It’s hard to imagine a world without Netflix. When I was in high school, at the onset of my fascination and obsession with film, Netflix wasn’t around. Neither was the concept of online streaming. Before iTunes introduced picture and later video iPods (now called the “Classic” model), finding a particular movie was a hunt.
I became a regular at the local Blockbuster as well as a member of multiple other chains in my area. Watching a specific movie required planning. Sometimes I would go to three or four locations to find a certain title. Libraries, three different video rental chains (Blockbuster, Family Video, and Mr. Movies), Best Buy, Borders, and Barnes & Noble could all be hit just to exhaust all options. When all of these avenues didn’t work, I could order it from Amazon.com (tough to do as a minor without a credit card) or request one of the above locations acquire it for me. Though I never took the later route, I was diligent and determined when I was looking for a certain film. It would consume me and give me drive on an otherwise relaxing day. Finding said film, wherever it was, made me feel like I’ve achieved greatness. That is of course, until I watched and saw that it sucked, which happened on occasion.
Not only did I have to coordinate time to locate said film, but I also needed privacy to watch the more graphic and non-family friendly fare. Thankfully, I had a 13” TV/VCR that I could tuck away in my room. Now, I could explore The Godfather and Taxi Driver and other classics without the watchful eyes of my parents. Rated R subject matter (or NC-17 or unrated) could be explored without reproach.
My parents did their best to assert certain standards of minimal to no sexual content in film when I was in middle school. I had to cover my eyes whenever too much flesh was on the screen. When I reached high school all that changed. I watched whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. Tucked away in my room with the headphones plugged into the TV, I saw films that I came to love. Many of them, like Irreversible and Requiem for a Dream, far too graphic for the rest of the family.
When I received a portable DVD player for Christmas one year, my obsession hit overdrive. Coupled with a bad break-up shortly after, I became addicted watching movies. I began to measure spans of free time by how many movies I could watch. It didn’t help that I was working at a movie theater at the time, so new releases were at my fingertips.
Trying to keep straight all the movies I wanted to see (or needed to see according to film historians and various other film folk) was a chore. I read Entertainment Weekly religiously hoping to hear all about the next great masterpiece. That magazine became my bible; I sought out movies they raved about and shared dismay over bad ones. Without it, I would have never tried Secretary or One Hour Photo, movies that became staples in my collection for years afterward.
My friend Aaron devised a solid way to keep our movie to-do list in order one day in class sometime late in my high school career. Whenever we had the chance, we would make a list of all the movies we wanted to see. With the local Mr. Movies offering $0.99 movies on Mondays, we diligently made our lists to maximize the savings. We would make regular trips to see what titles they had and note which ones on our list were there. I graduated high school with a solid GPA; this was merely an avenue we explored to avoid boredom.
Aaron and I would constantly revise and expand our lists, including films others recommended. While searching for classic films, I came across the American Film Institute and Internet Movie Database’s (IMDb) top film lists. Using these as a litmus test, I incorporated many titles into my Monday movie rental sprees. Though I tried to watch many that night, I took things one-step further. Instead of watching all the movies on Mondays, I’d save one to watch for Tuesday morning. Much to the chagrin of my parents, I’d rise early each Tuesday morning, sometimes as early as 5:00 am, get ready for school, and then watch a two-hour movie before I needed to head out. Seeing Romero’s Dawn of the Dead before everyone wakes up in the morning is a very surreal and enjoyable experience.
My movie lists and constant watching caused my parents to grow concerned. My goal of watching all of the Halloween franchise was a bad idea to them. Getting up and watching movies before school was even more foolish. But they didn’t grasp that this was a hobby as much as it was learning. One particular error on my part left me banned from watching movies during Oscar season, something that was meant as a punishment but only confused me. When we went to Estes Park, Colorado, the summer before I left for the Air Force, I had my family watch The Shining. I wanted them to see the film before we went to The Stanley Hotel, where Stephen King got the idea of the book. You can imagine how much they enjoyed that.
Upon joining the Air Force after high school, I quickly saw the benefit of Netflix. But my queue was never enough. I’d merely replaced my paper list with a digital one. Whenever I went out to rent movies on my days off, sometimes as many as seven or eight at a time, I aimed to shrink my Netflix queue as much as possible. To this day, almost every film I see is on that list. I want to cross it off and get it out of the way of films I haven’t experienced yet.
I still use IMDB’s Top 250 films as a measure of my knowledge of great cinema. In high school, I’d seen as many as 80 of the films. As of writing this, I have on 42 left to see, with many of them already hanging out in my queue awaiting summons. Lately, I’ve been pouring over the list to see as many as I can to better refine my tastes and appreciate great film. Granted, this devotion to brilliant cinema has made me ambivalent to new releases. Little is really making an impression on me; thus, more classic films.
Netflix, like the iPod classic I still use, have become essential to my downtime. Without the two of them, I would be driving all over town and going broke on Amazon.com trying to see every film that comes across my mind. If my queue were to vanish, I’d be lost. And with fewer physical rental stores around with limited selections of great cinema, I need that digital to-do list. Now excuse me why I go update my queue. I only have enough time for six more movies before I have to go to work in the morning.