In case you haven't surmised, I'm a compulsive kind of guy. Fortunately, the majority of my compulsions fall into the 'mostly harmless' category—although there's an argument to made that any and all compulsions are harmful to the extent that they impair normal psychological function. But whom are we kidding here? Is there even such a thing as 'normal psychological function'? And if there actually is such a person on this planet who epitomizes normal psychological function, I guarantee he isn't someone you'd like to invite to a party or share a tandem bicycle with. In fact, I'd even go so far as to suggest that a normal person is so fantastically rare that he'd be the most abnormal thing you'd ever lay eyes on. Like a three-legged, purple-spotted unicorn gazing up in the sky at Halley's comet.
The consolation that I'm attempting to sell to myself here is that at least I'm not smoking crack or going to the bathroom every half hour to cut my genitals. (Or am I? Think about that next time I excuse myself from the table at the restaurant.) But one of the several major compulsions that absorbs a great deal of the time I could be putting to better use by—oh, I don't know—curing cancer or bathing the homeless is the compulsion of movie-watching.
It isn't just a diversion, you know. I often choose to watch movies that I have no interest in and know I won't like simply for the sake of crossing it off a checklist in my head of all the movies that should probably be seen if one is to consider oneself a film buff. It certainly doesn't help that a number of my friends seem to be compulsive film-viewers as well, which adds a sort of shameful competitive aspect to the sport. (Someday I will overtake them all and rub their noses in the shit of my wonderful, essentially useless accomplishment! Evil laugh!)
I'll give you an example. Maybe six months ago, I felt an overwhelming urge to watch Joseph L. Mankiewicz's notorious 1963 cinematic disaster Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor, a truckload of eye shadow, Richard Burton, and (my nemesis) Rex Harrison. (I'd have to devote another blog entry to my hatred for Rex Harrison.) The current home video version of the film is slightly over four hours (!), so viewing the film was not an inconsiderable investment of time—especially for a film reckoned so universally to be bloated and mediocre. After all, Cleopatra is usually included in the pantheon of monumental cinematic failures, along with such legendary flops as Ishtar and Heaven's Gate. Adjusted for inflation, it still remains one of the most expensive films of all time—and there is nary an explosion or blue CGI alien to be seen in the finished work.
Truth be told, Cleopatra wasn't a horrible film; its renown as a failure derives largely from a cost vs. quality calculus and the reputation of its stars, I'm sure. Nevertheless, I went into it without any desire to see a four-hour Hollywood epic about ancient Egypt. My only desire was based on the accomplishment of just seeing it.
Unfortunately, there is a very limited number of what one might call 'classic films' out there, and I would have to guess that I've seen at least 75% of them... This leaves me with a rather lackluster inventory of films left to see. Only the other night, I barely survived the pious 1940s anti-Nazi movie Watch on the Rhine, featuring three of the worst child actors I've seen since the 1980s Nickelodeon teen soap Fifteen (which included the very unpromising performance of a young Ryan Reynolds) and more soulless platitude than a Words from Unity PSA. Whoever calls it the golden age of cinema is probably not thinking of clunkers like Topper or Christmas in Connecticut, of which I can only remember one positive attribute: that it ended.
Like I said, this isn't the worst compulsion around, to be sure, and yet it's a time-consuming one. If I had redistributed the hours spent in front of the television (and the devotion these hours entailed) to more worthwhile goals, I might now be a tremendous success at something —possibly even in the film industry. Maybe I'd be the screenwriter for the sequel to Paul Blart: Mall Cop or the foley artist on the next Jerry Bruckheimer film or the head of a prestigious craft services department!
I know it may not sound like much, but it's somehow a more respectable answer to the question 'What do you do?' than 'I, um, watch movies.'
Annie (1982): "Let's Go to the Movies" by QuoteUnquoteSir