--that there are just too many good movies out there for us to really wrap our arms (and heads) around.

If you'll indulge me some navel-gazing on the challenges ("glass half-empty") or fortune ("glass half-full") of being a cinephile:

Like Rob, I probably see at least a couple of hundred films a year, all told. When I performed a quick informal statistical analysis on this recently, I found that over the last few years, a full third of the films I've seen are ones that I've seen before. In fact, the work of some directors all but demands repeat viewings (e.g., Resnais, Godard).

I've seen what is perhaps Resnais's most complex film, Muriel, just once, and it is pretty much just a pleasant mosaic-like blur in my mind. I travelled hours to catch Godard's epic-length opus Histoire(s) Du Cinema but it's almost like I walked away with merely a sense of it--such is its complexity and density. One viewing barely gave you a lay of the land.

And then there are the films of directors whose work I find so rich and delightful, humane and lyrical, that I rush back to spend time with them again and again every chance I get (e.g., Lubitsch, Renoir or Wong Kar-Wai). So, in addition to all the great movies I've never seen, I also find myself itching to get back to seeing old ones all over again.

Being an "auteurist", when I see a film by a director I feel an affinity for, I feel like going out and immersing myself in their movies for weeks or months. There was a time when I was younger (and more zealous) when I used that immersion approach a lot (and it was often revelatory, for example, with the films of Fassbinder or Ophuls in my case). But looking back, it seems downright obsessive behavior--even more obsessive than your garden-variety cinephilia. These days, it seems more fun to mix a film-week up thoroughly and improvisationally to allow for unexpected connections and unconscious serendipities.

I've slowly come to the self-realization over the years that I particularly value being "open" to a broad spectrum of work--ideally, all periods of film history, all countries, all genres (well...almost--my tolerance for the horror film has plummeted over the years). I like to give movies and directors a real chance, try to figure out where they're coming from, and see what they have to offer me.

I admire Rob because when he talks or writes about movies, he does so with precision, specificity and lucidity. And yet he often leaves room (in an "open" fashion) for revisions and refinements contingent upon the possibility of re-visiting a film again (and again) in the future. It is a model approach to learning and growing as a cinephile.