Completionism: the act of consuming all works by an artist, film director or musician.
Here is a completionist’s confession: I have refrained from watching films I knew would be good because I hadn’t watched their directors’ previous films. The same is true for albums and bands. I have, conversely, watched countless films I was 99 percent sure would be terrible beforehand (and those predictions were mostly right).
I suppose my obsession with completion goes back to “Moonrise Kingdom,” the 2012 film by Wes Anderson, which was the movie that got me into movies. When I was younger, my form of rebellion against my parents was to reject their offers to watch movies with them in theaters or on home video. Unfortunately for me, my mother studied film in college, so her film literacy and taste have struck me as superlatively impressive since I developed an interest in film. In other words, I missed out.
But when I saw a trailer for “Moonrise Kingdom,” a twee love story between two young troubled teenagers on a New England island in the summer of 1965, my interest in film blossomed. I never acted on the desire — the demands of my high school debate schedule proved to be too much of an obstacle — but “Moonrise Kingdom” remained in the back of my mind, waiting to be serviced.
About a year later, in my senior year of high school, the film started appearing on television and I recorded it. Upon watching that fateful recording, I understood like never before how films could be so transforming. As soon as the film finished, I scoured the internet for all of Wes Anderson’s other films. For a few days before first semester finals, I locked myself in my room and watched all his works — “Rushmore” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” made particular impressions on me — all while remaining keenly aware that a new film of his, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” was due to be released in a few short months. I became obsessed.
That directorial deep dive has never left me. In the years since, captivated by a singular film and determined to watch the director’s remaining filmography, I have watched the works of Steven Spielberg, Noah Baumbach, the Coen Brothers, Terrence Malick, Woody Allen and countless others. There’s a certain joy in truly knowing a director. Freed from the blind spots of one’s neophyte friends, the completionist can trace the styles, subjects and collaborators of directors from small, hobbled-together debut to peak artistic craft (note: usually, but certainly not always, around the third or fourth film), to late-period gem.
There are, of course, shortcomings. Not all films by a director — even some of the best directors — are good. There’s a lot of suffering in dedication. But those who find themselves in a deep dive can find something to love in any film by a director to whom they commit themselves. I don’t particularly love “The Darjeeling Limited,” a mediocre film by Wes Anderson, but its style adds to the broader tapestry of Anderson’s twee works and his oeuvre would probably be worse without it.
And I suppose it starts earlier: my first art love was architecture and it still captivates me today. Growing up in the environs of Chicago, an architectural mecca, I was exposed to countless works by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright. A life goal of mine is to see every Frank Lloyd Wright building ever built (and still in existence).
I’ve adapted the deep dive to music, too. Over the summer, my boss, in a company meeting, referenced Neil Young, and then looked at me and asked, in an apparent slight to my age, “Do you even know who Neil Young is?” I do in fact know who Neil Young is, but I couldn’t name any songs by him or Buffalo Springfield. As much as I claim to love the rock ‘n’ roll of the 1960s and 1970s, I’m clearly missing many key names. I decided to listen to the discographies of all the artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I started in June with Chuck Berry, moved into James Brown and now I’m working through Ray Charles. It’s taking forever: three artists over four months.
And yet, it’s been fruitful. These are legends, individuals whose work changed music forever. Art is a cyclical phenomenon of copying, inspiration and innovation. We owe it to ourselves to experience the enlightenment of discovery. The best place to start is with the masters.