I'm addicted to movies
What will the world look like in a year? What will my world look like?
I honestly can’t answer those questions right now - there is just too much uncertainty that exists around us. I have made the active choice in my life to live it one week at a time. I don’t try and make longterm plans because I don’t want to have to worry about what happens when those plans fall apart.
It’s not I had any grand ambitions for 2020 - I had just planned to do more of the same. I had trips I was looking forward to taking and projects both personal and professional that I wanted to tackle. I wanted to get back out there in the dating pool but, more than anything, I just wanted to enjoy life.
It’s funny in retrospect but in February I started planning monthly trips to New Orleans. I had discovered that a bus ticket was dirt cheap and I looked forward to regular trips in which I would take an overnight bus, spend the day enjoying seafood and reading and writing in the French Quarter, and then take an overnight bus back again that night. Yes, that would have been the perfect way to unwind.
It’s August, though, and besides a few trips to the supermarket, weekly trips to visit my parents, and my daily walks around my neighborhood I have barely left my apartment in almost half a year. I try my best to be optimistic about things so I choose to look back at 2020 and think of the positives:
I have lost sixty pounds since March
I have learned to eat healthier and am cooking ninety percent of my meals instead of eating out every day like I used to
I have engaged my creativity by writing the first draft of a novel in addition to starting work on a handful of other fun projects
My apartment is cleaner and more organized than its ever been
I got a cat
I’m getting plenty of exercise and am building strong personal habits that I know I can carry through whatever comes next
I have acknowledged and begun treating myself for addiction to movies
That last one might sound like a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s true. I have an addiction to movies.
At its core, nothing has changed by acknowledging this addiction. I still love watching movies a great deal. I love talking about movies with friends and I love thinking about how films affect me and affect others. I will continue enjoying movies for a long time to come - they are a great source of entertainment, can be a true expression of art and, if given the chance, I would love to tell my own stories through film someday. But all that doesn’t change the fact that, if left unchecked, I watch films because of the fact that I have an addictive need to watch films.
Addiction is something a lot of people struggle with. I’ve written about my addictions to food and comic books in the past. I know I have an addictive personality - it’s the reason why I don’t gamble, smoke, drink, or play video games in excess. I have probably known for a while that I was also addicted to movies but I never really stopped to question what I would do about it.
Growing up, I wasn’t a big movie watcher. I enjoyed the big stuff that was popular among kids my age - cartoons, JURASSIC PARK, the occasional horror movie my oldest sister would let me watch with her - but I didn’t get really into films until 1999.
The year 1999 was a great one for movies - it was the year that saw the release of FIGHT CLUB, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, THE IRON GIANT, THREE KINGS, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and so many more. It was also the year I watched CLERKS for the first time. In a lot of ways, CLERKS was my gateway drug. I watched the film and it was so unlike anything I had seen previously. The dialogue and characters reminded me of myself, or more accurately, who I wish I was if I had snappier dialogue written for me. My obsession with CLERKS led to me going online for the first time and discovering a rabbit hole of similar films. I discovered Wes Anderson and Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino and all the usual teenage boy film obsessions. I think it was because I came into movies so late in my life that I first felt the need to compulsively watch as many movies as I did, as if I needed to catch up on lost time.
I would devour three or four films a day, watching whatever I could get my hands on. I wasn’t picky. Action, drama, comedy, horror, musical - I wanted to watch it all. I also decided around that time that I wanted to be a filmmaker. I didn’t know, exactly, what a filmmaker did but I figured that because I loved movies I would also love making them. I picked up my parents’ camera and started making small movies with my friends. They were all terrible, but that did not detour me. What did detour me was the fact that my dad told me that he and my mom would only help me with my college tuition if I agreed to get a more practical degree first. If, after I graduated with something that I could actually get a job with, I still wanted to be a filmmaker, they would support me in that journey. So I went to Texas A&M to study business.
While at A&M my puppy love crush on cinema shifted slightly and, instead of dreaming of becoming a filmmaker, I became enamored with journalism. I got a job at the student newspaper writing film reviews. This further nurtured my growing addiction to cinema. Now, not only was I a film fan, I was a paid film expert! Who cares if my knowledge of film didn’t go further than a Blockbuster video store clerk's - I was being paid for my opinions on cinema and that meant they mattered for something.
