Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lest we Forget

For no discernible reason, John McTiernan's 2003 military thriller Basic popped into my head the other day. What was strange was that I had to stop whatever I was doing at the moment and place all of my concentration on pondering whether or not I had seen it. I knew that it was one of those movies that came out while I was in grade 12, a year in which I saw upwards of 10 new movies. It was a strange year for me. I had my regular 5 classes during that semester one of which was the drama production class so Romeo and Juliet ate up all of my spare time (I was Mercutio if you care to know) plus I was also doing an English class through correspondence because my high school had guidance counsellors whose last priority was providing guidance and so I was otherwise one credit short of graduating. Needless to say, watching new movies was not high on my priority list.

And then summer hit and for three straight months while University was still a distant concern, I played catch up. I had a girlfriend at the time who would tape me movies off of TMN (Canada's answer to HBO) which she had and I did not and so I juggled watching those while renting everything else to fill in the gaps. I also made a promise to myself that summer that I would rent everything new that came out on DVD that week as opposed to just the ones I had wanted to see as was standard procedure up until then. The greatest fear of any movie fanatic is to be asked questions about new movies and not having seen a one of them. I never wanted to be in that situation again.

Getting back on track, I finally decided that one of those films that had been taped for me and that I had watched was Basic. The thing was: I didn't remember a single thing about the movie. I'm generally pretty good in terms of long term memory and can usually walk away with something to remember almost every movie by even though I watch between 400 and 500 each year for the first time. However, nothing could bring back any memory of Basic. I knew it had John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson and was directed by McTiernan and I remember seeing ads for it on TV and especially an image of a darkened Jackson looming in a doorway (am I making this up?) and that I hated it, but what the movie was about, what happened and how everything was revolved in the end eluded me entirely.

There's been other movies since that I have mostly forgotten, which led me to ponder, just like if a tree falls in the forest for no one to hear, if you don't remember anything about a movie, have you actually seen it? Consuming so many movies, surely not all of them will be remembered, some rightfully so while others maybe not, and if a movie doesn't leave a lasting impression is that not more it's fault than ours? Of course, as is the case with the scenario above, sometimes I watch movies just to catch up, to say I've seen them and to increase my filmic vocabulary as much as possible. Maybe it all stems from that one fateful year where I decieded that, whenever someone asks about about a movie, no matter how great or insipid, I want to be able to say I have seen it.

But here's the problem, and the question I pose to everyone for debate (I haven't done one if these in far too long): should I have even wasted my time with Basic? Sure, I've seen it, and in the unlikely event that anyone ever brings it up, I'll be able to say "Oh yeah, I saw that a long time ago," but have I really gained anything other than to know that the movie was bad? It seems all I have is a blackout in my memory. It gets me one step closer to having seen McTiernan's entire body of work (and if nothing else I am a film history buff and therefore a director completest by association) but now I've given two hours of my life to a film that could have been spent with a better one; one I will remember. But then again, if I didn't see it, how would I know I'd one day forget it completely?

So what do you think. Is film completeism healthy or should we only base our time on consuming movies that appeal to us (I certainly had no interest is seeing Basic other than that I felt I should just to have seen it)? What do you do in situations like this? Are you the same way as me or do you think all this is insanity and a waste of time? Let me know.


  1. Boy, good question. I'll see all kinds of dreck as a matter of course, but you learn stuff...even from dreck. When I do a "Now I've Seen Everything" feature on a specific director, I'll see the good, bad and indifferent, and still be able to glean a nugget to put in a capsule review. But there are some films that lie in a repository of films I just haven't written about yet...I get to them, eventually, even if the original inspiration for writing them has passed. But, there are a couple every year (all 2 of them) that I know I'll never, ever write about...because they just didn't engage me...even on the most basic level of comparative interest. As these blogs are all personal (and, all reviews are) one can only report what was there was and how one reacted. abandoning a book after a couple should decide how one's time is best spent...and whether it's really worth it to spin one's wheels on something that has no traction.

  2. Good question.

    I, for one, believe life is too short to waste time and money watching movies because everyone says they're amazballs.

  3. "Is film completeism healthy or should we only base our time on consuming movies that appeal to us (I certainly had no interest is seeing Basic other than that I felt I should just to have seen it)?"

    I think the most relevant passage above is the parenthetical statement - if the only reason for seeing a movie is because you feel you "should" see it, then don't. Even if it's something like Avatar or Hurt Locker or The King's Speech or whatever, if you don't actually have any personal interest in seeing it, there are far too many other films that are waiting for your attention. If watching a particular film feels like doing homework, then I try to avoid it...

    Having said all that, I'm similar to you in the amount I see per year. I often wonder if I'm cramming too much in at the expense of digesting what I'm seeing, but on the whole I'm happy with my habits. Being a completist with specific directors/actors is fine if something is drawing you to their work, but if you start getting the feeling that you're slogging through the dregs then maybe something is amiss.

    I love being a movie reference for my non-blogger friends, but I'd rather concentrate on the stuff that really brings me pleasure or gets my critical interest engaged. I have no problem telling people that I haven't seen "Precious" or "The Blind Side" because everything I know about them simply doesn't interest me (that could change I suppose...).