Struck by movie amnesia
Is there a set limit of how many movies you can keep in your head at the same time? I have a growing suspicion there is. For every new film experience I put in, an old one will dissolve from my memory into oblivion.
The amount of movies I’m able to discuss with any kind of insight and authority is abysmal compared to the number I’ve watched. The vast majority are just gone. All I remember is that I liked them (or in a few cases didn’t like them), but exactly what motivated this sentiment, I have no idea about and I would be unable to retell the film in any detail.
This causes quite a bit of frustration, as when I recently got into an argument over The African Queen with a fellow movie Swedish movie blogger – or rather: I should have gotten into an argument if I could. She called the movie horrendous and awarded it a 1/5. I replied something vague about remember liking it when I was a teenager and had the walls of my room covered with Humphrey Bogart posters. But exactly what was so good about it, I couldn’t say. I was just referring to a memory of a gut feeling, and how substantial is that? Besides – could I even trust the judgment of Jessica 25-30 years ago? I’ve changed my mind in a lot of areas since then, hopefully for the better.
The forgotten classics
Back in the days I watched ever so many movies that are considered “classics”, that are now just gone for me. Take the Godfather series. Hands on heart, what do I remember apart from the bad throat voice of Brando, the horse head in the bed and the theme song? Nothing. Do I even remember those fragments or are they just clichés I’ve had repeated to me through pop culture over the year until it’s finally stuck. And under those circumstances, is it fair and honest to put it The Godfather on my top 100 list?
I feel more and more like a liar as I’m making lists or commenting on other people’s film reviews. Most of the time it’s just fluffy dreams and vague memories of memories of memories:
I’m pretty sure I’ve said to someone that Tarkovskij’s Stalker is an awesome sci-fi movie. How do I know? I used to like it but I have absolutely nothing to back it up with. For all I know I might hate it now!
After all my capacity for the slow and artsy was way bigger back during my teens. I used to devour Sartre and Dostojevskij. If you let me choose now, I’d rather just enjoy a couple of hours in company with A Game of Thrones. After a long work week I want to be entertained. Not sort out the nature of our existence. You can call it weakness, I call it coming of age.
I keep telling myself and others that I want to revisit those movies I watched once upon a time, but I wonder if I ever will or if it’s just yet another lie. And in the end, isn’t it a lost cause anyway? Even if I wanted to educate myself about movies, I can’t. There seem to be only that many slots available. If I rewatch a forgotten movie, inevitably something else will go.
Making our own versions
It’s not just that I forget movies; I’ve also come to realize that I might not remember the ones I believe I remember. It could as well be a construction, something I’ve mixed up with other movies or books, dreamed or imagined. We make our own versions of the movies in our heads.
Mark Kermode talks about it in his book The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex as he shares a story about one of the first movies Dougal and the Blue Cat. He watched it as a child supported by a soundtrack album and some notes he had taken, he played the film in his head over and over and over again, oblivious of that the notes and the cut down soundtrack had led him wrong. Twenty years later he got hold of a copy of it and at a rewatch it turned out that the movie was quite different to what he thought. He had re-imagined a couple of key sequences and all this time he had “watched” a version of the film that didn’t actually exist. As he puts it:
“Lesson number one: the way anyone experiences and remembers a film may bear only a passing relation to the movie itself.”
It’s very true. It’s also why re-visits are risky. It might be a warm, heartfelt reunion, where you fall into each others arms as friends meeting after many years of absence. But sometimes it turns out that you’ve turned into strangers for each other and looking back, you probably would have been better off sticking to your false but fond memory.
The question is: is there any cure for this amnesia? Well, actually this very blog is an attempt to, if not cure, at least limit it. I write about more or less every movie I watch in the hope that it will help me to hold on to them a little bit longer. My words may be lost in the vast digital ocean, but at least they’re etched into my mind.
But enough about my faulting memory! A prolonged weekend is incoming. Time to watch more movies! Time to forget a few. The bad ones, hopefully.