I blame my grandfather for this. Him and all those damn Laurel and Hardy movies he taped off TCM. Much like a heroin addict taking that first hit, my future was pretty much mapped out. Oh sure, I had other nerdy hobbies that made up for my lack of friends or a social life through my early years, primarily books and Lego sets, but it was film that would later take hold and become an obsession. An all-consuming obsession that time and time again, people just didn’t seem to get:
“So what do you like to do with your free time?”
“Oh, I like movies.”
“Oh, that’s nice. I like movies too.”
“No, you don’t understand, I really like movies.”
I’ve often wondered what people do – the ones that don’t have obsessions. What do they occupy their time with? What do they think about? About 98% of the people I’ve ever encountered in my life love sports, primarily football. This was especially true when I was in the US Air Force, where it was pretty much all football, all the time. This wasn’t great for me since I never really gave a fig about it. Oh, I’ve pretended quite a bit, but it’s hard to fake an interest in something, especially something as repetitive as America’s favourite sport.
This all kind of came to a head when I got out of the Air Force, moved back home, and my dad dragged me away from an all-day marathon of 1950s B-movies to watch a bunch of dudes that probably beat up dudes like me in high school run around a field with an imitation leather ball. I was loudly accused of not wanting to hang out with my dad and uncles but it wasn’t really that. I just didn’t share their interests. Now if they had wanted to come up and watch Robot Monster and The Slime People, I would have been elated. Hell, I would have even bought the snacks with my slowly dwindling post-service savings. By this time I was already pretty used to most people not caring about my hobby but that still stung quite a bit.
Earlier that year I had been stationed in South Korea, once again quite miserable and friendless. This was a time when I was severely into both silent movies and sleazy 1970s exploitation films. I was once asked by a rather burly Staff Sargent during a training exercise what my hobbies were, and I of course answered “movies.” I wasn’t going to tell him my other hobbies, which included pretending I wasn’t in the Air Force and having stress related crying spells. Then he of course asked what kinds of movies I was into. Well, I wasn’t going to tell him that I watched exploitation cinema which many might consider to be some kind of old pornography so I innocently said “silent films.” Cue a befuddled look on his face for a few seconds. Then he got up from his chair and started mocking me:
“You mean like ‘hello Margaret,’ ‘Hello John.’ ‘I am coming Margaret.’”
All while making very stiff hand gestures. I would have been humiliated, and I was a little bit, but my main thought was “Dear lord, I need to get out of the Air Force.” And dear lord did I ever…
It wasn’t all bad though. The money I was making allowed me to pursue my growing obsession with the moving image through Netflix and Something Weird video. With Netflix I could get more respectable stuff to kind of lay a film school knowledge base down, get all those movies in that you’re “supposed” to watch. Stuff like Bergman and Welles. Through Something Weird Video’s mail order service, I got into equally enjoyable films like The Curious Dr. Humpp and Olga’s House of Shame. I even got the joyful experience of chasing a temporary friend out of the room with Doris Wishman’s masterpiece Double Agent 73. Oh, the fun.
Yes, most of the time people just don’t understand. If I didn’t have to work to survive, I would probably try and watch one or two films per day. Good or bad, new or old. It doesn’t matter. It’s my sincere belief that all film has some sort of value, even if that value is to remind you of how good other movies are or how nice it is not to have to be watching said film any more (an experience I had recently with a little something called It’s Pat).
And that’s really where the obsession comes in, isn’t it? There’s always something out there that you haven’t seen. Hell, I’ve been a pretty steady film viewer for going on about 15 years now and there’s still famous well regarded movies that I haven’t experienced yet, either due to lack of availability or the fact that I just haven’t got around to them. Sometimes it’s almost maddening. The Internet and my collection of film books almost make it worse:
“Holy crap, that sounds amazing! I have to find a copy of this!”
Five hours later: “It says a print still exists, so why can’t I find it? Throw a brother a torrent or something!”
A major problem with being an obsessed film nerd as well as a completest is that being a completest and an obsessed film nerd at the same time is almost impossible. Added to the thousands of pieces of celluloid that no longer exist are the ones that remain maddeningly inaccessible. Yeah, somebody has a print somewhere but how much interest is there among the general public for that other Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde movie that came in 1920? Sure, I’d love to see it, but who else cares?
And there you go. The rest of your life you’ll sit and wonder what you’re missing, until you eventually pass away in front of the TV. At least you’ve got a billion films you’ll probably never get to that’ll haunt your brain in the meantime.
But getting back to my opening thought. I blame my grandfather, but I also blame late night TV for introducing me to b-movies, dollar DVDs, Netflix, The Internet, books, art museums that do free showings…god it’s a great time to be a film nerd, isn’t it? Even if most people still don’t really get it.