In 2012 I fell into the depths of a really horrible depression.
It was part inhereted mood disorder, part circumstancial, but either way, I was sleepwalking through work, and just not getting out of bed on the weekends. I felt like there was nothing to look forward to. The year was a little up and down, but mostly down, and by January of 2013, it had crystalized into something so firm and heavy, I knew I’d be carrying it for quite a while.
Around the same time, I went to a movie alone for the first time since I was about 20. It used to be something I hated doing. I considered it an alienating experience. But there comes a point when one is alone and an adult that one does things alone or not at all.
By this time I was in a different city in a different state with a very different feel and culture. When I dragged myself to a few movies alone, I found it wasn’t so bad. I can walk to two different little indie theaters from where I’m living and when I got there, sitting alone in the warm dark, waiting for the screen to show me a story and not needing to be doing anything else was the most peace I was able to manage.
I started going to see at least a movie a week. Picking out what to see and when to see it gave me just enough of plan to pivot my days around without being demanding on me emotionally or physically. I couldn’t pause it and wander away or put it down like I could at home if my self-distracting entertainment got at all uncomfortable. I could do it year round, which isn’t true for everything in my area. And due to living in a college town where it’s as easy to find a lecture to go to as it is to find a concert, there are a lot of tiny theaters that show fun, strange or out-of-the-way things. There is a national arthouse chain, a nonprofit theater that shows foreign films and artistic stuff as well as revivals, the aforementioned two local indie theaters that sell the cheapest tickets around (when I started my project, it was $9 for a regular evening ticket or $6 for a matinee), some colleges screen things you can’t see anywehre else, as well as pretty easy access to two or three more traditional big-chain multiplex theaters.
Being in a place like that, with all these resources available will turn you into a movie buff before you know it.
I am lucky. I have gotten to see films from festivals, silent films with live music, classics on the big screen, documentaries I had never heard of, films with discussions with actors, writers and directors. It is an education. And, as T. H. White once said, there’s nothing quite as good for being sad as to learn something.
So an effort that started a way to give myself something to pivot my day around so that I’d get out of bed before noon on Saturdays and actually eat something became a larger quest.
I made rules for myself: movies only count for my once weekly film if they’re new to me and I see them in the theater. I get two weeks off a year for behavior, so the goal is fifty films each year (I’ve always gone past that total, to be honest with you). I will not wait till a friend is available to see something I want to see, because that’s a recipie for missing it. Instead I will go again with a friend unless I really, really hated it.
I don’t go out of my way to see erudite films or educational films, but I don’t avoid them either. I have seen high art a few times, but have also seen plenty of big summer action films that are like friendly huge dogs with more explosions and pectoral muscles.
What this has led me to is a broad and incomplete understanding of the craft of movies and the field of movies as art and entertainment. There is a lot I don’t know. I’ve never studied film per se, and I may never do so. But each and every film I’ve seen, even if I have thoroughly hated it, has taught me something about the way films work or fail to work. There are classics I never particularly want to see, and I adore movies that other folks think are trash. (Never let me corner you to talk about how much I loved “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”.)
Like any medium, it’s full of ideas and traditions and gestalts that many of us absorb without examining them. And each generation thinks they’re inventing it anew, even though they are, as as we are all, standing on the shoulders of giants.
As for me, During the five years I’ve been seeing a movie a week, I’ve been getting better. Not because of the movies, at least not directly. I’ve spent time in therapy and time on meds and time with friends and with soul-searching and journaling and meditation…I’ve brought every tool to bear that I can think of and I’m now way more okay and functional than I was in 2012 or 2013. Which some days is still not very, but I’ll take it.
And, at some point my fifty-movie project became something beyond a tool for me. I love the form. I love going to the theater. I love being able to recommend films that suit each friend’s preferences and avoids the things they don’t like or make them uncomfortable. Mostly, I adore the ability to escape into someone else’s world, whether it’s a real one or fictional. And it’s always going to be part of what carries me forwards, regardless of how I’m doing.