The 46x60 or So Project, Pt. 2: It's a Tower Built to the Heavens. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
The foundation was built, and it seemed like a decent enough place already to just skip building the new couple of floors, planting an aerial, and calling it a home. The list had already taken me about a month to create, and in my excitement, I had already started watching films in earnest. The first film I watched under the sway of this fresh delirium was 1965's Sean Connery army prison flick, The Hill, directed in truly brutal fashion by Sidney Lumet. If I had started going through the multitude of films on my list by encountering a true dud (and not one where I went in expecting vileness), I may have given up the entire project then and there. But The Hill so captured my attention that I knew straight off I had made the right choice.
But, the list itself did not seem robust enough to me. There were still films that I loved missing from the list, and films I had always wanted to see which were not appearing yet. I began to think about what was influential in the mid-60s. in the dawning of my youth, and it didn't take me long to figure out where to find a major dose of relief: the Cannes Film Festival. Yeah, yeah, ugly Americans, hate the French all you want. Myself, I don't hate them, not even for easy comedic stereotyping. I love watching their films (equally as much as I love watching films from all over the world), and I love how purely they (as a nation) used to commit themselves to cinema. And yes, there are other major film festivals out there from which I could have chosen to cull more choices for my Tower of Film, but how many are as famous or as influential for such a long time as Cannes? Unlike most other festivals, except perhaps Sundance, Cannes still makes the news every single year, perhaps more now for the antics that take place there more and more than for actual film presentation. But, Cannes still looms large in the international cultural atmosphere. And, speaking solely of a certain period in time, how can one such as I deny its mix of foreign releases from nearly every corner of the world?
It was a natural for me, and so I started adding Cannes years to the list. This took far longer than I had anticipated, considering that I tend to format as I go along and I wanted things to be as perfect as possible. (Again, that possible OCD kicking in...) Cannes added a huge amount to each year, sometimes 30-40 more films, sometimes even more. I didn't take just "in competition" films, but outside award winners, "out of competition" films, and all of the films in the multitude of Cannes' special categories of which they seem to be so fond. The list truly began to bulge to elephantine proportions, and I actually did start to worry about whether I would be able to see even half of these films in my lifetime. (More on that later...)
While I was zipping through each year of Cannes, I started another side project: queuing all of the available films up on Netflix, or marking whether I owned the films or had already seen them. Because I wanted the list to remain fresh, I had to decide on a cut-off date for where I would consider my current critical decree valid to the purposes of the list. I decided to choose the moment of my arrival from Alaska into California, which was when I started writing, reconsidering my film philosophy, and critiquing full-time: April 2005.
Any film that I had seen since that date and of which I still had decent recall could be marked as "SEEN" on the list, unless I truly wished to watch it again even in the midst of thousands of other films. (Surprisingly, in many cases, I chose to go this route, if only because it would probably be a while until I encountered them as I went through the list.) This enabled me to check off many of the films I had seen in the past four years, even in the last six months. (I chose to make the current year more of a checklist of everything I had seen within 2009, to keep it fresh and because we won't know the Oscar nominees for a couple of months yet.)
However, as I went through Netflix, looking up every single film, I ran into far more films turning out to be unavailable than I thought. Some of the missing films weren't just relative obscurities either, but Oscar nominees, and occasionally, an actual Oscar winner. And by adding the Cannes lists, largely composed of films of foreign extract (most, but not all, more popular Hollywood films tend to get shown out of competition, if they showed up at all), the problem got even worse, with each year's list (now grown to around 60-75 films per year) ending up with a range between 20-25 films per year unavailable. Not just unavailable on Netflix (which is actually surprisingly robust in its catalogue), but not even for purchase on Amazon. With so many of the foreign films not even available in their home countries, I realized that I needed to rethink my goals in this endeavor, as it was becoming very clear that a solid quarter of my ultimate list would be unattainable towards the completion of my new project.
[To be continued in The 46x60 or So Project, Pt. 3: Things Start to Get a Little Wonky...]