Unwelcome Films

From time to time I’m faced with a film that I’m obliged to watch, but don’t want to. How about you? If the setting is social, I must sit down and take my medicine like a true cinephile. All film contains good. However, if I’m alone, and the film is one that I’ve agreed to review, or that resides on a list that I’d like to complete, or that represents a genre that I feel obligated to visit at present, then, here in this post, I present you with five strategies that I use to overcome my resistance to watching the film, or to moderate the pain of watching the film, together with an example upon which I’ve used one of these strategies. (Or does one use a strategy to develop a process or procedure, and then apply that process or procedure to the film in question?)

1. Metropolis (1927) – I dodged this one for years, for decades, but finally resolved to watch it. The version I had in hand ran 153 minutes. I watched it at the rate of five minutes per day, with a couple of days off, over a period of five weeks. This can be the five minutes before your actual movie viewing, when you’re settling yourself, arranging the cats around you, flossing, clipping your toenails, doing a couple of situps or squats, or rolling a joint. It can be five minutes during which you sit and stare stonily at the screen, doing nothing but watching, as if attending one more episode in an endless series of them. You can watch any of the movies that you wish you weren’t watching, using this method, even that portion of the Antonioni ouvre that was created, in particular, to bore. As for Metropolis? It’s about this guy and his girl robot.

2. La règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (1939) – Yeah, one of the greatest, they say. You’ve got to watch it if you want to hold your head up at film maven cocktail parties. I managed not to see it for ages, but my soul suffered. My soul knew that a shaming hole existed at the heart of my movie-watching resume. Runtime, 106 minutes. So what I did was, I went to minute 53 and started watching from there. Less than an hour to the end of the movie and I made it to the end in several sessions. Voila. Then all I had to do was watch the first half, which turned out to be a lot better than the second half, so that was good. The movie is about rich people in France. The rules are for the game of… what? Being rich or something like that? Whatever the game was, the Nazis canceled it.

3. Yi Yi (2000) – 173 minutes. Try holding your breath for that long. I managed to not watch Yi Yi for a decade but finally committed myself to a review of it. I ended up loving the movie and watching it three times, but that in no way helped me to get going in the beginning. What I did was, I cut out 18 slips of paper and wrote a number, one through eighteen, on each one. Then I put the slips in a baseball cap, shook them around and mixed them up, and then pulled them out one slip at a time, recording the numbers as I did so, so that I had generated a random sequence of eighteen numbers. Each slip represented ten minutes of the movie – the first ten minutes, the second ten minutes, so forth. Then I watched Yi Yi in ten-minute segments, in the random order that I had generated with the slips. Interestingly, the first number I pulled out of the cap was “one,” so at least I got to start the movie at the beginning. Not so long after that came “eighteen,” and I got to see the end of the movie pretty quick, which produced a sense in me of accelerating downhill toward completion. The point? If even five or ten minutes of a film, in sequence, is too much for you to bear, scrambling the numbers causes you to watch vignettes rather than a three-hour film. Yi Yi is about a family. A lot of stuff happens, in little ten-minute spurts.

4. The Lake House (2006) – For me, Sandra Bullock is sort of like Jennifer Aniston or Lucy Liu. She’d like to be glamorous and once in a while she gets tricked out so that she appears glamorous, but in her soul she’s just a normal, ordinary human being. I like to watch her onscreen. Sometimes, though, I’ll add Spanish or French subtitles to the movie. They can distract you from lame dialog or a stupid plot and give you a chance to work on your language skills at the same time. Or, I’ll change the audio track to dubbed Spanish or French with English subtitles. Same idea, but even more diverting. Or, finally, when I’m feeling serious about the language thing, more serious than I am about eyeballing Bullock, I’ll set the audio dubbing to Spanish and the subtitles to French, or vice versa. The Lake House? It’s about a magic mailbox. If I had written the screenplay, when you opened the box, there would have been pizza and coke from the future in there, in addition to the letters.

5. Infestation (2009) – I like to take in a horror film from time to time. I check the reviews, look for something on the Blockbuster shelves that some horror maven enjoyed. Sometimes, though, when I get the thing home and stick it in the DVD player or computer, on impulse I’ll turn on the commentary track and watch the movie with that instead of with the film’s audio. The director yakking is often superior to the screams of the members of the group, getting knocked off one at a time. Then, if the movie seems OK from that perspective, I’ll sometimes run it again with the director silenced and replaced by those actors’ screams. Infestation? I don’t remember… Oh yeah. There were cocoons. And, from the title, I’m guessing, bugs.