I have a confession to make. Not a big one, not even anything that is really important. But a confession nonetheless. I’m a total one hundred percent movie nerd. As an asterisk, I’d say specifically movies before the last few years. Since the rise of streaming platforms, I’ve pretty much regressed into just watching old movies as they pop up. Goodfellas? Sure, I must’ve watched this movie so many times I would be embarrassed to quote the number here, but it’s been a few years and why the hell not? And if I watch Goodfellas, I’ve gotta watch Casino. While I’m at it, Heat is right there. That’s a solid nine hours of DeNiro, with a splash of late-stage Pacino.
A colleague turned me on to The Rewatchables, a Podcast where Bill Simmons and a few of his friends watch a classic movie and break down why it’s endured. I think all the people on this podcast are around my age, so the movies they pick are right in my wheelhouse, mostly from the 1980s and 1990s. They have a reverence for Michael Mann, who I was pretty obsessed with about ten years ago. And, yet again another confession, I have a secret affinity for Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage. I put off listening to this podcast because I don’t know if I needed another - “bunch of dudes sit around and talk about stuff” - kind of show.
I locked in right away and have essentially been binge-listening ever since. I didn’t realize how much I missed totally geeking out over the minutia of a shot or a look an actor gives or an edit. They have an obvious love for these movies, and even when taking them to task over bad stuff, which is totally warranted, they’re pulling out the good stuff, and why we’re still talking about these pieces of nostalgia. At the same time, they’re not trying to convince you to have their interpretation of the film, they’re simply talking about how it made them feel. Most of the time, I feel like I’m having a conversation with likeminded people about some of the movies I love. A one-sided conversation, but a conversation nonetheless.
I grew up on Star Wars and Indiana Jones and all that stuff. It was great, but it wasn’t until I got to university where everything went into hyperspeed. Dissatisfied with the movies we were studying, I set up my own film school. Starting with the movies I was discovering at the time - Paul Thomas Anderson, Tarantino, et al. - I went backwards in time to find the filmmakers that inspired them, which led me to Scorsese and Coppola and the rest of American movies in the 1970s. Which in turn led me to the French New Wave and Italian Neo-Realism. Which led me to Hitchcock (reluctantly at first, then quite a revelation) and the crown jewel: Citizen Kane.
The next two paragraphs will be two digressions.
First, the way Citizen Kane was taught to us in film classes sucked. We watched it in every class, and pretty much everyone just said - Look, this is supposed to be the best movie ever made. Whatever. I hated the movie in my film studies class. When I returned to it through the lens of my own syllabus, I saw it for what it was: the best movie ever made. Sure, it’s dated - it was made in 1941. The stuff in that movie, not only aesthetically, but the narrative structure and thought behind it. Nothing like it for twenty years later. And now, pretty much most modern cinematic techniques in some way originated in this movie.
Second, I cannot overemphasize the importance of the DVD extra. When DVDs came out, I guess they had to differentiate them in some way. The DVD extras usually included behind-the-scenes documentaries and commentary tracks (which originated with laserdiscs, and for those of you that don’t know, we’re basically DVDs the size of vinyl records). For someone whose cinematic world was opening up, this was the perfect storm. Do I really need to listen to over nine hours of commentary tracks over the three Godfather movies? Well, if this means that the director - considered to be at the peak of his artistic powers - describes in detail how he came up with and accomplished every scene in those movies, then sign me up. I know that YouTube essentially does this behind the scenes stuff now, but these weren’t puff pieces. I’m talking about a ninety-minute fly on the wall documentary about the making of Magnolia, Director meltdowns and all.
These two things plus my own university syllabus combined to stuff a lot of useless movie knowledge into my head. When I got out of university, I generally went to see a movie in the theatre once a week. It became a ritual. Mainstream fair as well as obscure Korean movies and independent movies and anything I could get my hands on. Streaming came in, and I’ve written here about how the theatre-going experience has lost its lustre. I’m fine with that, I’m no theatre-purest. It’s all about the story, right? Plus, I don’t give a shit about watching the latest superhero movie (that’s all I’ll be saying about superheroes movies).
I went through a while where I thought this was all a waste of time. Maybe it was. But The Rewatchables Podcast has helped make it meaningful again. It helps me appreciate and remember why some of these movies were - and still are - important to me. Whenever I watch a movie, I love doing the research into what went into making it. The process, where the ideas came from, what went right, and what went wrong. I very rarely have anyone to talk to about movies in this way, so it’s nice to feel a part of the conversation, even if that means I’m doing mostly active listening.
It’s like I’ve come back around. I loved movies so much for a long time. But for about the last ten years, I found little joy in the whole thing, and finally admitting that I don’t give a shit about (weirdly) being embarrassed about my extensive film knowledge, I’m just gonna enjoy the shit out of it. DeNiro and Pacino sitting across from each other in that diner in Heat. Daniel Day-Lewis running across the oil fields in There Will Be Blood. Clive Owen escaping the prison in Children of Men. Love it all.