Thursday, July 21, 2005

On not being a completist

Richard Linklater's a gifted director of actors and a master of light comic timing. Billy Bob is one of the great actors. But why am I more motivated to plunk down $10 to watch the Butterscotch Stallion and his buddy crash weddings than to behold a collaboration of two modern American masters? Likewise, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are both visionaries, but the buzz does not make his new movie enticing.

Last few years, I've really stopped being a total zombie completist. Avoided Spielberg's crappy looking The Terminal, the Coens' unpopular The Ladykillers (first C Brothers pic I've missed, ever), Bertolucci's The Dreamers (though I've always planned that as a rental). Burton's last movie, Big Fish, was the first of his I've missed. Ever.

So the question is, is it my problem for not demonstrating more Bush-like loyalty to filmmakers who've brought me comfort and joy my whole life? Or am I right to not reward esteemed filmmakers for putting out obvious mediocrity, or for casting Tom Hanks? It's a question I'm pondering as I decide on what to watch this weekend. (Answer: Tropical Malady a 2nd time most likely, and maybe a couple of Don Siegel movies at UCLA.)

Could it be that the answer is neither? One problem with completism is that the older you get, the more fan-fetish objects you start accumulating, and they eventually end up swamping you. I own every R.E.M. album up to New Adventures in Hi-Fi. Before I purchased Hi-Fi, I hadn't been too impressed with the bits I've heard. But at the time, I told myself, well, I'm a fan. I gotta support. And it might grow on me, like Out of Time did. (It could still be the case, since I haven't spun that disc in 5 years.) But in retrospect, I realized my reasoning was pure rationalization. What compelled me to pick up the R.E.M. album wasn't so much dutiful fanboyism as trying to avoid that vague, irritating feeling of incompleteness, the kind of you might have when you discover that they're out of Daiquiri Ice at Baskin-Robbins, even though you'd planned on getting Rocky Road anyway. Or being displeased that the Oxygen Network is not on your basic cable package, even though you'll probably never watch that a minute of programming on that channel, ever. It's not that you need to experience what you're missing; you simply need it not to be missing. When you grow up collecting comics, as I did, the completism becomes hard-wired into you: you end up devoting way more time to plotting out ways to score that hard-sought near-mint copy of X-Men 121 to complete your Claremont/Byrne run of X-Men than is healthy for a fourteen year old. As with that R.E.M. album, you're bound to pick up the latest fill-in-the-blank simply because it'll gnaw at your insides if you don't have it.

That impulse towards completism hasn't quite changed. But it's just too damned hard to keep up. It's one thing to pick up all the Impulse-label original-issue Coltranes or watch every Bresson picture, since there's only a handful of those. But staying on top of contemporary pop culture is basically a full-time job, especially if you have to juggle following your old heroes *and* trying to discover new acts/directors/writers. I'm not really sure what R.E.M. is up to these days. I haven't seen the last four Woody Allen movies. I've dropped Abbas Kiorastami but picked up Claire Denis. And I'll probably drop Denis for someone else five or six years down the line. At some point you can't watch everything your 50 favorite current filmmakers put out and have time for that lesbian movie playing at Laemmle. One has to choose. And I guess I choose to drop Linklater and Burton for the time being.

Also: Adam, back from his trip, posed an interesting question for me down in the Pascal thread which I hope to answer soon. Thanks for waiting, Adam.