Monday, February 7, 2022

Lucky Number Seven

There've been a couple of curious confessionals circulating around the blogosphere of late. One asks how many video games you might have played for more than five hundred hours, the other how many movies you've watched at least seven times. I've read several responses to the theme and considered my own but until now I haven't chosen to opt in to either program. 

The former would just be too easy. For a serial mmorpg player, five hundred hours barely gets you out of the shallow end. If you only played for three hours a day, nothing at all by genre standards, you'd rack up your five hundred in less than six months. 

I feel fairly certain I've met that benchmark in just about every mmorpg I've ever played as my main game in the last twenty years: EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, EverQuest 2, Vanguard, Rift, Guild Wars 2, World of Warcraft... all of those for absolute certain. Guild Wars, Star Wars: the Old Republic, Wizard 101, Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer Online and a bunch of others would be there or thereabouts, too.

For an mmorpg blogger, it doesn't strike me as a topic offering much in the way of insight or amusement. "Mmorpg player plays mmorpgs for an excessive number of hours. Story at 11. In other news, dog bites man".

The "seventh time's the charm" movie list has the opposite problem as far as I'm concerned. Despite having lived whole decades where my movie-watching was every bit as obsessive as my mmorpg playing (One obsession pretty much overwrote the other in the end.) I very much doubt there are any movies I've seen as many as seven times.

Wilhelm has a long and fascinating post on the theme. It was reading his thoughts that finally made me decide to join in, even though I'm not actually qualified to participate. That and the opportunity to link a few choice scenes from some of my favorite movies. Or the scenes I could find on YouTube, anyway. Not always the ones I'd have chosen to highlight but hey, you work with what you have.

Like Wilhelm, I grew up before the appearance of VCRs as a standard piece of home entertainment technology. In fact, "home entertainment", until I was in my early twenties, consisted of books, comics, board games or broadcast radio and TV. 

All of the first three, the repeatable options, I did repeat, ad nauseam. There were many comics I must have read literally dozens of times and it wasn't remotely unusual for me to read a book until it fell apart. It seems inevitable that, had the opportunity existed when I was growing up, I would have watched my favorite movies over and over and over again in just the same way.

As it was, my experience was the exact opposite. I watched whatever the TV companies chose to show me and since I lived in the U.K. I was in my mid-twenties by the time that meant a choice of more than three channels. 

I did try to re-watch the movies I liked but it was hard enough getting to see them just once. In my teenage years I pored through the pages of the Radio Times (For non-British readers, that's the misleadingly archaic name of the main TV listings magazine in the UK.) intently every week, doing my very best to catch showings of anything I wanted to see or thought I ought to see. 

For three years, from nineteen to twenty-two, I barely watched TV at all. I didn't need to. I went to Cambridge, where almost every college had its own Film Society, each showing old, foreign and just plain obscure films once or twice a week. I saw a lot of classics that way, cult, mainstream, world cinema (A term that was just starting to replace "foreign films" around then.). Even when there was nothing showing that interested me, there'd be something someone wanted to see and if I had nothing better to do I'd go along.

As the eighties stumbled by in an alcohol and drug-fueled haze I acquired my first VCR and by the nineties I was doing my best to build a home movie library of at least a thousand titles. I was well into the eight hundreds when video cassettes were replaced by DVDs, which was also about the time my interests turned to digitized distribution in general and online gaming in particular.

Throughout the eighties and into the nineties I was also going to the cinema fairly frequently to see Hollywood movies on first release and independent and imported films as and when they made it to the several arthouse cinemas nearby. By the 2000s I was down to a handful of visits to the "big" screen each year and now I've all but stopped going to the cinema altogether.

Instead, I buy movies on DVD and don't watch them or I add them to my watchlists on streaming services and don't watch them there, either. I keep up to date by listening to movie podcasts and reading reviews but I doubt if I've watched more than half a dozen full-length films in the past twelve months.

These days, I have the absolute means to watch almost any movie I could ever want to see, as many times I could stand to see it and yet I watch almost none at all. It's ironic, when you consider there have been times in my life when I would have seen it the very definition of heaven. You think you want it but you don't, indeed.

I can trump it for ingratitude, too. For many years I had a particular fantasy of interior design. I wanted to be able to hang flat screens on the walls of my house, exactly as you'd hang a picture or a painting, each showing a particular movie on an infinite loop. Sometimes I'd modify that notion to a specific scene or a montage.

That's been possible for years. All the technology's there. It's even affordable now. I could do it any time I wanted. Only now I can, I don't want to any more.

