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:
- “Top 5 films If You Catch Them On T.V. You Just Cannot Turn Them Off”
- “Top 5 things you dislike about your top 5 movies”
- ”Top 5 Films That Your Family Loves But You Don’t”
- “Top 5 Great Films Where it Helps to Know Who Made It”
- “Top 5 directors you would like to have a coffee with”
- “ Top 5 Cases of An Unfortunate Casting Choice in an Otherwise Great Film”
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.