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2010: My Year of Giving Up on Movies

by Christopher Campbell
December 27, 2010 9:05 AM
8 Comments
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Let me just preface this post by clarifying that I haven't given up on movies as a whole. In spite of my end-of-semester, burned-out attitude exhibited on Twitter lately, I haven't lost my interest in cinema. I finally saw 'Black Swan' last night and liked it a lot. The same goes for 'Rabbit Hole,' which I saw last week. That film made me tear up, which doesn't happen for me often. But I think I would have liked, maybe even loved, each a whole lot more had I watched them in the theater instead of at home, on screener copies. At least I managed to sit through them in their entirety.

I recently realized that this year I watched a lot of beginnings of movies that I never continued or finished. I've seen half an hour of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" and thought that enough for me to bear. I started "Everyone Else," which is on a number of critics' top 10 lists, but I fell asleep and likely won't return to it anytime soon, if ever. Maybe I have minor ADD. Maybe I'm getting old. Maybe I start watching films too late. Maybe I'm just too busy these days to watch everything that's out there and still have a life outside of work and school.

The factors involved in my short level of interest are numerous, but I think one of the major reasons for my giving up on so many movies this year has to do with the format in which I primarily watch movies these days: Netflix, particularly the Watch Instantly service. Once "Alice in Wonderland" was available for streaming, I had a lot more incentive to check it out. It was one of the most popular blockbusters of 2010, after all. I had to at least get a taste. But then I quickly moved on, realizing quickly that it wasn't for me. The same is somewhat true of "Everyone Else," which I wouldn't have thought much about had it not been listed at #5 on the indieWIRE Critics Survey. Again, it's just not for me, and I knew this within ten minutes.

I've also started, but not finished, the following 2010 films: "Despicable Me," "A Prophet," "Devil," "Get Him to the Greek" and, seemingly appropriate, "A Film Unfinished." There were plenty other documentaries at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and Silverdocs that I abandoned, as well. Many of these were not on Netflix, though many other films from other years were given just a trial run via Netflix Watch Instantly. The thing they all have in common, I guess, is that there was no real cost incentive for me to stick with them. Comparatively, I would have definitely walked out of or shut off "The Kids Are All Right," "Greenberg," "Piranha 3-D," "Freakonomics," "Conviction," "Secretariat," "Shutter Island," "The Expendables" and "MacGruber" if I hadn't paid for them or been paid to write about them.

Watching screeners of films I don't have to review as well as having the opportunity to watch thousands of titles streaming online for a set subscription price allows me to be finicky. If the movies begun don't hook me immediately, there are countless other films I haven't seen and feel are more worthy of my time. When we pay full price for a movie ticket, even if we don't like the movie we're likely to stay just because we've already spent the money. Same goes, to a lesser extent, with renting movies individually at per-item prices. This includes VOD and iTunes rentals, not just hard copy DVDs from video stores. Even regular press screenings -- those not at film fests, that is -- are relatively difficult to ditch, mainly because it's a good way to immediately annoy the publicist out in the lobby. Nobody has to see you turn off a screener, on the other hand.

But I'm not saying I am very happy with my abandonment tendencies of late. I can say that I'm grateful for sticking with "Freakonomics" at least for the one good segment from Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, and I did end up appreciating much of "Four Lions" in spite of nearly giving up a half hour into it (I was still overall disappointed). I don't like that I had to ditch "A Prophet," but like many other good films I've started and for whatever reason stopped midway, it's taking me too long to return to it and so it's unlikely I ever will. That's just what happens.

Meanwhile, I don't mean to imply subscription rental services, even streaming ones, are bad for movie watching. I think Watch Instantly, for instance, has exposed a lot of people to documentaries they wouldn't have seen otherwise. People will give films like "Exit Through the Gift Shop," "Every Little Step" and "The September Issue" a shot, because they're so accessible. And many people have trouble turning off a documentary after a few minutes, because they're already at least learning something. Such accessibility can work for lesser known fiction films, too. Other people who might not have picked it up in a video store are discovering "Everyone Else" since it's streaming on Netflix. And plenty of them are liking it more than I.

I'm probably killing my reputation and my cred as a true cinephile with this long and winding post, but I felt I should be honest. And I was expecting a day like this to come, only I thought it would be more related to my increasing problem of falling asleep at the movies as I grow older (something I knew I'd inherit from my mother). Plus, even though it's a drawn-out way of doing so, I figured I'd ask if anyone else thinks that as long as movies head further in the direction of low-cost, high-accessibility modes of distribution that filmmakers will need to think more about the first ten minutes of their movies and whether or not they'll capture the finicky viewer. I guess this could have been seen as a possible problem with cable TV airings of movies over the last 30 years. But turning to another hand-chosen movie or TV show in your personal queue is a lot different than continuing to flip through hundreds of channels of already-begun content (and a lot of otherwise unappealing crap) looking for a better alternative.

I'm also anxious to fix this rut I'm in by trying to leave the house to see more movies. I prefer the big screen to my TV anyway and tend not to just stick with films because I've paid for them but also because they're in a more engaging format that obviously draws the attention more focally. Hopefully I'll see more whole movies in 2011 than mere beginnings.


Has anyone else been beginning films that they aren't finishing more often lately? If so, how long a trial period do films typically get? And what are some of the titles you've quickly abandoned?


