Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Where do you find the time?

I’m sitting here with Michael Curtiz’s The Sea Hawk (1940) playing off to the side. It’s a movie I’ve seen enough times over the years—starting at about the age of 15—that I can “watch” it without watching it too closely or getting distracted into watching the whole thing before I realize it. On my desk are two films—Kurosawa’s High and Low (1963) and William Friedkin’s The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968)—that I have to watch and review by mid-day Monday at the latest. I have this column to attend to, and reviews to write for The Way Back and Blue Valentine. And this is a light weekend comparatively speaking. I’m not complaining, mind you, but I also have a growing stack (literally and otherwise) of movies I want to watch, but when?

This isn’t a new problem. I grumbled about it about a year and a half ago. I had hoped it would be better by now. Instead, I think it’s actually worse. When I walked out of my “day job” last March, I had some vague notion that I’d have more of that strange commodity called “free time.” I even entertained ideas of a book project and some other things. Well, the best laid plans of mice and Ken proved elusive. I ought to have realized that would be the case—and that wasn’t even reckoning on the advent of the Asheville Film Society or the Thursday Horror Picture Show. Nor was this factoring in the simple realization that my stamina is—well, not what it used to be. And all the while the not only has my “to be watched” stack grown, but so have the titles on my DVD recorder’s hard-drive.

I’ve been waiting four months for TCM to show Rouben Mamoulian’s second film, City Streets (1931), and I recorded it. For that matter, I dutifully trimmed off Robert Osborne’s intro and outro, along with the Universal logo (they might have bought it, but damned if they had anything to do with making it), but I haven’t found the time to watch it. Oh, I’ve seen it before, but only in really bad VHS dupes. I’ve seen enough to know that this print, on the other hand, is first-rate. I can’t justify watching it based on the idea of a future screening for the AFS, because it’s not commercially available—and I don’t see that changing, since Universal only tends to look at old movies as parts of box sets and there’s nothing left to package this with.

The same is true with all those Will Rogers movies I snagged a while back. I managed to see A Connecticut Yankee (1931), but that leaves another five or six on the hard drive. Happily, I do have the potential screening excuse to offer some rationale for tackling those three Josef von Sternberg silent films—Underworld (1927), The Last Command (1928), and The Docks of New York (1928)—from Criterion that I broke down and bought when Amazon put them on sale. I’ve seen a so-so VHS of Underworld and a good VHS of The Last Command, but the latter was ages ago. I’ve never seen Docks of New York.

Realistically, I’m not going to be able to program more than one of these in the near future, even though I’d like to expand on the number of silents we screen. We’ve got a Chaplin silent lined up for February, and I really want to check out Frank Borzage’s highly-regarded Lucky Star (1929), which has been sitting here for—oh, about a year. (Hell, I was even involved in the making of that massive Murnau/Borzage/Fox set—I’m briefly in the documentary—but Lucky Star wasn’t in the early versions of the titles that were sent to me in preparation.)  It, too, comes under the heading of “haven’t gotten around to” and I don’t know if it really has the appeal its admirers say. On the other hand, I know that Borzage’s 7th Heaven  is very much a masterpiece and a great introducton to Borzage.

There’s also no doubt in my mind that Underworld has the most immediate audience appeal of the Sternberg films in that it truly is the first real gangster picture—and the one that provided the template for most of the ones to come in that big wave of gangster movies in the early sound era. (Too bad no one seems inclined to put out Sternberg’‘s first talkie, the 1929 gangster film Thunderbolt.)  Nearly every convention of the gangster film can be found in Underworld, making it the most historically significant of the three movies. Whether it’s the most significant in terms of Sternberg may well be another matter. (I’ve seen enough to know that it has a lot of Sternberg elements, but it wasn’t till The Last Command that his camera became mobile.) As you can see, I’m making a case to convince myself of the necessity of watching all three.

This is only a bit of it actually. I haven’t even brought up the numerous suggested titles from AFS members for movies I haven’t seen or haven’t seen in so long that it hardly matters. And what about those titles that Marc McCloud from Orbit keeps telling me I need to check out—both for my personal edification and as potential screening material. He gave me a copy of Peter Greenaway’s Nightwatching (2007). Guess what? Yeah, it’s in the stack.

