The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Are you a film geek or just someone who likes to watch movies?

with 22 comments

A lot of people like to watch movies. As a matter of fact most people I know do that in one form or another, if so just snoozing in front of whatever happens to run on the television.

But at what point do you take a step from the ordinary into the weird, shady subculture? Where goes the line where the normal, sensible people stop and shrug, while the geeks, the fans, the true lovers happily walk ahead because they know that on the other side of this portal, they’ll be surrounded by likeminded who know where they’re coming from?

I would say that it it’s all about lists. For you who are happy on the “just like to watch movies” side, I can tell you: there’s no end to how many lists you can make, no limit to how small and strange and obscure definitions that can warrant a top-five list. I never cease to get amazed and a little bit giggly as I see the new Top 5 topics popping up in the Filmspotting forum.

 When the basics are covered, the lists where you rank the top movies year by year, director by director, genre by genre, the list lovers happily create there own lists in other areas:

Well, you get it. The list of list is endless. And those Top-5 lists are only a minor distraction compared to the Big Lists, such as your personal ranking of the top 100 movies ever made, where those who are really serious about it put in a huge effort, regularly revisiting the movies they have on the list to make sure that they not by accident have put a movie on position 63 when it rightfully only should be ranked as number 88.

The disciplined viewer
You might picture a film geek as someone who is slightly disorganized, a bohemian who escapes their somewhat messy apartment and unsuccessful life to enjoy the guilty pleasure that only a really good movie can offer. A somewhat irresponsible person. This however is so untrue.

The true film lovers dictate their own watching with a discipline that won’t accept any sort of whimsicalness and spontaneity. Show no mercy! If you note a shameful gap in your movie knowledge, a well known and celebrated director, whose works you haven’t seen, or only partly seen, you will put up a “marathon”, a list of movies-to-see, which you stick to rigorously. To make sure you don’t divert from The Path, you post it as a promise, so others  can mock you and throw rotten tomatoes at you if you – oh, horrible thought – suddenly would feel the urge to watch your favourite rom-com rather than the next part in your Kieslowski marathon. Ora et labora. Movie watching is serious business.

Reasons to do it
Am I mocking them? (Or rather “us”, since I guess I’m a part of it, although not going to any extremes, just dipping my toe in it.) No, or at least not very much, not more than we deserve. Because even if the systematic film watching might look a little bit mind boggling in its extremes, I can see the point of it.

When you reflect not once or twice, but many, many times over the movies you’ve seen, revisiting them in your thoughts, putting them into their place in film history, discovering how they connect to other movies, you’re actually getting more bucks for your money. You paid your ticket once, but the movie lives inside you and keeps playing many times, even if you don’t even have it in your DVD collection.  As you’re making those lists, you trigger memories and you’re forced to process the movies one more time, if not reviewing at least getting back to them in your mind. And sometimes you find yourself seeing them in a new light, since you’ve grown older and your perspective on life and your preferences for movies have changed.

I think it’s a bit the same as with the names of flowers. When I grew up I spent many summer vacations in the mountains. My father, who knew a lot about botanic, my grandfather being a professor in it, used to point out many of the flowers, teaching me their names. And as I now visit the mountains with my own daughters, I do the same to them. Why? Because I think something happens as you put a name on the flower; you suddenly start to see it properly. This isn’t just something undetermined green, this is an Angelica Archangelica, it’s been used in medicine for hundreds of years and you can eat the shoots in the springtime like cucumber.

And that’s why the movie lovers don’t settle with just watching whatever happens to come in their way, immediately forgetting about it as soon as the credits start rolling. We want the full movie experience. We want to smell the flowers.

My first list
I doubt that I’ll ever become one of those truly dedicated list makers. For one thing I don’t have the time at my hands that I would need to watch the amount of movies that serious list making requires. I’m also quite indecisive, and often find it quite hard to compare the quality of one movie to another. I like one movie for one reason, and another one in a completely different genre for another reason. But making a list of them, putting one over the other, that’s just so hard.

Nevertheless, I’ve recently put together a list: my own top-100. It’s by no means what I would consider thoughtful or thorough, I didn’t spend more than a couple of hours on it, and my thought process basically consisted of “let’s write down the names of the first 100 good films that comes into my mind”. The order is pretty random, apart from that I made sure that a few of my true favourites were around close to the top ten. As a matter of fact I’m too embarrassed about the result to post it here for the time being. However, it was fun to think back about all those movies, and now, at least I have a start, something I can rework and improve over time. In the end – and that’s essential not to forget – there is no right or wrong about those lists. The perfect list doesn’t reflect what’s “considered” good taste. It reflects you, as a person.

I’ve made my first list, so I suppose it means that I’ve taken the step. I’m not just someone who likes to watch movies. Or rather: I’m that too, but I’m a little bit more. Still quite careless and frivolous, not all that deep into it, and definitely not very knowledgeable, but nevertheless: I’m probably what you’d consider a geek. It feels pretty good.