I decided that films would not only be a hobby, but it would also be a cornerstone of my personality. I started to consume even more. I read books about film, I visited all the big movie blogs of the era, I listened to director’s commentary after director’s commentary - trying to fill in the gaps of my knowledge, and I somehow managed to eventually turn any conversation I had with friends to the subject of movies. I was becoming absolutely insufferable.
I don’t know exactly when my love for film became a full-blown addiction. In college, I began to spend way too much money on DVDs and I would watch every new film that played at the local cinema, regardless of whether or not I particularly cared to see it. I was consuming without absorbing - it’s hard to watch four movies a day for an extended period of time and actually process what’s playing out in front of your eyes in a meaningful way. After a while, it all becomes window dressing.
As I marched further along with my addiction, movies were having a harder time impacting me. I would watch a film and find my mind drifting off to what the next movie I would watch would be. I started keeping track of my movie watching habits on Excel spreadsheets, including having a tab in which I planned out my future movie watching plans to the day and hour.
I was becoming obsessed but, more importantly, I had become a snob, finding it difficult to enjoy almost anything I saw. One year, as an attempt to try and right my brain, I decided to watch a “bad movie” every day for a year. If I could watch these truly terrible films and try and find something positive to say about them, surely I could learn to love movies again, right? It mostly worked. Today, I find it hard to actively dislike a movie. If there’s even a single scene that impacts me in some way, I count that movie as a win.
So what does an addiction to movies look like? I feel a need to watch every single movie. From A to Z - I want to see it. I track down deep cuts I don't particularly care about because, buried deep in that film, might be something worth getting excited about. I want to watch new movies first, as soon as possible. I would get physically agitated when I would have to wait to see something I was excited about. I went to press screenings and midnight releases and theater tech checks to watch stuff I didn't care about, just because I wanted to be the first to see it. I would kill myself at film festivals, cramming seven movies in a day to try and watch as much as I could.
I let movies define my personality and structure my life the act of watching them. A movie should be like a desert, a treat you have as part of your day. I had developed movie cavities.
I would feel obligated to watch movies I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy it because I felt I needed to see it because it existed as a movie. If I started a film, I was unable to not finish it - even if it took me days to struggle through a plot that had long lost my interest. I would push myself to the point of exhaustion to cram in as many movies as I could during a day - sometimes watching ten films during a weekend. All the while, I wasn’t really enjoying most of the movies I watched. Not really.
A few years ago I watched Angela Christlieb and Stephen Kijak's 2002 documentary CINEMANIA, about five obsessed movie fans in New York City who spend their lives watching as many movies as they can. Watching the subjects plan their entire schedule around watching movies was eye-opening - because that was me. I used to relate to the casual, pop-culture savvy characters from Kevin Smith's CLERKS but it was clear that I had lept over Dante and Randall and become a true movie addict.
My addiction to movies was impacting other things. I wasn’t finding time to exercise or hang out with my friends. I wasn’t engaging with my own creativity. Writing does something in my brain that activates a certain pleasure node. I write because I love to write. But when I watch too many movies, that node gets all the stimulus it needs and I lose the desire to explore my own creativity.
So what changed? When quarantine first began, I fell back into old habits - watching multiple movies a day at the expense of any other hobby or activity. Eventually, though, I started to feel like I was actively torturing myself with inactivity. I couldn't just sit on my couch watching movies for eight hours - my body started to rebel. I knew that, if I was going to stay sane, I needed to do something else - whether it meant taking a walk, writing a short story or just laying on the floor and listening to music. I still found time for a movie a day but I spread the rest of my time throughout my day doing other stuff. I discovered moderation.
It’s been five days since I watched a movie. This wasn't exactly an active choice. I have wanted to watch something for the last few days but I’ve been busy with work and a short story I’m writing and doing my daily exercise was more important to me than watching a movie. And I’m OK with that. I don’t get agitated about the fact that I’ve fallen behind on the stuff on my “To Watch” pile and, if it’s another five days before I get to watch a movie again, I’ll be OK with that.
I’ve seen a lot of movies in my life so far - I will watch a lot more in the years to come. But I recognize I have an addiction to film and I’m trying really hard to control that addiction. Movies are amazing, but the world as a whole is also amazing and I want to experience as much of it as I can, right alongside moving pictures.