Monday, October 29, 2007

Movies by the pound

Fourth Estate admirers of 1998's Elizabeth said off with her head to the current followup, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which we rather liked as its purgation from theaters begins in earnest. True, it's fairly ponderous, with a tenuous link implied between the Catholics of Spain and today's Islamist hordes in a bid for "relevance," but we like these kings-and-queens pageants (the co-writer, Michael Hirst, created The Tudors, and we're all set for next February's The Other Boleyn Girl, from the director of the BBC's Bleak House) and Cate Blanchett continues to reign. It's not her fault that the usurping Helen Mirren stole her crown for the Emmy-winning 2006 HBO/BBC miniseries Elizabeth I.

But this isn't really about that. The editor of Cineaste, Gary Crowdus, forwarded me a link from Newsweek, where long-time critic David Ansen said he has seen about 7,700 movies in his life. Which, of course, got me thinking about how many I had seen.

Ansen tallies his. I never have, save for a brief period in 1986-1987, when I did so to help prepare for a top 10 list for The Daily Northwestern. Nowadays I use the web for that; Box Office Mojo and Variety are reliable scorekeepers. I know my brother-in-law keeps ticket stubs to everything he sees, but mine wind up in the wastebasket or on the floor. I keep Playbills for a while, but lacking "backup data" like that movies tend to stick around solely in my memory banks.

I probably have half as many DVDs as Ansen's total in my disc drawers, which I've had to reshuffle and rejigger lately. I go to maybe three or four screenings per week, but that's in flux; with work to attend to I haven't been to many in a while, since one for Woody Allen's (awful) Cassandra's Dream. If you've been following along I've paid to see a number of films in the past three weeks, but there's no hard and fast number that I have on any of this.

I guess I look at the subject of moviegoing emotionally, rather than numerically, or categorically. My interest started when I was hospitalized at age 9, with viral bronchitis. My mother bought me a copy of Steven Scheur's TV Movies (a guide not to made-for-TV films but movies shown on TV, the only way you could see them once they were gone from cinemas in prehistoric 1974) from the hospital bookshop and I paged through it avidly. I determined that once I was back on my feet I would see every single movie he had so carefully encapsulated. It seemed easy; after all, I had already seen most of the Abbott and Costello films that started his catalog off at the letter A.

Of course, it wasn't that simple, and I long ago abandoned that quest. But I did leave the book full of red Magic Marker dots near the titles I had checked off. Mentally, I still keep tabs; 1962's (ho-hum) Five Miles to Midnight, that rare Anthony Perkins title I hadn't seen, finally made it into the checked items column courtesy of a Turner Classic Movies airing on Sunday (TCM being a major contributor to the cause of moviewatching). It's nice to be able to pass along little tidbits I've picked up along the way, to help admired others keep compleat themselves (Tim's Mario Bava book, All the Colors of the Dark, is a real doozy).

And I've learned to live in hope, rather than expectation, about seeing certain films that seemed to have vanished entirely, but how sweet it is when a rarity like 1972's The Pied Piper resurfaces in repertory. It's gratifying to know that someone else wanted to see it, too.

I suppose the best way to count off the number of films I've seen is: Too many, and not enough. But I can say, categorically, emphatically, that Elizabeth: The Golden Age will be my my last theatrical screening for a spell, as I dim the lights for an intermission till early next month.

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