Now, the thing is I know people on message boards who rattle off 10 to 15 movies they’ve watched in a week. And I have no reason to doubt their claims (their taste is very often a separate issue altogether). My question is not whether they’ve actually seen these things—or even why they wanted to—buy where they find the time to watch it all. Last time I brought this sort of thing up, I was also concerned myself with the problem of other people being overwhelmed by viewing backlogs. Well, I’ve given up on that. For one thing, I’ve learned it’s impossible to solved. But more, I’m currently just wanting to know how other folks manage to see all these movies that just keep piling up for me. Solutions? Suggestions?

In the meantime, I need to go watch a Kurosawa movie.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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50 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Where do you find the time?

  1. Mike

    For me the question isn’t how I find time (7-10 movies a week isn’t tough if you don’t watch TV) but rather how I decide what to grab from the “to watch” pile. If I had a nickel for every minute wasted deciding what I’m “in the mood for”… well, I’d have a whole lot of nickels.

  2. Mike

    For me the question isn’t how I find time (7-10 movies a week isn’t tough if you don’t watch TV) but rather how I decide what to grab from the “to watch” pile. If I had a nickel for every minute wasted deciding what I’m “in the mood for”… well, I’d have a whole lot of nickels.

  3. Ken Hanke

    7-10 movies a week isn’t tough

    That’s about an average workload of movies for me.

    but rather how I decide what to grab from the “to watch” pile.

    Oh, I play a variation of that game by deciding what to “sorta watch” while I’m doing something else. It has to be something I’m well familiar with and don’t run the risk of getting sucked into really watching. Usually, this results in 10-15 minutes of looking over the shelves before leaving it to TCM — unless that turns out to be an Elvis movie, live-action Disney, starring June Allyson, or some other ghastliness. Then I usually default to some bad Bela Lugosi 1940s B picture.

  4. Mike

    Glad to see I’m not the only one who spends way too long browsing the library/queue. I have literally resorted to flipping coins or rolling dice in order to just get on with it. Sometimes even this doesn’t convince me and I sadly accept defeat, subjecting myself to brain numbing schlock like The Bounty Hunter (I just had to see how bad it was for myself) in what I can only assume is my subconscious punishing me for being so wishy-washy.

    At the very least crap like this provides amazing contrast for the good stuff I put off watching before…

  5. Ken Hanke

    At the very least crap like this provides amazing contrast for the good stuff I put off watching before…

    My job precludes any need to search out crap for perspective.

  6. DrSerizawa

    Build a 10ft high chain link fence around your house and release a brace of Rottweilers. Don’t feed the Rottweilers. Pull the battery out of the cell phone. Pull the land line out of the wall. Threaten any family members with 48 hour marathons of Martin Lawrence movies if anyone disturbs you. This should buy you some time.

  7. Ken Hanke

    Build a 10ft high chain link fence around your house and release a brace of Rottweilers. Don’t feed the Rottweilers. Pull the battery out of the cell phone. Pull the land line out of the wall. Threaten any family members with 48 hour marathons of Martin Lawrence movies if anyone disturbs you. This should buy you some time.

    Immediately obvious downsides: the expense (fence and Rottweilers), a dearth of Martin Lawrence movies in my possession, and this does nothing about deadlines and commitments.

  8. Arlene

    I have the pile. I have a very bad filing system.

    I don’t have a system. The truly horrible weather has helped. I dig out the car, I come in long enough to watch something. After two or three turns, I invariably fall asleep by round four.

  9. Ken Hanke

    I have the pile.

    I suppose it is preferable to having the piles, at least.

    The truly horrible weather has helped

    You know, it ought to have been a boon to me, but it really wasn’t. The sense of being trapped here ended up making me resort to a great many naps.

  10. Dionysis

    Finding the time and then being able to actually make a selection has always plagued me. I continue to buy titles that may sit for some time before I get around to watching them; I don’t expect that to change much. However, I underwent major surgery right before Christmas and have been recuperating (very, very slowly) since then, and have managed to watch more movies in the past two months than Roger Ebert.

    Not a recommended way to find the time for movies, but it has enabled me to whittle through some films I’ve put off for ages. Regrettably, too many of them ended up being poor investments in viewing time. But I have been able to clear off some shelf space knowing they’ll not be watched again.

  11. Ken Hanke

    However, I underwent major surgery right before Christmas and have been recuperating (very, very slowly) since then, and have managed to watch more movies in the past two months than Roger Ebert.

    That certainly explains why your infrequent jaunts to the special screenings have been even more infrequent.

