Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wait, Did I See That Movie?

One of the dilemmas of being a pretentious movie geek who also likes to catalogue and quantify her hobby is the little matter of deciding whether or not I actually watched a movie or not. This is not a question that comes up all that often, but when it does, it always gives me pause. I spent a good portion of a tedious bus ride trying to decide whether or not I had watched "The Fugitive," the 1993 Harrison Ford action movie. I knew I had seen the beginning, where Sela Ward gets murdered. I knew I had seen the ending, where Julianne Moore shows up as a doctor. I knew I had seen the iconic scene where Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones have their confrontation on top of a dam, but maybe that was only because that was the clip that was played over and over by every award show, news report, and retrospective that ever referenced the movie. At any rate, I'm not sure I've seen "The Fugitive" start to finish in a single setting, or even all of it cobbled together from disparate bits.

Can I say I've seen a film if I don't remember much of it? I know I saw the Christian Slater romance "Bed of Roses" in a movie theater in 1996 but I have no idea how it ended and frequently get it confused with a 1993 Christian Slater romance, "Untamed Heart." With "Untamed Heart," I didn't finish the movie and may or may not have watched the ending separately later. I know I've seen half of the long version of David Lynch's "Dune," because it was split up into two parts for syndicated broadcast, but I can't remember anything that happened past the first twenty minutes anyway. And there are at least a dozen films I watched as a kid that I don't know the titles of and have pretty warped memories of. I remember being seriously spooked by what I thought was a horror movie about a girl with a magic compact. Years and years later, I figured out that it was an episode of "Friday the 13th, the Series." I even tracked down the episode, and it turned to be as cheesy and silly as you might expect.

I'll also occasionally sit through movies where my attention wanders or my interest fades, and I lose track of what's going on onscreen. This happens with older films sometimes, especially crime and noir films where the plots can get byzantine and the visuals look similar. I know I saw "Out of the Past" and "The Killers" (not "Killers"!) during the summer, but if you gave me descriptions of the stories without referencing the actors, I couldn't tell you which was which. Of course, there are also the tedious, terrible films that I end up seeing in social situations where my brain happily turns off to save itself. Sometimes selective amnesia takes hold. I started keeping records of the films I watched back in 2004, and sometimes going back through them I'll completely fail to recognize the titles listed, and have to Wiki or Google additional information in order to jog my memory. And I'm still not entirely convinced I saw "Dude, Where's My Car?" even though my spreadsheet says I did.

These issues are all symptoms, of course, of watching too many movies. I average three or four hundred a year, and my tragic flaw is that I'm a completist. I don't give up on films until I get to the bitter end, if only to be able to gather the ammunition to better denounce or dismiss them later. I've never walked out of a film and I doubt I ever will. This has resulted in a lot of hazy cinema memories and a lot of hasty rewatching when I realize I actually need to know what I'm writing or talking about. On the other hand, this is usually only a problem with mediocre films. I always remember the ones I enjoyed, and it's a good sign at the end of the year when I'm measuring movies up against each other, if I remember certain ones better than others. And as for the films I saw piecemeal, or only parts of, I figured out a solution.

Did I see "The Fugitive"? I remember I liked the film, that Harrison Ford was great in it and Tommy Lee Jones was better. I remember it was a solid, exciting action film, but I don't see how it deserved all those Oscar nominations. I remember enough about "The Fugitive" to be able to form an opinion about it. So yes, I did see that movie.

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