Monday, March 23, 2009

Cinema Overload!


I suppose the feeling of overload is something that everyone can identify with. School, work, life in general is just busy busy busy. Hell, this blog was supposed to be a team effort, but my cohort(s) have abandoned me and have left me flying solo, at least for now. So even the blog, a hobby, has become something that I'm lagging behind on and pushing aside. So now, I've started a diversionary post from the longer piece I've been working on, and blogging is in itself a diversion from lame things like obligations. Fuck that.

The point is (I think) that work can have us feeling overwhelmed, but us movie lovers know of a different kind of overload--- and that is cinematic overload. Admittedly, it's a more pleasurable form of stress than our day-to-day obligations, but it's no less daunting. Especially in our digital world, where film lovers have more access to the medium than ever before. Livin' in the future has its perks. But, again, it's also a daunting task. A friend of mine likened it a banquet which can never be depleted, no matter how much you stuff your face.

There continue to be, and always has been, a finite number of methods with which to view a film. In the olden days, films could only be seen at the theaters. Then television came about. Then home video. Now, cinephiles can watch movies in a multitude of ways; we can watch them through the constantly expanding library of available DVDs, on the computer, or even on a fucking phone.

So, allow me to count the ways that I get exposed to film. First, there's ol' faithful, the movie theaters. Movie theaters have a serious attitude problem. They try to tell me when I can or can't watch something, demanding that I fashion my schedule to THEIR convenience. Un-fuggin'-believable. The nerve of that guy.

Then, of course, there's television broadcasts. Like a movie theater's kid brother, it also demands that you arrange your life around when they're broadcasting something. Though it's attitude is less severe, as television doesn't demand that you make a special trip out of your nice, comfortable home to go see it. Though, with the exception of TCM, watching a movie on television can be a painful experience for movie lovers. Not only do we have to contend with commercials structuring a film like a television show (though it seems some movies are structured with the commercial break in mind!), but more often than not the movie is cropped to fit television's aspect ratio. In addition to that, since television knows how stupid we are it feels the need to not only remind us what channel we're watching, but also what movie we're watching and what inane, vacuous program comes on later (David Bordwell discusses the history of bugs here).

Then, of course, there's home video. This is undoubtedly where the great majority of us see most of the films we watch, which is a bit of a double edged sword. The difference between seeing a good film projected versus on a television is the difference between shooting a bullet and throwing it (to avoid using a more, shall we say, grotesque analogy), but home video has given us unprecedented access to the medium. Whereas in the past, film watchers had to make due with what was out in first-run, second-run, or revival; we're now all in the fortunate position of being able to decide what we watch and when we watch it. Services like Netflix and Blockbuster Online have only made it that much easier. So, if I'm so inclined, I can have a double feature of Bambi and Cannibal Holocaust.

But the concept of home video has been extended in the last few years. Home video was created out of people's desire to have things accessible at their convenience, and now technology is helping to facilitate this. Netflix, at no extra charge, offers an 'instant watch' service whereby DVD quality films can be streamed over the internet. They expanded this concept with a box from Roku, that streams films over the internet directly into your television.

I'm in no way complaining, but all these venues with which to see films can get a little overwhelming! My DVR teeters between 80 and 90 percent full virtually constantly, as I probably have about 35-40 movies recorded off TCM on it at any given time (many of which aren't available on DVD. Have I mentioned how I love these people so?). Between my postage queue and my instant queue on Netflix, I'm waiting on nearly 500 movies (and those are just the movies I've had the time to add). It feels like there's never enough time to catch something in the theater (due to the market being geared more towards home video, some film's literally get a 'blink-and-you-miss-it' theatrical release), and I'm sure we can all relate to the feeling of having a stack of unwatched DVDs. There simply aren't enough hours in the day (nor enough days in a lifetime, but that is much too depressing a thought).

So how do we prioritize? Is it even something we consciously think about? What we watch, and when we watch it, seems to be precipitated by circumstance as much as anything. Case in point: as I sat down to start this post the other day, I got caught up in Jules Dassin's Brute Force on TCM. I was familiar with the name but had never seen one of his films before, and immediately found myself turning away from and ignoring the computer all together, completely riveted by the film. I had turned on TCM because I knew Budd Boetticher's Ride Lonesome was going to be broadcast, and I wanted to catch that one again. But Brute Force was not on my immediate radar (though I see Film Forum in Manhattan has an upcoming Jules Dassin tribute, which I'll try to catch some of), but it kind of chose me, and I'm all the more enriched because of it. I guess it's something you just have to take as it comes.

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