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8 Comments

  • Noah Eaton | December 29, 2010 2:47 AMReply

    As a 27-year old who gave up watching movies overall a little over two years ago beginning in late 2008, I sense striking parallels with your reasoning to do so and my own........which says a lot given I was a well above-average movie watcher virtually every year of my life beforehand.

    Although Netflix, in particular, has done some positive things, particularly in helping certain film genres like documentaries and international films get more mainstream recognition.........I feel overall it has cheapened the movie-watching experience and, along with On-Demand, has essentially tainted it in that it feels more like a chore than a sense of escapism nowadays.

    It's really not movies I'm resisting. I think these last few years have actually offered a solid set of releases across multiple genres, from what I've been hearing. What I'm resisting is the apparatus of how many are increasingly watching movies today. It's becoming, in an unprecedented fashion, dramatically and eerily mechanized. Where many aren't even leaving their divans and bean bag chairs to head down to a small movie rental shop, which are closing doors left and right all across the country in the most part due to this. Where rather than bask in the anticipation and excitement over a single movie event premiering, we queue up a never-ending stream of movies in an assembly-line format with limited emotional exertion. Back Netflix really started to gain popularity midway the previous decade, and my family decided to subscribe to it, I can remember from the onset feeling this pang of worry, and each passing year I feel many of my initial fears have been validated.

    I remember when "WALL-E" debuted in theaters, many were horrified imagining a future where we're all lethargically moving around on hover chairs with pot bellies with cupholder armrests and our only physical activity is dipping our toes a couple of inches onto a simulated beach sand. I fear we're already three-fifths of the way there. And Netflix/On-Demand will be a point of reference when the trend is discussed in future academia.

    It's the mechanization of watching movies.............as well as the fact I did nothing but watch movies and television growing up and realizing there's much more to life than the lives of others told to us through a silver screen in your living room, that prompted me to give up television a little over two years ago...........not movies themselves. And with that said, I'll still hit the Hollywood (Portland's Hollywood District, that is! ;) ) Theater occasionally when I have the opportunity to enjoy film-watching the old-fashioned way.

  • Christopher Campbell | December 28, 2010 7:31 AMReply

    That's fair. I'm not reviewing or really offering much of an opinion on any of the films I didn't finish. Just simply stating that I didn't finish them. And for some, that may be enough of a sign of my opinion of what I saw so far.

  • anon | December 28, 2010 6:59 AMReply

    I feel no need to read anyone's opinion about a film they did not finish watching.

  • Week of Wonders | December 28, 2010 5:40 AMReply

    I know where you're coming from. Last night I abandoned "Romance & Cigarettes" (taped from cable) after about 10 minutes.

    I recently wrote on Week of Wonders, " I’m sure I’m not the only one who answers the phone, goes online, participates in a conversation, gets a snack, or breaks up a movie over more than one night when watching at home or on the go…not to mention the smaller screen size, the lit room, and the quality of the device.

    My favorite films, the Top Tens of my life, tend to be the ones I saw in a movie theater. I’ve seen countless others on the small screen, but I just don’t fall in love as much. I try mightily to write only about movies I’ve seen on a big screen—not DVD screeners—with the understanding that I’m writing about the theatrical experience, because we’re—you, know—cineastes here."

    The solution is to get thee to the movie theater.

  • chris | December 27, 2010 11:10 AMReply

    This year I have gone to the theater less than probably any year since I fell in love with movies...heh I fell asleep watching alice in wonderland at the theaters and it has been four months since I have been to the theaters. I am just feeling very much 'meh' towards movies this year. Nothing has really grabbed me and had a OMG I have to go see that!! and even movies that have been released on dvd that I wanted to see in theaters, now I can't be bothered to pick them up or start up the whole netflix sub to see them. I'd rather watch anime and keeping my fingers crossed that hollywood keeps their grubby mitts off anime and wanting to turn them into live action movies, like any of those f*cktards could 'get' it right to begin with

  • Christopher Campbell | December 27, 2010 10:08 AMReply

    Thanks for reminding me of the significance of seeing films with other people. I'm more likely to stay with a movie if I'm watching with others, no matter if it's at a theater or at home. Also, at the theater, my fiancee will usually nudge me if I'm dozing off.

  • Brandon | December 27, 2010 9:38 AMReply

    I totally sympathize with you and understand. I think it's not worth wasting your time if you don't like something. That being said, it's also too easy to give up if you are at home or on your computer. This is why I try my HARDEST to go and see things in the theater b/c you can appreciate it more and are less willing to give up. It wasn't until my second viewing of Shutter Island until I realized it's genius. Sometimes you have to really put a lot of effort into something for it to click with you. Obviously it's a hard choice to choose which to give the effort to, but you just have to go for it. That's how I feel about this. But yeah in conclusion I support turning things off, but you should force yourself more. I know it's hard b/c of your job but get out to the movies to see things and also try to watch things w someone else b/c that will guilt you into working harder to see what they see (or it will help justify not continuing if they feel the same way).

  • Univarn | December 27, 2010 9:35 AMReply

    When it comes to home viewing, I find I'm much less forgiving with respect to drawling openings. There are so many movies being released every year, on top of countless classics I've yet to witness, that I apply a necessity gauge on movies that I choose to view on a whim. If they're not going to hold up, I cut 'em loose.

    A highly acclaimed movie released this year that hit the same snide with me was Exit Through the Gift Shop. I turned it off about half an hour in, not caring much for its style of humor. After a great deal of 'pressure' from fellow bloggers and friends, I gave it another go. Despite all the backlash it has earned me, I still contend I was just fine having turned it off the first time.

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