    Not a recommended way to find the time for movies, but it has enabled me to whittle through some films I’ve put off for ages.

    I wasn’t planning to give it a try.

    Regrettably, too many of them ended up being poor investments in viewing time.

    That is more often true that I care to think about.

    I have been able to clear off some shelf space

    Shelf space? What is that? I have become unfamiliar with the term.

  12. LYT

    When I was on unemployment and single, I had a lot of time. Now I work three jobs, and have a girlfriend who’d rather watch TV, and while adventurous enough when it comes to press screenings, is far pickier about what to watch at home, by choice. During awards and festival seasons, I can get in a lot of screeners as they count as work, but I was still shocked that, despite how thorough I thought I’d been, the LA Film critics ended up giving two of its awards to movies I had not gotten around to seeing: TINY FURNITURE and LAST TRAIN HOME.

    I subsequently watched TINY FURNITURE, and decided my initial impulse had been correct.

  13. Due to my radio show and weekly email, I feel compelled to watch at least SOME of the films that I spout off about. Fortunately, this week the only one left to watch is DOGTOOTH. I now understand the appeal of a dumb action or chick flick. You just want to shut your brain down for awhile!

  14. Ken Hanke

    I subsequently watched TINY FURNITURE

    You have my deepest sympathy.

  15. Ken Hanke

    You just want to shut your brain down for awhile!

    No, I really don’t have that impulse.

  16. LYT

    Orbit — Dogtooth is another of the ones I regret wasting my time on. Just to forewarn — think the middle act of Shyamalan’s THE VILLAGE, padded to feature length, with the trappings of art-porn.

  17. No, I really don’t have that impulse

    Glad my brain wasn’t shut down last night. DOGTOOTH is one of the most original films I’ve seen in a long long time.

  18. Ken Hanke

    think the middle act of Shyamalan’s THE VILLAGE, padded to feature length, with the trappings of art-porn

    That almost makes me want to see it out of curiosity.

  19. Ken Hanke

    DOGTOOTH is one of the most original films I’ve seen in a long long time.

    An apparent divergence of opinion here. I’m more intrigued now, though I’ll admit Marc’s notions of originality and mine don’t always intersect.

  20. LYT

    Certainly one of the most misleading review quotes I’ve ever seen on a DVD cover is on the DOGTOOTH case… “Hilarious!”

    I can’t really imagine even the movie’s fans coming up with that as a primary descriptor for it.

  21. An apparent divergence of opinion here. I’m more intrigued now, though I’ll admit Marc’s notions of originality and mine don’t always intersect.

    I think that all in all I agree with your reviews a vast majority of the time. There will always be those here and there however.

  22. Certainly one of the most misleading review quotes I’ve ever seen on a DVD cover is on the DOGTOOTH case… “Hilarious!”

    It was painfully funny at times, but that is a weird quote.

    Did you see it?

  23. Ken Hanke

    I think that all in all I agree with your reviews a vast majority of the time. There will always be those here and there however.

    Oh, not disputing that, but you often like artsy-foreign esoterica more than I do.

  24. Ken Hanke

    Did you see it?

    His was the divergent opinion — he regretted having spent the time watching it.

  25. His was the divergent opinion—he regretted having spent the time watching it.

    I don’t think he said he watched it… just saw the box art.

  26. Ken Hanke

    I don’t think he said he watched it

    This rather indicates he did: “Dogtooth is another of the ones I regret wasting my time on.”

  27. Ken Hanke

    Well, it’s beginning to look like the only suggestion for changing this situation appears to be major surgery, which seems a little extreme.

  28. LYT

    Ken correctly summarizes — I did see it. Didn’t enjoy it much. Certainly didn’t laugh.

    And believe me, I’m all for dark, twisted, and weird. But simply making such a movie that’s all second act, without set-up or resolution, just doesn’t work so well for me.

  29. Ken Hanke

    And believe me, I’m all for dark, twisted, and weird.

    This is true. Within 30 minutes of meeting me, he was touting The Room to me. I’m still not sure how I should feel about him for that.

  30. And believe me, I’m all for dark, twisted, and weird. But simply making such a movie that’s all second act, without set-up or resolution, just doesn’t work so well for me.

    Sometimes I love a film for these very reasons. I’m a horror fan at heart, but they haven’t been doing it for me lately. Films like DOGTOOTH are fulfilling that shock value. The Academy seemed to like.

