Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The Dangers of Box Ticking…and not Box Ticking

Like many people with large DVD collections, I have created a database on my computer which lists all the films in my collection. The list helps me index titles and keep track of what I've got and what I've watched, as well as allowing me to pull up lists of all the films by a certain director, or featuring a certain actor, etc., at the click of a button. In order to help me keep track of which ones I've seen and which I haven't there is a column called 'seen' which I literally tick once I have finished watching the film and all its features. Although this is undeniably very useful for someone like me who has far too many discs that they haven't got around to watching yet, it has also had the unfortunate side effect of leading to the early stages of that awful condition from which so many so-called film lovers suffer, and which, for want of a better name, I will call 'boxtickingitis'.

The main symptom of this affliction is, of course, the desperate compulsion to watch as many films as possible so as to simply get them 'ticked off' the list so that next time an obscure black and white silent film from the furthest corner of the globe arises in conversation, one can lean back smugly, smile, and say 'I've seen that'.

Now, to be clear, watching a lot of films is never a problem in and of itself. No, the problem with being a 'box ticker' is that, in the desperate need to consume as many films as possible, no serious consideration is given to any one film or filmmaker. There is no studying of or thinking about a film, only the next film. Hence, the final result of boxtickingitis is in an increase in smugness but a deflation in value and, ultimately, knowledge. Too many people are consuming too many texts without taking the time to attempt any real understanding of the work, and we have to ask 'what's the point?'. The box tickers may have seen a lot of work, but if they haven’t understood or grappled with any of it, then it's all worthless.

Luckily for me, my boxtickingitis has not yet turned terminal, perhaps due to the fact that it is vying within my system with another affliction, which, for now, I will call 'obsessionallyanallycompletitis'. Sufferers of this condition are known to display symptoms almost diametrically opposite to those exhibited by patients suffering from boxtickingitis. To illustrate this, I will take an example from my own life. I have had a number of Bernardo Bertolucci films (which I have never seen) on DVD for literally several years. Of course, as a partial suffer of boxtickingitis, I feel an immense pressure to watch these films, but the obsessionallyanallycompletitis within me won't allow that to happen until I have enough time to sit down and watch all of them within a relatively short space of time (a week or two), while also having time to read about them all in several different books and to exhaustively complete all the special features on each disc. As you can see, a rather large amount of time is needed for this, but that's only part of the problem. You see, a young Bertolucci was a production assistant for Pasolini
on Accattone. So before it is even possible to begin the Bertolucci 'season', it is necessary to see Accattone. But for someone suffering from obsessionallyanallycompletitis, the idea of watching Accattone on its own seems silly, and hence a Pasolini 'season' becomes necessary. But, of course, before moving in to directing, Pasolini wrote for Fellini, who, in turn, started out writing for Rossellini...and so on and so forth...

The ultimate result of this affliction, then, is an almost crippling inability to watch anything due to having insufficient time to do it 'properly', a fate perhaps even worse than those that suffer from boxtickingitis, and perhaps also the cause of an onset of the latter condition.

The debate between what's better – to have seen lots but understand little, or to have seen little but understood lots – is perhaps an issue that is too large to go into here. Of course there is a simple solution for suffers of both conditions: moderation. But the sad truth of it is that 'moderation' is not a word in the vocabulary of many sufferers. For my own part, although I feel the symptoms of my boxtickingitis getting worse with each passing week, I'm glad that obsessionallyanallycompletitis is the worse of my conditions. As a film practitioner I feel it's important for me to actually understand both the history of cinema, and the ways in which certain directors actually create the effects that their film have on their viewers.

That said, the conflict between my two conditions imbue me with a struggle worthy of Kazantzakis. For instance, when I finally find a day or two to sit down and watch the entirety of the
Planet of the Apes Box Set, should I also include Tim Burton's 'reimagining' (which, incidentally, I would like to go on record as saying I love – but more on that another time, perhaps)? The completist in me shouts a resounding 'yes!', while the box-ticker in me shouts a resounding 'no!' (it's two hours during which I could be watching something else that I haven’t already seen!).

I guess it's a struggle that I'll never really get over, but I think it's important to be aware of the dangers both of box-ticking...and of not box-ticking!

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