Written by Jessica

August 11, 2011 at 1:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

22 Responses

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  1. I’m of the opinion that there’s no right way to be a movie geek. If you’d look at my list of shame you’d see something pretty shameful. I call myself a movie buff and I haven’t seen Casablanca?!?!? Seven Samurai!?!?!?! Citizen Kane!?!?!? Yeah, I should watch these, and I will, but does my lack of experience with some classics make my list any less valuable. I’d say not. Lists are nothing if not a reflection of yourself and as we grow as film nerds our lists grow. Or they don’t. Magnolia has been at or near the top of my list since I first saw it five years ago.

    Alex Thompson

    August 11, 2011 at 7:34 am

    • Yeah, I’m pretty much the same. While having seen Casablanca (I had my walls covered with posters of Bogart when I was a teenager), I have yet to see the other movies you mention. But they really don’t feel urgent. I take the day as it comes and pick movies by intution.

      I also agree that lists get more interesting the more personal they are. Lists that look like some kind of mandatory watching from school makes me wonder: “does this person REALLY love those movies that much or is he only trying to show off some “good taste”? Regardless of the motives, it’s definitely quite boring to see compared to those who dare to explore all sides of their personality, including the spots on their noses.

      Jessica

      August 11, 2011 at 7:56 am

      • I too, take movies as they come. I’m not huge into setting deadlines and such for my hobby, you know?

        Alex Thompson

        August 12, 2011 at 6:15 am

  2. Your post made me laugh because I recognize myself in it 🙂

    I mostly watch hollywood movies but from time to time I *have* to watch some classics. Bergman, Tarkovsky, Kurosawa and yes, Kieslowski. I’ve seen at least one movie from each director but I never got myself to go through a marathon of them. I really liked Kieslowskis blue, blanc et rouge trilogy but his Decalogues has been sitting on my harddrive for over a year. And honestly, they can wait until I feel like watching them.

    And yes, rating movies is a difficult thing. I’m always reminded of Eberts quote which went something like this: “If someone asks you if spiderman is a good movie he’s not asking you if it’s good compared to citizen kane. He’s asking you if it’s good compared to Batman which I gave 4 starts and The green lantern which I gave 2 stars. In this case I’d have to say that yes, it’s a 3 star movie.”

    Carra

    August 11, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    • Hehe, I hope you realize that I have a lot of love and respect for those crazy people. They’re truly inspiring. And while I don’t much my way through marathons myself, I too can feel, after seeing too many blockbusters in a row, that it’s time for something that gives me a little bit more of resistance, heavier stuff that will linger longer in my mind. A varied diet can take you a long way. Goes with movies as well as with food.

      And Ebert is a wise old man.

      Jessica

      August 11, 2011 at 1:48 pm

  3. I love lists. All sorts of lists. Including those about movies, though I am far from a movie geek. I am however, something of a list-o-phile. There is something wonderful about a list, especially something wonderful about a list on a subject one only has a little knowledge, or trying to create one’s own list from smaller resources.

    I think ultimately all lists tell a story. Sometimes frivilous or comedic, but sometimes more serious.

    Lewis Maskell

    August 11, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    • Oh, lists are wonderful in all areas. If nothing else as a tool to sharpen your mind or as food for a nice conversation. Lits tell stories, definitely. Just because of this, I’ll make a mini list of my favorite novels that have an element of lists:

      1. Naïve. Super by Erland Loe
      2. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.

      Hm. It’s a short one. It should get up to five. But it’s a good start!

      Jessica

      August 11, 2011 at 1:52 pm

  4. What a good idea! Though in keeping with the general theme I’ll try a list of my favourite movies in which lists feature:

    1. Schindler’s List
    2. The Interpreter
    3. Kill Bill 1 & 2

    mmm, I am going to have to stop at 3 since I really haven’t seen that many films and my memory for them is not that great either.

    Lewis Maskell

    August 11, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    • Great idea! Of those I’ve unfortunately only seen Schindler’s list (as far as I can recall; my memory for movies is awful, one of the reasons why I’ve started to blog about them – I hope to remember them a little bit better that way.) But I can think of two other great list movies rightaway:

      1. My life without me (a fantastic, moving, wonderful movie about a young woman with terminal cancer who makes a list of things she want to do before she dies. Highly recommended)
      2. High Fidelity (it’is not only a good novel, they made a great movie of it as well.)

      Hm… there’s also a Rob Reiner movie called The bucket list, but I haven’t seen it so I can’t tell if it belongs on the top-list of list-movies or not.

      But there surely must be some kind of horror/crime movie with that sort of theme? You know, when people are on a “death list”, executed one after another. Can’t recall any straight away though. Sigh. I hate my bad memory!

      Jessica

      August 11, 2011 at 5:28 pm

      • I do not know either of those two films I have to say. The two Kill Bill films, do, as it happens, feature a kill list (of five people iirc).

        I recommend The Intepreter. A very understated sort of film I think.

