It is now five months since I finished watching Mark Cousins’ ‘Story of Film’ and decided to increase my knowledge of and exposure to more interesting movies (I’m aware all this makes it sound like a prison sentence). I’ve watched, thought about and written about 133 movies watched which means around 30,000 words or a third of a PhD thesis, without all that bother of quality or contribution to a wider sphere of knowledge.
I thought it was time for a catch-up of things I’ve learnt, highlights, low-lights, how the movies have changed me and how I plan to continue once I’ve drained my local library. So here are a few random thoughts that may or may not be coherent:
- I haven’t enjoyed every film, but I’ve loved the sense of unwrapping a completely new and original story each time. Fassbinder’s ‘Satan’s Brew’ was challenging for the wrong reasons for me, and it took a while to try another of his films, but ‘The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant’ was utterly absorbing. Likewise, I found Alain Resnais’ ‘Last Year at Marienbad’ to be sterile and lifeless, but ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ to be profoundly moving and inspired one of my rare emotional dumping posts (see my reaction to Emilio Estevez’s ‘The Way’ for another example of this). What I take from this is to not judge a director by one film alone.
- The film I didn’t do justice to through my lack of concentration was František Vláčil’s ‘Marketa Lazarová’. It looked fantastic and created a completely absorbing fictional universe, but I was too busy playing with my iPad to pay attention. I owe it another viewing.
- I still love ‘Russian Ark’, and my experience of watching the film inspired me to expand my reaction to it in a more academic direction. There are a few other films that have tempted me to do the same: ‘High Rise’, ‘Donkey Skin’, the combination of ‘The Way’ and ‘The Milky Way’, and ‘Mamma Roma’ have all sat in my head and slowly grown.
- I’m most tempted to return to the films of Federico Fellini for a rewatch. I’ve been slowly buying (yes – actually spending money) on movies that I loved when I first saw them (‘Russian Ark’, ‘8 ½’, ‘Seven Samurai’) or ones that I strongly suspect I’ll enjoy (‘Onibaba’, ‘Spirits of the Dead’). I now covet ‘Holy Motors’, ‘Chimes at Midnight’ and ‘Nights of Cabria’ so a few more visits to Fopp are in order.
- The 133 movies have changed the way I watched films. I know it sounds pretentious, but watching a stream of rich and deep movies has made the generic Hollywood blockbusters seem less weighty and more disposable. I’ve always been a genre fan, and one who has a soft-spot for populist and transient films, but I find it increasingly difficult to watch them uncritically. I’ve fallen asleep once watching a film during the last five months, and that was during the trash compactor scene in ‘Star Wars’. Go figure.
- I watched ‘Star Wars’ as an experiment, one that I’ll continue with. When I started I made a conscious decision to avoid American studio movies and ones that I’d seen before – this was about watching films I’d never seen from other countries. What I find interesting now though is how the Hollywood movies compare to the others on the list, so, once in a while, I’m going to dip into the blockbusters of my childhood and watch them not with nostalgia, but in contrast to the other films in my blog. This might be an uncomfortable experience – my reactions to ‘Star Wars’ and ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ weren’t entirely positive (I still need to write a proper reaction to ‘Apocalypse’) but actually, I found I was more positive about Lucas’s direction than I thought I would be. Apologies in advance for shooting sacred cows, but my intention isn’t just to tease out interesting aspects of these movies, but also to compare and contrast them.
- My occasional dips into more outré or extreme movies has been interesting. ‘House’ was nuts and camp as hell, ‘Audition’ was brilliantly uncomfortable and ‘Dumplings’ is almost unwatchable and unmissable at the same time. So long as I interlace these with more palatable movies (terrible term but you get my point?) I will survive…
- I know more about Japan, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russia and Hungary than I did before I started. Aside from ‘Pather Panchali’, my experience of Indian movies is limited and I intend to address this. Bollywood remains an unscaled mountain for me. I love finding out about different cultures and history of other countries through cinema – this has possibly been the aspect I’ve enjoyed the most. South America and Africa remain two continents that I haven’t’ spent much time ‘in’ – and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s movies other than ‘Santa Sangre’ are still on my list.
That’s a little taste of my thoughts and reactions so far. I’ve still got ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and ‘Intimate Lighting’ to report on, and a large and eclectic pile of DVDs waiting to be watched.
Onwards and outwards.