How many movies have I seen?
I have no idea. A helluva lot. Too many. But probably not enough.
In the 10th grade Steve McCrea lent me his VHS copy of “Taxi Driver” to watch to aid in my research on designing a better Alcatraz, which was my second semester LAE project. That led to him lending me copies of other movies — “Blade Runner”, “Apocalypse Now”, “Straw Dogs”, “Papillon”, et cetera — which transitioned into a junior- and senior-year independent study on cinematic violence. McCrea and other ALPHA students helped me draft a film studies list; movies that had been been deemed “classics” as well as a separate list of films whose violence could be vouched for by a few upperclassmen (namely Dan K. and Elijah D.). I also obtained a copy of a similar “must-see” list from Andrea, containing titles to 400 similarly-acclaimed classics. I still have both of these lists, saved in a binder.
McCrea had an arrangement with the Blockbuster Video on University Avenue, allowing him to check out a seemingly unlimited number of films for his students. We were never asked to pay anything, so long as we returned the movies when they needed to be back, though I sometimes wonder if McCrea had the school system billed for the rentals or if the manager was simply being kind and letting the movies out for educational purposes. Either way, it was because of this charity that I was exposed to “The Godfather” films (they also had the Godfather Saga on VHS, which I managed to see one time only), “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, “Walkabout” and “The Seventh Seal”, among others.
After high school, my interest turned to quality films in general, where it has been ever since. I was a regular customer of the 49-cent Tuesday specials at the Mr. Movies on Waterloo Rd; through them I saw Buñuel’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” and Robert Altman’s “Nashville”. At the end of each fall semester at UNI I would check out as many DVDs and VHS tapes from the UNI library as I could stuff into my bookbag, ensuring I would be properly occupied over the winter break; Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” and the powerful documentary “Night and Fog” come to mind. I continued to take advantage of their impressive selection even after I graduated, thanks to the generous assistance from my friends Blake and Katya.
When I lived in Omaha I had access to a pretty good selection of movies at the nearby Hollywood Video. I saw “Dark Blue World”, “Santa Sangre”, the Samurai trilogy with Toshiro Mifune, “Twin Falls Idaho” and “My Own Private Idaho”. I saw “Northfolk” and a midnight screening of “The Evil Dead” at the Dundee Theater and fell in love with “Lost in Translation” at the AMC on 132nd.
When I lived in Oxford I had no access to video rentals and was an hour’s drive from the Esquire in Cincinnati. But I did manage to see “The Dreamers” there in the spring of 2004, in its uncut NC-17 format. I do remember seeing the second “Kill Bill” film and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” at the Princess in Oxford, a little place with cheap ticket prices and small screening rooms.
I have pretty much exhausted the available titles at both local libraries and I can no longer readily access UNI’s constantly growing collection (unless I opt to pay for a limited membership, which I may do in the near future). Family Video is the only remaining video rental store in the Cedar Valley and I have seen what titles I wish to see from their shelves. They are now only good for new releases, and even then they don’t offer a wide selection of documentaries, independent or foreign films. Soon I will bite the bullet and pay for a premium Hulu membership, so I can stream their high-def Criterion collection. Once I have exhausted that selection, which could take most of this year, I will bow to Netflix.
So, returning to the question I posed in the title of this entry… whenever I see a movie that’s on my film list, I cross off the title in red pen. When I watch a movie that’s not on the list, I write it in the margins in red pen. When I see a movie in the theater, I write it sideways in the left margin on the first page. Sometimes I will write a suggested title in black pen or in pencil on the last page, but lately I have added new titles to a file on my computer, to be added at the end-of-year cleanup. I have kept every one of these lists. I have no intention of counting each pen strike or added entry on each list, but I have glanced over each list and have estimated a fair number for each. Below are the results of my half-assed estimations:
High school: 250? I am guessing 100 VHS tapes per year, plus 10-15 theater films and who knows how many seen on television.
2000/2001: 250? My lists weren’t separated by year until 2002 I think. This does not include multiple viewings of “The Fellowship of the Ring”, which I think I saw 4 or 5 times.
2002/2003/2004: 350?… this does not include multiple viewings of “The Two Towers” (twice) or “The Return of the King” (twice), “The Matrix Reloaded” (four times) or “Revolutions” (three times), “Kill Bill volume 2” (twice in Oxford and once at Crossroads w/ Blake, Cory and Alex), or “Sideways” (twice)
2005: 325? A wild guess… this was apparently a productive year for my red pen. This does not include multiple viewings of “Revenge of the Sith” (four times, don’t ask me why).
2006: 250/275. Let’s say 260. I’m way too lazy to actually count these up tonight.
2007: 100… I slowed down a bit. But the theater count was a robust 38.
2008: 150 + 23 theatrical releases.
2009: Finally, my lists are labeled by year instead of by version. 80 + 42 theatricals. Saw “Inglorious Basterds” three times (within a week, no less).
2010: 100 + 17 theatricals. The remaining titles on my list are becoming too obscure for my local resources and I’m re-watching a number of movies I first saw a decade or so ago. I did a big purge of the list at year-end, removing a couple hundred titles I wasn’t seriously interested in seeing.
2011: 90? + 26 = 115. I’ll do a more precise count of each list later this week.
Including the few I’ve seen this year, let’s guesstimate 2,150 unique titles seen since 1997. That’s about 150 movies per year. But as we’ve seen, some years were busier than others. In early 2005 I took advantage of Blockbusters “check out three movies at a time for $20 per month” deal and watched 152 movies over the course of 28 days. Whereas last year I cut back on my film intake and read a bit more (27 books / 10,000 pages of text). Some people are well-read; I’m well-watched.
Anyway, this all came up after I read this article by A D Jameson about watching 1,925 features over the course of 15 years. I think I have him beat, but I won’t boast until I do a more precise count of my lists. I admire his thorough recordkeeping — I wish I had kept some manner of record of my basic gut-level impression of each film I watched. Color me lazy, I guess. I just go by what I can remember… so if I can’t remember seeing a particular film, it was probably not good enough to be worth remembering anyway.