Quiet in San Fran11 May 2008

My friend Girish, who is knowledgeable and passionate about a humbling number of filmmakers, made a confession today, and I know exactly how he feels. The universe of movies is staggering. It's smaller than the universe of literature, of course, which is the deception: a hundred years of movies seems containable and knowable, until you try to contain them and know them. I saw 140-some movies in theaters last year and I'll see well over 200 this year. That doesn't count video. And yet every single time — well almost — someone asks me if I've seen such-and-such, I say, "Wow, no, I haven't seen that."

Like this: "Have you seen Sky Captain?" "No, but I like to call it Sky Cap'n." That's my contribution to the discourse!

I've never seen anything by Lubitsch. I've barely seen anything by Bresson. I've seen a smattering of Bergman. I've seen 3.5 Tarkovskys an average of 1.57 times each, which if you've seen one of those you know is akin to watching the trailer. (They take time, you see.) Who the heck is Rene Claire? I wouldn't know a Rivette if it bit me in the Jacques. I sure got a bunch of chuckles out of Raoul Ruiz's latest movie; hey, maybe I should dip into at least one of his previous 50 movies. I've never even heard of Kon Ichikawa, and Girish has seen 25 of his films.

These are movies that I want to see, I just haven't had the time for them, yet. They're in my queue, but movies go into the queue faster than they come out. <sigh> And, by the way, so do books. Don't even get me started on what books I haven't read. Lots. Lots!

Well, Girish, you should be glad that you have so much Ozu ahead of you. That much I know. The bullets in your post (you're using the time-tested list format, I see) ring true for many of his films. You're going to love them.

Posted by davis | Link
Reader Comments
October 18, 2004, 06:15 PM

I know exactly how this feels. But what's worse, if not as long, is the list of films that one feels they "need to see again" before they can truly pass judgement. Like me with The Blackout, Last Year at Marienbad and Last Life in the Universe.

Eventually I think you've just got to come to the conclusion that you've only got one life to live and you've got to make some choices!

October 18, 2004, 07:29 PM

Thanks Rob.

Isn't it amazing that the more you get into movies, the more movies start coming out of the historical woodwork, demanding to be seen to make sense not just of film history but of our very fundamental (and growing) understanding of this art-form? Each new movie you see leads you, mushrooming, to five others you should see.

Matt's comments remind me that I've been feeling I should catch all the Abel Ferrara I've never seen. I admired "King of New York" and "Bad Lieutenant", and I've got "The Blackout", "R-Xmas" and "New Rose Hotel" in my queue (ah that infernal queue!) But who knows when I'll ever get to them?

Rob, thanks for your encouragement on Ozu--I'm really excited to see his other films. I'm taking a road trip this week to see another one.

And since I first saw you employ them for talking about movies, I love that bullet point format (I think we should transform your name into a common noun and call them rob-points) :-)

October 19, 2004, 10:51 AM

Isn't it amazing that the more you get into movies, the more movies start coming out of the historical woodwork, demanding to be seen to make sense not just of film history but of our very fundamental (and growing) understanding of this art-form? Each new movie you see leads you, mushrooming, to five others you should see.

That, I believe, is precisely the stuff of life and knowledge - the realization that very every bit you encounter, learn, or experience, there are a dozen more things you haven't yet that shed light on what you have.

October 19, 2004, 10:53 AM

And for what it's worth, for the small amount and brief time that I've known Girish, I'm already humbled by the amount of knowledge of both film and music he has already acquired. I but dip my little toe in the world of film and my musical education still falls woefully short.

October 19, 2004, 11:15 AM

Life is discovering your limits. Or discovering your insignificance.

Matt, I think just watching Last Year at Marienbad for the rest of your life could be a good way to explore the world of film. I predict that it would be hard to tell the end from the beginning. I wish I were so bold. I fill my queue out of fear that I might miss something, which upon further reflection seems a bit stupid.

October 19, 2004, 09:44 PM

Thank you, all.
I've been musing about all your comments and have been spurred to counter-post!

October 20, 2004, 10:07 AM

This is a great conversation Rob. But Ruiz has 100 films, not 50. :)

I didn't know you were such an Ichikawa fan, Girish. I saw Conflagration for the first time a week or so ago and thought it was most impressive. Otherwise, I'm a longtime fan of The Burmese Harp and An Actor's Revenge.

So many movies, so little time...

October 20, 2004, 10:25 AM

Now you tell me. I'm going to have to replan February through April.

(2007, that is.)

October 20, 2004, 12:12 PM

Re: Ichikawa, James Quandt put together a retro & book on him a few summers ago and I decided to spend most of the summer puttering around Toronto and among other things, take in the retro.

Another great one is "Tokyo Olympiad", a totally must-see Criterion dvd. (And I know less than nothing about sports). Talk about visual, "pure cinema"! A bona-fide masterpiece...
And Quandt conducts a long and fascinating email roundtable conversation on it in the book.