Partly that's because, while it might be possible, it would still be quite a lot of work and quite expensive. Mostly, though, it's because once you stop and think about it, it wasn't such a great idea in the first place. Other than looking cool the first time you saw it, what would it actually achieve that a still from the movie wouldn't? 

You couldn't have the sound on all the time for a start. That would drive you crazy. And what would be the point of most of these movies without the soundtrack and the dialog? 

You wouldn't want to stand in the hall or the kitchen or the lounge just watching the movie, either. That would be... watching the movie. There are so many better ways to do that. 

If the movies ran all the time, they'd almost always be showing to empty rooms, anyway. You could have them activate by motion or sound triggers but that would be like living in a horror movie. Imagine going to the bathroom in the middle of the night and having The Shining come to life right beside you.

For all the obvious problems, I still toy with the idea of doing something like that one day. I haven't mentioned it to Mrs Bhagpuss. Probably best not to. If it ever does happen, it would probably be the only way I'd ever clock up seven viewings for a single film. In total, that is. Fragmentarily, over many years.

So much for the history lesson, personal biography and thought experiments. What about the actual movies? Is there anything I might conceivably have seen as many as seven times?

I've been thinking a lot about that. The only real possibilities I can come up with all come from the classic Hollywood black and white era. 

When I was growing up, my mother inculcated me into the cult of the Marx Brothers, of which she was virtually a charter member. We watched every one of their movies any time it appeared on TV and she took me to see any of their films, should one happen to make it to some art cinema or cinema club within driving distance. When home video arrived, Marx Bros collections were among the first cassettes on the shelf and only a few years ago she gave me a couple of box sets on DVD.

I can't be sure but it seems likely I may have seen any or all of Duck Soup, Horse Feathers, The Coconuts, At the Races and At the Opera seven times or more. Some of those I also saw at those college film societies, the Marxes being perennially popular with student audiences. 

Around the same time, I developed a healthy interest in all things Classic Hollywood, from Bogart and Bacall to Preston Sturges and Orson Welles. It's conceivable I could have seen Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, Casablanca or His Girl Friday as many as seven times. I watched about two thirds of Casablanca only this Christmas, when it was showing on broadcast TV, and I watched all of His Girl Friday on my Kindle Fire one evening during lockdown. On both occasions it certainly felt like I'd seen them a lot of times before.

One thing that's been notable about the blog posts I've read on this so far is that everyone seems to have certain movies in their list: the first two Star Wars movies (Original trilogy, not chronological.), Blade Runner, Aliens...

I've seen all the usual suspects (I've seen The Usual Suspects, too. Twice. I had to go back to see it again because I fell asleep the first time and when I woke up for the ending it made absolutely no sense whatsover.), most of them more than once, but seven times? Not even close.

It is, of course, hard to be sure. Until I started this blog I'd never really kept a journal or a diary. I've had spells where I noted down the books I've read and in my apazine days I would mention most movies I saw at the cinema but even when I've made a record of a first experience I've never tallied repeated exposures.

In the late eighties and throughout the nineties, I developed a very strong affection for a certain kind of coming of age movie, the sort often shorthanded as "John Hughes movies", whether or not he directed or produced. I can't exactly recall how I came to find myself exploring that particular subgenre, although I have a suspicion it was through a strange form of reversal cultural osmosis, leading me backwards from Hal Hartley and Jim Jarmusch, not to mention a few French directors whose names I can't recall.

However it happened, I fell in love with Molly Ringwald, John Cusack, Ione Skye, Phoebe Cates and even in a peculiar way Andrew McCarthy. I've watched quite a few of those movies three or four times. The best of them (And they're all good in their own way.)  - Say Anything, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off,  The Sure Thing - I might have watched more. I've even read the novelization of Pretty in Pink. It's good, too.

As I write this, I realize that those are the movies I'm most likely to watch seven times, even if I haven't already. Just typing the names makes me want to watch all of them again, right now. I will watch them again. How many times more just depends how long I've got.

In fact, my big takeaway from this whole affair isn't that I haven't watched my favorite movies all that often - it's that I haven't watched them enough. And there's really no excuse for that. 

I've always made a big thing about the importance of re-reading. It's something I've done all my life. It takes a lot longer to re-read a novel than to re-watch a film. If I can manage one then I damn well ought to be able to manage the other.

So, I may not have watched many - or possibly any - movies seven times but it's not too late to put that right. And while I'm about it, I ought to watch some new ones, too and if they turn out to be worth seven watches I'm going to have to go some to fit them all in.

