A couple of years ago, my son asked me what my IMDB number was. According to him, I could figure this out by looking at the IMDB Top 250 list and, starting with movie #1, counting the movies on the list that I hadn’t seen yet. When I reached ten unseen movies, I was to check how far I had got in the list. So, beginning with Shawshank and The Godfather, I ran my eyes down the list. Found a movie I hadn’t seen: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), currently #9. Then The Usual Suspects (1995), currently #25 (I had started TUS multiple times, but never finished it. Perhaps if I had realized that Gabriel Byrne was going to become my therapist, I would have done better.) Sunset Blvd (1950), #30. In no time, I had ten movies that I hadn’t seen, and I was only up to #65 on the list, out of 250. So, my IMDB number: 65. Embarrassing.
If I watched one of the ten I had found, I could then continue down the list to the next unseen movie, which happened to be #73. So I watched The Usual Suspects. Took a little patience, because for whatever reason, the movie did not engage me, but when it was finished, my IMDB number magically jumped from 65 to 73. I looked over the complete list of 250, to see how many movies I would have to watch to ascend to an IMDB number of 250 (that is, nine or less movies unseen on the list, or ten, if the tenth happened to be #250). Ugh. At least 135 unseen movies, all of which I had declined to watch in the past for whatever reasons.
So I began watching those movies and I quickly discovered that I had never wanted to see most of them for good reason. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Major downer with Bogart acting like a real skunk. All the Billy Wilder movies. I am not on the Wilder wavelength. Metropolis (1927) and Sunrise (1927). Thank God I watched Metropolis before they found its missing reel in Brazil; that extra viewing time might well have driven me over the edge into madness. Sunrise: contrary to the message of this movie, don’t have an affair and then try to murder your wife, her knowing it while you’re doing it, and then expect her to enjoy a night out on the town with you THE SAME DAY.
What I ended up doing was, taking three movies at a time and watching five or ten minutes of each of them every night, before switching over to something fun. Even five minutes of Sunset Blvd. or Double Indemnity (1944) seemed interminable. Fred MacMurray emoting about how perfect their plan would be, and then they run out with some half-assed scheme and get screwed? Noir, or lazy writing?
Finally, with 35 movies left unseen on the list, I couldn’t take it anymore. I walked away. For maybe a year. But then, I came back, as when I came back to earn those last few merit badges to make Eagle scout. Went back into five-minutes-of-boring-hell mode and reached the point where I only seven left on the list, and each of them partially watched: Scarface (1983), The Lion King (1994), the one about the two kids in firebombed Tokyo, Grave of the Fireflies (1988), and I forget the others. Pooped out again. Also never made Eagle scout. In addition to the merit badges, there were time requirements and probably something I needed to do to prove to BSA that I wasn’t a homosexual communist or a Democrat. In Albany, Georgia, our Boy Scout troop swam nude at the YMCA every week. I should have earned some sort of merit badge for that. Just surviving the dives off the low board was worth something.
By the way, I’m not promoting the IMDB list as anything other than some sort of weird hybrid crowd-pleasing vs Classic Comic Books mutant that no one could ever take seriously, but it’s a list and it’s the list that I was challenged to conjure with.
I am also not calling out the movies that I hated watching as bad movies. Perhaps they’re all great movies. I’m not saying otherwise. Just don’t make me watch them again.
Also, I suffered but I’m glad that I did it. I’m glad that I’ve seen All About Eve (1950). I don’t like Bette Davis. How come it’s not Betty or Bettie? I never liked her. But somebody mentions All About Eve every time I turn around and hah, I’ve seen it. Ditto Into the Wild (2007). I sat there and watched the guy starve to death and I did it for the sake of art. But I won’t have to watch that other guy cut off his arm, not unless at some point I get the notion of updating myself on the IMDB list and find the arm-cutting-off-movie there.
