It was inevitable, really.
I had resisted joining NetFlix for too long.
When I saw my friends, my parents’ friends and my dormmates in college who subscribed to it, I knew I couldn’t hold out forever. But some things in life we are irrationally adamant about and for me this was one of them.
It made sense for me to join, after all, if all of these cineastic neophytes could get the star treatment of DVD selection, why shouldn’t a film-student sophisticate like myself not have access?
Of course, I jest. While my opinion of my own film knowledge has frequently been inflated, I came to Film School having seen neither Citizen Kane nor Casablanca nor even, The Godfather, a film I had fallen asleep during at the age of around 11 or 12 when my parents had attempted to put on the VHS.
But I had always resented NetFlix anyway, sincethey put out of business the video-stores I so loved and who, in return, mocked the shit out of me growing up.
While my family used to go to Mrs. Hudson’s Video Shop and Rental, they went out of business/downhill fast and were also less convenient than Evergreen Video, which had an interesting selection just up on Carmine. In my high school years into early college, this was the place I wanted to work (along with the Film Forum) for summer jobs, a place I felt would give me the pleasure of effete film-snobbery and the veneer of expertise that would give me a much-needed injection of a feeling of social cool. However, like the Film Forum, Evergreen was adamant about not hiring me, even going so far as to hire my friend Sam, a lanky Australian, who showed up to work sporadically at best.
“How’d you get the job?” I’d ask him.
“Shit if I know.” Sam would say, “Well, I’m gonna go home and roll one peace.”
And then he was out.
It was at Evergreen that I saw my first Kurosawa film but that I also rented Dumb+Dumber. When I became frustrated at the lack of any decent, recent comedy, it was one of the clerks there who pointed me towards The 40 Year-Old Virgin, which I examined skeptically as a movie that looked too cool for its own good. It was at Evergreen that I started watching Monty Python’s Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life. Finally, it was at Evergreen that I learned my future upon graduation of NYU, a story I still tell to this day. Apologies for those of you have heard this, but for those who haven’t it goes something like this:
Upon my unexpected acceptance to NYU-Film, I wondered around the neighborhood stunned trying to examine the buildings, sidewalks and taxis to see if something had changed. I had not expected to get into NYU, I had expected to get rejected by effete assholes who thought they were filmier-than-thou. But it was then, stumbling around Grove St, that it hit me: I finally had something I could brag to those guys at my video store about. I marched in there, head-held-high, relatively cheery for my depressive, leather-jacket-donning self.
“What’s with the Dapper in your Dan?” The clerk behind the counter asked me.
I raised my eyebrows and (yes, sorry) struck a pose.
“I just got into NYU Film School.” I told him.
The clerk took this in, nodded appreciatively.
“Oh, really?” He asked.
I smiled proudly and nodded, closing my eyes.
“Well, I went to NYU Film School.” The clerk told me.
The woman with him behind the desk turned around.
“Oh yeah, I went to NYU Film School too.”
The smile fell off my face.
Ironically, the video store went out of business shorty thereafter, as did almost all the video stores in New York City with rising property prices and the advent of NetFlix.
Which meant, now out of college too, I couldn’t even look forward to a life as a video-store clerk.
But the other reason I resisted joining NetFlix was that I just didn’t like watching movies by myself.
On my old, out-dated Facebook profile, hardly updated since I was a Freshman in college, I had some quote about not seeing moves by yourself, since movies change you and I felt it sad to be changed and alone. Really, I was just playing it up for the girls–no actually, I wasn’t, but that sounds like a cooler explanation.
But since I always had a small apartment, it was hard to see movies on DVD with other people, sitting crowded round a small screen. Freshman year we would do this, when none of us had TVs, huddled near a PowerBook G4, but now, living by myself I had no such pleasure.
People didn’t like coming to a place they could barely sit anyway and, as I graduated, my friends grew both farther flung to the Outer Boroughs or the outer regions of the country and busier, trying to devise their own lives.
But I realized that if I didn’t join NetFlix, with my dwindling pile of movie-going friends, I wouldn’t see old movies anymore and that was something I was unwilling to give up.
Attempts to lure people to my house to join me with offers of wine and company to match the film probably came off as creepier than intended. When I asked a young lady the other night if she wanted to come over to watch the pseudo-biopic of Jean-Claude Van Damme, JCVD, she gave me a two word lowercase “no thanks” text message back, a missive that ruined my evening.
So what I’ve been finding myself doing is watching movies to fill the time, like I would playing video games. I tried to consider it part of an attempt at an ongoing education.
I saw Sherman’s March for the first time and had sympathy for the girlfriend-seeking ways of its filmmaker Ross McElwee.
I saw Shampoo and decided you probably had to be there.
I saw Beerfest and decided to lay off the brews for a couple nights.
I saw classics like The Godfather: Part II, that I only remembered parts of from my childhood and today I saw, The Breakfast Club, since all the talk of John Hughes and Molly Ringwald’s editorial in the Times intrigued me.
I had only seen three of Hughes’s films, all of which when I was two young to deconstruct them as cinema, which is probably the best time: Planes, Tranes and Automobiles, Ferris Buehler’s Day Off and Weird Science, which may have given me my first erection at some unspecified early age.
I always was interested in the people who fetishized high school, as my memory and my writing seems to rebuke those days as some of the least happy of my life. People talked of Hughes with reverence and respect, that he captured the feeling of the era, much as Amy Heckerling would do later in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a film I wouldn’t see until I was about 19 and safely out of school.
However, unlike Heckerling and her writer Cameron Crowe’s California culture of sex and surfing, The Breakfast Club offered a look at high school that was more about intentions and confusions and less about physicality. It’s also more hackneyed with students self-branding into groups that don’t necessarily exist, though the point is well taken, that it seems like no one would take the time to understand them beyond these labels necessarily.
I finished the film quickly and by the time it was done, the afternoon was mostly over.
My next film was Aaron Katz’s Dance Party, USA, another film about high school that I hear tries to talk frankly.
It wasn’t lost on me that in the feeling of regression in the unemployed, unstructured days after college, I was moving backwards.
I don’t have a defense except that, watching movies by myself was what I did in high school.
And it’s hard to drum up some company for movie-watching in a one-room studio apartment.
I submitted my film to Sundance yesterday. I asked a bunch of people I knew for advice and most of it was positive.
“What do you have to lose?” was the overabiding sentiment, though I felt my sense of security that I had made a good film was being mortgaged in the submission.
It’s irrational and I know the science of film festivals,–the preferences of the judges, the need to program in blocs thematically, the need to represent multiple communties–but still it felt like what I told one of my friends in a graphic sexual analogy it was: a shot in the dark.
In sending out my film to such a festival, without connections or assurances, I felt exposed and open for rejection.
Maybe I’m just adding things up. Maybe it just stung when I couldn’t get people to see NetFlix movies with me. Maybe I was down when Evergreen video wouldn’t hire me.
But you find your ways of dealing and of risking despite exclusion and expectation.
I remember when I was kid, heading out of a movie from the Film Forum, knowing full well that they had never replied to my application despite the various other youngsters I had seen change roster behind the popcorn counter or their glass doors. It was demeaning, but I still needed to go to Film Forum to see movies. I still needed to live my life.
“Well,” I thought. “Maybe they didn’t hire me because they thought I would scare the customers.”
And with my long-red ponytail, my unshaven curly neck-beard, my stoop and my old leather jacket, somehow that felt comforting.