If we do this again in a few years (As I'm sure we will, because when don't we?) I hope I'll be able to show some improvement. I guess that means I'll have to take notes or I'm never going to remember which ones I've re-watched let alone how often.

It's a sure thing one of them's going to be The Sure Thing. I might even watch it tonight. I think that'll make four times I've seen it although it might be five but hey, who's counting? 

Oh, yeah. Me.


  1. The joke I used to make about buying movies on DVD was that they became a pass to avoid watching the film on broadcast TV ever again, because why would you bother, you have it right there on DVD! Of course, I never watched the film on DVD either, or maybe watched it once right after we bought it. At one point we had quite a collection of unwatched DVDs.

    1. The main reason I have so many DVDs is that people ask what I want for birthdays and Christmas and CDs and DVDs remain a very simple and easy answer, especially when I can add them to an Amazon wishlist throughout the year. I only buy them for myself when it's things I can't find on streaming services, which happens more often than Netflix and Prime would like you to realize.

      I do need to start watching some of them but for that I also need a better DVD player/screen option than either my handheld one I got for taking on holiday, my ancient laptop or my PC. Probably about time I got an actual television, something we haven't owned for about fifteen years.

  2. Ah, so you never had the fun of independent television stations back in the 70s, then! Before Fox came along and created a fourth (and then CW with a fifth --or was it sixth?) network, a lot of the country had at least one independent television station where they'd play old movies that the station owners could obtain cheaply. Just like how they'd get old television shows like Gilligan's Island and My Three Sons. (And then later in the 80s, 70s reruns like MASH, WKRP in Cincinnati, Starsky and Hutch, etc.)

    Those independent television stations had several "go to" movies they'd trot out numerous times per year. So when I was a kid, if I was sick I'd frequently find The Adventures of Robin Hood (the 1938 Errol Flynn version) on television. Or the 1950s Ulysses (starring Kirk Douglas), or Solomon and Sheba (starring Yul Brynner and Gina Lollobrigida). They filled that gap where today you can't go a week or two and not run into a Star Wars or LOTR or Harry Potter movie on one of the lesser watched cable/satellite channels.

    But I'll also say that we watched plenty of British television as well, courtesy of our local PBS station.

    1. British TV in the 70s was austere. Two national broadcasters, one ofering two channels to the whole nation, the other divided into regional franchises that varied significantly in content outside of primetime. We got a fourth channel in the mid-80s, when some cities also got a cable service, adding multiple channels including, significantly to me at the time, MTV when all it showed was music videos. Finally, in the 90s I guess, although maybe it was the late '80s, satellite TV gave everyone who wanted to pay a subscription access to hundreds of channels they'd never want to watch, just like the rest of the world.

      All of that was fine. The quantity may have been meager but the quality was by and large good and there are only so many TV-watching hours in the day, anyway, especially when you're in your teens and twenties. I don't regret not having more channel options growning up. What I do regret, though, is not having either what you describe, truly independent local TV stations, or the kind of ultra-local cable TV stations that proliferated in the US in the 80s. Some of the shows from those, captured on YouTube, are stunning to see now. If we'd had something like that, who knows which amazing local bands and performers would have been archived forever instead of being lost to time?

    2. What I miss the most from those days are the distinct lack of pseudo-reality television, and the lack of a political axe to grind on the independent stations. They just wanted to broadcast freely and not broadcast the latest Kardashian Klone reality show or conspiracy theory peddling pseudo-news program for a few dollars. But when I go to the car repair shop --like I'm going to do in an hour or so-- all I see on the local stations on the television there are junk shows.

    3. Absolutely, on all counts.

      For example, it's how I saw "Kind Hearts & Coronets" many times.

      ~~ 7rlsy

  3. The closest I come to your idea of screens hung on various walls showing movies on a loop is leaving the feed of a live cam from some random place on the big screen in the living room even when I'm not really watching it. It's just like a giant picture frame showing random people doing normal stuff.

    I can't say I've ever really watched any movie 7 times. I kind of draw a line between watched (as in, it is my main focus of attention) and been in a room where it is playing, but I'm not really paying much attention. Or I tune in to a movie in progress, watch it until the next commercial break, then surf on to something else.

    1. I'd forgotten all about live cam feeds! Back in the '90s, when the web was a New Thing, I used to look for those and sit and watch street corners or beachfronts for no better reason than they were there. Haven't thought about them in years. That would be an excellent thing to have on a flat screen in a frame on a wall, perhaps with a very low-level ambient soundtrack looping behind it.

  4. Reminds me of this horror:


    ~~ 7rlsy


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