Movie-watching is a tough passion to keep afloat when you’re a college student. Our daily lives don’t always afford us time to sit down for a couple hours and check out a classic we haven’t seen yet. At least, that’s the rationale I like to use when confronted by friends who disbelievingly ask, “You haven’t seen ‘______’? Why the hell not?”
Don’t misunderstand me, friends. When I reveal I haven’t seen, say, “Taxi Driver” or “Blow-Up,” that’s not code for “I don’t consider that movie a high enough priority to watch.” If I could, I’d watch two or three new-to-me movies a day until I’ve finally seen everything the cinematic community has deemed exceptional. But then I would never get my homework done or have a social life or do anything except watch movies. And that just doesn’t seem like a worthwhile trade-off to me.
Everyone’s got movie blind spots. They’re hard to just fill on a whim, because no one ever says, “I’ve got three hours to kill. Let’s watch ‘Metropolis.’ ” It’s important to be cultured in the classics, but we have our immediate priorities. And while all those great “1,000 Movies to See Before You Die” lists can be our guidelines, we don’t have the time or resources to make them our gospel.
I’ve probably seen more stuff from those lists than most, but I still want to be watching more. The question is how much more I should have in my repertoire by certain times in my life. I’m 20 years old, about a quarter of the way through my expected lifespan. Does that mean I should have already seen 250 of the movies on that list? And every time I watch a bad movie, or re-watch something I’ve seen a billion times before, I suppose that was one wasted opportunity to chalk up another classic.
So what is our obligation to the classics? I’m not talking about the post-1980 John Hughes or Coen Brothers brand of “classic.” I’m talking about the stuff we actually have to make an effort to seek out — the films that you won’t find listed as your friend’s favorites on Facebook. You know, great movies from bygone eras.
This semester I thought I’d resolve to see some of those great movies, so I took SAC 353: Film History 1960-Present as an elective. This would be perfect, I thought. We’d be covering the New Waves of France and Japan along with New Hollywood and Italian Neo-realism. Somewhere in that syllabus would be my chance to finally cross Godard, Kurosawa and Antonioni off my list, at the very least.
Well, too bad for me. We did watch a Godard film, but it wasn’t “Breathless” or even “Masculin féminin.” It was “Tout va bien,” considered to be one of the auteur’s more experimental, post-New Wave selections, and not the most essential viewing for someone who had previously seen zero Godard. And the Japanese selection wasn’t a Kurosawa flick but “The Sword of Doom,” by Kihachi Okamoto, which tends to exist on the fringes of popular consciousness as far as samurai cinema is concerned.
As far as I understand it, there are two possible rationales for these sorts of peculiar film selections: Either our professor assumes us students, already educated in the world of cinema, have already seen the “greatest hits” of the classics, or he wants to tease us with selections that are not quite classics, thereby whetting our appetites to explore more options on our own. I wanted to take the easy path toward filling in a few more blanks on my film résumé by getting to do it for a grade. Turns out I’m going to have to exert a little more effort than that.
A clarification: I’m not trying to bad-mouth the movie selections for my class. We’ve also had the opportunity to see some truly amazing stuff, like a restored print of “Apocalypse Now Redux” with full surround sound that left me in awe for days after. And I elected to attend the St. Patrick’s Day screening of Wong Kar-wai’s “Chungking Express,” a film I knew nothing about, instead of going out to celebrate my nonexistent Irish heritage. I was treated to a joyful, high-energy romance of modern urban Chinese 20-somethings, a movie that I’ll be recommending to my friends for years. Trust me, it was the right choice.
What I learned from my Film History class is that if we’re serious about wanting to see movies, we can’t sit back and wait for someone else to show them to us. You make your own time to see the stuff you care about. And if I don’t get to everything before my time here is up, maybe it’s not the end of the world. There’s an endless, ever-growing universe of great movies out there, and I’m just one mere mortal college student.