I just rented my 150th DVD from Netflix. It took me about eighteen months to rent that many, so I’m getting my money’s worth.
Renting DVDs online has changed my home movie watching experience quite a lot. Because the online stores have huge libraries, I’ve seen a lot of old, obscure, and foreign films that I can never find at local video stores. And because renting movies feels free (as in costless), I’ve also seen a lot of mainstream movies for which I never would have paid a rental fee plus (inevitable) late fee.
Another really great aspect of renting movies online is that when I’m reading a review and a certain film is mentioned I can just open a new browser window and put it in my queue. Sometimes I forget how a DVD got into my queue. A movie will show up at home and my wife will ask me what it is, what it’s about, or who’s in it and all I can do is read her the little description on the DVD sleeve because I have no clue.
Among the 150 DVDs I have discovered several very good films and a few great ones. Here are some great movies I wouldn’t have seen if I wasn’t renting online:
Scenes From a Marriage (1973) and other Ingmar Bergman films
Usually I don’t like too much talking in my movies. But Bergman’s characters are so smart and insightful that I love listening to them. Scenes From a Marriage is pretty much just five hours of conversations between two people. Johan and Marianne have a seemingly happy marriage until, out of the blue, Johan reveals that he’s having an affair and wants a divorce. We witness various conversations between Johan and Marianne over several years as they go from married couple to separated to finally divorced to post-divorce. Their conversations about their marriage, sex, personal successes and failures, love for one another, their contempt for one another, and their individual pursuits of happiness are captivating and true. And the camera work, with the occasional quick-zoom close up, punctuates the conversations and heightens the drama. This is a made-for-TV miniseries that I rank alongside Kieslowski’s The Decalogue and South Park (joking (sort of)) as one of the great achievements in TV.
Some other Bergman films that I have loved: The Seventh Seal, Cries and Whispers, Winter Light, Wild Strawberries. The thing about these movies is that I usually don’t enjoy watching them as much as some other films with more action, but these ones stay with me for days after I watch them. So the experience of watching a Bergman film is more than just the couple of hours of diversion while you’re watching; it involves days or weeks of contemplating and feeling.
To Be and To Have (ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â°tre et Avoir) (2002)
This is a simple little documentary that shows us one school year in a tiny, one-room schoolhouse in the French countryside. It’s also a profile of the teacher. He has a dozen or so students ranging in age from four to nine or ten. The drama here is relatively mundane: will the four-year-old learn how to be nice? Will the older student open up and learn to communicate before middle school? So there’s not much intrigue here, but observing this tender, attentive man helping kids through this formative time of their lives is really moving. There is one scene near the end that is one of the most subtly powerful of all the scenes in the 150 movies I’ve rented. On the last day of school as the children prepare to leave for the summer, or in the case of some, for good, they each give the teacher a hug and a kiss and thank him. As the children are leaving the camera turns to the teacher and we see him well up with emotion. The love and concern that he shows for these kids is inspiring. Makes me want to start paying attention to my own kids.
Buster Keaton’s silent films
Buster Keaton’s silent films are tons of fun. I don’t have much else to add. The sight-gags, the set pieces, the Keaton persona, and especially the stunts and physical comedy add up to make a surprisingly fun viewing experience. The thing about the stunts is that what you’re seeing, Keaton is doing. There’s no clever editing or high-tech trickery. It’s just a guy doing some crazy stuff. He’s kind of the proto-Jackie Chan but without fighting.
I haven’t seen a lot of Charlie Chaplain, but what I have seen hasn’t been nearly as fun as Keaton’s work. So don’t think you’ve seen all the silent comedy/action there is to see if you’ve seen Chaplain.
Some fun Keaton films (each DVD has the feature and two or three other, shorter films): The General, The Navigator, Steamboat Bill, Jr..
Here are some of the 150 DVD’s I’ve rated the highest:
Touch of Evil (1958)—Orson Welles, Charlton Heston as a Mexican
Sanjuro (1962)—Kurosawa’s most fun
Malcolm X (1992)—Netflix thought I was black after I rated this highly.
The Apartment (1960)—Love Shirley MacLaine
Gandhi (1982)—Didn’t feel like 190 min.
The Office: Series 1 (2001)—Funniest TV show ever.
The Conversation (1974)—The 70’s were a good decade for Mr. Coppola.
Some other highlights that I will add to my collection if I ever get one:
The Road Home (2001)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Throne of Blood (1957)
A Christmas Carol (1984)
The Battle of Algiers (1965)
A Little Princess (1995)
3 Women (1977)
The King of Comedy (1983)
The Age of Innocence (1993)
The Apostle (1997)
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005)
Radiohead: Meeting People is Easy (1999)
The Terminal (2004)