When I was a kid, I watched a lot of movies, mainly because I didn’t much care for television particularly (that’s going to get its own entry, so I’ll not spend too much time with it here). Partly because I grew up in the middle of nowhere, partly because I have a sister who watched movies all the time, and partly because, especially in late adolescence, they became a thing that I could do that wasn’t something everyone was doing.
I’m not going to ruminate too much on being from somewhere tiny, but the upshot of it all is that I spent my days around people whom I not only didn’t have anything in common with, but didn’t particularly want to. The upshot of which is movies seemed less massive. Oh, going to the theatre was something that you literally did in groups (and something that I’ve never cared for doing particularly, at least not when compared to doing any movie-watching activity that doesn’t take place in a movie theatre), but watching them at home, late at night, by myself was doing something that I was able to keep to myself, and meant that I could do something that wasn’t being curated by something else. By this point I’d already started down the road that led to record-collectordom1 (and I would make every stop along the way, from annoying know-it-all yobbo to insufferable hipster to vaguely-annoying obsessive), but that was, due to being a kid in the mid-to-late nineties, basically the result of finding things that had already been “curated.”
Technically sitting in front of IFC (or, less often, HBO, or, even less often still, whatever other cable channel was saving money in its programming budget by playing a long, effort-light movie) was also watching something that was curated, but I could exercise a binary choice in the matter – I could watch, say, Trees Lounge, or I could go elsewhere.
This increased when I got to college, and went out of my way to see as many self-consciously “great” movies (or at least the ones that I hadn’t already forced myself through in years before) as time and resources would allow, and then…I stopped. And I went several years watching and enjoying movies like a relatively-normal person and then even that tapered off. Oh, I still watch fifty or so movies a year (which seems pretty average to me, but I’m not, like, working off of a statistic or anything2.), but more and more, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I’m not particularly interested in conventional dramatic films.
That’s probably the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever said, and here I’ve said it in public. Nevertheless, it remains the case. A well-structured, well-executed story about, god, I don’t know, people disappointed in their parents or learning some kind of lesson about the world based on the terrible things that happen to them in the blah blah blah blah is just not really going to get my attention, or at least isn’t going to get in the door with me. I mean, I’ll watch and enjoy stuff like that if it’s what’s being watched and enjoyed, but generally speaking I’m only ever drawn to movies that are idiosyncratic, and possibly even deeply flawed.
Note that’s “deeply flawed” not “terrible.” I have little to no interest in liking things that are actively bad (although I am more likely to watch them). I don’t like to make fun of people for artistic endeavors that have gone awry, I don’t like to unnecessarily insult the work of someone who lacked the means (even if the means they lacked was something as basic as self-awareness) to get across their own vision, but what I am interested in is that vision. I’m interested in what people are communicating, or attempting to communicate, to me3, much more than I am in the actual success per se. And given the nature of the way films tend to find their way to me (I have little enough exposure to the world of actually-independent film, and am not as interested in it as I feel the reward would be to seeking it out. Basically I’m lazy, to an extent, about the channels that I travel through, and I’m pretty unrepentant about that.), they do so after even in the best-case scenario a byzantine, labyrinthine process, so it’s more likely that the message, or the vision, will be communicated through a movie by not working.
An example that best illustrates the phenomenon: I have never seen the movie The Deer Hunter, which is easily one of the most well-regarded and well-praised movies I’ve ever encountered mention of, especially since I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything bad about it, at all. Ever. And I would barely be able to tell you anything that happens in it, because I’ve not only never seen it, but I don’t remember if I’ve ever even tried. I have, however, seen Heaven’s Gate twice. And it’s not necessarily because it’s one of the most famous failures in cinema history (well, that might’ve been why I watched it initially, I suppose). It’s because while I’m sure The Deer Hunter is a fine and edifying movie that I’ll enjoy a lot, there’s a lot more that I’m interested in understanding about the enormous, bloated, over-ambitious follow-up.
1 – or whatever you call it. “Digital file aggregator” will simply never have the same ring to it.
2 – as opposed to, y’know, a couple dozen seasons of television and five or six thousand songs. Clearly this is an imbalanced figure.
3 – This is probably why I prefer music and books over anything else – the route between creator (and the number of creators involved) and me is pretty short, and there’s less of a game of telephone for the message to get lost in.
4 – and probably in more forms than “passing references to Lizzy Caplan”