        I did think of another film with a list in on my walk home … but it wasn’t one I liked so now I have actually gotten home I have forgotten it. I don’t really watch horror, so can’t speak of any lists there. I do think there just has to be a crime film with a list (or several) since it is such an obvious plot device … but my memory, like yours, is a blank. I can think of a Brother Cadfael episode that features a list, but since that was a tv episode it does not count 🙂

        Lewis Maskell

        August 11, 2011 at 8:01 pm

        • Kill Bill is definitely one of those gaps in my movie education. If I was one of those who make “shame lists”, I’d put them on it, definitely. I’ll see if I’ll happen to stumble upon them at some point. My watching is a little random compared to most film geeks I suppose.

          And yeah, I know what you mean about horror. I’m not a fan and actually I get more and more reluctant the older I get. I did see Pan’s Labyrinth a couple of years ago though and while it was AWFUL to watch, it was also awesome at the same time. A great work of art and imagination, indeed. Highly recommended.

          Jessica

          August 11, 2011 at 8:11 pm

          • I’ve heard good things about Pan’s Labyrinth from a number of sources, so I hope the stars align right for me to watch it at some point.

            I think the reason why I don’t watch horror is that I simply do not understand the point of it. Someone tried to explain it to me once by saying that it is meant to shock and scare … and intellectually I suppose I understand that. To provide a burst of adrenaline or something similar. But it is not something I experience, so I am ultimately left mystified. I therefore think horror is best used as a part of a film, rather than the point of a film – like I suppose in The Silence of the Lambs.

            Lewis Maskell

            August 11, 2011 at 8:39 pm

            • Oh, yeah, agreed. Actually… I guess there are a bunch of movies that are classified as horror although I don’t think of them as such. Like Alien for instance. I remember it launched in Sweden with the slogan “In space noone can hear you cry…”. Maybe I like more horror movies than I’m aware of.

              Jessica

              August 11, 2011 at 11:06 pm

      • my life without me…i heart that movie. sarah polly is all sorts of amazing.

        Harvey Zissou

        August 12, 2011 at 8:14 am

        • It’s on my top 100 list I think. If it wasn’t, it should be. Seriously good, dealing with a tough topic without getting oversentimental and cliché-burdened.

          Jessica

          August 12, 2011 at 8:16 am

  5. Excellent post. I definitely see a lot of myself in this article, especially with my list-making and need to try to close the gaps in my film viewing history. On one hand, I feel like I’ve seen most of the important films, but there are so many others that I’m still missing. It’s a tricky business to try and keep up with recent movies while catching up with the past. I signed up a little while ago for the ICheck Movies website, and looking through those lists, I feel like I’ve seen almost nothing, especially in genres that I enjoy. That’s the great thing about being a film geek; there are always more great discoveries around the corner.

    Dan Heaton

    August 11, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    • Awww, thanks for the encouragement!

      I agree completely, it’s so hard to balance! I know one guy who is doing the “1001 movies you must see before you die” challenge, writing reviews on every movie there is in that certain book. There’s actually an entire movement of people doing this thing. Anyway, I asked him if he ever found time to watch anything that wasn’t in the book, like… new films. He assured he did. And still he’s already at over 800 movies by now. Amazing!

      I have never been to the ICheck Movie website. Maybe I should stay away from it; I think I’ll only get depressed realizing that there’s no way I’ll ever become anything close to “educated” in movie watching. I’m too old and there are too many movies, and they keep coming. They keep coming.

      Jessica

      August 11, 2011 at 7:50 pm

      • I like I Check Movies, but you bring up a good point. I’ve always thought I knew a lot about westerns and film noir, for example. Of the 250 Quintessential Film Noir, I’ve seen 20. Also, I’ve only seen 29 of the Top 100 Essential Westerns. Yikes! I need to get to work.

        Dan Heaton

        August 11, 2011 at 8:27 pm

        • Hm… Since I basically ain’t a fan of the western genre, there’s no way I would submit myself to that sort of work. I’m probably a bad, bad film geek….

          Jessica

          August 11, 2011 at 11:04 pm

  6. Wonderful article!

    I don’t think I quite fall into the extreme category, but only I’m the sense that I find it very difficult to add structure to my movie-watching, and often when I do it makes the whole thing feel like work. That said, I did decide to start my Can’t Say No Marathon. And I purposely structured the marathon as a set of films submitted by others so that I would feel more obligated to watch all of them and thus more likely to actually finish the marathon.

    But generally I just watch whatever I feel like watching. Sometimes I’ll go on a run of a certain director or style of movie just because I’m already in the mood. This is also why I have had Sunrise sitting on my shelf for three years waiting to be watched, but in the space of about two years have watched Star Trek countless times on Blu-ray.

    Corey Atad

    August 11, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    • Thank you! Your “Can’t Say No Marathon” is equally heroic and insane imho 🙂 But it’s not altogether systematic, is it? I think it more than anything else symbolizes a truly open mind to any sorts of movies. It’s admirable. And hopefully interesting too.

      I’m glad to hear that you’ve watched Star Trek countless times. Sometimes I feel like an outsider among all those super serious movie watchers, since I enjoy that kind of movies as well. Maybe people just don’t always talk that much about those guilty pleasures? 😉

      Jessica

      August 11, 2011 at 11:03 pm

  7. […] was the first thing I noticed as I ventured into the world of cinephily this summer, joining the Filmspotting forum community and […]


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