By Christopher Campbell | Spout December 27, 2010 at 9:05AM
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?