    I did find SOME parts of it funny, but I agree “hilarious” was the wrong tag line.

  31. This is true. Within 30 minutes of meeting me, he was touting The Room to me. I’m still not sure how I should feel about him for that

  32. LYT

    No, Orbit, it was I that recommended THE ROOM. I still attend the screenings in L.A. almost monthly.

  33. No, Orbit, it was I that recommended THE ROOM. I still attend the screenings in L.A. almost monthly.

    Whew. I thought Ken was starting to slip mentally. Have you seen HOMELESS IN AMERICA? I’ve had some requests from die hard Wiseau fans (all two of them).

  34. LYT

    I got given the HOMELESS IN AMERICA disc as a birthday present a few years back. It’s not a full-feature, not especially amusing, and the disc quickly started to malfunction in all my players.

    The short “The House that Drips Blood on Alex” is a far better short film for Wiseau fans. or you could just recommend TROLL 2.

  35. Ken Hanke

    I’m a horror fan at heart, but they haven’t been doing it for me lately. Films like DOGTOOTH are fulfilling that shock value.

    I’m a horror fan, too, but I have never in my life gone to a horror film for the purpose of being shocked. That’s not even what horror is about for me. It’s not that hard to shock or be repellent or offensive, if that’s all you want to do. I’m not saying that’s true of Dogtooth, because I haven’t seen it.

    The Academy seemed to like.

    I’m convinced that the Academy nominates Foreign Language films based entirely on a “Hmmm, what country haven’t we given an award lately?” basis. They also seem to like to go for movies nobody saw.

  36. Ken Hanke

    Get ready, Ken. I’m going to have some gems for you to review soon…

    The last time you said that, it was Troll 2.

  37. Ken Hanke

    I still attend the screenings in L.A. almost monthly.

    That doesn’t worry you?

  38. Ken Hanke

    or you could just recommend TROLL 2.

    Trust me, he already has.

  39. I’m convinced that the Academy nominates Foreign Language films based entirely on a “Hmmm, what country haven’t we given an award lately?” basis. They also seem to like to go for movies nobody saw.

    I agree, but I’m still a little surprised that this film made the cut. I haven’t read your new article yet, but I agree that this could possibly be the most predictable award noms yet.

    I’m a horror fan, too, but I have never in my life gone to a horror film for the purpose of being shocked. That’s not even what horror is about for me.

    Maybe shock is too harsh a word. Besides enjoying the fantastic, I used to get a charge as a kid being scared by horror films. That charge went away after I got older, but has always been something I have looked for. After seeing BLUE VELVET, my viewing tastes moved in that direction because they gave me that charge. I love being disoriented, disgusted, confused… and shocked.

  40. Ken Hanke

    Here’s a taste of what you will be subjected to…

    You, sir, are a sadist. And whom — besides me — do you intend on subjecting to this?

  41. Ken Hanke

    I agree, but I’m still a little surprised that this film made the cut

    Well, maybe it was Greece’s turn and this was obviously their entry.

    Maybe shock is too harsh a word. Besides enjoying the fantastic, I used to get a charge as a kid being scared by horror films.

    You see, there’s the rub — I was almost never scared by a horror film. It was more a case of “this is really neat.”

    After seeing BLUE VELVET, my viewing tastes moved in that direction because they gave me that charge. I love being disoriented, disgusted, confused… and shocked.

    I was too old — and had lived through the “excesses’ of the 1970s while they were coming out — to be shocked by Blue Velvet.

  42. Ken Hanke

    Here’s another one you will be reviewing.

    Are you locking the audience in?

  43. Ken Hanke

    Yes, but not until you review this one.

    Hell will hold no surprises for me.

  44. Fran

    I gotta say that I am rather dubious about that 15 movie a week claim. I pushed to watch 36 movies one February as a run up to the Oscars. I was going to the theater most days after work and sometimes drifting to a second theater to catch two movies. And I upped my Netflix to three at a time so I could catch the nominated movies from earlier in the year. Maybe those other folks don’t work, or don’t work full time…but…

    I will say that sometimes movies become addictive for me, but my tolerance, even so, just isn’t that high yet….

  45. Ken Hanke

    At least one of those 15-a-weekers is on disability, so you’re right about he no job there. I suppose I’ve broken the 15 no. on those 9 review weekends. Of course, your brother and Greg and I tackled that 16 movie marathon at USF back in 1973, but I was only 18 then and they were younger still.

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