A fellow cinema-lover, Rissalada, has been participating in an event (The Director’s Cup) that examines and evaluates movie directors – or something. He mentioned to me in passing, in a message, that in the course of his participation, he had had to suffer through quite a few films that he didn’t like, as part of the project. I then asked myself, when do I watch movies that I don’t like, and why? I asked him too, and he replied with the following:
“Regarding watching movies on a list vs. picking movies you think you would like based on other more reliable factors, that’s an interesting thing to explore. There were times in the directors cup where I was getting pretty sick of watching films I just hated and was thinking about all the movies I was more interested in seeing, this especially occurred near the end when I had become much more familiar with the directors still in it, especially the ones I had not enjoyed. In fact, the winner of the whole cup, Nikos Nikolaidis, is now one of my least favorite directors! But, I love lists and having a format like this that can be used for discussion, so that is what made me commit.”
Another movie-watcher, Michael Troutman, has been working his way through a 1001-movie list. I asked him what kept him going with movies he didn’t like in a comment thread to one of his reviews. For one thing, he doesn’t give up on a film till he gets to The End, because you never know:
“I want to finish it because some films don’t pull together until the end and others don’t suck until the end. The Usual Suspects, for example, is rather unremarkable until you get to the ending. If anyone said they didn’t like the movie I would immediately ask about the ending. If they hadn’t watched the whole thing then I would tell them they don’t know what they are talking about. It’s like trying to comment on a painting having only seen the bottom half.”
Some other thoughts on the subject, from the Filmspotting Forum:
“I usually stay for 2 reasons: one, out of the perverse belief it may get better, two, so I compound the damage the earlier part of the film caused. Heck I even stayed to the end of Enter the Void and I was begging for the film to finish with at least 20 minutes to go. Admittedly I was with other filmspotters at the time, so I did have a reason to stay. Still most films I do find some pleasure in, so it is not often that the stopping watch comes up.”
A number of folks I asked said that they were picky in the first place, and usually found something to like in any movie, so that the issue of suffering through a movie rarely came up.
Fast Forward button
Life’s too short”
“I so rarely walk out that I can count the times on one finger (Hi Shopgirl!)… I usually just catch up on sleep.”
“I used to work in a movie theater and I watched every film that played there. Sometimes a movie would be terrible, then in the last 15 minutes there would be a small, wonderful moment. Just a tiny bit of interest. And while it couldn’t save the film, it made the experience worth while. It gave me a movie memory to take with me. For example, Loaded Weapon 1 is, was and always will be a terrible film. However in the final third there’s a delightful cameo from Bruce Willis that really worked.
“As for a film not being to my liking, I find myself watching and rewatching films from acclaimed directors I don’t enjoy because there must be a reason why they’re cherished. I’m not going to rail against Terrence Malick, only to have someone point out that I haven’t seen Days of Heaven “which is his best film”. If I’m going to not like these masters, I’ll have a good reason and strong evidence to support this. Plus, things can turn around (and I hope they do). My appreciation of John Wayne has extended to finally enjoying John Ford after 20+ films. Roger Ebert disliked most every David Lynch film until Mulholland Dr., after which he commented “all is forgiven”. It’s one of his favorite films of all time, and I think it’s given him a terrific window in which to appreciate Lynch’s unique artistry.”
“If it’s because I’m going through a checklist, then yes… for the sake of being able to say I’ve done that list. But also because I want to be able to criticize the movie without someone countering with “well you didn’t watch the whole thing so what do you know?”.
“Plus: writing scathing reviews is more fun than writing praising reviews.
“Besides, watching movies you don’t like is a valuable experience. It helps hone, solidify and articulate exactly what you like and don’t like in movies.
“One of my projects this year is going to be revisiting highly-acclaimed movies that I didn’t like much the first time (The Apartment, The Searchers, The Lady Eve, several others… maybe Gone With the Wind) and see if the years of experience (and maybe less of a chip on my shoulder) have made a difference.”
And now that I’ve thought about it, some part of me wants to go farther than just watching and enjoying; there is a desire in there somewhere to understand movies, be knowledgeable, have a history, a relationship with movies that goes beyond the first date.
It gives me a warm feeling to have seen all those movies, even if it was in snippets. Makes me feel superior to the me that hadn’t done it yet. The pain was worth it. In fact, now, sometimes, I find myself believing that I enjoyed all those movies. They were great! You should see them.