On a related note, I just discovered (because I bumped up against it!) that the max size on my netfix queue is 500.
(Like there's any chance I'll get to them all!)

October 20, 2004, 01:10 PM

Okay, I'll go ahead and check out Tokyo Olympiad. I admit its sports context has kept me at a distance.

October 20, 2004, 01:28 PM

Let's see, is it the jocks or the nerds who hang out at the movies? I keep forgetting.

(PS: Is there some kind of sporting event going on right now? I keep hearing talk about socks.)

October 20, 2004, 09:48 PM

The funny thing about this is that it was only after I accidentally heard about a baseball game Somebody vs. Socks this afternoon that I identified the source of your comment. And then while browsing the web tonight, I saw the word "Soxx" with a baseball picture next to it and suddenly realized that's what your joke was. Sorry. I'm really that clueless when it comes to professional sports.

October 21, 2004, 07:09 AM

This is really funny.
I didn't get Rob's joke either but was hoping somebody else would clue me in.
(God, how pathetic :-))
Slapped my forehead when I saw Doug's comment this morning.

October 21, 2004, 08:53 AM

Seriously. You guys *need* to get out in the sunlight a bit more. How can you *not* know about that baseball game last night? And, Girish, you live in New York state! Unbelievable.

Want to hear something really odd? I'm pretty sure that I'm the only person among the tens of millions who watched that game last night who, immediately before the game began, watched the first disc of Criterion's By Brakhage collection. :)

October 21, 2004, 09:39 AM

Too-shay, Darren.

Actually, last night I was on the road to George Eastman House in Rochester to catch Ozu's "Late Spring".

Bad excuse, I know. Even if I'd been in town, I'd have been equally clueless.

I think my TV-less yahoo-ness is isolating me more than I thought!

October 21, 2004, 09:40 AM

I'd like to thank Darren for stepping in so that I don't have to be the knowledgeable one about sports. Seriously, no one wants that.

DVDs are giving the whole universe another axis. Not only is there Girish's infernal queue, which makes my 250-item list seem meager, but there are the DVDs I own that I haven't watched. I'm not a collector, but I have several sitting on my shelf: My Metier, the doc about Dreyer; A Dust in the Wind and A Time to Live and a Time to Die, which I've been saving so I still have some Hou movies to see; same with Floating Weeds and Story of FW, which my wife just bought for me yesterday(!), two Ozus I haven't seen.

It's enough to make you want to sit down and watch baseball, except you'd have to learn about the rules and teams and curses and Bambinos and Soxx and Metz and Bishops and Rastros and so on.

Darren, you're a true Renaissance man.

October 21, 2004, 09:45 AM

Late Spring, it might be my favorite. What an ending. Sesuko Hara and Chisu Ryu have never been better.

BTW, Girish, thanks for the kind words in your post. I like the sleepy eye.

October 21, 2004, 10:05 AM

Yeah, "Late Spring" was a doozy.
I sniffled out of the theater.

Rob, do you know Bordwell's "Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema"?
It is an unbelievably amazing book. I've really been enjoying reading his analyses after seeing the films.

Wanna hear my lame-ass sports-challenged excuse?Okay.
I think I moved to the US kinda late (I was in my early 20s) and so never got to know *your* sports. I used to be obsessed with cricket when I was a kid (God, I wish I had obsessed about something more useful) and never really learned the rules of baseball after moving here. I've always wanted to, though.

But I liked "Bull Durham". :-)

October 21, 2004, 03:14 PM


I believe i personally hurt someone feelings in college when they said something about the Final Four and I asked, "What is that?" while our team from the UA was actually in it. They looked at me like i had just personally insulted them. But I honestly hadn't known!

October 21, 2004, 05:54 PM

Girish, I don't know the Bordwell book. I'll have to check it out. I believe the only Ozu book I have is the Donald Richie one, which is so-so.

October 22, 2004, 06:18 AM

I have to say, the Bordwell book is one of the all-time best director-centered set of close readings I've ever seen. (sort of like Tom Gunning's similarly exhaustive & enjoyable book on Fritz Lang).

Unfortunately, it's out of print. I bought a used copy on amazon. I'm sure the libraries would carry it though.

Yeah, I have the Richie book too, but like you say, it's so-so. It's interesting but a bit too unsystematic and scattered.

February 27, 2008, 11:57 AM

Stumbling onto this old post now several years later, I must add out of sheer pride that I've seen many movies by Lubitsch, Bergman, Rivette, and Bresson. Still just one each on the Rene Claire and Kon Ichikawa fronts. And although I've seen a few Ruiz films, they're just the surface.

I've not been sitting still (except in theaters). 140 movies a year sounds paltry to me now. And yet the infernal queue is larger than it was in 2004, which was the whole point. The universe cannot be contained.

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