How many movies do you think you've watched in your life?
Me, I'm not sure. In 1997, I started keeping the ticket stubs of all the films I went to see. For the first few years I dutifully entered all the information into a database: the name of the film, when I saw it, what theatre it played at, who I saw it with, the ticket price, and my rating of the movie on a scale of 0 to 10. That wasn't much of a problem when I was seeing one or two films a month, but once I moved to Toronto in 2000 I really ramped up the cinema visits. Toronto was such a wonderful city for watching films, because if you lived downtown, there were easily 15 or 20 movie theatres of all types within walking distance:
- There were giant multiplexes like the Palladium playing the latest Hollywood blockbusters. The place was so huge and had so many screens that it was easy to slip between the auditoriums unnoticed by the staff. You could buy a ticket in the afternoon, watch your film, and then take your pick of maybe half a dozen more that were just starting as yours was ending. And then you could repeat this all day until the place closed for the night. I'd go there to watch films like the first Harry Potter movie.
- If you were in the mood for something besides the usual Hollywood fare, lots of theatres were happy to oblige you. The Carleton and a few of the multiplexes would occasionally show the more prominent independent films, foreign films, and documentaries. At these cinemas I saw films like The Grey Zone, Mostly Martha, and Rabbit-proof Fence.
- There were also a few second-run theatres like the one at the Eaton Centre, where you could watch six-month-old flicks for just $1.50 (and quite often have the entire auditorium to yourself).
- If you wanted to see something even older than six months, you could visit the Bloor Cinema. This was an independent, membership-only theatre which screened films from every decade from the 1920s to the present. I remember watching Baraka, Manufacturing Consent, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Brazil, and countless other films there.
- The University of Toronto where I was studying had an active film students' association, and they often screened all sorts of new stuff that nobody had ever heard of but which turned out to be gems. I fondly remember being introduced to American Movie and The Left-hand Side of the Fridge there.
- If you wanted even more obscure stuff, you went to Cineforum, which was basically just one guy, Reg Hartt, who screened films in the front room of his house on Bathurst Street. Hartt was an avid collector and historian of rare films, and managed to get his hands on the only surviving copies of some of them. He would often show rare and uncensored versions of Looney Tunes and Three Stooges films, nearly forgotten turn-of-the-century silent classics like Gertie the Dinosaur and Voyage to the Moon, and surrealist flicks like Un chien andalou.
- And of course, every September came the famous Toronto International Film Festival, where all the theatres in the city would play hundreds of new films from all over the world. It wasn't some elitist, high-priced event attended only by film critics and industry people; it was easy for anyone to get a ticket.
As you can see, I was quite spoiled for movies in Toronto, and took full advantage of the situation, often seeing several films a week. I stopped updating my viewing database, but kept saving my ticket stubs anyway, shoving them into a desk drawer with the intention of cataloguing them one day when I had the time.
Things weren't quite the same after I moved away from Toronto. It takes forever to get anywhere in London, and the selection of films is surprisingly thin. Budapest had a thriving film scene, though again transport wasn't great (particularly after late-night showings), and films tended to be dubbed into strange languages. For instance, if you wanted to see The Pianist you had a choice of Hungarian or French; no theatres were playing it in the original English. Kaiserslautern had no English-language theatres, and while Darmstadt has enough theatres, these days I don't have quite as much money or time to spend on them.
Before I moved here, I decided it was time to sort through and get rid of all the junk I'd accumulated up to and including London. This included my movie ticket stub collection, which after over a decade had grown to fill a sizeable chunk of the drawer. I took one look at them, realized I would never get around to entering them into the database, and threw them in the recycling bin. I had no idea how many tickets there were in the pile. Two hundred, I thought? Maybe three?
As events this last weekend have demonstrated, I think I vastly underestimated that number. Nadya is away visiting her family, so I decided I would find a movie to watch. I couldn't think of anything I was in the mood for, so I Googled for movie recommendation websites. Specifically, I was looking for some sort of site where you could enter your opinion on some films you'd seen, and then the system would perform some mathematical calculations on your ratings, comparing them to those of like-minded individuals or whatnot, and spit out some ideas for other films you might enjoy. After some research it seemed as though Criticker was just the sort of tool I was looking for. I signed up for a free account and started browsing for films I'd seen, assigning ratings to them on a scale of 0 to 100. When you first sign up the site tells you that you should rate at least ten films. This didn't take me too long—I entered scores for a set of about two dozen films which represented what I thought was a fairly even sample of the kinds of films I liked and didn't like.
When I asked for recommendations, though, I was disappointed: I had already seen every single film in the list of recommendations. So I rated all those, and asked for more recommendations. Again, I had seen everything in the list! So I rated again, and requested again, and rated again, and so on, until I had rated nearly 700 films. At this point the website is now giving me recommendations for films I haven't seen, which is good. But I'm more than a little surprised about the number of films I've apparently seen (and remembered well enough to assign a rating to). I think a good chunk of these 700 are films I saw in Toronto, but I'm sure that not all the films I saw there are in the list; doubtless there are dozens more I've forgotten, at least until Criticker decides to recommend them to me. Maybe I should have kept my collection of ticket stubs after all.
At the end of the day, I still don't know how many films I've watched, but I'm sure it's got to be more than 700. Is that too many for one person to have watched in 15 years? Have I wasted some 1400 hours of my life? Or is this about par for what most people spend watching TV?
How many movies do you think you've watched in your life?